How are you when you smile

Claudia Seifert: When you smile, you are more beautiful!

At the moment when a madeleine dipped in linden blossom tea touches the poet's palate, the sunken past emerges in him and mixes with the present. The familiar taste from childhood allows him to penetrate the unconscious depths of his memory, which remain closed to the analyzing intellect.

The famous Madeleine episode from Marcel Proust's "Search for Lost Time" still symbolizes the art of remembering as the visualization of past sensory impressions. A taste, a scent or a photo triggers chain reactions in the memory. In history they made authentic memories "from below" gain in importance, "contemporary witnesses" for their part are no longer satisfied with the role of an object and want to have their own say. Claudia Seifert's reading book about "Childhood in the 50s and 60s" moves in the field of tension between trivial self-reflection and authentic visualization.

The inability of the mothers and fathers of the war generation to show feelings is the central theme of the stories of seven women in their fifties, which the editor has compiled and analyzed. The majority come from rather petty-bourgeois backgrounds; some grew up in refugee camps. In the reflective search for the typical of their biography and their milieu, they succeed over long distances in condensing the multiplicity of subjective experiences in vivid images. The attraction of the stories lies in their recognition value; Things become symbols around which the memory of the author and the reader is crystallized:

"Ordinary" nylon curtains belonged to every petty-bourgeois model family and signaled a retreat into private life. They were considered to be the calling card of every housewife, they were used to measure "order" and "cleanliness". Blossom white and carefully pleated, they hung in front of sparkling clean, polished windows.

For many girls, behind this, a dreary everyday life was hidden under the thumb of a lonely mother with her fears, her obsession with order and her "greed for normality". Daughters, even more than sons, were objects of maternal ambition. All authors agree on this. But then the views diverge. One complains about the tightly plaited braids; the other would have loved to wear her black hair long and loose, but had to have the practical bowl cut for a mark every month. The dotted pettycoat dress that the girl dreamed of in the self-made "sack" in the refugee settlement was an abomination to one of her peers in the upper town. Clothes made the man, even with children; class differences manifested themselves in them in school as in the "gang". This is another reason why daughters resent their mothers' ignorance of their own wishes.

The secret main role in many "girl stories" plays the mostly absent or unreachable father enthroned at the head of the table. The much-quoted motto "Children who want something, get something wrong!" marks the transformation of self-suffered barracks courtyard pedagogy onto one's own children. Mentally injured war returnees compensated for the lost megalomania in their own four walls.

The images of the father in Claudia Seifert's book seem like illustrations for Margarete and Alexander Mitscherlich's study "The Inability to Mourn", which states "I-emptying" and "psychosocial immobility" as a result of the "denial" of Nazi crimes. The collective silence drove the fathers from their roots. The loss of the past carried over to the children when the teachers of this generation passed over the years 1933-1945 in history class. The convulsively maintained lie stood like an invisible wall between the generations.

Children felt the suppressed fears and trauma that came under the corset of convention. Some authors still carry them around with them to this day. Some have distanced themselves from their fathers for good, while others still suffer from never getting close to them.

In fact, not all fathers froze in the authoritarian pose of the head of the family. Some visibly suffered from their own speechlessness and fled into helpless handicrafts. The doll's house made in months of night work or the pedal car made of scrap for the brother appear today as a sign of tender affection, but they have seldom really arrived with the children.

In the GDR, under the banner of official anti-fascism, the responsibility of the "working masses" for Nazism was also denied. In addition, the regime inoculated the children with an indelible guilt complex against the "anti-fascist resistance fighters" and state founders of the GDR. For their part, they had to deny the Stalinist crimes and the deportation of their own comrades, their inner rigidity carried over to the people who accepted this state lie and with it an unwanted system.

In almost every story, a grandma appears as the mother's "opponent". They were women who had survived both wars mentally and who had freed themselves from social constraints. They revived with their grandchildren, went swimming with them and took jaunts for which parents rarely had time. Like their mothers, they did not suffer under any pressure to save and had a sense for "useless things" like delicious food.

At a time when people didn't talk about feelings, it became synonymous with affection. The ubiquitous dictation "What is on the table will be eaten!" signaled that children's wishes do not count. They did not actually suffer from the simplicity of the stews, but from the loveless monotony of a menu that became an instrument of education.

One experienced carefree joie de vivre from time to time with the "filthy children" on the other side of the social boundary that ran through almost every place. It was there that the first televisions appeared, which were frowned upon in "decent" families for educational reasons. Happy, who was allowed to "watch" while peanut worms and lemonade. In this environment an intimate "emergency community" could also form with the mother.

The editor sometimes overshoots the mark when she tries to comb out typical features for an entire generation from the seven portrayals of life. Their book is not a scientific study, but a socio-historical reading book that does not systematically open up connections, but stimulates that compassionate understanding that the Mitscherlichs have identified as the key to a liberating coming to terms with the past beyond blaming. The anthology "When you smile, you are more beautiful!" is an opportunity to talk to the parents' generation and the young grandchildren.

Elke Suhr on "When you smile, you are more beautiful! - Childhood in the 50s and 60s". The volume is published by Claudia Seifert in the dtv premium series, has 255 pages and costs 14.50 euros.