Friday, March 18, 2016

The Swan (Part 11) A Chip off the Philosopher's Stone

XI. A Chip off the Philosopher's Stone

          Most of us probably have recollections of happy hours spent as a child in some kind of constructive activity—from building sandcastles and coloured brick structures to turning bits of odd materials into dolls, animals, houses, soldiers, and, above all, of covering a variety of surfaces, including wallpaper and tabletops, with drawings. Few children can resist the attraction of pencils, crayons, chalk or paint box, and the satisfaction derived from such works of creative art is completely unrelated to the results obtained.

          Once the results become more important to us than the work involved, we begin to become dissatisfied, and usually between the ages of 12 and 15 we abandon our childish pursuits and with it a source of happiness which we can ill afford to lose.

          However, the source remains and promises untold delights if only we can overcome our natural laziness and our unnatural idea that whatever we produce has to be perfect.

          For many centuries men attempted to prepare a substance, called the Philosopher's Stone, which was supposed to have two properties: to turn base metals into silver or gold, and to give eternal life to its owner. The emphasis lay on its power of transformation—be it of coarse matter into something finer or, ultimately, of turning sinful man into a perfect being.

          Creative work, from the very humblest to the greatest works of art, contains something of the secret of the Philosopher's Stone. The transformation of coarse matter into something finer touches on that special brand of happiness which is unaffected by outer circumstances.

          Naturally, it would be more gratifying to put paint to canvas and produce the Mona Lisa than, for instance, to turn a piece of felt into two left slippers, but the final result is not indicative of the happiness that is derived from the actual work.

           There is a magic in creative work as many of us have discovered who have diligently fashioned awkward or beautiful objects out of unyielding raw materials. Take a ball of knitting wool: what is it but many yards of thread, and yet it can be in your power to transform it into a wearable garment. An old cardboard box can be turned into a dolls' house, pipe cleaners into little figures, wire into ornaments, paper into lampshades, lengths of can into baskets and, last but not least, a piece of board with the aid of brushes and some paint tubes into a picture, good, bad, or indifferent. Collectors can transform chaos into order by sorting, labeling, and sticking into albums or arranging on shelves.

          After a day's hard work one may feel inclined to look for passive relaxation—if one is ill or old (or both) one may acutely dislike the idea of exertion. How often does one hear the argument, "I have no energy left for such things." Quite wrong! The only real effort needed is the decision to go and do it. Once started it does not sap one's energy—on the contrary, it provides energy in abundance and with it a feeling of happiness that one had thought lost and that, in truth, had only been mislaid in childhood.

17th July, 1975—Dear William

What you wrote about alchemy made me look for an article which I wrote many years ago, called "The Philosopher's Stone" and which was published—if I remember rightly—by the Chest and Heart Foundation because I sang a praise of creative work in all its forms. (The title is Alchemy for Invalids!)I can't find the article but what I did find was something called "Church Organs" which I shall photocopy in the office tomorrow before I send it to you. I don't think you want to read it but I could imagine that Roxanne would like it as the final appearance of the organist's apprentice was in the organ loft of the Marienkirche—although Roxanne could not climb up to it on account of her operation.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Swan (Part 10) Venice in the Fifties

Life Magazine
X. Venice in the Fifties

11th January, 1958

          There is nothing exciting to report. One wintry week of Venice is quite an experience, though—all kinds of weather with rain (today), freezing rain (and woe unto him who doesn't know his way—but they strew conscientiously to cut down Loss of Life), sun and frost and the fastest fog which comes rolling in from the Adriatic in grey balls and simply blankets out the whole city, as well as moonlit nights which are quite exquisite.

          For someone who has seen weeks and months of Rome, Venice is a city of pompous funereal churches with endless pompous tombs of Doges and precuratori in chapels which are sky high, where somewhere a tiny man on a gilded wooden horse s "IT"—but not the intimate churches of Rome which give one a feeling of musicality. Here all is pomp and great dignity. The 200 and more palazzi which line the curving Canal Grande are white and asymmetrical (very refined in taste) and completely unprotected because in contrast to other towns there was no reason to defend one's house against another member of the nobility because the democratic regime dates back so far.

