A Short Autobiography

First Decade: 0- 11

The first eleven years of my life I lived in Japan, interrupted by one year in Toronto, Canada at age 7. My German parents were missionaries, but not of the pious kind. Their activities resembled more a kind of philosophical East West Dialog including a lot of engagement in practical social issues, especially around industrial development and worker-employer relationships. We always had an open house, somehow there were almost always guests for dinner, and I remember lots of afternoons and evenings filled with discussions with Japanese students. We moved around a lot when I was small, never staying more than a couple of years in one place. It was a choice of sending us kids either to Japanese schools or to International English speaking schools, and my parents chose the latter, so my first years I was socialised into an English speaking environment. I spoke German only with my parents, I spoke Japanese on the streets and English at school, with my siblings and at most social events.

This start into life gave me a lot of stimulation, a broad horizon, and an international framework: cultural differences and variety were all I knew. It also gave me a feeling of having no roots. It took me a long while till I understood that I was simply an “international kid”, a breed of its own, a world citizen.

Since missionaries are allowed regular trips and visits back home we travelled a lot as a whole family. I had travelled around the world three times before age eleven (by big passenger boats, which were cheaper at the time than flying, and stopped at all the major ports). Travelling has remained a big part of my life.

Another early influence from my family was music.  Our whole family was musical, we all played the piano or the guitar and singing together was a regular family  tradition. Often the tasks around cleaning up after dinner were divided amongst us kids (and rotated)  along the following lines: One person cleared the table, one person washed the dishes, one person dried them, one person stowed them away and the last one (we were 5 kids) entertained the bunch of us with songs.

Music remained an important part of my life. I started singing in bands while I was still in school and kept it up later in life, “just for fun”.  (For samples click on the  link “Monika’s Music” in this Section). During the feminist movement music was a way we transported our radical “messages” and I played in several successive women’s bands, where I also put my song writing talents to use. But that comes later.

Second Decade: 11 – 18

At eleven we moved to Germany. This was a huge culture shock, the school system and daily environment were a lot more authoritarian than I was used to and I had to navigate my new environment not knowing the cultural codes and not speaking German that well. I also became a single child. I am the youngest of 5; my siblings are all quite a bit older than me and had already left home or did not come along when we made the move. This was a lot to digest at once and not an easy time. The Germany of the early 60ies that we landed in was very narrow and restrictive and not very welcoming or tolerant towards “strangers” (which indeed also my parents were, who had left Germany before the war and came back to a completely changed society).

I got through the German school system ok; I was good at concentrating and focussing, and at tests. The things that schools value and grade came more or less easy for me.

I did my best to be socially popular, but felt “different” and a loner a lot of the time in these years. Interestingly enough I hardly have any friends from this epoch.

Third Decade: 18 – 29

I moved from home when I was 18, and immediately got involved with the student movement that was sparked off by the shooting of a student at an anti Shah demonstration in Berlin in 1967 by a police officer (who later turned out to be an under cover agent working for the East German government). The student movement brought a huge wave of liberation and cultural change to (West) Germany. And it opened up the world again for me. After one year of studying sociology in Tubingen, I transferred to Frankfurt, where the action was. In my first semester in Frankfurt we occupied the sociological institute, kicked out the professors and defined and organised all courses and studies ourselves in what we called anti-authoritarian learning, which basically meant creating a fear free atmosphere for learning. If you were curious and liked to ask questions as I was, this environment was heaven. I was surrounded by more advanced students more than willing to answer all my questions and eager to teach me anything I wanted to learn about.

Our revolt also addressed issues in the city, we confronted the issue of speculation on the housing market and occupied beautiful turn of the century houses that were intentionally left empty to decay, in order to prevent that they were torn down to build profitable high rise office buildings. These houses with large rooms and high ceilings were perfect for the communal living life style we were experimenting with. They provided a lot of space for collective meetings and gatherings, collective meals, on going debates and discussions, guests from out of town, etc.

After the revolt in the universities the student movement developed into different factions. I joined the “spontis”, and belonged to the group “Revolutionärer Kampf” (RK) in Frankfurt, of which Daniel Cohn Bendit and Joska Fisher became the most famous members. One of the aims of our group was to revolutionise the working class and to this end I spent a year working on the assembly line in the Opel automobile factory in Rüsselsheim, near Frankfurt.

The gender inequalities inside the structures of the student movement and also the RK did not escape our awareness and after confronting them with limited success inside the leftist movements, a lot of us women decided to join the autonomous feminist movement, whose ideas had come over from the US. The feminist Women’s Center in Frankfurt we founded was one of the first in Germany. I was singer in the legendary first women’s rock band “Flying Lesbians”, (www.flying-lesbians.de ) and participated in the beginnings of the first women’s publishing company: Frauenoffensive in Munich.

The job I took as young sociologist at the German Youth Institute in Munich in the mid seventies started my engagement in the Mother Center movement, which lasted for many decades (see section Movements).

Fourth Decade: 29 – 40

“Saturn return” occurs around your 30th birthday and brings you the obstacles in your life that are to help grow and refine your soul. It hit me in the form of the break up of my first serious lesbian relationship. I had had relationships with men in my early twenties and they were not bad, but somehow I could never open up to men and allow myself to be completely vulnerable. I could not overlook the patriarchal set up and the gender inequalities in society and maintained a general distrust and competitive attitude towards men, also in my intimate relationships.

