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The Children are gone: Letters of a father

My dear children,

The letters compiled in this book tell the true story of our relationship; of a father who has been fighting to have contact with his children against the determined will of their mother. Not a usual or average mother but one who is very intelligent and resourceful, using all possible means to achieve her goals. I have no doubt that she loves you as much as I do, but her ruthlessness has put her own desire for revenge above all. I would not even exclude the possibility that she believes she acted for the good of you.

If I had read such a story a few years ago, I would have had difficulties believing it. My trust in our society, its legal system and authorities were then still unshattered and I would have thought it impossible that such things can happen in reality, yet the events described in the letters did really happen.

All the letters were written on the dates indicated. For the purpose of the book, I have worked a bit on sentence structures and formulations but I have not altered any essential content of the letters. Evidently, I needed to change the names of third persons.

Indirectly, the letters also tell the story of how society copes with the situation you and I have experienced, in particular the legal system but also the authorities for the protection of children. Perhaps it is better to say how helpless our society, fixed in its beliefs, rules and institutions, is in view of such a situation.

The events described in the letters happened in Luxembourg, not in a remote backwards society but a modern open minded one with a normally well-functioning justice system, in short, one equipped with all the attributes a modern society can claim for itself. Yet society lets such things as described in the letters happen. It puts its beliefs and prejudices in practice above the protection of children. In such a society the mother is always right; the father is by nature suspected of bad intentions and potential mistreatment of children. These preconceived ideas even prevent the responsible institutions in making any efforts to look closer.

Writing a book is, today, the last resort to depict the larger picture, the complex situation in its full dimension. However, all these letters were also written for myself in order to mentally maintain the link to you and also to digest what has happened.

I am fully aware that such a book is evidently coloured by perception. The same facts may be presented in different ways. Nevertheless, it is the true story.

Your Father

To Anna Maria, Stephanos, Alexandros

17 April 2009

My dear children,

You are gone now!

It is about 2 weeks ago that I got the letter from the lawyer of your mother indicating your departure from Luxembourg and your permanent move to Greece.

You may not be able to imagine what shock that created in me. We were expecting the son of Kathi as a visitor for the weekend and I could not do anything else than to just run away. Just being friendly and social would have been too much for me. I drove without a real target. The next 2 days I stayed in a village at the Mosel in a small hotel and I spent the days just walking about without noticing much of my environment.

Even after I came back I could not think about much else than you. After I did not hear anything more and the prospects of having any possibility of contact with you in the near future were very small I decided to write to you.

I write to you in English because it may be easier for all of us. We always communicated in French but I think that now away from Luxembourg your lessons in school will concentrate on English rather than other languages. Also for me, English is easier than French. I use French a lot in my work but rarely for personal matters and I am not so well practiced in writing it.

I also call you with the international versions of your names as I always called you, thus Stephan instead of Stephanos and Alexander instead of Alexandros. You were objecting this lately but I think it is the freedom of a father to use this small modification of your name. It is a harmless one.

I very much hope that this letter and my future letters will reach you. I currently do not have an address for you in Greece, therefore, I write to your old address in Luxembourg. Normally, the letters should be redirected to Greece as the post office should have your current address.

Please excuse me when I use a kind of language and expressions that may not be easy for you to understand at your tender age of twelve. I have never exchanged letters with children and I am not sure how to express myself, but I know that you are clever and if you do not understand my letters in full now, you may do when you re-read them in the future.

Probably, you cannot imagine how sad I am, not only about you leaving Luxembourg so quickly but without even any possibility of saying goodbye. I am also very sad about what happened during the last year, not only during your visits to my place, but also in the Treffpunkt in Luxembourg when I had one of the rare possibilities of seeing you. Even these short and mostly not so pleasant moments I miss dearly. You must believe me that it was very painful to see you trying to avoid any contact with me.

It was already a shock for me when in February I got the letter from the Treffpunkt that they were unable to organise any further meetings between us. Imagine the Treffpunkt in Luxembourg is a place for really disastrous relationships between parents and children, often with criminal and violent context and under the supervision of a police officer. The manager of the Treffpunkt declared to be unable to cope with our specific situation.

You may ask yourself why I write to you as you have so clearly said that you dislike me and that you do not want to have contact with me. I write to you for two reasons.

Firstly, everybody has the right to know his father. Therefore, I will say in letters what I could not say to you face to face because lately our conversations were so full of negative emotions and hardly any time was given to us to communicate our deeper thoughts and feelings. Therefore I will try to do this from my part in letters.

Secondly, I know that one day you will look at things in a different way than you do today. Please do not think that I mean that you cannot understand a lot today but you will certainly understand better after some time when you are older and you will also see things differently. Life is like this. I hope that you will give me the chance of thinking again about us and our relationship in the future.

I have therefore decided to talk to you in the form of letters. It will be finally up to you what you make of them. I only want to confirm what I have often said to you and I will do it now again. I never lied to you and I never will. Lying is never a solution. It is for people who cannot reach what they want with the truth. Believe me, what you cannot get by telling the truth is not worth getting or you do not deserve to get it. Lying is for weak and bad people and not strong and good ones.

As it is my first letter, I will try to speak a bit about the recent past. It is very painful for me and I strongly believe that it was difficult for you as well.

All I ever wanted was a good relationship with you, simply to see you, to do things together and to be to you what every father wants to be towards his children, just to be there, to talk to you, to make an excursion on the bike with you, to play with you, to teach you things you need to learn, to be a good example to you and to help you when you need help. These are simple things. I never asked for more.

