German Memoirs – Part 4

Came October 1953, and my college started. The teaching method in Germany was quite unlike the one I was exposed to in India. Whereas I did know Mechanics, Physics, Chemistry, etc reasonably well, their methods of examining were quite different and I failed the very first semester, which practically meant losing a year. But it wasn’t quite so. Unknown to me, my father’s friends were keeping track of my progress. Upon learning of my failure, one of them summoned me. I was scared. I thought I’d receive a dressing down, but no, nothing of the sort. I was told with love and affection to not lose heart as they understood it was not easy to learn everything in a foreign language and that I should repeat the semester the following year. In the meanwhile, they had already arranged for my training in their various factories in Berlin. So, off to Berlin.

Though ravaged by war, Berlin was beautiful city. Unfortunately, the city was divided into four sectors – British, French, American and Russian. While travelling across the first three sectors was without any problems, the Russians sector was not easily accessible, although armed with my Indian passport, I it relatively easy. Berlin was surrounded by what was then known as East Germany and travelling through that was a different cup of tea. The East Germans were ruled pretty harshly. I was not a fan of communism and the following story will perhaps give you an insight of how they were suppressed. I had a pen-friend in Leipzig, East Germany, who was studying medicine at university. Her name was Ingrid Keppler. While I was in Berlin, she came to visit me. It was not easy for East Germans to travel anywhere freely, but she had somehow managed to get a travel permit. She narrated to me an incident which I am reproducing: she had gone to see a movie in Leipzig. It being a propaganda movie extolling the virtues of communism, she was soon bored and got up halfway through to go home. To her surprise, the next day police went to her house to enquire why she had left. Being quick-witted and also a student of medicine, she found an excuse about not being well and was not harassed further. One or two other such instances also come to mind but I don’t want to belabor the point.

Apart from meeting my lifelong friend Suren Kothari in a photo studio here, the reset of the time was uneventful. About Suren, I have already written in an earlier blog.

I came back to Nuremberg in time for beginning of the college to once again start my studies afresh. The next three years were going to be the most eventful years of my life and I must say that God must have intervened every time and everywhere to ensure that I did not fail in anything. I still do not know how I became an engineer! God and fate must have contrived for that to happen!

On the first day of college, one of our professors spotted me and asked me if I was going to repeat the semester. Upon being told that I was, he told me that he admired my guts and wished me well. About three or four of my friends had also failed and they too were repeating it with me. Ernst, of course, was very brilliant and had moved ahead.

It was in this semester that I was going to strike a new friendship, perhaps the greatest along with Ernst’s, and what a travesty of fate it was that neither of them completed engineering – both being far ahead of me in terms of studies! While Ernst could not complete his studies for personal reasons, the other guy, Guenter Ostertag, had to give them up because he failed in German! Yes, German, his mother tongue! Twice! Guenter was the quiet sort, while I was quite boisterous. I never thought that I could ever befriend him.

In our engineering drawing class, the professor had given us some assignments. Not only was I very slow, but also pretty bad in drawing. While Guenter and few others could complete the assignments at breakneck speed, I was lagging way behind and the professor upon seeing their completed assignments, promptly assigned some more work. I was really upset and angry, too. Noticing this, Guenter came over and asked me what my problem was. Upon explaining to him that at the rate I was going, I was afraid of flunking the exam, he just asked me not to worry, he’d do the drawings for me! When I looked askance, he just nodded his head once again to reassure me. God had just intervened and a great friendship had just begun. Well, I cleared the first semester huffing and puffing, but poor Guenter had to repeat! Why? Because he had failed in German which was a subject that was compulsory in the first two semesters! The second semester was comparatively easy and I cleared it without much ado.

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