12 June 2015

Home Alone 1

[As I reported in “An American Teen in Germany, Part 1,” posted on 9 March 2013, my dad became a Foreign Service Officer in June 1962 and was assigned to the directorship of the Amerika Haus in Koblenz, West Germany.  He took up his duties that September, but my mother didn’t join him in Germany until late October, so there was a period of about a month when Dad was in Koblenz alone, overseeing the preparations for the government-supplied house at Rheinanlagen 12 and learning his way around German society and his new job.  He and Mom wrote each other nearly daily, it seems, with Dad giving Mother details about the house, the town, and the culture, as well as his comments on their new circumstances.  Mom kept Dad’s letters—her replies are no longer around—and I came across the stash a few months ago while picking through some of Mom’s files and boxes.  They are a mix of chat, practical information, observations, and professions of his feelings.  I thought it would be interesting to share them.  ~Rick]

Monday night [24 Sept. 1962]
Frankfurt [am Main, W. Ger.]
My dearest,

This is really the very first opportunity I have had to sit down and relate to you the events since I left N.Y.

The flight was uneventful, short, crowded and not unpleasant.  The only real disadvantage is the loss of almost half a night, and it takes several days to recoup the vanished sleep.  We took off from Idlewild [the common name for New York International Airport, now known as John F. Kennedy International Airport] on schedule and shortly after we were airborne they served dinner.  Naturally I could eat nothing.  I read and dozed and we were ready to land in London.  Slightly misty, cool and too early in the day to have to go through the landing procedure (7:45 A.M.).  Downtown to the Westbury where they had a reservation but no room ready.  I went into the restaurant for breakfast and ran smack into Leonard Marks [a communications lawyer who later headed USIA, my dad’s agency] who was on his way home from an international conference in Lisbon.  We chatted over a cup of coffee and then parted.  I found that my errands were all within easy walking distance of the hotel so that I had the pleasant opportunity of wandering around the Bond St. section of London.  I called Sue [Hammerson, the wife of a British couple my parents had gotten to know] about ten and she was delighted and surprised.  She insisted I come to the house for lunch, and seeing the interior by daylight did not make it any more attractive.

We spent the whole afternoon including a visit to the Home for the Aged which she has erected in memory of Lew [Sue’s late husband].  It has just been completed and the first occupants have moved in.  We had dinner with her three children including a fiancée about which I will tell you more when I see you.  To bed after dinner and up at 6:30 A.M. to catch the plane to Frankfurt.

The flight is only one hour and like all jet flights has the disadvantage of not being able to see a thing except when either ascending or descending.  The Public Affairs Officer from the Consulate was waiting for me at the airport and had a car from the consulate to take me to my hotel.  He had arranged for me to stay over for a day so that I could be thoroughly briefed here (this is my immediate headquarters [the Koblenz Amerika Haus was under the jurisdiction of the Frankfurt consulate]) before I move on to Bonn [capital of the Federal Republic of Germany and location of the U.S. Embassy] and Koblenz.  We sat down to lunch and spent about 2½ or 3 hours talking.  He asked me to his home for a dinner gathering but allowed me enough time for a nap, a change of clothing and general rehabilitation.  The other guests at dinner were his assistant, a bachelor who lives with his mother whom he squires around and whom everyone refers to as “Mom.”  The Amerika Haus director from Frankfurt and his wife—a fairly new officer (about 4 months)[.  T]he last couple were Mr. & Mrs. Munro Leaf—he is the illustrator and creator of “Ferdinand the Bull” and is doing a tour for U.S.I.A. lecturing on children’s books.  He and his wife were charming and the evening was delightful.

This morning I reported to the Consulate—met the whole staff including the Consul-General.  I went through all the administrative processing and found out that our trunks had arrived and were awaiting instructions for disposition.  I was also told that our home in Koblenz is being repainted.  I arranged for the trunks to be shipped to the Amerika Haus on Friday since I will probably be in Bonn until Thursday evening.