Children have a mother and a father and I myself was also closer to my mother than to my father but looking back, now that he is gone, I often realise how much I miss him, how much I owe to him, how much I have inherited from him and also how similar I am to him, not only in the way I look but also in the way I am and how I see the world. I will tell you more about him in another letter. He was very old when you were born but I know that if you would have had the chance of meeting him you would have liked him, if you would have had the permission and if you would have been open for it.

I still do not understand why having just simply a good contact with you was so impossible and so unacceptable. I was fighting during your entire life simply to have contact with you and once I needed to address to the legal system and the judge in Luxembourg decided that there must be contact, our relationship has turned so badly.

Unfortunately, we could never talk to each other calmly in order to exchange our thoughts. That may have helped. Please believe me, I have tried but I did not really reach you. You had entirely closed up towards me. You saw me as an enemy that I certainly never was and never will be. Please remember this forever.

I was talking to the people in your school to see what happened to you and what date you really left Luxembourg. I could hardly believe what I heard. I was told by a teacher and a parent of a classmate of yours that you left on 11 March without saying anything to anybody. You just disappeared.

I also heard that your classmates, friends and teachers are very shocked about this. Do they mean so little to you that you do not make even the smallest effort to say goodbye to them or is there more behind it? I was also told that somebody tried to phone you and was told that you were at home feeling ill. I did not find out whether it was one of you or another person who said this. Evidently, this was not true.

If you really had a choice, would you do such a thing and do you really believe that this was good? You may have your reasons to behave like this. I myself do not understand it at all. Perhaps one day you may be able to explain it to me.

Perhaps, it was not you who took this decision to just disappear without a word.

I hope that you are well and I think about you a lot. Kathi tells me to say to you that she misses you as well.

Your loving father

12 June 2009

My dear children,

I hope you got my letter dated 17 April. I had sent it to your old address in Luxembourg and I had written my address on the back of it and as letters that cannot be properly forwarded are usually sent back, I am therefore confident that the letter was forwarded.

This time, I send the letter to the address of your grandparents in Athens because I still have not received an address for you in Athens, only the address of your grandparents was given to my lawyer. I know it cannot be the correct one and you do not live in the apartment of your grandparents. It is simply too small. Nevertheless, I hope that the letter will reach you.

It is now three months since you left Luxembourg and I miss you very much and so does Kathi. I also heard from Georges recently, the father of a classmate of yours, that your classmates miss you as well and that many of them are very sad that you left them without a word of goodbye.

I needed some time to digest the idea that you are really gone. I hardly saw you over the last year but this was different, perhaps not in reality but mentally. I had not resigned to the idea of organising my weekends entirely without you. Since my last letter I have realised that I will need to accept this change as a fact and to plan weekends and holidays differently.

Kathy and I now spend a lot of time travelling and doing sports. We spent 10 days at Lake Garda in Italy with a larger group of old friends. I had told you that I play golf. Now I do it more intensively than I have done since you were born.

I would have really preferred very much to pass some weekends and also the holidays with you. I cannot defend myself against the flow of memories in moments that I am not fully occupied or something reminds me of you. Recently, I often think about the holidays we had in the Centerparc of De Vossemeeren. I am convinced that most of the time you liked it as well. There were so many very nice incidents and experiences I would not like to miss from my life.

I will certainly never forget the time you first rode your bicycles in the Centerparc. At first with stabilisers but after a very short time you mastered it very well. Do you remember the names we gave to each other during these days? You called me Monsieur ‘Oublie Oublie’ because I often forgot something in the house that we needed to go swimming, such as a bath gown or money to enter the pool building. Alexander, you were called Monsieur ‘Tombe Tombe’ because even after a short time riding the bike, you started to make daring experiments with it and you often fell. Stephan you were called Monsieur ‘Trouve Trouve’ because you could find the way better than anybody else and Anna Maria you were called Madame ‘Je veux, Je veux’ because you always had wishes for things to buy or you wanted special things to be arranged for you. I also like to remember the swimming pool and in particular the wild water channel we called ‘l’eau sauvage’ which you liked so much. Didn’t we have a lot of fun playing in it?

I took many photos during those holidays and a few films, and I look at them from time to time.

Unfortunately, the last visit to De Vossemeeren was less pleasant. Perhaps Anna Maria you remember that as well? You and the boys had started to behave in quite a nasty way towards everybody around me, including people I had nothing to do with. There was, for example, the man with children your age with whom you started to quarrel. I did not see it but other people who watched it told me that you had insulted him. We left the swimming pool in a hurry. This was not necessary and very deplorable but I try to remember the good things. I hope you do the same.

When I play Golf, I often think about you, particularly when I see the many kids your age or even younger who already play golf pretty well. They are so proud of their achievements and have a lot of fun and like to compete with others. There is also regular training by the golf teacher for the children. I have always wished to have learned a sport, such as golf or tennis, as a young child. Only then can one become really good at it. I would have been so proud to see you three trying golf. I know you would have liked it if you would have given it a chance. I often think about that even simple things, such as doing some sport together, was so absolutely impossible for us.

Really mastering a sport with excellence is something to be proud of for your whole life. Unfortunately as a child, I did not do it perhaps due to the lack of opportunity. There was really only the possibility to play football in the village in which I grew up. However, if I would have tried more, there would have certainly been a possibility, at least for tennis.

With golf I only started at the age of 38. This was much too late to become really good at it. Therefore I am only a reasonable player. Nevertheless, it is fun as well. Kathy and I always have competitions. She is a very good tennis player and has a better feeling for the ball than me but I am physically stronger which plays a role as well.

I also started jogging again. My health problems are now under control. The doctor tells me that that I am well again. I am even almost back to my old form and last week I was able to run 10 km in less than 52 Minutes. This is worse compared to some years ago but not too bad for somebody of my age. I turned 56 last month.