          The city consists, like a jigsaw puzzle come apart (the seams filled with green transparent seawater), of so many sections but one soon understands that the centre, which is the knot, is the Rialto Bridge (known from postcards) which had Shylock's shoppe amongst many others (still standing). The thing to do is to hop from one of their B pontons into a vaporetto. The pontons rock like mad and the vaporetti seem mostly under water. In the 57½ minutes one has gone from one end of the city to the other, from the Station to S. Marco Square and in this almost hour (?) one passes one phantastically beautiful residence after another because there is no ugly house but all is XVIIIth-century, XVII, XVIth, back to the XIVth. 

          Most of those palazzi are of marble, at least their facades, and have coloured barber poles in the water with the heraldic signs (mostly in gold) of the owner of the palazzo. The poles are used to tie gondolas (all BLACK) or motorboats to. From the palazzi superb marble stairs, flanked by lanterns which are lit up (vaguely) at night, steps lead into the water and inasmuch as the water is the Adriatic Sea, it laps up the steps and often hits the wooden doors.

          The Canal Grande is alive with Gondolas which cross, because there are no more than three serviceable ridges and these gondolas are managed by two gentlemen in black (on rainy days with umbrellas in their left hand!) who stand high in back and low in front and with exaggerated motion and meter-long oars set the black shallow canoes in motion whilst nuns, ladies with laundry baskets on their heads, dogs, gentlemen in fedoras, elegant ladies in furs, stand in the centre of the frail ship which, in the waves caused by vaporetti, rock like mad. But a huge city is completely water-minded; schoolchildren hop into the boats and off they go. 

          All the rest of the city—it only takes minutes to traverse it at most points—moves on foot and the streets are mostly so narrow that if it rains only one umbrella fits into it—so there is endless ducking and shrinking into doorways, and the whole city is like an endless unfolding of theatrical vistas with the most intricate turns and twists and bridges, all of stone and very steep up and down—so that when, as I do it, one walks all day one goes endless staircases up and down again; within the city again numerous palaces with their own mediaeval bridges leading to the front door, churches mostly completely absorbed by the houses; turning a corner you will see, if you crane your neck to look up, suddenly a two-story apse(?) of a gothic church. 

          Through the streets (which here are called not "via" but "calle") the mass of humanity moves and one hears a tremendous hum of voices.

by Canaletto
          Restaurants are beautiful—mostly food to be had at about 8 pm; not before. I went to a modern opera yesterday in the finest theatre of Venice, The Phoenix, which is a completely intact XVIIth-century theatre. I wish I could say that the music was good; my theory that the Italians have lost their taste for music was verified once more. Indifferently good orchestra, fair choir, stinky soloists—and ugly as hell. But as an impression: fine. The city smells beautifully—most people seem to heat with wood, the fishiness (?) is not unpleasant. Most houses have canaries which even in freezing weather are outside the windows where they sing like mad. 

          The strangest thing is lack of desire for light. I have noticed this before in Italy. The city at night is dark. Even the gayest stores have dim lights. My own bulbs are 25 volt which we would give to the girls to burn all night (for nightmares) and even the station, which is one of Italy's three post-war stations, is dimly lit. The city at night is incredibly dark but one's eyes get accustomed to it and I, knowing Italy, always carry a very strong flashlight which means that in museums I creep all over the pictures, lighting up details but hardly ever seeing the whole. For art, the city has heavenly spots and especially the XVIIIth-century painters, such as Pietro Longhi with his small paintings of, practically speaking, every aspect of life, from hunting to tennis playing, to confessing, to dancing—makes you nostalgic for the good old days.

          In contrast to Rome: much less ravishing beauties. This is a hard-working city. And Italy, except for its tourist guest, is no fool's paradise. The amount of work is twice as much as in Holland and 30 times as much as in England. Here everyone works on Sundays and shops are open till 8-9 pm. The post office, for example, opens at eight am—closes at 8 pm or later. I heard from an American that Ravenna has the biggest oxygen plant in the world. And Venice, with all its dreamy (?) aetherial beauty, has a "Waterfront" with freighters and ocean-going vessels of all sizes.

