On the 13th of January 2020 I had an interview with Geertjan Claessens for the newspaper known as “De Limburger”. He came to my house and we talked for about an hour on my hobby and what drove me to do what I do.
It was an experience that really made an impact on me. I didn’t know how to act in the beginning, and was really nervous. But after a few minutes I loosened up and he and I spend a good part of the interview just making some jokes and talking stress free.
After that Annemiek Mommers, the photographer, and I tried to come up with a good idea on a pose for the photograph. To be honest with you, I was more a nervous, chuckling and kind of embarrassed mess, and she pulled me through it for sure.
She took an amazing photograph in my library where I write most of the times. She’s an amazing person and a very kind soul.
Skip forward to Tuesday. I was still sleeping when my father woke me up, walking into my bedroom with a grin on his face and exclaiming: “You’re in.”
It’s quite a weird moment for one to wake up with your own face staring back at you from the newspaper you read daily. And especially since I wasn’t fully awake yet, I spend about five minutes just staring in disbelief. One of the first pages, my interview.
Let’s just say I never expected to get this far, so every new step is frightening. But its worth it.
Rainier Eggen, the DJ for Radio Parkstad and I, had a lovely talk on the 4th of December. We talked about a lot of amazing things, and he is a great guy! We shared a taste for music and I listened to some very good songs while on the show.
He is a really kind and welcoming person, so I felt straight at home there. Although I was a bit nervous, he helped me right through it. We talked about my passion and I read a poem of mine, which he really seemed to like.
We joked around a bit, but all the same it was an amazing experience. I also met two lovely ladies while just coming back rom the interview who told me they were inspired by what I do. It meant the world to me!
Once I got home, I still couldn’t fully believe it. Thousands of people had listened to me, even a few of my good friends had tuned in, some from abroad. I had never imagined this to be possibly, but trust me when I say I’m so happy that it is.
In November 2019 the same friend who wrote that beautiful song for me, helped me get on a radioshow in the Netherlands! Johan Coolen is a true sweetheart and helped me through my first ever 30 minutes fame on the radio, haha.
I read a few poems and talked about why I do what I do, etc. The topic of how my teachers responded to what I do came up, and I remembered the one history teacher I had who called me “soldier girl”. So for the show I was sometimes called “soldier girl” which stood out quite funny to me, but also very nice.
I had a blast, it was something I had never done before. As said before the entire team was amazing, I couldn’t have asked for a better moment of the day.
I’m not sure if you can see it, but during the show I was wearing a Poppy for Remembrance Day. I talked about the First World War and read a poem for all the soldiers who fought so many years ago.
Do you know this feeling where you just want to be loved? You want to be recognized by someone and know that you are worth loving. It’s like the constant rush for appreciation, not so much love itself. You want to be held, kissed, you want to be important to someone.
And because you’re human, you return that appreciation. After one, maybe more, weeks, it just fades away into nothingness, until you are left with someone who doesn’t love you, but just wants to be loved.
Shame, that’s what washed over me when I realized this. I had used someone for the soul purpose of being told I was loved. I couldn’t see it then, for I was blinded by the idea I could fight everything, because someone thought I could.
The same person had used me too, the exact same reason in his head as it was in mine, so at the end, it didn’t truly feel like I alone was at fault. I wanted to be recognized and he wanted attention, it was a perfect match made in Hell, but it felt like Heaven to me.
Now I’ve realized we both didn’t do anything wrong. We were trying to get back up from our previous battle and just needed a helping hand, a smiling face to tell us we could do it. I was his, he was mine. And now we are ourselves again.
Helmut Schwarz and Fritz Birken had been childhood friends ever since they could remember. They had done everything together, walk to school from neighbourhoods deemed unsafe to helping the other get a job, making up amazing facts that until the moment they made them up, the other didn’t poses.
They shared food when the other didn’t have enough money for a nice sandwich, or blankets when the other was freezing, they laughed together when the other made a stupid joke and they got detention together for the stupid things the other had done.
They did everything together, so, naturally, they were going to fight together too. And that they did.
Here they stood, after years of service and months of being hunted down. They were worn-out, you could say, they looked older than they actually were, a layer of mud and sweat covering their face, their eyes defeated and pained.
They held their hands up in defeat, showing the enemy they were not ready to die. Because they weren’t sure what came after death and if they’d be separated. After so many nightmares they had lived together, they couldn’t lose the other. Not now.