I will also have a new assignment in my job from 1 July onwards. I will be in charge of a different unit in the European Commission. It will be smaller than the current one but I believe it will be an excellent team.

You certainly also have a lot of new things to experience; new school, new classmates and hopefully new friends. I think a lot about how you are doing and how you are coping. The school curriculum will certainly be very different from that of the Euroschool in Luxembourg and so will be the climate and habits in your new school. It may be hard at first but please be open-minded, in particular towards new classmates, and it will be fine. You are intelligent and you can help each other.

Last Friday we had another hearing related to my visiting rights with you in the Luxembourg court. I believe the Luxembourg court is no longer responsible for us, as you have left Luxembourg and I am living in Germany. Therefore the Greek, and possibly the German, legal system may be responsible in the future. However, I will see what the Luxembourg court will say. I am not too hopeful about this as the Luxembourg authorities and courts have shown rather incapable of coping with the situation. I am certainly not wrong in my assumption that despite all these legal battles about you since you were born; no one from the Luxembourg authorities for the protection of children was ready to look deeper into the subject.

The judge announced that his decision would be published in a few days. Your mother, who was there as well, is still very much determined to prevent me from seeing you. I am already looking for a Greek lawyer and I will not give up trying to see you. I never will.

Your loving father

7 July 2009

My dear children,

I hope you got my letter dated 12 June 2009. I still have not got a valid address for you in Athens and therefore I am sending this letter again to your grandparents’ address.

I must say that I am not very hopeful that the letter will reach you. I think your mother will intercept it and tell you that I do not care for you as proven by the absence of an effort of mine to contact you.

Nevertheless I write to you. One day you will be able to read the letter. I have a particular reason to write to you this time. It is about a dream.

I miss you very much and I often dream about you; I must say too often for my own good.

There are so many memories of you so fresh in my mind. There are photos of you all over the house, your rooms are now empty, and for me, they are strangely deserted. Your toys are still lying around. Not only do I dream of you at night, I often have daydreams about you. There are so many moments when my mind is not occupied intensively, for example when I am driving and I think of the times when I picked you up or when we went to the Centerparc in Belgium. Driving is a particularly receptive activity for day dreaming. The mind is occupied only in part and there is a lot of free capacity for other thoughts. The fact that I live in Trier and work in Luxembourg means I have a lot of time for such daydreams. Fortunately, the majority of drives I do are with colleagues and we have ample opportunity to discuss issues of the job or other subjects. Too much daydreaming is certainly not so good.

In general, I catch myself thinking about you several times a day. Our recent past was not too pleasant but in these day dreams I tend to remember the positive moments; often small things, such as smiles or when you were proud of an achievement, such as with Stephan in a play, Anna Maria with drawing and Alexander with his computer games.

In these moments I miss you more than other times.

Now, about my dream last night; it was really strange.

As is natural, such dreams from deep sleep are generally forgotten within seconds after waking up. However, last night I had a very intensive dream which I remembered well even after waking up. When you think about a dream after you wake up you do not forget it again so easily. It is then in the normal memory and not in the ‘dream memory’. I think this is the reason why we can then remember them later on but I am of course not really sure about this theory.

Well, in my dream we were all figures of your Playmobile toys you have left with me. I was a knight and together with the two boys, who were also knights, we tried to attack a castle in which Anna Maria was kept a prisoner. I remember vividly the horses and the battle armour we were wearing.

Unfortunately, it did not go so well. We stormed the castle again and again but with little success. We were always pushed back and we circled around the castle trying to find a weak spot. The castle was just like the one you have as toy. However, in my dream it was huge with very high walls. The castle was defended by pirates. I must say, I personally never liked the pirates that much, even as a child; I much preferred the medieval knights. Perhaps that’s why they appeared to me to be the enemy.

Of course I very much liked the fact that we, the boys, were fighting side by side.

Anna Maria appeared only once in the dream. She was dressed in Barbie clothes and had the funny blond hair usual for a Barbie. When she appeared she told us that she lived in the castle and that we should go away because we would disturb her. Then she left the wall and we remained confused. Was she forced to say that or did she mean it?

In any case we stopped attacking the castle and went away to discuss what to do. I was in favour of the theory that she was forced to tell us that we should go away but you boys told me that you knew your sister better and that she wanted to be left in peace. We spent a lot of time discussing this and when we wanted to go back to see what happened, we found the castle empty. Anna Maria was gone and so were the pirates. Far away we saw the red pirate ship disappear on the horizon. We were left quite puzzled.

This must have been the moment I woke up.

It was a very strange dream, wasn’t it? As you can imagine I was not able to sleep for a couple of hours.

There are people who believe in dreams. I am not one of them. In general, I have not been able to make sense of the dreams I have had in my life. Perhaps this one was a bit more meaningful than most dreams I have had.

Anna Maria was, at least for me, always more closed, almost putting a wall around her to defend herself against me or perhaps to prevent her getting closer to me. There were lots of moments when this mental wall was torn down but Anna Maria always tried to keep it up. I always attributed this to her taking the extremely strong position alongside her mother and this position did not allow her to be closer to me. The only time her defensive wall came down was during plays when she acted as a child and she could not resist enjoying moments with her father.

I would really like to discuss with you one day, Anna Maria, in a conversation without prejudices, how you really felt.

I really miss you a lot, every day, and I love you very much.

