Biographical Log of Michael Furstner - Page 10

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Wednesday February 6, 2008 (bio, war, concentration camp, mother, Dutch attitude)

Lochem Continues from Feb.5 (Holland 1945-46)
My mother was soon transferred to another concentration camp near Lochem, and stayed there for the remaining of her sentence. I was allowed to visit her from time to time.
In due course I too moved on when I progressed to the next class which was located in the village 'Hervormde Kerk' (Protestant church). One day, after having done something wrong, I had to stand in the corner facing the wall, a common school punishment in those days. I stood there with mixed feelings, partly marveling at the unique experience of standing in the corner of a church for punishment (how may kids would ever experience that ?), partly worried about what God would have to say about that.

One morning, standing in formation at roll call, the Camp Commander shouted "Arts Department, one step forward !". No one understood what he meant and nothing happened. He shouted again "Arts Department, Furstner, one step forward !". Surprised my mother stepped forward.
From that day on she became the Arts Department. The Commander had seen my mother make lovely figurines, 15-18 cm (6-7 inches) tall, made from scraps of brown hessian she found in camp. She was given her own work place, all the materials she needed and allowed to make her artwork every day.

The Camp Commander would collect the finished dolls and sell them to Art shops in nearby towns. I don't believe my mother ever received any money in return, but she was treated very well and could do what she loved doing until the day she was released. Back home she continued making her hessian figurines, displayed stuck on a vertical wire fixed to a small wooden base. They were absolutely wonderful and often displayed at our art exhibitions once my father had returned from prison 18 months later.

Before I move on I must firmly state that none of my friends, in School, High school or University, ever reproached me or my parents about those days. They never even raised the subject. My parents became in fact much loved and highly respected by all my friends who visited us. At parties at our house (during my Uni days) they often engaged in long philosophical discussions with them and envied me greatly for having such open minded, modern, forward looking parents. I was always very proud of that.

Amongst the outer reaches of my acquaintances and beyond however there was often gossip behind our backs and even the odd name calling. The stigma, unbelievably, still continues even these days, 60 years on.
It is the year 2002, my sister Wivica (who lives in S.Germany), visits a Dutch friend near our former home in Holland. As soon as she leaves again, a curious neighbour walks over to Wivica's friend's place and asks :

"What was that German car doing in your driveway ?".
"Oh" Wivica's friend replies, "That was Wivica Furstner, formerly from Martinshof across the road."
"You should not talk to those people!" the nosy neighbour responds "They were fout (on the wrong side) during the War!"

2002 : by that time my parents are respectively 20 and 12 years dead. And when the War ended my sister Wivica had just celebrated her 5th birthday. What could she have known or understood about those days ?
The Netherlands is famous for its broadmindedness and at the cutting edge of modern social issues, and I am very proud of that. But malicious narrow minded backwardness you can find anywhere. In Holland it is still alive and kicking.

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Thursday February 7, 2008 (diary, Artillery, Wivica, Villeneuves)

Abstract sculpture by Claus The leaves outside are glittering in the sunlight when I open my eyes this morning. It sets the tone for the day.
I get up and bid my daughter Babette farewell. She flies to Sydney for two days, then on to Vancouver to attend the AGM of PGIC, but will be back within a week on Friday. Babette wants to introduce some innovations to her two schools in Australia, but can only proceed if the other schools in the Group do the same. She has just two days to win their respective CEOs over to her idea.

Later I receive an email from my sister Wivica in Germany. Sabrina Fox (a member of the '20th Century Fox' Movie Empire family) has asked her to illustrate her second esoteric book (in colour) with a series of paintings. They have co-operated previously on Sabrina's first book, which sold out very quickly.

At 11.30 AM I see my GP, Dr. Jennifer Cooke. My blood sample results are back and they are all "fantastic" Jenny tells me. She gives me my usual prescription for the next six months, blood pressure and cholesterol. My father died instantly of a stroke at age 74. I am only 3 years away from that age and Jenny does not want the same thing to happen to me. Neither do I of course, at least not yet. It is a swift and painless way to go but I hope to stick around a bit longer, especially now I am writing all this blog stuff.

