!Personal History (Main:) Personal History

Small personal history of Herman the German


I was born near Cologne in western Germany and emigrated with my family to Africa when I was nine.

After school I almost immediately went to varsity, at the university of the Fair City, in part to get away from my family a little. I studied physics and maths there, and later computer science; I finished majoring in both comp. sc. & physics, with a B.Sc.. But I learnt I wasn't really born to study, and will probably never attempt such a long period of study again. In essence I was a pretty bad student, and scraped through.

I also finally stopped being a Christian there, because I'd learnt at school, in my final year, that I'd really only been so active with that CLG crowd because of the social aspect. Once the latter stopped, the whole faith thing collapsed for me. I tried to get it going again in first year, but turned away more or less in disgust at the elitist Catholics and the much-too-missionary protestants. Our favourite teacher in 2nd-to-last year, Brother M., was actually at that university for a while at that time - very different than in school, very hip, the good-looking but unattainable young man... Wow!

I then worked in i.t. firms in the Fair City for a while, and back in Jo'anna. Round about this time my mom had a really bad back problem, and needed surgery, which threw me out of step for a while. By that time I was free-lance. I then lived with my folks in B. for a few months, but still couldn't handle it that well.

By then the Citizenship Amendment Act was looming, and I had to decide whether to stay and have to join the army (and, I assumed, fight in that non-capitalist country on the West coast just north of the ex-protectorate), or leave and start a new life in Europe or the States or Canada. The only job opportunity I could find, however, was through my then contractual hirer, Siemens, in Munich, at the Siemens HQ there.

I did get a job there, and started holding courses in UNIX and C, both of which were relatively new to Germans. After some sys. admin for the training centre, I then again went free-lance. Could never get along for any great length of time with a boss, I suppose. (Still can't seem to, not too well, anyway.)

At that time I'd moved to a nice small city on the Baltic Sea, which was pleasant, and where I felt somewhat settled for the first time in my life since leaving home. I even entered some not-so-enduring relationships!

But then my contracts took me farther afield again, all over Germany, and even overseas occasionally, e.g. to Singapore. In 1996 I decided to found an internet firm with 4 others, all younger than me; I was mainly the "money". We worked very hard for 2 years, with lots of trials and personal tribulations, but eventually the firm got on an even footing and is still prospering today. I'm still a 1% partner, and in that way earn a few € on the side every year.

I began programming outside the firm ever more, and in 1999, had a 3-month stint at the German Mail in Berlin. I lived in an area which has since become a hotspot for young people, and was very inspired. I wanted to move to Berlin, and finally, in Nov. '99 did. So I've now spent well over a full decade here, the longest time in one place in my whole life.

All that moving never did much for my love life, and I hoped that would change in an international city like this. But in the first half of my stay in B., I was battling too much to survive, 9/11 came along, and all economic activity became more frenetic. I finally gave up on free-lancing (I'd become indebted by several € thousands; waiting too long for contracts), and vigorously tried to get full employment. I was very lucky to be thus employed by a Munich firm who - even luckier - put me into my current job at the offshoot of a big mobile phone co. in Berlin (!).

The job (update: no longer for Siemens since 2013, because Siemens got out) isn't that enticing, and the people mostly technically-minded competitive men, and after 2 years or so I wrote a friend in Oxford:

I've now been in Berlin for 6 years, and it's been the "poorest" time of my life, if I don't count varsity and the years directly following that. Two years ago my self-employed infrastructure basically collapsed, and I was without income for quite a while. Because I was too proud to go on the dole (in fact, less than the dole - the "Sozialhilfe", i.e. the existence minimum paid by the state to hopeless cases or ex-self-employed folk), I piled up some debt at that time, which I am still paying off today. 20 months ago I then did find a new fully employed position as an installer of big servers for Siemens.
This is my job today. I earn about half of what I used to, deal a lot with hardware (not my forté) and travel a lot overseas - to install the servers we prep in Berlin at the actual customer site. This part of the job is quite interesting, of course - I've been 2 weeks or longer in Pakistan, Norway, Morocco and, yes, even RSA! - but it does interrupt everyday and social life to a degree I thought I'd never have to go through again. But it is a job in hard times, so I'm sticking with it until something better comes along.
I spend quite a bit of my private time doing "social work", i.e. helping a Kreuzberg centre for disadvantaged kids on the computer side, also holding workshops. The kids are usually those of immigrants, who may not even be allowed to stay in the long term. One hears a lot of Turkish and Arabic spoken in the streets of Kreuzberg - one reason this semi-immigrant feels at home here. Unfortunately the air is pretty bad (hardly any restrictions on cars in Berlin, an old tradition from its "insular" phase), so I may have to move a bit into the cleaner outskirts.
I also tried to start another teen computer project while in RSA. Apart from the good job the government seems to be doing housing-wise, I saw at least one classroom full of 2-year-old PCs; new then, now untouched and unused, because software, teachers and, last but very much not least, initiative is missing. Am trying to have them connected to each other and the Internet (with me paying for the latter). Am working with a very old friend of mine who's just decided to throw all her old working life away to devote herself to setting up a centre for orphaned black kids in Diepkloof, Soweto. We'll see if something comes of one or the other.

Concerning the Berlin part, this is still mostly accurate today: I'm noticing my age (and the much more frequent white hair or 2000), and the social stuff has diminished, due to chronic illness rearing its ugly head a while back. But I'm back on a more even keel now, and living more healthily, if still as a single. I passed the 5th decade the other year, and still can't quite believe it! My financial situation has improved, despite the current Global Thermo-Economic War...

I do spend a lot of time writing texts for the Web, I notice. Mainly film reviews and forum stuff; I built and ran a German forum together with a young friend, who lives and studies in Dresden, which brought some fulfillment - the Lounge - and had the biggest private on-line music "database" I know. I'm blogging regularly, i.a. once a month in German on s.f./fantasy comics.

Perhaps I should have become a journalist?

I did until about 2010 occasionally travel to very pleasant places for work; e.g., RSA, Mozambique and, recently, France. Tunisia twice already. But there used to be usually little time for leisure; we were expected to work weekends, though I usually reduced that to just Saturdays. Since then, I've been doing plain office work in Berlin only - no more biz trips for now. That debt mentioned in the letter above has been paid back. So, at my age, I can relax a little, I tell my bosses.

I have family i.a. near Cologne, and until recently most contact with my same-aged cousin and her kids. They're sort of my ersatz family, I suppose. I'm still best friends with the ex from that Baltic city; we telephone once a week as a rule. Other than that, I try to be a responsible German citizen, even though I still feel like a foreigner often enough; there's no home country for me any more. I do enjoy travelling to RSA; I just can't imagine living there anymore.

I'm thinking of moving away from lung-destroying Berlin. I'd miss it, though, and the fantastic media & art stuff you get to see here.

I'm not rich and probably never will be. But I believe in a positive future. I don't believe in catastrophic climate change, for one! :-)

Watch the space made free by my future slim self! ;-)