They saw the enemy closing in on them and just as they had always done, they pretended to be strong. In reality, they were scared, wasn’t it for the small amount of dignity they still had left, they would’ve crumbled to pieces right then and there.
Once every few seconds they shared a glance, but it was different from the look they had shared minutes before. There was no panic, no adrenaline, just sadness and fear. A hint of relief maybe, none would ever tell a soul they were somewhat happy. The war was over.
And if they had to surrender, they’d do that together too.
Although they didn’t share any words, they knew exactly what the other was thinking, and it hurt. They had no idea what was going to happen, as English words were thrown at them like insults. And with the last minutes they shared together, they said goodbye and thank you.
Thank you for all those years of kindness and joy, all those times of bringing me back safe when I was drunk, all those times of running away with me when I did something stupid, thank you for all the years of you being my friend. And last, thank you for being there. Thank you for being there on the frontline, for protecting me whenever you could. Thank you for coming with me, for being my rock. Thank you for being my friend. My best friend.
Helmut Schwarz was forcefully pushed around by what some called heroes and liberators, others enemies, parted from his best friend. Fritz Birken, gentle as he was, tried his best not to lose his friend out of his sight, but was soon swallowed by the Americans.
Without being told why, they pushed our German soldier, Helmut, in front of the Chaplin, who didn’t seem very stressed or fazed. Being parted from the rest of his group set our Wehrmacht soldier on edge, yet there was nothing he could do. One wrong move and he feared he was gone.
The Chaplin stepped out of the car, calmly, and with what was to be read as compassion, walked up to a man who had killed other people. One of the biggest sins. None the less, here he was, being torn between faith and friendship, watching how the one person he had still left, was being pushed inside a car.
Hopefully he wouldn’t get sick, he always got sick in those army vehicles, especially with this weather. If he’d collapse they might leave him for dead. He had heard stories of Americans leaving wounded Germans behind, so he wondered, would they really?
Lost in thoughts he suddenly felt a cold finger on his forehead, water dripping down his skin. He twitched slightly, wanting to step back. He urged himself not to, watching how the Chaplin blessed a man some saw as nothing more than scum, the devil’s soldiers.
Why? One word, so many answers. Why did the American care? They were both believers, though in two different things. Or he believed, once, a long time ago. And as he was met with the soft smile of a man who had just given him God’s blessing, he allowed himself to look around.
There were so many American’s they would’ve never stood a chance. They didn’t try. Other soldiers might have done so, though none of them wanted to die, so they made sure the chance of them doing so in the last months of the war was as slim as possible.
He stepped inside the car, next to the Chaplin, who started his engine. Behind him was a jeep filled to the brim with armed American soldiers, were he to try something stupid.
Maybe it was because he accompanied the Chaplin and had a lost debt to God he had to be paid, or maybe pure luck, but they were driving right behind the truck they had pushed his best friend in, Fritz. He recognized him immediately. Force of habit perhaps, always having to know where his clumsy friend was.
They pulled up, a silence none of them seemed to mind hanging in the air. It wasn’t an awkward silence, or a silence for they didn’t know how to communicate with the other. But somehow, he needed feel the need to start a conversation. He was driving with a Chaplin, what could go wrong?
For once, there was peace. Something they thought they were bringing, but now found out they had been taking all along. It was this sudden weight being lifted from your shoulders, as he finally enjoyed the sunshine again, the soft laughing of men and the wind against his face.
If this is how they were to lose the war, he didn’t fully mind. For the first time in months he felt like he was free, not while protecting what he thought was worth protecting, or walking through villages they had taken, no, he felt free the second he thought his freedom would be taken from him.
Maybe the Americans were liberators after all?
On photograph: (left) Nick Geerling (Fritz Birken) and Bryan Pisters (Helmut Schwarz). Taken by Jan-Thijs Koppen
The streets I once walked with my friends and family, had been reduced to nothing but stones and dust, while shattered lives were there for everyone to take or have a look at.
The worst thing was, after another bombing, another night in our shelter, another day of fear, I forgot to care. I forgot to care about those who lost their lives, those who lost everything keeping them together, or those who lost their future, because of the Germans.
The Germans, a nation that was destroying another. A part of me thought, how could they? How could they throw those bombs on our cities knowing what would happen? Who in their right minds would make the choice to destroy the home front, instead of the front lines?
But then it dawned on me, after a too long while. We were back-up, we were the very roots of our boys out there, we were the hope they sometimes didn’t have. And if the enemy found a way to destroy us too, peace and faith would crumble to pieces.