My stay here in Frankfurt has been amazing.  I have not met a single German—except personnel at the consulate all of whom speak English.  I am staying at a hotel owned by the Army and outside of dinner at the Backer’s [John, Dad’s immediate superior at the Consulate, and his wife, Evelyn] last night my meals have been more American than what I get at home.  This town is so Americanized and has so many Americans living here (about 100,000 [coincidentally, the entire population of Koblenz]) that it is possible to never get involved with the natives.  [Frankfurt was, of course, the headquarters of the U.S. Army in Germany and Europe.]  In the dining room tonight I met a chap who has been here for over two years and doesn’t speak a word of German—and he is married to a German girl.  [Dad, of course, did speak German, and once he got to Koblenz, used it extensively as we’ll see.]  Of course, this gives me the great opportunity to save the sightseeing for when I can do it with you.

Tomorrow morning I catch a train at 7:00 A.M. which means I must get up at six.  I think I better get to bed and leave some more telling for my next letter.

                                                                        You know I love you,

P.S.  I wrote both boys [that would be my brother and me] from London.

*  *  *  *
Tuesday evening [25 Sept. 1962]
Bonn, Germany
My dearest,

As you can see, my pen has surrendered to the Germans.  [This letter was hand-written in pencil.  Dad’s previous letter switched to pencil ⅔ of the way trough when his ballpoint was clearly running out of ink.]  I need a new filler for it. 

[In another, undated note on “Office Memorandum” paper, Dad wrote that his “pen has run dry” and asked Mom to get a refill and “a spare or two” because he can’t get any in Koblenz.  Dad sent her the pen and told her to bring it back with her when she joined him in Germany.  Dad had a silver Cross ballpoint with his initials (which I now have) and I imagine that was the pen that he couldn’t get refills for in Germany.]

After I wrote you last night I went to bed and was up at six this morning to catch a 7:10 train to Bonn.  The train came right down the Rhine through Koblenz, but naturally all I could see [in Koblenz] was the area near the railroad which had the usual appearance of this type of area in any city in the world.

The scenery along the river was magnificent.  Hilltops surmounted by castles or castle ruins; vineyards terraced up impossible slopes to the base of these “schloss” [castle].  [On my first visit to Germany over Christmas that year, my folks brought me from Frankfurt to Koblenz on this same train and the ride along the Rhine—the train goes right past the famed Lorelei—is, indeed, “magnificent”!]  The sun doesn’t manage to clear the mist until well into the morning so my view was rather limited.  This seems to be the big complaint regarding the weather—not enough sunshine.  Apparently the overhanging grey cloudiness can last for weeks without a sight of the sun.

I arrived here at nine and was met by a car and driver.  He stopped at the “guesthouse” to allow me to deposit my bags and we went on to the embassy.  The “guesthouse” is a small apartment building run by and used for embassy people to be put up.

I met most of the U.S.I.A. staff at the Embassy, including the German employees.  At each branch and office I received a briefing as to what they do and how it fits in with my operation.  When I finished up at 5:30 I was exhausted and came back for a nap and a wash.  I am leaving in a few minutes to have a drink at the home of Roger Lyons who is temporarily in charge of U.S.I.A. activities at the embassy.  He is actually number three man but the other two are away until next week.  Tomorrow I will have more of the same, and at this rate I look forward to my arrival at Koblenz simply in order to relax and get some rest.

You might be interested in knowing that there is scheduled a meeting of all Amerika Haus directors in Germany here at Bonn on Oct. 18 & 19.  Take these dates into consideration when planning your trip over.

Obviously I have not had any mail, nor will I have any until I get to Koblenz on Thursday.  Can hardly wait.

*  *  *  *
Thursday, Sept. 27, 1962

I arrived in Germany this morning and have been here about four hours.  Up to now I have been travelling [sic] in an extension of the United States.  This may seem incredible, but up to this morning I had not met or had anything to do with any Germans other than a customs official, a cab driver, a porter and a dining car waitress.