26 July 2009

My dear children,

I now have the judgment of the court in Luxembourg and I must say that I am very disappointed by its outcome although I am hardly surprised by it after I learned about what you had told the psychologist of the Centre Hopitalier who had been asked by the judge to investigate. The court order restricts my visiting rights to three times per year under similar conditions as in the Treffpunkt in Luxembourg. As you well know, our meetings there were not so successful and for me they were really hard. Maybe you have been told that the Treffpunkt stopped the meetings but you were certainly not told that it was due to a lack of cooperation from the part of your mother. This was explicitly stated in the letter of the manager of the Treffpunkt to the judge. She told me that in almost 20 years that this institution has existed they have never had a case as severe and crazy as ours.

I am still very much hurt by your attitude towards me in those meetings in the Treffpunkt. To see you looking down, hiding your faces, avoiding even to look into my eyes or to say anything was very hard for me. Nevertheless, meeting you there meant a lot for me, even though you may not believe it at this moment. There will come a time when you will.

Meeting you in Athens will need to be arranged, even if it will be just a few times. I now have a Greek lawyer, a woman called Eleni Koukoulas. She seems to be a nice person. She was born in Germany as her parents moved here to work but she studied and lived in both countries and now specialises in Greek-German legal cases. She will need to arrange the meeting with you later this year, if this is possible. I am sceptical. She will also have to take care of the legal procedure in the Greek courts in Athens if the meeting will not happen. I assume that your mother will find a reason to prevent it at the last minute.

I wish you could speak to Ms Koukoulas. She tells me how much she benefited from growing up and living fully in two cultures. She told me that Greek and German characteristics would complement each other. It is not only the language but other things, like the way the world and events are seen and experiences are lived. I understand this positive opinion myself very well because I would have liked so much in my youth to see more of the world than I really did. I will tell you more about it in a future letter. I had a long conversation with Ms Koukoulas on that subject. She said repeatedly that you could be so privileged to be in this situation of having two cultures as well if you only would want it. I fully agree with her as I always envied people who had this chance and I would have liked so much that you could have benefited from it.

I have currently a lot of work to do as I have started the new job I told you about. There is a lot to read and learn as many of the subjects are quite new to me but it seems very interesting. However, my first tasks are mainly administrative; besides caring for budget and similar tasks, I urgently need to fill four open posts. Last Friday I recruited a quite young woman from Latvia as secretary.

This event made me think that the world is changing quite rapidly now. She has a full university education with both a bachelor degree and a masters but looks for a job as secretary. A few years ago when your mother and I we were in a similar position after university we looked for more demanding work and had no problems getting it. The conditions really are more difficult and the salaries are much lower for people entering the European Institutions or any other organisation now than they were when we started to work almost 30 years ago. I think of you when I consider what has changed. You are now almost 13 years old and you have more than 10 years of school and university in front of you. You will need to learn and study hard in order to make your way later on. I wish so much that I could assist you. You will need all the help you can get in order to succeed and to have a nice life with as little difficulties as possible.

Another event during the last few days made me also very thoughtful. We will have some visitors soon and Kathi and myself agreed to arrange your rooms and move your toys to the attic. You will certainly not use them in the near or medium term future, indeed perhaps never. Kathi did this work finally alone. I simply could not help her. I was too sad about it. It also made me reflect a lot on the last time you were in our house. I realised already some time ago from many little signs that it was fully planned by you to never come back, for example some toys you particularly liked had disappeared after your last visit. The fact that you pretended to want to pass the weekend in our house and not in the youth hostels which I had to take you to for the weekends because of your previous behaviour, I felt, was a kind of betrayal on your part. You only wanted the toys.

It reminded me of the traps your mother had set up in front of your house and you wanted to lure me in for her. I could not help but see it as a kind of conspiracy against me.

I talk a lot to people, including some Greek friends here in the European Commission about what happened. Nobody has ever even heard of a similar case of children trying to wilfully harm their father. I myself took a long time before I could really face the extent of what happened.

What I say does not change my deep love for you. I see you as victims who are not yet old enough to really understand what happens and in what game you are forced to take an active part. It only makes me very sad and in some way disappointed. I hope one day we can discuss these events in a calm atmosphere together.

Your loving father

27 August 2009

My dear children,

During the last few days I saw Greece a lot of times in the TV news because of the fires in the woods and countryside. They seem to be especially serious this year. These fires are terrible and the Greeks should do something about it. The climate is certainly very hot but it is not impossible to organise good protection against these fires. I pitied the poor people who lost their houses there. They showed a few of them on German TV and they were very desperate. I hope you are well and you did not go where these fires are. Perhaps your mother told you about our common experience with a fire just beside the summer house of your grandparents near Korinthos in the 80’s during a holiday. At that time we both participated in the firefighting until the professional fire brigade arrived. As the fire was just beside the street and near the sea the fire brigade could extinguish it quite quickly.

Now to a totally different subject.

During the recent months and in fact practically since you left and I started to write letters to you I was thinking what I should write. There is of course a bit to report about - what I am doing and how I feel. However, I am not sure whether this is interesting for you. My world is so different from yours and before you left you saw rather little of it. We spent weekends and holidays together but we did not talk much about what I am doing outside these weekends. It is not generally the topic of conversation of a father with smaller children. Now, I would find it a bit odd to try to give you a picture of what concerns me today.

When I thought about what to write to you, I was reminded of my own parents and what I was interested in as a child and later as an adult and what I communicated with them. It was easier because my contact with their world was more direct than yours with mine and also the overall circumstances were not as complicated as in our case because both of them lived together until they died. However, from all I know from my parents, there are still subjects, they did not really talk about, such as their own past determined by the war. I would have liked to know more but I rarely asked them.

In your case, I am also sure that the picture you get from your mother is very different from what I can tell you. I therefore decided to concentrate most of my letters on the background, which is in most parts your background as well, although I will start with myself and how it came about that I am your father.

