This Biography Should Be in English -- Part I

Berlin/Washington -- Anyone who follows German history of the 1960s and 1970s knows of the remarkable lives of Gretchen and Rudi Dutschke. Unfortunately, the English-speaking world has not had the benefit of reading Gretchen Dutschke's prose. I am no professional translator, but with Gretchen's permission here is my translated excerpt from her book Wir hatten ein barbarisches, schönes Leben: Rudi Dutschke, eine Biographie.

The scene takes place in 1966, when Rudi's father and mother came from East Germany into West Berlin to see how their son was doing with his new American wife, Gretchen, a native of Illinois. The new wife narrates the dreaded first visit of the in-laws.

Vati Dutschke was sixty-five and allowed to travel in the West. Mutti Dutschke was also allowed to travel on account of a health condition that permitted early retirement. They came to see how married life was treating their dear son. We wanted as much as possible to survive these days without friction. So we undertook a new experience together: a frantic housecleaning. We washed all the dishes, swept up the dust, vacuumed, cleaned the windows, scrubbed the floors, did the laundry. The apartment shined as never before. Rudi got a haircut and shaved.

While I waited with a vague foreboding at home, Rudi picked up his parents at the border. When they arrived, we offered them coffee and cake. But just as I was covering the coffee table, Mutti Dutschke started to investigate the apartment. In the kitchen we had terrycloth hand towels. "That's not appropriate," complained Mutti. "In the kitchen the towels must be linen. Only in the bathroom are terrycloth towels allowed." In the living room she asked where the curtains were. I didn't understand. I had sewed curtains, and hung them as curtains are supposed to be hung, or so I thought. "White sheer curtains" she said. "You must have white sheers with the other curtains." The newspapers we put up as wallpaper did not please her at all, to say the least. Rudi offered: "Come, sit down Mutti, coffee is ready." The peace did not last long. As soon as she drank the coffee and ate the cake, she got up and went once again through the apartment. Vati found Rudi's haircut much too long. Rudi protested that he had just been at the barber's, but Vati laughed mockingly and said no one should pay for such an insufficient haircut. When the bickering didn't let up, I was at the end of my nerves. I ran out of the room and slammed the door so hard that the whole apartment shook. I took up my flute and played wildly. But I overheard how Mutti challenged Rudi: "Why do you allow your wife to behave like that? Do something!" Rudi said nothing. Then she scolded him: "You are a wet dishrag."

It is more than an oddity that Gretchen Dutschke's words need translation from the original German into English. She is an American. She should be published in her own country in her own language. She was at the forefront of the changes that shook the world in the 1960s and 1970s. We could learn a lot from her if we had access to her in our own common mother tongue.