I looked across the rubble, old shops I used to visit, houses that once belonged to my friends, even an old piano I used to play, had been scattered over the ones so beautiful street, and humanity’s sense with it.
We would take revenge, I knew we would. But I wasn’t so sure I wanted to. The only way we could show we weren’t soft, was give the same blow back, only harder. And I didn’t want hundreds of lives on my conscience just for my pride.
This was war, everyone knew it. So instead of crying, for there were no more tears to cry, or hide, for there was nowhere left to hide, I tugged down my dress, opened the dying door, and walked outside, straight into the arms of chaos. Because I’d never show I had broken.
If I did, I fear there’d be no one who would be able to help me, and I’d lay there, wracked in between my shattered past, feeling sorry for myself. No, I couldn’t. I had to be strong, for anyone I had left.
Or at this point, anythingI had left.
The photograph shows London in the Blitz, 1940, with her ruined streets.
After participating in Kunstbende, I was asked to to part in AMZAF. This was of course an amazing opportunity, and thus I said yes. Even though it was quite a ride in the car, for we live in the south, I went none the less, which was a very good idea
A few days beforehand I had bought my original ANC Class A jacket, which means an officers jacket. Because this event was very near in the future, it seemed to me as a good idea to come in the entire uniform, this time more dapper then before. After having said so, I received the Pink Officers Skirt, to complete the uniform, together with the Garrison Cap in the same colour.
I had prepared a handful of poems, because I had been given three times five minutes separately. Two people didn’t make it, meaning there was another five minutes added to my collection. At the end I read four different times, each five minutes. I had brought seven poems with me, which turned out helpful for I could switch in between poems.
It was raining, which meant there were fewer people than expected. Because “Word Art” was placed in the horses’ stables, some of the ladies, the artists that is, and myself took it upon us to gather people outside who’d be willing to join us. This, luckily, succeeded, causing a very nice ambiance.
I stood there with a lot of love and respect, after I had secretly changed my clothing to my uniform, the dubbed Class A, I was given a headset, which needed some getting used to, papers in my hand, together with other writers like me. It was an amazing evening, I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
After Kunstbende, there were many emails asking me if I wanted to read my poems on certain events. On of those was the so called “Bevrijdingsfestival Roermond.” Of course I agreed, because it’s about the liberation of The Netherlands during the Second World War.
That same day I had another event of my re-enacting group. So, dressed in full HBT uniform with my bag and helmet I sat in the train, together with my mother, to Roermond. I had a handful of poems, because they gave m ten minutes, twice.
That’s a lot of time.
I read my poems, and in between I talked about history and small facts, or explained the uniform I was wearing or what the poem meant. That was really amazing to do. I met a veteran, not from WWII, though none the lees very important! He has my utter respect, I invited him to come and watch me reading the poems.
While reading, I noticed him in the back. That truly made me warm at heart, especially because he didn’t have to come watch, but did none the less. When I passed him on my way home, I thanked him once more.
What was also beautiful was this little girl, who loved my poems. After being done with my first 10 minutes I had a break, and decided to walk through the festival. I was gone too fast for her to catch up with me. But after I came back, her grandmother talked to me and told me how much it meant to her granddaughter.
That made my day, easily. I wish I could’ve talked to her, but sadly I didn’t. None the less I hope everyone enjoyed the poems I read. It was a small caravan, none the less it drew people in, and it was a beautiful experience.
I’ve always been interested in World War One and World War Two, treating these topics with most utter respect. Back in November 2018 I wrote my first WWI related poem called “In No Man’s Land.” My school had asked a handful of the people in my class, including myself and many of my friends, to join the mass of Remembrance Day weeks before.
After being invited and telling my father, I wrote the poem on my way to the hairdresser, in the back of our car. When we got home, I read it to him. He immediately contacted the organizer of the event and send my poem to her. She asked if I wanted to read this after the mass, to the soldiers of Brunssum and other people invited.
Starstruck and over the moon, I said yes.
I read the poem, although I was very nervous. It touched many people, I soon realized, for many came to me and thanked me, or said I did a good job. That was my first time reading my poems to anyone else than my family.
That’s where it all started, my urge to bring my poems to others, read them to anyone who wanted to listen. It was a beautiful day, it really helped me grasp an idea of what I wanted to do with my poetry.
The video below is me reading the poem. In the description you will find the lyrics.