          What is nice here is the damn good food. Bread is better and more varied in Rome, but meat and fih is good and soups are poetic. And one doesn't overeat on the whole. One orders meat which one eats. Then spinach appears upon which one strews parmesan cheese. Then one eats creme caramel and has a demi-tasse of the strong, mellow Italian coffee. If one is elegant one has consomme with vegetables or vermicelli in it at the beginning and a carafe of red wine which is pale red, slightly prickly and knocks me over (but pleasantly so). My breakfast consists of one roll (hard), three tiny dabs of butter, jam and four cups of foaming chocolate (which is, since the XVIIIth century, the drink here). 

          I rise at seven and try to be at my first museum at nine, home at one o'clock and on the beat again at 2;15. At 4 o'clock it is getting dark and at 5:30 I am at "home" writing my daily report and mapping out my strategy for the next day. 

          You can imagine that I sleep notwithstanding the fact that this little albergo lies in the slums with drunks singing till 1 am. The hotel is—as all cheap hotels in the world—run by a family where members sponge on whatever money comes in. Screaming babies, the owner a distraught widow, two effeminate sons, a beautiful daughter and two country maids who are extremely clean and appetizing. My room is immaculate every day. 

          In general: Italy is enormously clean compared to Germany and filthy Holland. Italian train toilets can actually be used. Dutch trains are the way I imagine country trains east of Kiev.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Swan (Part 9): Polio

IX. Polio

I have never been able to understand the nervous reaction of my fellow females to mice. Those wild screams and mad scrambles for chairs and tables. Those agonised commands of "Kill it!" Those pale faces, staring eyes, trembling hands, the ultimate abandoning of all reason, all dignity. I am a tolerant person. I just smile, I make soothing noises, both to the trembling human creatures high up as well as the little furry grey creatures low down. I admit they must be high-strung, I recommend plenty of milk and a few early nights. In any case, I feel terribly superior.

          Now take spiders, for instance. That is an entirely different case. Spiders rattle when they walk, they are thoroughly irresponsible and look like small editions of men from outer space. They always seem to make straight for me. I feel I am fully justified in feeling nervous about them.

          As a matter of fact, the sight of a spider makes me lose all reason and all dignity. I scream and try to climb straight up the nearest wall. Failing that I jump on a chair or table. If I happen to find a spider in the bath it is a matter of screaming for help to remove it or, no bath, and never mind Nanny's voice over some odd 40 years which seems to call out, "Oh, you dirty girl!" I have been known to spend some awful 20 minutes on a balcony with shrapnel falling round me during an air raid, trembling like a leaf because there was a large spider on my bed.

          It took a spider to bring home to me what it really means to have "a slight paralysis of the legs." All was peace. I had just finished reading the evening paper and when I put it aside I saw a spider approaching me rapidly. I gave a scream, but when it came to flight I found that my most intense desire to put lots of space between myself and the fiendish animal did not result in speed. I dragged my legs slowly as I had been dragging them for weeks and I almost collided with the spider. I suddenly began to think. 

          So far I had only been out in an ambulance or a car and now it dawned on me what it would mean not to be able to run. How would I ever cross a street? How would I get on a bus? How would I go to work? I quite forgot the spider and looked at my future for the next few years and did not like it. However, it turned out to be not quite so bad as I as I expected, but certainly odd.

          For once thing, it is not at all easy to convince one's surroundings that a person who walks slowly with a stick is not a perfectly normal human being. On the other hand, it is jolly hard work to remain so. I deeply resent it when people make a fuss of me, when chairs are pushed under me, when they step aside to whisper, "Poor thing." I equally resent it when nobody takes any notice of me, when I am pushed off my balance, when I am not immediately offered a seat on the bus, when I am left waiting.  With other words, I want to have my cake and eat it.

          There are compensations. Time seems to stretch quite pleasantly. If I miss one bus, I think I may get on the one after the next. As I stroll slowly along, I have ample time to see things I have never seen before. I have given up being discreet and I look into all lighted windows as long as I can. 