As you will see this story is not easy and if somebody would have told me this, I would not have believed it. It is in parts too strange. But it is the truth.

The beginning is pretty normal but for the sake of completeness, I will start with my own background.

I was born in a small village in Germany called Fürfeld, near the small town Bad Kreuznach. In Google you can see the details. It even has its own website.

Our initial home was a big farm house in the village, the family house of my father, where we lived with my grandparents and my uncle before he was married. My parents bought their own house when I was about 3 years old; a nice house right in the centre of the village, at the corner of Kreuzstrasse and Rathausstrasse. You can see this house nicely on the map and in the picture. You can also see that there are a lot of fields and woods around the village. Many of the people at that time were peasants. We used to play in the woods as young children aged 6 to 7 and my parents were always worried towards the evening when we came back late and it was already dark. We were a group of boys and had a lot of adventures together.

We also played a lot on my uncle’s farm. His farmhouse was just 150 metres away from our new house. Imagine, when we had just moved to the new place I must have thought that it was not fair that my uncle had so many cows and we had none. I therefore took a cow once with a string and brought it to our place. You may picture how surprised my parents were to find a cow in our backyard. I was just three at the time. They took the cow back but I did it a second time and now with a young bull. The animal wanted to escape and ran away dragging me behind it. The local postman saved me. You can imagine how rural the village was.

In my first 10 years I practically grew up with agriculture. There were not only the animals to tend to but also a lot of work on the fields. From a very early age my sister and I accompanied our mother who helped a lot on the farms of both my grandparents. Her own background was also on a farm in the neighbouring village so we had requests from both families to help whenever possible.

My uncle’s farm in Fürfeld has a very big old barn. Once, when we were balancing on the wooden beams quite high up, one of the boys fell down but nothing bad happened to him because fortunately there was a lot of straw and hay in the barn. My grandfather saw it and started to shout at me because it was me who had brought the boys into the place. I was later on told the story that I was standing in front of him saying “What do you want, he is still alive, isn’t he?” My grandfather found that funny and everything was fine again. However, after that we had to get into the barn secretly. It was possible through the back of the barn where there was a small garden.

In fact this event is one of my most vivid memories of my grandfather. He died not much later. The other memory of him I have was when we kids detected a bin of inflation money from the 20’s and started to play with it. He did not like it. I remember well the bills of 50 Marks which were quite nice and the bills of a few Million Marks that were not much more than a stamp on a small sheet of paper.

The farm was, for us kids, an adventure land.

When my uncle got married, his wife did not like us kids playing there and she paid attention and threw us out a couple of times. Imagine, she is now the only close relative I have in the place and I visit her from time to time. She lives alone in that farm house with perhaps 15 rooms.

I do not know whether you can imagine living in a village instead of a town. It is so different and as a child it is great fun with all the possibilities for playing. I look back to that time with quite a lot of nostalgia.

The village was at that time determined by small scale farming. It is a world that does not exist anymore. The village is still there and so are the houses but practically all the farms have now stopped operating. There is still agriculture happening but it is done by a few big farms which are fully mechanised. The old farm houses of the village are now residential. There was a period of quite evident decline but during these last years the village has become really nice again. People make a lot of effort to renovate the houses and to revive the village life.

I will tell you more about these things next time.

Please never forget that I miss you a lot.

19 October 2009

My dear children,

I hope you got my letter, dated 27 August, which I had again sent to the address of your grandparents in Athens. I still doubt very much that this is your real address. I know the place very well. Your grandparents live in the apartment but it is definitely too small for all of you. I would estimate that it is just over 100 square metres and only has two very small bedrooms. It is therefore a fake address to hide your real address from me. However, it is the best address I have.

Your grandparents must be very old by now. I remember that your grandfather was born in 1927. He was just a bit younger than my own parents. I always liked your grandfather. I knew him as an honest and straight forward person. I hope he is well.

I have been on business trips to the Netherlands and France, each time for a few days and we have spent two weeks on holiday in Scotland. As you know, your mother and I were students in London in 1978 to 1980 and we visited Southern England and Wales but never the north of England or Scotland. I was very curious to see that part of the country. Scotland and particularly the highlands are very nice. We particularly liked the Edinburgh Festival which is really interesting. We saw a lot of artists and theatre plays. The streets were full of attractions all day long.

On the trip to Den Hague and back I passed Hasselt and Lommel in Belgium. You will certainly remember these two towns. We always drove through Hasselt on the way to the Centerparc where we so often had our holidays together and the Centerparc is actually located in the outskirts of the town of Lommel. You may imagine that passing the place was not easy for me. All the memories of nice holidays with you overflowed me. It is strange but seeing places I have been with you is particularly hard. I am accustomed to places where we have been together. Here in Trier there are so many and until recently I had your rooms entirely unchanged with all your toys spread out as you had left them. I told you that only recently Kathi moved them to the attic. However, passing other places, even if I do not come very close to the very location where we had been together, is always hard.

There is one further event relating to you which has occupied me in the recent past. I lost the court case against your mother in which I tried to get the penalty payments of 1500 € which the Luxembourg court had decided she had to pay for each time she denied me the visiting rights I was entitled to have with you. Losing the case hurt me but certainly not for the money.

I had tried to enforce the court ruling for the penalty here in Luxembourg as a matter of principle. It has, at the moment, only symbolic value as you are so far away. I also hoped that it could be a means to force your mother to cooperate on the visiting rights in the future.