With Marc and Noreen After lunch at the Mooloolaba Surf Club I talk to two familiar faces. Marc and Noreen Villeneuve (originally from France) live in Sydney but spend each year a month in Mooloolaba on holidays. Like me they usually lunch at the Surf Club.
Would you believe it, Marc and I have some military experiences in common. We both trained on the 105 mm Howitzer. Marc as a mechanic in the French Army from '71-72, I in the Dutch 5 years before that. He also trained in Germany, but at shooting grounds in the South, near Stetten just North of the Bodensee, a mere 50 miles (80 km) to the East of where Wivica now lives. We reminisce about our Army days for a while before I have to rush off. We will have a few drinks together in the near future no doubt.

I go on to my brother's home (Claus) near Nambour, but he is not home. I wait a while and take some pictures of his latest work, carved sculptures, displayed in the garden. It is very peaceful here. He does not show up and is probably in Brisbane today. I will try again sometime next week.

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Friday February 8, 2008 (diary, ThreePonds, Wivica, food)

New deck for ThreePonds Another sunny morning greets me as I am woken up by much banging on the roof. Doug's friend Colin is fixing some support beams for the roof of a new hexagonal deck to be added to the house.
It is Improvisation lesson day today and I prepare the batch of email lessons going out. I have converted the Improvisation Email Course into the HTML format which I use for my other courses. All new students now receive the new Course all at once as download or CD and are not added to the emailing list.

Wivica emails me that she has received her brand new metallic blue Honda Jazz today, and is very happy with it. Her old car has gone into storage until I arrive. Rather than paying lots of money for a hire car when I am in Germany for 3½ months this year, I decided to buy Wivica this new one. But she will keep her 12+ years old car (a Honda station wagon), so that we have two cars during my stay there.

Later today I have lunch at the Surf Club, then collect a 6 months supply of pills from the Chemist to cover my overseas trip. Doug takes me out to dinner at Lefty's in the evening. The food is good as always and all diners there enjoy themselves in the wonderfully relaxed environment. Brian ("Lefty") himself arrives late at the scene around 8 PM, while his excellent waitresses have managed without him. But his presence immediately adds an extra dimension to the great atmosphere of the place.
Back home we watch a Harrison Ford movie. A bit of a love story. They get together, then apart for a while and finally arrive at a "maybe" at the end. The film is OK but I hate those endings. I may be alone in my bed, but I always like to know that at least those two have found each other and are together tonight.

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Saturday February 9, 2008 (bio, Madrid, conference, lecture, Goya)

One thing Marc Villeneuve and I on Thursday agreed on was the high quality of the instructors in the Army. These were mostly Wachtmeesters (Artillery Sergeants) and Opperwachtmeesters (Artillery Sergeant Majors), who had been trained in teaching and instructing techniques. They were absolutely superb. I have clocked up about 15 years of study at various Tertiary Institutions, but I can not recall a professor or lecturer that ever did come close to the performances of those noncoms in the Army.
University staff do spend considerable time on preparing the material they plan to teach, but very little it seems to me on working on their performance in front of the students. This becomes especially painstakingly clear at large Conferences. The best performers there are usually professionals working for large companies, used to presenting their ideas to Superiors.

International Conference on Engineering Geology in Madrid, Summer of 1978
This was by far the greatest disaster in terms of speaking performances I have ever witnessed.
The Conference was held in a large Convention Center on the same Avenue and right opposite the Real Madrid Soccer Stadium. Participants came from all over the world and were engaged in a range of engineering projects such as tunnels, dams, nuclear power stations, hydroelectric schemes, both underground and open pit mines.

Over 260 delegates had written papers for the event including myself. My article was on the Bougainville Copper Mine where I worked at the time. It was a huge open pit copper/gold mine located at Panguna in the mountains of Bougainville Island, Papua New Guinea.
At the registration on the first day we were each given a small rucksack filled with 11 volumes containing all 260 Conference publications. It was obviously not possible to let each author present his paper in full within the 5 day period of the Conference. Instead every morning a panel of 4 or 5 "experts" summarised the papers dealing with roughly the same subjects. Afterwards authors were given the opportunity to speak for 3½ minutes on their paper themselves. You had to apply for this opportunity beforehand so that you could be scheduled in the day's session.
Having come from across the Globe to attend this Conference I naturally applied for my spot in the limelight.

Nude by Goya The general result of this procedure was a total disaster. On the whole there was nothing wrong with the quality of the articles themselves. But the expert forums were a total bore, and the individual authors all struggled saying something meaningful about their paper and more often than not were cut off in mid sentence when their 3½ minutes were up. There was no mercy about this rule (the only good thing of the Conference), when the bell rang, your stopped talking, no argument.
I was scheduled for the 4th day, at the end of the Thursday morning session, and day after day watched the continuing massacre with growing concern. This was not going to happen to me, and why the hell should it ? When you know you have so little time you just simply plan for that.