Relationships with women were a completely different story. Women got under my skin; they broke through my defences, with women I could open up emotionally and allow closeness. That is probably the reason my soul chose for the company of women. I looked for and created female spaces, female networks, a female world to live in. To this day I have a lot more personal friendships to women than to men, but by no means exclusively. I have some very dear male friends, whose friendships I value very much.

I first fell in love with a woman at the legendary feminist summer camp in Femø, in Denmark. Though we never became lovers this relationship grew into a very precious friendship, which has lasted till now and has enriched and inspired me in many ways. After some shorter affairs I got into my first serious lesbian relationship with one of the other members of the band Flying Lesbians. She broke up with me after 2 years and it broke my heart. I stayed alone and in mourning for many years. Alas it turned out to be a pattern that repeated itself several times in following relationships: I ended up being abandoned. Until I finally understood my lesson, but that was some decades later.

Fortunately I had a rich and very active career, which I could focus on and which brought me a lot of joy. I was involved in a lot of interesting research studies, most of them international, which included a lot of travelling. And most of them innovative, which included challenging mainstream thinking and practice. I authored or co-authored books and countless articles, went on lecture tours, supported the build up of the Mother Center movement, and was a protagonist in many controversial debates. I worked in wonderful teams, had marvellous colleagues and got to know very many interesting places and people.

This decade inspired my LP “Witch is Witch”, a collection of rather sad songs in which I digested both the emotional and political disappointments of these years: not finding an emotionally satisfying relationship and growing beyond the ideological limits of the feminist movement.

Fifth Decade: 40 – 51

I celebrated my 40th birthday with a big blast, a huge all women party with 300 guests under the motto: “Never been better!”. I brought together friends from the different phases and facets of my life, the student movement days, the feminist and the lesbian scene, the Mother Center movement, the research community, my international networks, and the friends with whom I shared the little shepherd’s hut in Corsica, which I had acquired in 1980. The hut was where I learned to put my hands into the earth and it enjoyed a constant and varied stream of visitors. I asked a representative of each area and epoch to give a little speech portraying both the times as well as how they had experienced me. There was a lot of entertainment, I sang with my current band, but most of all it was amazing how the guests from such diverse and unlikely scenes mingled with curiosity and ease. That has always been something I love to do, bring together and bridge different sub cultures, introduce people from and to different sectors of society.

It was during these years that I seriously started turning more inwards. Spirituality was something that was never far away or foreign to me, but it was in this period that I joined spiritual practices and schools, the most important ones being the Light Body courses as taught by Orin and Daben and the Ridhwan School and Diamond Heart Approach as taught by A.H. Almaas. I learned how to channel and spent many hours attending retreats, which were often in far away places like California. A lot of my inner work I would do on my own, or with close friends, preferably in the little apartment by the lake in Schliersee, only an hour away from Munich at the foot of the Alps, which I rented with a friend.

Sixth Decade: 51 – 60

This sixth decade brought huge changes into my life. I developed the concept and organised the first Grassroots Women’s International Academies (GWIA), during the Expo 2000 (see section GWIA under section Innovations). GWIA is a bottom up peer learning strategy to harvest and validate knowledge gained in informal learning settings. (www.GWIA.net ) Knowledge management, the concept and politics of qualification and education, and the distorted notions in our professionalized society of what constitutes (legitimate) knowledge have always been an underlying red thread of interest in my sociological as well as activist life.

The year 2000 was also the year I finally met the love of my life, a soul mate so perfectly matched, she can only have been sent by the angels. I quit my job, which had served me very well for 27 years, and moved to The Netherlands, for Marieke is Dutch. We started developing a lot of ideas and concepts together. She is an architect and engineer and has been involved in issues of urban planning. Together we combined the “hardware” and the “software” of urban planning and community building (www.nest.cc ). We set up our own business M&M – Coaching and Research in Social Innovation and also created a non for profit organisation called the Nest! Foundation. I also founded a company in Germany (www.anakonde.de ) together with former colleagues, which specialised on evaluations. Marieke and I together became leading forces in the Mother Centers International Network (www.mine.cc ), which was also founded in 2000.

Marieke and I got married in 2005, in a glorious 3 day event in Amsterdam (see the wedding pictures in this section) and had a busy life, living and working together. In 2007 we made my life long dream come true and moved our office to the seaside, with views from every room onto the beach and the North sea, in Zandvoort, only a half hour train ride away from Amsterdam.

In the fall of 2008 I was diagnosed with uterus cancer and underwent a 7 hour long operation, undertaken by 3 female surgeons, and 29 sessions of radiation. Unfortunately the cancer did not stay local and has meanwhile spread, and it is not clear how much time I still have to live. My experience of my illness is expressed in the circular letters I have been sending to my friends.

Over the years I have acquired a large and rich network of friends. Networking has been a talent of mine and I have always been part of collectives, networks and movements. None of the things I did I could have done alone. In the many years I spent single or in unhappy intimate relationships I learned to value, cultivate and depend on my friendships. Some friendships broke, but many have been long lasting and others have developed in recent years. My beloved wife, my spirituality and my circle of friends are what are sustaining me now, and I feel truly blessed. When I look back at the many things I have worked on and have accomplished in my life, together with others, I see that I have made a difference and that gives contentment. I have lived a full life and each day continues to be full of gifts, joy and blessings.

Amsterdam, July 2009