Looking retrospectively at the case, I must admit that your mother always understood the legal situation of mothers and fathers much better than I did. I certainly have displayed a good deal of naivety to believe that courts treat mothers and fathers on the same level and that as a father one would have rights as well. This may be so on paper but certainly not in reality. The courts have again and again expressed that your mother should cooperate and in the concrete case the Luxembourg court has even decided on a penalty if your mother does not honour the court decisions.

However, your mother only needed to confirm that she would wish that you would be together with me but that you yourselves did not want and circumstances were against you being together with me. In the concrete cases, she brought a few excuses that you were ill, had home work for the school to prepare or you were on an excursion with her, etc. etc. and that was enough for the court to accept her arguments as valid. The position she took can be expressed in short: ‘She did everything possible to give me the visiting rights but it was impossible for her to achieve it’.

You must know that being a father today who loves his children and wants to play his natural role as father, against the determined will of the mother who has with the legal custody the full education rights, is not easy. Luxembourg does not have shared custody between divorced parents as practically all countries nowadays have, even Greece. However, from press articles here in Germany and other countries I am not sure whether custody would really make a difference. I am now rather convinced that it would not.

In practically all countries, society and the legal systems generally decide against fathers regardless of what happened. Exceptions are really very rare. Alexander and Stephan you are boys who will one day perhaps be fathers as well. Be aware of this fact.

In a situation such as ours nobody can be happy. Not me, as I have these difficulties of even seeing you regularly not to speak of developing a good relationship with you. Certainly not you, as you are deprived from an important part of your childhood and life. I am also sure that your mother is very far from happy. She is so entrenched in her desire for revenge and in her bitterness.

But now onto something else.

According to another court ruling, I have the right to see you at the beginning of the Christmas holidays in Athens. I will certainly try to arrange it but I am not sure whether I will succeed. Too often I have had to face last minute obstacles such as you being ill just at the very moment that I should meet you or other reasons. I have witnessed so many of these.

I know very well that the entire situation is not easy for you and that you absolutely do not feel comfortable in the situation you are in with respect to me. A part of me feels very bad putting you in this situation but one day you will understand my motives and my reasoning.

Your loving father

18 December 2009

My dear children,

I hope you got my written greetings which I had sent to you for your birthdays in November.

I have tried to arrange to see you in Greece as decided by the judge in Luxembourg. For that purpose, my lawyer in Germany, the Greek lady called Ms Koukoulas, I told you about, has written a letter to your mother. As the only address in Athens I have is the one of your grandparents, the bailiff (official legal delivery service) tried to hand it over to her personally at that address.

I heard he tried to deliver the letter a number of times but there was only your grandmother and she refused to accept the letter. In the end, the bailiff left an official notice, in Greek this is called “Thirokollisi” which counts in Greece as official confirmation that the letter has been delivered. In such cases, it is the task of the recipient, your mother in this case, to retrieve the letter from the Greek courts. However, as Ms Koukoulas told me, that she most likely did not do this.

The entire story confirms my assumption that the Athens address of your grandparents is a fake address your mother uses to hide your real whereabouts from me. As she needs to receive letters, your grandparents’ address is convenient.

I am considering what to do legally in Greece next year in order to cope with this situation. I currently consult a number of Greeks in Luxembourg on the subject. There are a few direct colleagues but also others in higher positions in the institutions to whom I talked on the subject. Meanwhile Ms Koukoulas is contacting her colleagues in Greece in order to find out what to do.

This will be the last letter for this year. Christmas is approaching. You know that it is the most celebrated holiday for the Germans.You have been with us only once at X-Mas, two years ago. Perhaps you remember, I took a video of all three of you singing a Christmas song in Greek. It is so nice. At that moment you apparently forgot the strict instructions from your mother to avoid being filmed or photographed.

Christmas is also for me the occasion to remember that it is almost a year since I have seen you or heard from you. It was in February this year. Please believe me when I say I think about you a lot and I miss you very, very much.

Christmas is also the occasion for presents. I prepared some for you last year but didn’t manage to give them to you when we met last time in the Treffpunkt; remember that you had instructions not to talk to me. I recently gave these presents to some other kids whose family we visited. I think that as you are now 13 years old, these presents were a bit ‘childish’ for you anyhow. Thus they are gone.

However, I do not like to see Christmas approaching without at least offering you the possibility of having a nice present. The only possibility I can think of is to do what I did for your birthday last month; because I do not know what you like, I thought that I would give you an amount of money for purchasing something nice which you really like.

Also as for your birthday I ask, as a counter present from you, or call it a condition if you like, for a recent photo of you and some personal words. You have my address on the letter head. I am also on the Internet, for example Facebook and other sites. However, if you do not contact me I will give it, together with the money for your birthday, to charity at the end of January.

After I wrote the above, I received a most curious message from my lawyer. We had just arrived at a friend’s for dinner last night when I got the message over my phone that she received the offer from your mother that I could see you in Athens on the 23rd December for one hour in an institution for the day care of children.

I find it very strange that your mother asks for money for it - She has requested 250€ which is quite a lot to see somebody for just one hour. She has also asked that the money be in a bank account in Greece the day before. As it is impossible to have an international money transfer in such a short time, Ms Koukoulas was so kind as to lend me the money. She has an account in Greece. Despite the large amount of money, I decided to go for it. As already said, I miss you a lot.

I will now need to find a flight to Athens. This is not easy with just 4 days for preparation and directly before Christmas. It is most likely that it will not be possible from Luxembourg and I will need to travel to another airport. I hope I find a flight.

I am very much looking forward to seeing you. Please do not forget that I love you very much.