So by the Wednesday I had thought through what I was going to say and decided on 8 slides which would visually support my thesis. This would work out at about 25 seconds per slide, enough time for the audience to have a good look and absorb its message. In the evening I did some trial runs in my hotel room, timing myself with a watch. Fairly quickly I found the correct reasoning path to get my story through in just 5 minutes. After that it was a matter of looking at each sentence in turn, cut out the garbage and make it fluent and compact. Done. I did not write anything down, but repeated the performance 2 or 3 times to become comfortable with it and focus on a few keywords with which I started certain sentences.

On Thursday morning I was sitting in the audience nervously waiting my turn. I had given my slides to the projectionist and showed him the correct sequence. The floor manager had asked me to use simple language as all presentations were simultaneously translated into Spanish, French and German. I would speak in English myself.
By the time it was my turn to climb on the stage I was more nervous than I can recall having ever been in my life before. I was handed two implements, an electric buzzer to signal the projectionist for the next slide, and a pointing torch with which I could move an arrow across the projection screen. My hands were shaking so much that I had to hold both items together within my clasped hands.

I started to speak and at once there were only me, the screen and the buzzer. Nothing else did exist. I told my story, I finished it and then the bell rang. For a second it was dead silent, then shouting, stamping, applause, a standing ovation followed. People were rushing from everywhere up to the stage surrounding me as I stepped down, shaking my hand, clapping my shoulder. The Dutch delegation immediately invited me to give presentations at their two world famous relevant Universities, Delft in civil engineering, and Enschede in applied geology. I agreed and visited both of them in due course.

The next morning I joined a Professor from California at a table for breakfast in the hotel. "Congratulations Mr. Furstner" he said. "There were a few delegates at this Conference who had something of value to say, but you were the only one who managed to do that within the allotted time."

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Sunday February 10, 2008 (diary, market, Claus, food)

Entrance to Claus' home My brother Claus and I had a bit of a tiff a few years back (as happens occasionally in most families) and we have stayed away from each other ever since. I feel the time has perhaps come that we have cooled down sufficiently to at least be civil with each other again. I have heard that he has a stall on one of the Sunday markets near Maroochydore, so I decide to drive down there this morning and have a look.

On my way down there I make a brief stop in Woombye (halfway between Palmwoods and Nambour). Woombye is a lovely sleepy little village with a nice Pub and old fashioned Railway station. Right at the turnoff from the Highway is a small restaurant The French Room (tel.07 5442 1511). I have driven past it numerous times but never checked it out before. It is closed but the Menu is displayed at the front door and looks good. Rather more expensive (I estimate $150+ for a dinner for two) than the usual places we go to, but worth a try. An ex chef who is dropping off some stuff as I stand there tells me this is the place where all chefs in the region go to when they go out for dinner. So I have started saving.

The Sunday market is on the bank of a branch of the Maroochy River and still in full swing when I arrive there. There is the usual variety of stalls selling fruit, veggies, plants, curiosa, 2nd hand stuff and handcraft. Unlike the markets in Darwin which are dominated by the most wonderful eateries (a feast for the eye, nose and stomach), here there are only one or two stalls selling food and drinks. But it has a good village type atmosphere and is obviously a regular weekly entertainment for many of the locals.
I must say, these markets in Australia are so much better than the ones I walked over on the Costa del Sol (South Spain) in May last year. There you find nothing but cheap belts, sunglasses, plastic handbags, some woodcarvings, etc. all imported from Algiers. Little, if any, displays of artistic endeavours or handcrafts. I found those markets very depressing.

After walking around a bit I spot Claus and his partner Pat at their stall in one of the lanes. It is quite a big one with some of Claus' sculptures on display but mostly bric a brac, cheap jewelry and curiosa spread out over several tables. They often go to auctions where they buy this stuff and then sell it on at the market. A hobby they share and enjoy very much. I greet them and Pat discretely moves away, so Claus and I can talk. We agree to burry the hatchet and exchange some of our family news. The conversation is somewhat strained, but at least we are talking again. He promises to look around his house for family photos etc. and suggests I come around later in the week to check them out. I say goodbye and leave. So far so good.

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