This is a story that can only happen on Christmas, I guess. During the last days, I would assume as most of you dearest readers as well, I happen to visit my parents back at home. Nostalgic overload in those contemplative times is as common as indulging oneself in a feast of fantastic, mom-made great food and memories of the “good old times”. Such as it happened this year again and we took out the photo albums, children´s pictures and such. But this time, almost by chance, my mother handed me a loose pile of seemingly very old black/white pictures. Older than my beloved children´s pictures, older as well as the pictures of my parent´s childhood. A thick quality, some bleached over time, but all catched my attention at once. I rubbed my eyes: Was that a … battle ship?
I couldn´t believe what I saw: A Norwegian fjord. A big warship. Cannons. Gunpowder. Now it got interesting. You see, I am the youngest of three brothers. All (but me) went to the German forces to fulfill their duty back in the day when we still had the mandatory military service. I did not. I chose civil service instead but only after the German Navy refused to draft me to serve on a U-boat. My brothers shook their heads: Navy? We are Air Force! This is because of our dad. My father is a pilot since he was a 14 year old boy doing gliding. He served as a test pilot on MiG 21 fighter jets and later on a big TU 154-M, the East German “Air Force One”. We are a family of Air Force-guys. Well, except me.
Since I was a little boy I dreamt of sailing the seas. Ships fascinated me much more than a fighter jet can ever do. I didn´t knew why this was – we used to live near Berlin, so no shore in sight and no ship to have any influence on me. It was all but a great riddle why the hell in a family of Air Force guys I was drawn on board a ship. My oldest brother is still an officer in the German Air Force serving in an Eurofighter regiment. Well, that fateful day on Christmas Eve I held the answer in my own hands.
You see, my grandfather – whom I love – appears not to be the “real” grandfather in terms of blood line. There was a genitor, the DNA-giver, of my father who left his family in the late Seventies and choose to go with an other woman. We have these pictures from his residue, the man died in the late Nineties, I never met him. As it appeared, my own father and myself resemble the outward appearance of that man almost identically. And apparently the looks of his father, my great-grandfather. This guy served during World War 2 in the German Kriegsmarine as a sailor. And this guy owned a camera.
Not just a camera. Apparently he managed to bring it to Norway where he was stationed near this big ship. Apparently, this is a German Heavy Cruiser of the Admiral Hipper-class. Three units of this big bastard had been built of which the ADMIRAL HIPPER herself – I am almost sure – is seen on these pictures. The other one was the BLÜCHER, which was sunk by Norwegian torpedoes and artillery pretty early in the war, in 1940. The PRINZ EUGEN accompanied the battleship BISMARCK on her fateful first and last voyage 1941, survived the war and was sunk by an American atomic bomb in the Kwajalein Atoll in 1946. Makes ADMIRAL HIPPER the only ship possible seen in these pictures.
I own some 10 pictures of my great grandfather now showing the ADMIRAL HIPPER apparently in her anchorage in Norway around 1942. My great grandfather must have been not the undermost rank because apparently he was allowed or able to own a camera and had the time/freedom to not only shoot the ship from aboard and ashore but also during firing practice, convoy operations and during staged “all hands on deck”-photo sessions.
During my A-levels where I chose Biology as my prime subject, we had human genome and genetics as the main topic. I remember very well that our teachers told us that in genetics it is mostly the genes of the grandfather-generation and not the father´s and mother´s genes which have the most impact on the newly formed life. These gene-sequences tend to be dominant. Seeing these pictures of a totally unknown person who apparently shared the same passion for seamanship and seafaring, the heartbeat in my own chest and the knowledge about genealogy made me conclude that it might be the solution to the question why I am the only sailor in a family of pilots.
ADMIRAL HIPPER had the longest “career” in active service of all big German units in the Kriegsmarine back in the day. The heavy cruiser left Norway in 1943 and sailed into the Baltic Sea. She remained in Kiel, not very far from where I live now, where she was scuttled by explosives at the end of the war and finally scrapped afterwards. I don´t know the name of my great grandfather. It is sad to see those pictures, 80 years after the war, realizing that mankind hasn´t learned anything and still young guys taking pictures like these – happy ones and scary ones. At least I have a faint understanding of what makes me what I am. The faint, lost memory of a nameless photographer who happened to be my great grandfather aboard ADMIRAL HIPPER.
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