Friday, 8 August 2014

To Germany

This week we have another guest post by Jo Vietzke who recently had the opportunity to visit one of Durham's twin towns.


The opportunities for international travel as part of the job are few and far between for the local authority archivist.  Therefore, it is of no surprise that I jumped at the chance to attend a First World War commemoration event at Durham’s twin town of Tübingen, Germany.

Statue of Neptune, Tuebingen, taken by Jo Vietzke
Statue of Neptune, Tuebingen market place, taken by Jo Vietzke
British commemorations have focussed on 4th August as the beginning of the war but this date is the start of official British involvement.  However, Britain was a late-comer.  Austro-Hungary declared war with Serbia on 1st August, immediately pulling in Germany and RussiaFrance and Germany declared war on 3rd and Britain joined the diplomatic fray a day later.

Therefore, the memorial day organised by Tübingen town took place on 1st August in front of the tax office.  This was not quite as strange a location as it might sound as the tax offices are housed in what were, 100 years ago, the town’s barracks.  A stage was erected in what was once the parade ground, a place that a century before would have been full of bustle and bravado, and which was now the scene of remembrance and contemplation.

Twelve hours of lectures, music, readings, tours, and films filled the day.  The events ranged from history academics of Tübingen’s university reading papers, to local school kids reporting on their trip to Durham to study the First World War with English and French students.   People came and went according to their interests and the events were well attended.

Jo Vietzke presenting her talk at, taken by Stephan Klingebiel, Culture Deptartment of Tübingen
Jo Vietzke presenting her talk, taken by Stephan Klingebiel, Culture Deptartment of Tübingen
My own slot was scheduled for 7:45pm.  I prepared a series of readings from sources to be found at the Record Office in an attempt to provide a flavour of Durham’s experiences of the military and the home front during the First World War.  While I included a couple of powerful battle descriptions from DLI soldiers’ diaries I also wanted to present a series of sources that might be less obvious and possibly thought provoking in a different way.  I used the oral history of a woman from Horden about working the coke ovens and playing football, until her husband came home.  I also read from the minute book of the Durham Women Quaker’s meeting and an article “From Mesopotamia” from the Bede magazine, amongst others.

Throughout the entire weekend, the other representatives of Tübingen’s twin towns (Perugia, Italy and Aix-en-Provence, France) and I enjoyed the warm and attentive hospitality of the town’s Cultural Office.  It was a pleasure to be part of such a vibrant and friendly cultural exchange.

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