A lineage of little mobility
I am the descendant of a family of daily labourers and uneducated individuals. My oldest known ancestor, Dahm Joeres or Dahm Gores, was born around 1680 in Brandenberg, a small village with about 600 inhabitants today in the middle-range German mountains of the Eifel about 50 km from Cologne. I was born in Dueren, which is only about 15 km from Brandenberg. So, it took that part of my family 300 years to come down the mountains because they lacked any economic and social and thus geographical mobility.
Other parts of my family were more mobile and migrated for economic reasons to Düren in the 1890s from Raeren near Eupen, which belonged to the German Empire between 1871 and 1919 and is now part of Belgium, and in the 1920s from Rheinbreitbach, a small village South of Bad Godesberg.
The educational level of my ancestors improved somewhat once Prussia took over the Rhineland and introduced basic education for all. My great grandparents were house wife, wine farmer, train conductor, home decorator (Stuckateur) or assistant accountant. Only my grandmother’s family (on my mother’s side) were members of the small bourgeoisie in Dueren before World War I as their crafts business could benefit from decorating the homes of the growing upper class in Dueren. However, they lost most of their fortune in the 1923 inflation.
Born into a family who benefitted from increasing educational opportunities after World War II
With the Weimar Republic and particularly after World War II, educational possibilities increased for my family. My parents were the first in their families to pass Abitur and go to university. I attended the Stiftisches Gymnasium Düren like my sister, my cousins, and my father (and grandfather who had to leave before graduation to earn a living) before me. I graduated with Abitur in 1997. I was very lucky: education and learning of any kind were always the highest priority in my family.
Mandatory community service, growing awareness of bad luck, social policy and power
In 1997, I was drafted for community service for 13 months. I chose to work as assistant teacher in a school for blind children with multiple handicaps. Interestingly, my grandfather had been a tutor at that school in the 1930s when he had changed jobs away from the industrial sector that had suffered inthe Depression. My mother and grandmother, the widow of a tutor, still lived on the premises of that school in the 1940s even though my grandfather had been killed during World War II.
During my time there in 1997-8, I mostly cared for a group of kids of about 8 years of age with a life expectancy of about 20 years. They were all blind and mentally handicapped, none could talk and only two of them could walk. That experience was, in hindsight, very important to me. I learnt techniques of physical care, how to manoeuver in difficult social situations with the kids and the other teachers and how to communicate without words. This episode also strengthened my interest in social and education policy and my awareness of luck and bad luck in society. It also sparked my awareness of assymetrical power relations. As as kind of conscript in the social sector, my peers and I were at the lowest end of the food chain with the senior teachers at the highest end – some of whom would pushed us around quite a bit and we had to organise collectively to stand our ground.
Political socialisation in a Catholic region of former Prussia
The Rhineland was traditionally a Catholic region where Protestants only moved with increasing industrialisation or as delegates of the Prussian state. As a consequence, very often the economic and political elites of Dueren were Protestant. Having been incorporated into Prussia after the Vienna Congress, the Rhineland Catholics sought political refuge in the Zentrum party. From various anecdotes, I am very certain that my great-grandparents (born around 1880) were not any different and cast their vote for the Zentrum. Allegedly in 1949 or 1953, my grand-father Peter Goerres went to the voting station to cast his vote for the German parliamentary elections. He took his father, my great-grandfather Eduard, with him. The latter went into the booth first. Then it was my grand-father’s turn. When he inspected the ballot paper, he noticed that someone was behind him: his dad had illegally entered the booth another time. Apparently, Eduard refused to leave before my grand-dad would put his cross next to the Zentrum party (which was still running on its own in the early post-War elections).
Funnily enough, I am less sure about my grand-parents (born around 1910). But judging from their religiosity and the CDU’s ability to garner support among previous Zentrum voters, my hunch would be that they also voted Black (CDU). None of them was self-employed or educated to higher than Realschule (O Levels). Thus, any liberal vote seems unlikely. My parents broke this barrier between secular and Christian parties. They grew up during times of increasing secularisation and social emancipation. As my father was self-employed and my parents had friends in the local branch of the FDP, I am convinced that they voted liberal.
When I was first allowed to vote in the national election in 1998, I voted for the liberals. I was just about to start my studies and my level of political sophistication was very low. Thus, according to the expectations of David Butler and Donald Stokes, I cast my vote for my parents’ party or what I thought their party was. However, I became more involved in current affairs and (hopefully!) matured in terms of my political values, so that I have changed my vote several times since 1998.