Your father

29 January 2010

My dear children,

I hope you got my letter which I sent to you late December last year. In the meantime, we have seen each other in Greece in the day care centre called IRIS. I must say that I was perhaps not surprised but nevertheless deeply shocked by your attitude towards me. I really needed to digest this experience. This is also the reason why I needed a number of weeks after I saw you to write this letter.

I will tell you my perception of what happened during that hour.

You entered the room avoiding looking into my eyes as you were going directly to the three empty places in the room. You refused to give me even your hands and you looked down. The only words you spoke during the first minutes were the same phrase in French that you did not want to talk. All three of you used the same words. It looked well-rehearsed and most likely it was.

Each of you had brought something to read which you took out and you held it in front of your faces for most of the time. I tried to talk to you and told you about greetings from people you knew. Initially you tried not to respond at all pretending to be engrossed in your books. But you were not. It was pretty evident that you were under a lot of stress. After a few minutes you stopped reading and started to talk in Greek amongst yourselves. I understood a little bit of it. You reminded each other that I would be lying to you and that I would not care for you. You also tried to coordinate your attitudes.

When I took out a camera to take a picture, you got very excited. All three of you rushed out of the room to the two employees of the day care centre who had remained in the neighbouring room with the door open. You complained that I did not have the legal rights to take photos of you. The employees did not know what to do, so they did not react. Slowly you came back and I took the photos, however, with your faces covered behind hands and books.

The remaining time of the hour passed - I talked about the past, about how much I love you, events that happened in the meantime, etc. You tried not to show any reaction.

I also commented on the way you had changed and indeed you had. I was very positively surprised by Stephan who has slimmed down and has very much gained in personality with a new more confident hair style and different clothing. Alexander has become a really big athletic lad. I do not know whether he is doing sports but he has an ideal body for it.

I also commented on Anna Maria who has gained a lot of weight. I must say that I was a bit shocked to see this and I also commented on it. Of course later on I got a formal complaint from your mother that I called her fat. This was not the case. I rather warned her about eating too much. I think because of pure nervousness, Anna Maria had taken out a whole bar of chocolate and eaten it in one go.

You were all very relieved when the hour had passed and you could leave the room. You did this without saying Goodbye.

As you can imagine, I was reflecting a lot after our meeting. I passed through different stages - happiness that I had seen you after such a long time and I had missed you so much, despair about your cold behaviour, satisfaction that you had developed quite well in the meantime and hope that your current attitude towards me is only temporary.

I am really confident that one day you will realize that it is a totally unnatural situation into which you have been brought. I said in our meeting that it would be against humanity and one day you will see what I mean. My only hope is that it will not be too far in the future when you will start thinking for yourself and by that time you will be mature enough to digest it well. I talk a lot with other people and I hear stories about children who suffer very much once they realize the full extent of the story into which they have been drawn by one parent who expresses rage against the other parent by using the children as a weapon.

You appear to carry a lot of anger against me and you imply that I have done something very negative or bad. But you have never said what that was; what in your eyes I have done wrong. There was a lot of tension and sometimes conflicts during the last years when you were in Luxembourg. I know this although I tend to remember the nice moments we had together. I may not be the most skilled person in dealing with children but believe me I tried as much as I could. In general, I do not see myself as the most kind and loveable person but I am certainly not worse than the large majority of fathers.

I strongly feel that you have not given me a chance or you may have thought that you were not allowed or in the position to give me a chance. Considering all that happened when we were together I really cannot imagine that you draw your anger from my actions or reactions towards you. There is therefore only one possible conclusion why you think you should be angry with me due to what happened between your mother and me. I have thought a lot about this and I feel the need to tell you the full story about what happened between her and me.

You are now 13 years old. I have told you in the past the truth that you were born due to artificial insemination which is something one does not normally tell a child, but after careful reflection I did so because without this information you would have totally misunderstood the relationship I had with your mother. I know that you may not believe all of what I say now because you have been told differently but it is the truth and I really think that you are old enough to face it in full with all the negative and positive sides. It will take a number of letters to tell the full story.

My account of what happened is certainly coloured by my personal perception of what I experienced. Your mother may see it differently but I assure you that everything I tell you is the truth. You must judge this for yourself, if not today, then one day in the future.

There is one further aspect. I am sure your mother will read the letters and from your reactions in Athens I can only conclude that you did not receive some or all of my previous letters. Not that I am surprised about it. It fits perfectly into my picture of the situation.

I have searched for some time now how to give you access to the letters without putting them freely onto the Internet and I have found a way to do it. There is a cloud service that gives access to content for those who have a link. I will therefore put at the end of every letter to you the link to a document that lists all the letters with their respective links. I will start with this practice today.

I am well aware how strange it is that a father needs to take such measures to write to his children but I do not have any other choice.

Now back to the story.

In this letter, I will cover the period from November to December 1978 when I first met your mother.

I do not remember the exact day but I remember the event as if it were yesterday. It was about mid November 1978 when I saw her consciously for the first time. It was in a classroom in the London School of Economics. I was sitting on the right side of a passage in between the chairs of the students listening to the lecturer. Your mother was sitting in the middle of the row and therefore to the left of me with about 7 or 8 chairs between us. I saw her when she bent forward and I thought “what a pretty girl”. She must have seen that I looked at her because of what happened later.

I think I have to tell you first what brought me to London at that time. Just a month before, I had finished my studies in industrial engineering in the technical university of Karlsruhe in Germany with results which entitled me to a generous scholarship from the German state for excellent students. Instead of looking for a job which would have been the usual thing to do I thought that with this scholarship I could address two weaknesses I felt strongly all the time. The first one was my weakness in foreign languages. I had learned English and French at school but I totally disliked these two subjects and I stopped learning French as early as possible after 3 years and my English was not in good shape. I had hardly practiced it since school and while it existed passively I was far from feeling at ease to use it. I remember that I even envied fellow students who used English text books without much ado during our studies. Already at that time, I thought that mastering English would become very quickly an essential element of a professional qualification.

