Hans-Gert Mahrholz (10. October 1918 – 13. February 2012), commander of  submarine U309.

Mahrholz was a friend of one of my students and, reportedly, one of the templates for the Captain in Das Boot. The old man evidently still had charisma and will.

Yesterday, i started reading Zoo Station by David Downing, a WW2 era thriller akin to those of Alan Furst; not as well-written as Furst but more than competent and a good read. This period is irresistible, in part because you have straightforward, heart-on-sleeve villains (the Nazis), the more complicatedly hypocritical arch-villains (the Communists), and those who seem to be shining knights by comparison (just about everyone else). i think the fascination is also because, for some reason, the personalities of this time seem greater than ours. The top Nazis, like the top Communists, were largely base and disgusting people; but there were also so many grand characters in this time, e.g. Claus von Stauffenberg, Canaris, Patton, Churchill; this seems impossible in our days, or rather extremely difficult (as one sees with a “character” like Boris Johnson, who seems to play the media very well, presenting himself as a good story).

Our culture seems to be becoming increasingly uniform, akin to the Soviet Union – to be successful you must fit neatly into a pigeonhole; you must be malleable. Above a certain level, eccentricity is permitted, within limits, but you can’t get to that level without masquerading as bland and functional. One of my students, a Russian mountain climber, said that none of her colleagues are normal, that all of them are unusual. It is similar in teaching; there are some normal teachers – usually women whose partners have a good job in Germany – but on the whole, teachers are unusual. It is perhaps one of the few niches for eccentricity in our culture.

When i think back on the 5 years i wasted in office work in England, my mistake was to try to survive in such an environment of uniformity. Only the apple polishers and insect people can flourish in these places; the rest tend to be forced back into a corner, into a crack in the wall.

i often doubt there is a place for me in this world, where i could do other than just barely survive. It seems a world for apple polishers, content, belly-patting pigs for whom all is rosy and this is the best of all possible worlds. However, when i reflect on other times, the war for example, i see that there have been many times & places where my peculiarities would have been useful, in some way. Apple polishers, like cockroaches, will always thrive; there is no system or society inimical to a polisher. It is harder for people like me, but not impossible. i don’t have my war yet, only teaching – good enough, for now.