VHS Cassettes, Chips and Salsa
Here is just a snapshot I took with my phone. I did spend quite a bit of time with my mother the last days as we went through several VHS cassettes that our family recorded. Meanwhile, we ate chips with salsa. We’ve been sad when we found out that some cassettes didn’t work anymore but maybe we will find a solution to recover them. But others worked. The videos we watched were recorded in the ’80s and ’90s. We went through videos of weddings, holidays, and parties. Man, we had a good laugh because the `80s haircuts make our family and old friend circle look like a Mafia association. I’m not kidding. We saw it all, from perms to mullets. Also, wearing sunglasses to those haircuts, and that inside? Really? That’s straight out of a Mafia movie. Now I also do know why I’ve always been a good dancer without ever having taken dance lessons. My whole family and anyone surrounding them did dance like real pros during weddings or at the feasts where grandpa played with his band.
In a way, these cassettes also make you sad. The level of human interaction in the ’80s and ’90s is mindblowing. Not just the dancing and how people swapped dance partners for the fun of it. I mean, I’ve always been aware how things changed with technology but now that we went through the cassettes again, we just realized today it’s much worse than we have thought. An example: Arrived in Argeles Sur Mer in France with around 10+ people from Lübeck, one of my uncles puts a massive piece of ham on the camping table. A moment later, French, Spanish, Belgian, Dutch people appear with curiosity and my uncle starts to share slices after cutting the huge piece. People leave to get something to share too, like the French guy who brings a bottle of wine and so. People barely can communicate, but yet they seem to understand each other, now sitting at the same table with things to share and having a good time. It’s mindblowing.
No mobile phones in the hands, even strangers sitting together. Eating, spending non-distracted time, and attempting to cross the language barrier, which actually somehow seemed to work the further we got into the video. That for example was like straight out of a medieval movie where cultures meet each other and start to show gestures and share stuff. But it’s not just about the holiday videos. I noticed it in all of the videos. The pure fact that these mobile devices we have today weren’t there, brought people much closer together and the interaction was visibly different. In a way self-confident because for them, including myself as a kid, it was normal at that time. If you compare that to today, it almost appears like we became shy. Almost like it’s awkward when people can’t use their phone every 5 minutes, maybe because the battery is empty. For some people that would be dramatic.
Even if I was a kid in the videos, watching it again, I couldn’t lose the feeling that these times were much easier. My mother replied, “You know what, you’re right, it actually was an easier and not so serious time”. She explained that it was not just about closer human interaction, it was also about money. Everyone they knew, including themselves, were basically wealthy middle class. My mother explained that she and her husband had an income of more than 3000 Deutsche Mark per month, with only 300 DM rental charges per month in a two-times bigger apartment compared to today. She explained that was half of the cost compared today, for a twice as big apartment back then. Then she mentioned 30 DM electricity costs per month for two-person. Like what the actual…? If I convert my electricity costs to Deutsche Mark, I pay over 130 DM today for a single household, only using a PC, fridge, stove, and small things like a hairdryer and stuff like that.
I still remember how people lost half of their income overnight with the introduction of the Euro currency because out of a sudden all products did either cost twice as much or you got only half the content of what you would have gotten before that. I already got a training allowance during that time. My mother asked me “Remember how you could fill a shopping trolley with 100 DM and how empty it’ll be with €50 today? I replied, “Of course!” and she said, “Now imagine you’d have had your own apartment earlier”. The wealth was blatantly visible in the wedding video too. Wedding? Don’t worry, let’s just rent a venue hall for an entire day and night. Hungry and thirsty during the party? Don’t worry, the family will buy out the entire inventory of the restaurant owner and owner of the hall. Every family or friend’s wedding after the Euro introduction looks pale compared to that, like “Let’s drive to the church and register office, and eat four tarts in the living room after that” pale. Like “Let’s invite 50+ people” compared to “Let’s do it with 15 people” pale. A friend of mine did recently marry and we heard it afterward. However, he’s doing a barbecue later this summer to celebrate it with a few people and I am invited too. But it really shows, today people need to go small instead of big.
Anyway, enough ranting. We had two decades’ time to adjust ourselves to the decreased spending capacity. And yeah, we’re not poor either today, we’re living good. But when I see those old family videos, it’s hard to ignore the reminder of how it was with the Deutsche Mark. Anyway, we just talked about that for 20 minutes or so, while we enjoyed hours of videos. We talked a lot more about positive things. I was also amazed when I saw one of my uncles in the video, the one who sadly died because of a brain tumor some time ago. He had a good life and it was visible in the video too. The other uncle I mentioned, the one who shared the huge ham piece with foreigners, he died because of a heart attack a long time ago. He was a true artist, he worked with colors and painted landscapes and whatnot. His works were mindblowing, he was no beginner but someone who knew how to create artworks. In one of the holiday videos, he seemed to sell his paintings for 200 French Franc each, in the streets of Argeles.
While we watched more holiday videos, I also broke out laughing when my mother told me a funny story. While we watched one of the holiday videos, I noticed a French stranger near my mother. I asked “Did you know him? Is this also one of the foreigners we met there?”. My mother replied “I will tell you something” and started to explain that the husband of my mother did cheat on her in France. Her cousin and her brother noticed it one night at a party and they told my mother “Hey, there is something you should know”. My mother was mad and broke up but didn’t want to have shitty holidays and tried to enjoy the time anyway. One day she met a French guy and it clicked. Thinking about her husband, she thought “I am free now, if he can do it, I can too”. While talking about that, my mother wondered if this can be generalized or not but she said, one thing was sure, this French guy seemed to treat her differently compared to Germans. She said she wasn’t used to that kind of affection, like getting carried over the beach at night or getting presents like flowers every day.
I laughed hard about the beach part. My mother continued “Yeah, that was creepy at first” but she realized he was just much more affectionate than what she was used to in Germany. And then she told me something I found quite interesting as a thought. When she said, “You could have been living in France until today, I considered going back to him after holidays but didn’t”, I was silent for 15 seconds. But then I said, “Wow, it’s amazing to think about how one decision could have changed everything”. She then told me that the French guy visited my mother once in Germany and that they planned to maintain correspondence after that, but she said, like with many long-distance relationships, the contact broke up at some point. That was quite an interesting story as it would have affected me too. I imagined myself as a German kid growing up in France. Oui, c’est une idée intéressante. But I still had one question in my head. I remembered that my mother and her husband and me drove with a white car to France, in a “convoy” together with several other cars of family members and their friends.
Obviously, as a kid, I didn’t notice anything during the holidays of what she now told me. I asked her “How was the mood in the car when we drove back to Germany?” and “Did we sit in another car on the way back because of the trouble you had with your husband?”. She explained that we sat in the same car together with her husband. They both talked before departure and accepted what happened and accepted that the relationship ended. I imagined that must have been a horrible mood in the car but she told me again “Nope, it was strangely normal, we still talked on the way back without arguments”. She then said, back in Germany, soon after that they were divorced. I remember that because my surname changed.
I could take other bits and bobs out of the video or the talk with my mother. It was very interesting. But watching out of the window, I see the sun is shining. I end my post here to go outside.