The second weakness was frankly my family background and the rural village I came from. I felt it to be backwards and so it was. My parents were very nice and friendly people. My father was the general manager of a very small but independent local bank. They were also reasonably affluent and gave me a car when I turned 18. At that time this was not so common as it may be today. It was particularly the provincial nature that I minded at the time. I see this very differently today than I did at that time at the age of 25. During my studies I had contact with many other students from very wealthy and cosmopolitan backgrounds. My idea was that by visiting an internationally well recognised elite university such as the London School of Economics I could equip myself better for professional life.

But imagine, even the subject in which I enrolled in my post graduate studies I had misinterpreted to some extent. I had chosen Industrial Relations thinking it had to do with trade and economic relations, mainly between countries. In reality, it concentrated on the social and industrial situation in Britain and sociology in general which was initially not particularly interesting to me.

This was one further reason why I met your mother. When I realized my limited interest in my core subject, I started to visit as much as the curriculum allowed lectures of other subjects. This was the reason to attend the information systems classes which your mother followed as a regular student.

I did not attribute too much importance to this first sighting of your mother in the classroom but after a few days she took action because as I said she must have seen that I looked at her. It was in the so-called ‘Senior Common Room’ which was reserved for post-graduate students and equipped with comfortable armchairs and settees. I was reading a book and as my English was quite deficient at the time I used a dictionary intensively. I was so absorbed that I did not pay attention to what happened around me. Suddenly she stood in front of me and posed a question. I do not remember exactly what question but it was something totally trivial, such as whether a class in the afternoon took place or not. I answered and our conversation was very short but I wondered about it and her motives. Girls were really not the centre of my attention at that time and just a week or two before this event I had quite an unpleasant experience with an English girl mainly due to my weak English. This is another and even quite a funny story but it is of no relevance here. After that experience, I had decided to put the issue of girls aside and to concentrate on my studies.

Anyhow from that moment onwards, your mother and I were acquainted. We saw each other in the canteen and other places and started to have a coffee or a lunch together. In fact, we understood each other well and had interesting conversations. I do not know exactly what she found attractive about me but I certainly know what I found attractive about her. She was very pretty and intelligent. The conversations we had were really interesting and I felt that we had similar convictions and a common general understanding of the world. She also had a very international background which I lacked. She had already, as a child, taken the initiative to learn languages, even German, and had seen much more of the world than I had. In contrast to me she was, in these endeavours, very much supported by her father who had, himself, studied in England while my parents only spoke German and were not at all internationally oriented. In addition, she possessed or perhaps I had the impression at the time that she had what is often called a ‘sweet disposition’ which means to have a positive and friendly character. In short, at the age of 23 she was a dream of a girl. As you can imagine, I was fascinated and fell deeply in love with her.

She certainly had similar feelings towards me. One day when we were sitting together in class; it may have been the same lecture in which I had seen her for the first time, I noticed that she was ‘painting’ and ‘decorating’ a Greek word on her notepad. When I asked her what it was she became embarrassed. In fact it was the word σ‘αγαπω. Without her realizing it, I copied the word and showed it to another Greek student who did not know her. He laughed when he told me its meaning ‘I love you’. Well, from that moment, I knew how to judge the situation. He told me that I really managed to make a Greek girl deeply love me.

Your mother and I spent a lot of time together in conversations and going out. I recall one particular incidence when I was visited by a friend from Germany and I had arranged to go to a theatre play. It was called ‘No sex please we are British’. Your mother was also accompanied by a friend. She too had received a visit from a friend who was called Clio. I believe you must know her; Clio was her closest friend in Athens from childhood and perhaps still is. The theatre play was absolute nonsense and I was very embarrassed about my failure to book a good play for that evening. After that I was glad that your mother did not take that failure badly and we continued to go on very well together. From my part, I can say that I tried to spend as much time with her as possible besides studying really hard. Learning English alongside the studies in a totally new subject for me required a lot of effort but talking a lot with your mother helped considerably to improve it.

There are no further events that were of particular importance and we went on very well until the week before Christmas 1978 when we both returned to our home countries for the holidays. These two months in England had been one of the highlights of my life and I was full of enthusiasm and joy.

Evidently, your mother had to hide my existence from her parents. I am not able to judge the situation today in Greece but in 1978, your mother and I had very different backgrounds with respect to contacts between girls and boys. I came from a very liberal background in this respect. In Germany, getting into contact with girls was very easy and having sex was no big deal often even on the first evening. However, with your mother I felt it differently and nothing of that sort happened during these first weeks of our acquaintance.

Your mother came from a comparatively closed society in which girls were strongly protected and sexual contact before marriage was not really tolerated and even less the contact with a non-Greek man. I think that your mother needed a lot of courage to enter into a relationship with me. However, a lack of courage was never her problem. Of course she also had to fabricate a totally different story when her parents inquired a lot about her life in England. Only later on did I learn that hiding our relationship also applied to other Greeks in the university. I had at that time no idea how closely knit the Greek society was and perhaps still is today as I know from the many contacts I have with Greeks in my work. German society was and is much more ‘individualistic’.

One further aspect may be important to mention and you will see why later on. I had understood from various clues that her going to England was also an escape from another man. I think, if I remember well, that he was called Thanasis. Your mother had him as a boyfriend for quite a number of years but did not want to continue with him. Why I cannot say.

I will stop here. The letter has become already rather long.

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