Christmas, time for family

I want to wish a Merry Christmas to everyone reading this blog! The most valuable institution in our life is our family. This is why I dedicate this entry to my family and its history that nothing will be forgotten and the history can be passed on.

I want to wish a Merry Christmas to everyone reading this blog – or in German Frohe Weihnachten! The most valuable institution in our life is our family. This is why I dedicate this entry to my family and its history!

Merry Christmas to all of you!
Merry Christmas to all of you who follow the entries on BeNicoMa.com and many thanks for your support, I am glad to have you here and wish you peaceful Christmas holidays!

Many conflicts divide our society, the different peoples of the world and the family as an institution suffer from restrictions, which are caused by our economic interests and the pressure, built up by our society… This should not be the case since the family is the only institution in life, that is not exchangeable and if you are peaceful and in harmony with the ones you are related to, everything is so much better.

With this entry I want to remember my grandparents, who both were Chinese, coming a long way during the time of Nazi Germany. This entry is dedicated to all relatives, as a source of history that our ancestors may not be forgotten …

Madga 03
The inner family on a glance: Madga with Teh Wei on her lap, besides my father Teh Li, Teh Dscheng (Ted), Teh Ko and Teh Hsing – from left to right. In the back is my grandfather Ting Sheng. The picture is from 1944 or 1945, and was taken in Germany.

The name of my grandmother, Chao Ti Ling (that is her maiden name) and later Ma, means as much as “Call me the little brother” since Madga (mother) as we used to call her, was born into the Chinese part of my family solely with sisters. The name implies the wish for a son. She was from Wenzhou in China and was born in 1916.

Chao Ti Ling, with 16 years in China - We just called her Madga
Chao Ti Ling, with 16 years in China – We just called her Madga. For what she achieved in those tough times, she is one of my alltime idols, may she rest in peace!

My grandfather Ting Sheng Ma was merchant and much older than her. He was born in 1898 in the region Chekiang (Zhejiang) in China but I couldn’t get more detailed information about him from my uncle. Here you see some pictures of family members from China but my uncle Teh Ko couldn’t provide more information about them since he doesn’t know better. The pictures are all what is left as a connect to the Chinese background of the family in China and albeit from him, nobody speaks Chinese anymore, which is a pity.

BeNicoMa
I use the Chinese letter for Ma as signum for my photography and in future I will apply it as a seal in all official purposes.

Our last name Ma is written like depicted here and the meaning is “Hemp plant under the firmament“, if you translate it into a western meaning. The name is rare in the meanwhile, since most Ma‘s are derived from the meaning horse. We don’t know much about our family background in China. My grandparents came alone in 1933, when my grandmother was 17 years old. They came with the Transsiberian train, via Russia, to Dingen in Poland as their first home in Europe. I could not find the Polish name for it nowadays but have the names of the other cities where my family lived in those times. They moved several times in between Germany and Poland.

All my uncles were born in Europe. My grandparents moved from their first destination Dingen to Łódź – which was called Litzmannstadt by that time. In Łódź, which belongs to Poland again after the end of WWII, my uncles Teh Ko (1935) and Teh Hsing (1937) were born. Most of the provided information was given to me by Teh Ko, who remembers lots of details, despite his age. Teh Tscheng (1939) – who was just called Ted later, because he moved to Canada to found his own family – was born in Poland as well. The family wanted to return to China in 1939 due to the ongoing and developing war on the countryside in the East. My grandfather was quite successful with trading by that time but the Germans took everything, which made their return impossible. A relatively big Chinese community lived in the Łódź area and many of them returned to China if somehow possible. In 1939/40 the family moved to Berlin. Their first home in Berlin was in Wallner Theaterstrasse 26, in district C2 in 1940. My father Teh Li was born in Charité in 1942.

Madga in Germany
Madga in Germany, before the times of color photography

In the winter of 1942/43 the bombings of Berlin started and Teh Ko remembers that they have been heavy. He remembers that the windows were clotted and covered with paper everywhere to prevent the breaking glass, due to the bombings, from scattering as dangerous slivers. He also remembers, that he was once hit at the leg by a shrapnel while leaving the bunker. In general he reports that they had relatively few problems with the Nazis. The only thing he mentioned was, that my grandfather should get retracted by the Nazis to fight for the Wehrmacht in 1942/43 – In contrast my father and my Canadian cousin Oliver claim, that my grandfather was forced to leave for compulsory labor in a camp but Madga prevented his vitiation by arguing with the Nazis how she should be able to feed and raise four boys without a father, that’s what she said herself. Maybe the truth is somewhere in between… It will be tough to reproduce the true happenings.

