The Jack’s in Germany series: Part I

Words by Katia Pase

Published on October 5, 2011


As the title suggests, Jack is in Germany this month, and so we’ve dedicated our October series to sauerkraut, hot blondes, hilarious heavy metal bands, and all things German.

This piece of memoir is written by Katia.

I was born on the second of January. The significance of this day for my brothers, and possibly for my father as well, is that Michael Schumacher was born the day after.

In our household in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, Michael Schumacher was worshipped like we might have worshipped a God if we believed in one. My brothers and father made fortnightly midnight pilgrimages, dragging their doonas down the hallway to the lounge room on Sundays to watch channel ten’s broadcast of the formula one. They put posters on their walls and below these, placed their replica toy Ferraris, each one still in its box. Every time Schumacher won a race, which was often, they’d sing the German national anthem with frightening enthusiasm.

I have two brothers; one older, one younger. They both drive; I don’t. I’ve been behind the wheel of a car less than five times and never on a proper road. It’s the most popular topic of conversation between my parents and I. My Dad can’t  comprehend that I can function without a car. Even my older brother Matt likes to heckle me about it.

‘Aren’t you embarrassed that your younger brother has his license and you don’t?’ He says, and I say, ‘Aren’t you embarrassed that I’m a foot taller than you and have been for years?’

To this his response is, ‘I have the potential to be an F1 driver; you don’t’.

At almost six feet, I’m only an inch or so taller than Schumacher, but apparently, according to Matt, Schumacher’s a lot taller than the average driver and that just proves how awesome he is.

It had never occurred to me that Matt may not have been joking until my boyfriend Sam almost passed out with car sickness on a trip to a winery one Saturday afternoon. As Matt navigated corners with expert precision, Sam sat clutching the seat. He looked at me – even under his beard I could tell the colour had drained from his face – and said, ‘Think I’m gonna vom’. Matt turned the wheel hard left, yanked it hard right. The vein in his temple bulged under his skin like it always did when he was excited.

I think the word Sam uses to describe Matt behind the wheel is ‘psycho’.

I blame this obsession on my father. He is a man who recognised a motorcycle he had worked on over a decade ago because of a dent on the underside of the petrol tank. To the untrained eye, this dent may have appeared to merely be a trick of the light. He once tried to teach me to distinguish a two stroke from a four stroke engine just by listening. We spent a whole afternoon at a picnic ground in the country somewhere, listening to motorcycles shoot past. I was determined to learn to hear the difference, not because I really gave a shit, but because I thought it reflected my sense of rhythm. Maybe, if I learnt to hear the difference, Dad would buy me a drum kit.

He didn’t.

Back when our house in Box Hill was just a little white weatherboard with a lemon tree by the back fence, Mum and Dad built a huge garage from where Dad worked for the first ten years or so of fatherhood. He fixed people’s Fiats and Ferraris. Men with pointy shoes would drop in and out of the garage without stopping to knock on the front door. He’d pump Bach or Beethoven and scream ‘OI! BUGGER OFF!’ every time a basketball crashed into the roller door.

Michael Schumacher is retired now. At least I think he’s retired. I moved out of home and interstate a few years ago and am now ignorant to the goings on in the motor-racing world. This is okay by me. When I was last in Melbourne, a few months ago, I walked through the house when everyone was out and tried to imagine my family living between these walls without me. Some things had changed. There was raspberry cordial in the pantry when all we had growing up was Fruit Cup. The home brand shampoo had been replaced with Pantene.

But when I looked really closely, the place was just the same. The TV cabinet was still full of VHSs labeled Shumi wins Monza ’98, and Shumi wins Monte Carlo ’01.

And down the end of the corridor, in my brothers’ bedrooms, the Schumacher posters remain. In the ones lifted from newspapers, the Ferrari-red has faded to a strange orange, but still, Schumacher’s horse-like face has survived furniture re-arrangements and re-paintings of the walls.

My bothers say he’s invincible.

I say he’s just some small time racer dude, and yes, his brother doesn’t win any races but he’s much better looking and who cares anyway,

but I say it quietly.