When I arrived in Frankfurt the PAO [Public Affairs Officer] was there to meet me, as I told you.  He escorted me to my hotel which is an installation run by our military and is as Amuuurican as you can get.  [These are known as Transient Billets and are like bare-bones hotels or guest quarters for official visitors.]  The menu in the small dining room consists of five or six different steaks plus hamburger and an assortment of sandwiches.  You can’t even pay your bill in other than U.S. money; this also applies to the hotel bill.  [This was in the days before credit cards, too.]  On Tuesday morning when I left for Bonn, I did have a German taxi driver, porter and of course had to buy my railroad ticket in German.  When I walked into the dining car shortly after the train left the waitress spotted  me right away and asked for my order in English.  In Bonn the embassy had a car and driver waiting for me and since I spent two days there I had no exposure either to the city or the people.  I might say that all the German employees of both the consulate and the embassy identify themselves with the Americans.  They often use the word “we” meaning we Americans.  This morning I left Bonn in a gray misty drizzle and made the trip to Koblenz (40 minutes on the train) to arrive here in a full rain, no drizzle.  The car met me and took me immediately to the office where I have now met all the staff present and inspected the premises.  In a little while I shall go out and inspect our house.  I have checked into a hotel because five men are painting in the house, and it is expected that as soon as they finish another crew will start scraping and refinishing the floors.  The carpets (or rugs, I don’t know yet what we have) and the drapes are being cleaned, so we should have a bright clean residence by the time you arrive here.  I will give a full description after I have seen the place.

I am staying at The French Club which is a hotel as well as a club and went over at noon to check in and have lunch.  [The former French officers’ club, from when Koblenz was part of the French occupation zone, was renamed the French Club and open to all.]  It’s nothing to get excited about, but is clean, convenient and will serve my purposes nicely.  After lunch I took the opportunity to walk back here [the Amerika Haus office on Schloßstraße], even though it was raining, to get a small impression of downtown Koblenz.  It looks very attractive, the shops and buildings are very nice, there is a large square with a park and fountain [this is probably Görresplatz] and quite a good bit of construction going on.  Apparently this city was badly damaged in the war so that there is a fair amount of modern construction that has taken place, and somewhat altered the traditional appearance of the city.  [Damage from allied bombings and other wartime destruction in World War II was largely cleared in the 1950s, but when Germany entered the Wirtschaftswunder, the economic miracle of the ’60s, reconstruction of the empty lots and abandoned structures began all over the Federal Republic.  Bland, nearly identical in style, new buildings rose everywhere in these years.  Our house in Koblenz, the embassy apartment complex in Bad Godesberg, and my BOQ in Berlin were all part of this phenomenon.]

The people working here [in the Amerika Haus] appear nice and helpful, at first glance.  At each step along the way, Frankfurt and Bonn, I was told of the excellence of the local staff [in Koblenz]; I am sure this will be a great help in getting oriented.

By the way, I haven’t seen a single platzen sie anywhere.  [This was obviously an expression Mom and Dad had for something about the Germans, probably particularly the women, but I can’t recall what it referred to anymore.  It may have been a reference to an image of sexiness from pre-war movie lore (“bombshell”).  (It literally means “burst!”)]  All German women seem to have the knack of looking healthy, quite sexless and utterly lacking in any chic.  Some of the hats and suits look like they must go back to the First World War, if not the Franco-Prussian conflict [which would be 1870!].  Can’t wait for you to get here, hate having all these experiences by myself without you to enjoy them with (what a sentence).

The one thing that disappointed me upon arrival here was that there was no mail.  I was hoping that [while] I was en route there might be a letter or two.  I am sure they will be here by tomorrow or certainly Monday.  The trunks should arrive from Frankfurt tomorrow, and I am having them brought here to the office until it is convenient to move them into the house.

All for now, write more soon.

                                                                        All my love,

*  *  *  *
                                                                                    Sunday, Sept. 30, 1962
My dearest,

Your very first letter caught up with me on Friday and I have been devouring it regularly since it arrived.  After a whole week of no contact you can imagine how eager I was to hear from you.

Before I make any comments or attempt some impressions I think I’d better tell you about our house.  I know how anxious you must be to know something about it.  I spent all morning there taking measurements and completing the enclosed floor plans.  This was not easy since the place is cluttered up with painters[‘] equipment and all the furniture has been piled into the center of the rooms & covered.  I think I got fairly accurate measurements and at least they will give you an idea of the layout.  I did not measure the third floor as I saw no purpose to it unless you feel it would be helpful.  I have kept a duplicate set of these plans so that you may write me and refer to them if you have more specific questions.