Due to the massive bombings families with many children were evacuated to the countryside – as Teh Ko states on a tractor – in the year 1944 and in a measure called “Storch“. They were moved to Dahlhausen in Brandenburg, about 110 km North-East of Berlin, close to Wittstock / Dosse, and lived initially in the house of Pastor Schmidt in the year of 1944. They were looted again, this time of the Russian red army, although the grandfather had buried everything. On the countryside they were shifted several times and in the same year 1944 my youngest uncle Teh Wei was born in Kutno, which was called Schröttersburg by that time and was part of Schlesien, but belongs to Poland again today. 

Madga 04
On this picture are Teh Hsing, Teh Tscheng, Teh Li, Madga and Teh Ko from left to right and some unknown friends of the family.

After the war in 1945/46 the family returned to Berlin and lived in the Auguste-Viktoria-Strasse in Berlin-Grunewald. The children received Chinese lessons from their private teacher Gau Guan Shi. My grandfather didn’t return with the family, he traded with slippers in Poznan (Posen) of Poland, where he lived and worked in Loketka 26 to support the family, and while in Berlin, he carried luggage and traded carpets and china porcelain together with Teh Ko. The both were hawking, traded in the streets and in restaurants, my grandmother took care of the children by that time and the family did alright – both, my uncle and my father confirmed that, independently from each other.

In 1947 my grandfather moved to Frankfurt / Main and Teh Ko followed him in 1949, while the rest of the family remained in Berlin. In 1961 Madga opened the first Chinese restaurant in Müllerstrasse, Berlin-Wedding. Another business of hers was a shop for Chinese wares in Hauptstrasse, Berlin-Schöneberg…

To be continued!

If anyone can and wants to contribute to add to the puzzle of family history, please contact me via my contact form. The attached gallery shows different members of the family and the names and relations to me are given as far as I know. The idea and task to create this entry was granted to me by my cousins Oliver Ma from Canada. I met him, his sister Stephani Ma, and my little cousins Savanna and Etienne, his kids for the first time (that I remember) in 2013, during my Eastcoast Roadtrip. An awesome experience and we will see each other again! I wish happy Christmas Holidays to everyone and hope to be able to gather some more info during the time. Take care!

Berlin Special: The 25th anniversary of re-unification

The re-unification of Germany is the glorious history of November 9th in German History. There have been different times at this date, but today this entry brings some impressions from my childhood in West-Berlin, some thoughts and of course photography of the 25th anniversary celebrations.

“I’m a child of an island in the red sea.” That’s what I always stated, when we had discussions about East vs West in the past. This is a long topic and the re-unification was not always as smooth as it might seem to you.

We had many discussions with our East German counterparts, because we – from the West – had everything and were arrogant – from the point of view of East Germans. Heard that the last time, when the East Germans behaved exactly like that, getting everything we prepared as group work and being arrogant when questioned for doing so in the studies of Pharmacy in Berlin“Now it’s our turn, you had everything, all the years before” was the unacceptable answer. Maybe they have been right, but it was not my fault or the fault of my colleagues from the West, we have been small children by that time. That’s already nearly ten years in the past – and the sad thing about it is, that all the glory of a moment and all the hope and good will is replaced by routine – getting back to the routes, forgetting what was important, all too fast.

Today it’s hard to distinct who is East and who is West German – it does not matter anymore or the importance vanishes more and more, at least in my generation. It’s good like that, we are one people. 

“I’m a child from an island in the Red Sea.”

By employing this phrase I stated, that I am from West-Berlin, I was born and raised there. Former West-Berlin to be adequate. The place in Germany which was surrounded by the soviet occupancy – the red and since it was a big area surrounding West-Berlin the metaphor “Island in the Red Sea” made sense to me. The DDR (GDR, i.e. German Democratic Republic) was under Russian patronage, but still controlled by their own East German people – the secretary general and his executive the VoPos (Volkspolizei, i.e. peoples police). West-Berlin was a spot of Western life in the middle of the communistic driven DDR – connected to East-Berlin via closed bridges everywhere, with the most prominent Oberbaumbrücke, Bornholmer Brücke in the inner city and Glienicker Brücke towards Brandenburg – those are bridges over the rivers Spree and Havel.

