Personal background and name choice

Poster for “The Flying Dutchman” or “The Phantom Ship”, a play performed in 1829 at Cumberland's Minor Theatre II in London.

As some of my readers might wonder why I chose this name for my blog, I feel obliged to mention the reason: My well-traveled father, 75 years old at the time, called me a “Flying Dutchman” when I was around 25 years old. He literally said that I “would never be really at home anywhere in the world”, that it was just my nature. After struggling with the idea for many years, I realized that he was actually right! Luckily, nowadays I don’t see it as a curse anymore, but rather as a blessing.

Before resuming my personal background, I will give a short introduction to this nautical myth (or “sailor’s yarn”, for those more familiar with seamen’s language), so the choice of name becomes clearer.

In 1641 the alleged Flying Dutchman, Captain Hendrick van der Decken, was on his way back to Holland from East Asia. As he rounded the coast of Africa, suddenly a terrible storm sprung up, threatening to capsize the ship and drown all aboard. He refused to give in to the forces of nature, even swearing a blasphemous oath. This brash attitude in the face of God’s stormy wrath condemned him and his crew to sail the high seas until doomsday.

In my case, since my teenage years I felt torn apart between Eastern and Western culture. As a convinced European, the Old Continent’s obvious decay, visible already before the turn of the century and only accelerated by the coronavirus recently imported from Asia, I took the decision to move to the Far East around that time and started a new life in Taiwan. It was the best thing that ever happened to me, but obviously I can’t deny my roots and have never seen a reason why I should be wearing sackcloth and ashes for being what I am-even though that such attitude has become quite common, if not fashionable, in the West.

The legend has it that whoever catches sight of the Dutchman will most certainly die a gruesome death. Don’t you worry: this curse doesn’t apply to anybody interested in this blog!

By the way: In 1843, German composer Richard Wagner, even wrote an opera about this legendary captain that is forced to sail the Seven Seas until the end of time. Until recently, I thought that might also be my destiny…

I was born in Berlin in 1967 to German parents from Brandenburg and West Prussia, but since the age of one raised in Valencia as a completely bilingual fervent Catholic in a rather traditional household. After graduating from the local German School, at 18 I first got in touch with Asian culture. Encouraged by my father, who as interpreter, translator and language teacher spoke four languages fluently, in 1985 I started to study Sinology, Japanology and Political Science in my home town, but never actually felt at home there. Moving from Spain’s third biggest city, due to the local mentality rather a very big village, to the former and future German capital Berlin was a cultural shock that lasted for a year or so. I was very lucky to find a mentor who helped me through those quite difficult times, when I felt completely lost and the rudeness of the people was unbelievable.

It struck me even more was that a lot of those living in West Berlin seemed to enjoy that the metropolis was still divided by the Wall. I went to East Berlin at least once a month and it reminded me of visiting the amazing (West) Berlin Zoo. Instead of paying to see caged animals, at the border crossing point you had to exchange 25 D-Mark per day into worthless communist toy money to be able to enjoy time with your family and friends, locked in by their own government, for just 24 hours. If you wanted to stay overnight, you had to ask for written permission in advance.

I basically refused to accept that what was left of Germany after World War II should remain divided and that was a way of expressing solidarity with those Germans bricked in since 1961. As even the at that time still conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) were considering scrapping “reunification” from the West German Constitution, I became an outcast in Berlin. For this unshakable belief that seemed ridiculous to so many, I was even laughed at by my dear West German classmates once I had started a Chinese language course in Taiwan in the summer of 1988. They considered me a dreamer or worse, an extremist who was living in the past. A die-hard, so to speak! According to my conversations with locals, it seemed that in the 1980s far more people in Taiwan than in West Germany thought like I did: German reunification would come, sooner or later. What belonged together, would eventually get together.

Honestly, I didn’t expect it to happen that fast. However, more or less one year after my return to Berlin in October 1989, the Soviet puppet state called German Democratic Republic ceased to exist. The old Federal Republic of Germany, after 45 years of Allied occupation and permanent reeducation basically an American colony, also disappeared on October 3rd, 1990. Again, there was just one German State, although considerably smaller than before World War II. The future looked bright and apparently everything would improve significantly and cleaning up the communist mess actually stimulated the economy. Unfortunately, the revolutionary political changes soon turned out to be a mirage that lasted less than a decade. In autumn of 1998, the left-wing Greens entered their first coalition government at national level with the Social Democrats, whom had decided to abandon the interests of the working class long ago.

My personal situation in Berlin had also become quite precarious. After graduating from university in 1994, I soon fell out with a Taiwanese friend at whose little company I had been working part-time. I struggled to find another permanent job, even after sending out more than 150 applications. Basically I just survived in an apartment in a skid row called Neukölln with a coal oven, no shower, and a toilet located in the staircase in a building with less and less neighbors. I had no job, no girlfriend and no perspectives. The relation with most of my family had turned sour as well. When I finally needed social benefits after using up all the money I had somehow managed to safe, it was denied to me by a Lesbian called Bismarck working for the district government in charge of me. Yes, she was named just like the Iron Chancellor, the World War II battleship as well as the pickled herring and told me that my parents had enough money. I will never know how she found that out during a conversation that lasted 10 minutes at the most. Especially, as it wasn’t even true.

Considering my miserable personal situation at the time, the fact that a obvious enemy of the State like Joschka Fischer became the new German Foreign Minister was the straw that broke the camel’s neck. I decided to return to Taiwan and start a new life on an island that my father still often called by its former Portuguese name “Formosa”.



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