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Remembering is living

Käthe Tag | It is never too late to learn

Born in Germany in 1938, and a nature-lover, Käthe Tag today lives in the southern Alentejo as a German among Portuguese. Her four children Sylvia, Oliver, Svea and Ines visit her regularly. At the beginning of the 1960s, she lived in Paris and London to learn French and English. After the early death of her husband in 1981, she started several types of medical training and later opened her own practice for biological medicine in the south of Germany. But at some stage she began to find it too cold in Germany.


When did you come to Portugal?

In 2003, when I was 65. When you live in Portugal, it’s very important that you speak the language. I’m currently attending the Seniors’ University in Odemira and I’m the only foreigner, which I find a great shame. I enjoy being there because the people have such a warm manner. As well as the language, I’m getting to know the people and their mentality. In the course “Portuguese for Foreigners” I’m also finding out about the history of Portugal. One of our teachers, António, who taught us last year, told us about how he had experienced the Carnation Revolution live in a stadium in Lisbon, and how helicopters kept appearing in the sky above and they didn’t know whether they would shoot. Then they opened the doors and carnations were dropped. You see, if I couldn’t speak Portuguese I wouldn’t be able to talk to my neighbours either. Learning is a pleasure for me. Literature too. I’ve been doing this for three years. It keeps me fit.

You are 78 years old. When did you realise that you would spend your old age in Portugal, and why?

I used to live in the Allgäu in Germany. We often had snow there as late as June. I’m not a great winter sports person. I thought to myself in those days that if I were ever to move, I would go to a warm country. I’m a healing practitioner, psychotherapist and health consultant and I used to go to a health congress in Baden-Baden every year. There, I came into contact with another healing practitioner called Gregor, and he had bought himself a house in southern Europe. He asked me once if I didn’t feel like going with him. “I’m going there with my partner and if you want you can come with us,” he said. That was how I got to know Portugal. Sunshine every day in February. The beginning was difficult because I couldn’t understand anyone.

How does your day start?

I am a person who likes to get up early. I do some exercise before breakfast. Then I study Portuguese for two hours. About midday I start preparing lunch and I like eating raw food, but not only. Lots of vegetables from my own garden. There’s a small market in Milfontes that sells unsprayed things. I feel very well integrated. I have Portuguese neighbours who are almost self-sufficient. They make their own wine, press their own olive oil, harvest chickpeas. For example when I go there to buy tomatoes, they give me them for free. I dried the tomatoes then. Wonderful. What I don’t like are sweet things. I don’t eat any sugar. No chocolate. I grew up in the former East Germany, where there weren’t many sweets. So I didn’t have a problem there. I went to the west for the first time when I was 18. Later, when I was living in Switzerland, there was such good chocolate. After two years, I had completely ruined my teeth. I like eating nourishing things. In the afternoon I have a siesta, for example. I also love sewing. Then, in the evening, I water my garden and right at the end of the day I go for a walk in the wood, or to Portuguese neighbours.

Have you got a television?

No. I listen to the radio and read lots of books.

You love languages and this shows a “Lightness of Being”. Is it fun for you?

It makes life much easier. I did my diplomas in French in Paris and in English in London. At the moment, I am attending the Seniors’ University in Odemira once a week. I live very modestly, don’t drive very much and try to harm the environment as little as possible. At the beginning of the 1970s, I read the Club of Rome book. Moderation became a theme of my life. A few years after my husband died, I was alone with four children. In those days, I became a member of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. My interest in the environment is a great enrichment for me. It also helped me to break out of my self-centredness and my grief.

If Gregor had driven you to Italy instead of Portugal, maybe you would be living in Sicily today rather than the Alentejo?

Yes, it was chance that brought me to Portugal. All the other good experiences that I have had in Portugal only came later. Is that a matter of luck? For example, not having any physical pains? That is to do with healthy eating. If you eat meat, then not too much. What is important is paying attention to your acid-base balance. Being fortunate also means having a roof over your head and good social contacts. Even though my Portuguese is not perfect, I can at least have a conversation. That is happiness for me. What more do we want? More and more and yet more … where is that going to lead? It makes me happy when I can see the colours of the blooming flowers in the morning.


How do you imagine the next few years are going to be?

That I remain healthy and can spend a few more years on my quinta. I haven’t taken any conventional drugs for 40 years. Thanks to my 15 years of experience as a healing practitioner in Germany, I know how to look after myself. You keep learning until the end of your life…

Germans are regarded as not always being easy. How do you see that, living in Portugal as a German?

Germans are regarded as reliable…

You come from a generation which experienced fascism. As a German, do you feel a responsibility for Germany’s wrongdoing in the last century?

Do you mean the war?

Yes, but also the crimes against humanity. The many people who were murdered by the Germans; Jews, gipsies, homosexuals, communists, the mentally ill… how do people live with this responsibility?

I was a child when that happened. I didn’t take part in the crimes. For me, it is important to live responsibly. I am not a conservative. I have the feeling that a lot of work has been done in Germany on the past. Don’t you have this feeling?

When I was still living in Germany, I experienced Nazi judges and politicians right into the 1980s who just continued for 35 years as if nothing had happened, until some of them were caught: Filbinger for example. So I do ask myself as a German “who am I?” When I talk to older German people today I sometimes ask how do you actually bear this “business as usual” after the war?

Difficult question. I need to think about that a bit first. We Germans are sometimes, how should I express it, swanky. What really disturbs me about Germany is that it is selling so many armaments again. I think it is good that Germany is taking in a lot of refugees in these months.

What can Germans learn in their lives from Portugal?

The expression of friendship, of warmth, of helpfulness, of compassion and modesty.

Humildade, Saudade? Words that don’t exist in German?

Yes, that is something that we Germans do not know. And when I am at a “convívio”, I sometimes feel that I am terribly sober as a German. People sing and dance, eat and drink. It is wonderful when you can still experience such things in your old age.

Thank you for the open conversation.

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