I come from the former British sector, from Berlin-Wilmersdorf. I still remember radio stations like RIAS which means Radio In the American Sector. I still know the surveillance station on Teufelsberg as a guarded stronghold of the American – or allied – forces. I know the term “Rosinenbomber” and connected to that, the importance of the Airport Berlin-Tempelhof, which was the only airport in the beginning, right after the wall was built in August 1961, to bring supplies and food to West-Berlin. Visit the memorial park while you are in Berlin, Checkpoint Charlie and Brandenburger Tor, to see the most popular places, where the separation was obviously visible – and Eastside Gallery to see authentic left overs of the Berlin Wall.

While for us in West-Berlin traveling was possible during the whole time, it was not as comfortable as today. We had to pass the DDR, on the corridors that were open to the West-Berliners and Western Germans to enter Berlin. This act – yes it was! – was called Transit. You had to wait at the border leaving West-Berlin and again at the border to enter BRD, or Western Germany, as it was called in the past. And this Transit was not always smooth, some days you had to wait hours to be allowed to reenter or they didn’t let you at all. I remember one night in winter, when I was a small kid. We have not been allowed to enter BRD and had to wait at the border for ten hours, before it was reopened. The allied forces handed soup and sheets for the people waiting and the VoPos checked every car with dogs for fleeing people. That was reality and I still have this image on my mind of soldiers digging our luggage, a submachine gun over the shoulder, the dogs in the car. On the highways of DDR, the speed limit was 100 km/h, unimaginably slow compared to today – for Germany, that is known for the fun Autobahn experience. When you took your pets, you had to present them to the veterinaries at the border and pay a fee. When you wanted to enter the DDR to visit relatives or friends, you had to pay a fee and change Deutsche Mark into Ostmark. Life was certainly different.

I was six years old, when the wall fell on November 9th 1989. I don’t remember too much anymore. I just remember everyone went nuts. There was a great excitement in the air. My mum went alone, she left us at home on this night. I think it is a pity. I think we would still remember what happened nowadays. But a couple of days after the fall of the wall, we went into East-Berlin to discover it. What I remember: The smell was so different! It smelled like coal, burning coal. The wall must have prevented the smell to come over. And the Trabbies smelled horrific by that time as well. Everything was grey and rundown, compared to today where the eastern parts of Berlin shine so beautiful. You could still see the bullet holes in the walls of many buildings, the holes which date back to WW II. 

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This is a shot from November 9th 2014 in Berlin Mauerpark, exactly 25 years later, on the minute, after the wall between former Western Germany and GDR fell. You see the moment when the balloons got released – they built a wall of light all along the former border of Berlin and in the moment the balloons took off the light faded. You can see this moment in long exposure. Many people have been around to witness this event all along the former wall. A special feeling was in the air, of joy & happiness, as of hope and expectations. ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ #ig_worldclub #igworldclub #ig_clubaward #featuremeinstagood @instagood #loves_world #insta_crew #ig_exquisite #ig_masterpiece #ig_costarica #IG_EUROPE #igs_europe #ig_europa #igs_world #theworldshotz #artofvisuals @artofvisuals #timelight @timelightinceptions #worldbestshot #instafameshots #exklusive_shot #hot_shotz #superhubs #superhubs_shot @superhubs_shot #dream_image #jaw_dropping_shots #igglobalclub #iggloballife #tv_longexposure #tgif_longXpo #throughanewlensecontest @natgeotravel #diestadtberlin

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We visited Friedrichstadtpalast and witnessed a suite of Tschaikowski, played by the former East-German variete, and we visited the Naturkundemuseum in Mitte. That have been the first two events respectively places I remember in accordance to the re-unification. And today?

Everything seems normal! Berlin is one, no doubt about that. But I still have the feeling it is different when you hit the East German countryside in Brandenburg and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. But it is good that it is like it is and our children will hopefully realize, that times have been different, will hopefully understand, that everyone can be thankful, this never ending cold-war is over, once and for all. What we should learn out of that? Make Love not war, everywhere on this planet. It might be a special case in the history of Germany, with all the guilt, the forgiveness, the separation and finally the re-unification – November 9th is a dark and a glorious date – has both sides in German history and a date which will always be bound to that history. But the principle I address of making love and not war is the same, no matter about what wall we are talking, no matter which religion we believe in and which economic interests are on our list. People have to understand that, finally, once and for all. 

And to visualize the celebration of the 25th anniversary of this epic event, I took some pictures, mainly in Mauerpark of the event itself, some close to Bornholmer Brücke and some the days before along Oberbaumbrücke and Eastside Gallery, as well as at Brandenburger Tor, where the rests of the inner Berlin wall can be found. I wrote about the area between Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain – including Eastside Gallery – a couple of month ago and you can find the entry here.