The house is stucco, as are almost all the houses in this area.  [That’s that rapid post-war construction I noted.]  It is on the Rhine and most conveniently and tastefully situated.  From the river there rises a fairly steep embankment which is topped by a crushed stone or gravel footpath.  The embankment continues for a few feet after the footpath and is topped by a sodded area of trees and lawn about 10 feet in width; then comes a broad paved walk which is the Rheinanlagen [Rhine promenade – no vehicle traffic].  [T]he house fronts on this.  The gate which I have indicated opens onto this walk.  The paved path comes along the side of the house to a flight of steps at the top of which is the main entrance.  The door opens into a vestibule which is also the stairwell of the house.  From here you come into a large hall or foyer off which all the rooms open.  Starting on the left a small powder room containing toilet and sink; an open alcove which at present contains a home-made bar.  A large living room with the front wall almost all window area, a pair of French doors to the balcony and a large amount of wall-space—no fire place.  A large dining room somewhat on the long side, a breakfast room and a kitchen with counter space, some cabinets, a refrigerator, two stoves—one gas and one electric, each with 4 burners but small, and a disreputable looking sink.  [The porcelain sink was rust-brown from Koblenz’s iron-laden water.  Our dishes would succumb to the same rust stain soon as well.  Beside being vile-tasting—it wasn’t unhealthy, just nasty—it was as hard as rock.]  The little pantry room has another refrigerator exactly the same size as the one in the kitchen and some home made shelves for canned and box goods storage.  There remains only the den on this floor.

The first floor has wood parquet floors which are badly in need of redoing and a request has gone in for authority to have this done.  The second floor is covered by a solid gray linoleum or plastic which is used commonly in Germany as a floor covering.  It is a permanent installation and appears to be in good condition.

The common practice in Germany is for each sink to have its own small gas hot water heater, so there is one in the kitchen, one in each large bathroom on the second floor, and one for the tubs.  There are none for the ½ baths or powder rooms, so they have no hot water spigots on their sinks.  These heaters are mounted directly above the sink or tub and have spigots into the sink or tub.  The large bathroom on the second floor which is not part of the master suite has a bidet—it is the only one in the house.

The third floor is suitable only for storage and a maid.  The roof slants down and cuts down the size of the two bedrooms, and as I have indicated, there is no bath in the toilet.

Immediately adjacent to the rear of the house is a stone paved terrace, just large enough for the metal furniture on our ground terrace.  We could not use the porch furniture.  I could not see too much of the furniture because of the way it is piled up and covered.  I hope that by later this week I will be able to see it more clearly.  Most of it looked like German modern which means dark wood on very straight lines.  There seemed to be a number of upholstered pieces all in green.

There are no closets in the house.  There are numerous armoires or chiffarobes for hanging clothes.  This also holds true for the first floor. 

The windows are all pairs which are somewhat similar to casements except they open inward and do not operate on a crank, simply on a latch.  [This always made placing anything on a window sill precarious.  When I was in the army in Berlin, my fellow GI’s used to like to call the States “the land of the round doorknobs.  I used to call it “the land of the sash windows”!]  There appear to be rug sized carpets around but I could not tell where they go or what they look like—oh yes, there are definitely no lamps around other than a couple of metal floor lamps.  I did not see a decent kitchen table or any breakfast room furniture.  All innerspring mattresses and they looked pretty good.  I think you should definitely bring the guest room furniture as well as our own bedroom, and the daybed and pieces for the dressing room.  As soon as I can see how the furniture on the first floor sets up I will advise you further.

So much for the house.  The trunks arrived on Saturday and everything appears in good shape.  I had them delivered to the office until the house is cleared out.  I opened them to remove my clothes and made a casual check without disrupting too much.  There didn’t appear to be anything broken, and everything looked fine.

I held a press conference on Friday morning in order to announce my arrival and meet the local press.  I shall send you a copy of the article when it appears.  [See Dad’s letter dated 4 October.]

I have seen all the stereotyped Germans in the few days since I have been here.  The children in lederhosen, the men in tyrolean green knicker suits and the German officer using a monocle to read the menu.

Most German women wear no make-up and don’t shave their legs.  When a German lady gets dressed a[nd] puts on a hat she looks like she is getting ready to attend a full-dress girl scout jamboree.  All the hats look like they once belonged to men and were discarded.

This French Club, where I am staying is like a small edition of NATO.  There are French and German officers here; a delegation of Italian civilians, for whom every meal becomes a party; a group of Dutch; a couple of English, and this evening an American couple attached to our embassy and here for a few days on business, introduced themselves.  The amazing thing is that the waitress and barmaid converse with all of them.

Enough for now—time for bed.

                                                                        Love in large quantities,
*  *  *  *
Tuesday, Oct. 2, 1962
My darling,

The mail has started to flow regularly in this direction.  A letter arrived both yesterday and today.  The one today was written Thursday and postmarked Friday, so I guess we can figure four days for mail to arrive.  I hope that my mail [h]as likewise started to reach you.  I wrote first in Frankfurt, then Bonn, and regularly since I arrived here [in Koblenz] last week.

The press conference which I held on Friday made the paper on Saturday and I am sending you clippings along with translations.  [They were in the letter on 4 October.]  On Friday (Oct. 5) I am presiding at the first lecture given in our auditorium since my arrival.  This is called “Ballet in the U.S.A.,” and is being delivered in German by a former director of the Koblenz municipal theater.  The occasion is the presentation in Koblenz by the local municipal theater of a performance of an American Ballet which we call “Cakewalk” [adapted by the American Ballet Theatre from music by American composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk] but which in German is titled “Die lustigen Schwestern” – translated literally, the lusty or hearty sisters.

My function will be to make some opening remarks and introduce the speaker.  I have written my introduction in English and it has been translated by the staff into German, which is how I will deliver it.  You can see things are moving along.  Tomorrow, Wednesday, I have my official meeting with the Oberbuergermeistrer [mayor (of a large city)] and on Thursday with the Regierungspraesident [district president], the latter is the head of the district, comprising several counties.  My area of responsibility consists of three such regierungs [Regierungsbezirk – administrative district], and I will have to meet the other two shortly.

The painters have indicated that they will be finished in the house on Wednesday, and if we can get the approval from Bonn, the scraping and refinishing of the floors can begin.  After that I can uncover and inspect the furniture and furnishings and give you an idea of what we have and what it’s like.

Am on the trail of a maid for us.  If it works out I shall hire her as soon as possible and move into the house when it is ready.  The help situation is very tight here and help is scarce and not very good, I am told.  [Germany was in a period of over-employment: there were more jobs than available workers.  Soon, Gastarbeiter, guest workers, were imported from countries like Spain and Portugal—later Turkey and still later the Middle East—to fill jobs for which there were no German workers.]

It certainly sounds like you have been getting plenty of action on the house [in Washington, which was for sale].  I hope this isn’t all too strenuous for you—I really feel quite badly about saddling you with all these unpleasant duties.  [My mother was in Washington alone to contend with both the sale of our house and the packing and shipping or storage of our furniture.  My bother, not yet 14, and I, almost 16, were away at different boarding schools.]

The past two days have been magnificent, which is unusual for the Rhineland [Koblenz is in the German state of Rheinland-Pfalz, or Rhineland-Palatinate].  Sunny, mild and generally delightful.  If it stays this way the wine harvest will benefit, and so will I.  There will be numerous festivals in the late Fall, and during the winter there is Karnival (Mardi Gras to you [also known as Fasching or Fastnacht in other parts of the German-speaking world]) which is a period of unmatched gaiety and dancing for at least a week.  I am told that it is wonderful and everyone in the City participates and enjoys it.  Many parties, much wine drinking, and very little if any business goes on.

I have not yet heard from Rick although I wrote to him twice.  Doug’s first letter arrived yesterday and I think it was a carbon of the one he sent you.  He said his days were quite full and described what took place from the time we left him [at school in Pennsylvania].

I am keeping as busy as possible because otherwise I dwell on missing you and make myself miserable.

                                                                        All my love,

[Dad was in Germany just over a week, and the work had already started—even as he was still contending with preparing the house we would all live in and learning his way around.  As you’ll read in part 2 of this letter collection, which I’ll be posting in a few days, this mix of getting right to work on the public diplomacy of his job and acclimating himself to his new life continued.  Please come back to ROT for “Home Alone,” part 2.]

1 comment:

  1. I was transcribing these letters in my mother's hospital room when she was suffering what turned out to be her final illness. Mom died on Tuesday, 26 May, at the age of 92.