          I have seen a children's party in progress which I would have missed had I run. I have seen people dancing where I never expected them. I have seen a man playing the piano and six people in the room behind him yawning simultaneously with six mouths wide open. I have seen a rather large woman trying on a rather small jumper and the jumper lost. I have seen a little girl having a piano lesson and she looked very happy. I have seen a very pink man who only wore trousers ironing a very flimsy nightdress—probably a surprise. His tongue was stuck out several inches and his forehead was creased in concentration. I have also seen an owl flying along a street where there are normally no owls about. I have discovered the shape of buildings I never knew were there and I have found trees which I had passed for years without noticing them.

          I also have time to take in smells. I know the Indian boarding house by its nice spicy smell from the basement kitchen. I know who is having kippers and who is having bacon for breakfast. I know without looking that the patch of lilies of the valley is out in the park and that the ice cream factory has its vanilla day and that our factory has switched to rubber for a change.
Lottie in Russell Square, 1966
          I have overcome my fear of crossing streets. I just wait until the traffic thins a bit. It always does eventually; one has to be patient. I wait for a driver to signal me across. I felt terribly self-conscious and guilty in the beginning, holding up the traffic. I imagined all drivers cursed me for making them wait. I now think they have better things to do and probably only dimly see me as an unavoidable obstacle that will eventually remove itself. I still love bus drivers and heavy lorry drivers who wave me across and smile. Ours is a nice country to be lame in. People are friendly and patient. Abroad they are nothing of the sort. They are, on the whole, quite horrid. I have been hooted at and mudguards have brushed me and words have been called which I could fortunately not understand.

          Yes, I have been abroad. I suppose one could quite well travel round the world with a rubber-tipped stick in one's hand and dragging legs. I have not been that far, only across the Channel, but I got there and back again. My great worry was how to get on board a Channel steamer. Nothing could have been easier. A porter almost carried me on board, with my suitcase.

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Swan (Part 4 and three quarters): The Aftermath of War

IV and three quarters. The Aftermath of War

When I look back on my fortnight's stay in Hamburg in June, the first thing that comes to my mind is the incredible shabbiness of everything. When I left Hamburg in 1936 it was on the crest of the wave. It was a wealthy, beautiful, clean place and its inhabitants were confident, energetic, prosperous, elegant and full of plans for a brilliant future. All that has gone so completely as if it had never existed.

          I was prepared to find a great amount of destruction but I was not prepared to find the town look as if they had had a heavy air raid on the previous night. Apparently they have not made the slightest effort of cleaning up and carting the rubble away. Actually they have done a certain amount of clearing up, but there is still so much left.
Henry, in US Army uniform, with Hully
Hamburg, May 1946
Hully observing her ruined home, May 1946 
Family home, Hamburg, 1946
          I gradually realised that one cannot expect much when there is no paint to make things look a bit nicer, no soap to do any cleaning and not much strength to care about things in general, probably no transport to shift the rubble and no petrol to move what trucks they could muster. Unfortunately, this attitude of not-caring-very-much is universal.

          Germans are bad losers. Everyone I met complained endlessly, accused everybody else, blamed the British for all their shortcomings. I must admit that the food position, certainly at that time, was still very bad. Eight-hundred calories would tend in the long run to get everybody down. In a way it is astonishing that they keep on as they do.

          The occupied countries during the war had something to pray and to hope for. The germans do not seem to have any hopes left. This hopelessness, added to sheer physical exhaustion as the result of years of under-nourishment, seem to me most alarming. I took every opportunity of talking to people and trying to find out what they thought. I believe I was told a good deal of what was really in their minds because people who did not know me could not possibly realise I was not German as I speak German with a Hamburg accent. And old friends and acquaintances talked to me as such. I felt in some isolated instances they were conscious of the fact that I was British and tried "propaganda."

          The first thing that strikes one is the dislike of the British which in some cases was really hatred. When we first came to Hamburg at the end of the war there seems to have been a general feeling of relief and even joy. Hamburg has always been much nearer to the British kind of life than any other German town. The frontline troops which occupied Hamburg made a very good impression and there were hardly any complaints. When they made way for other troops, the disappointments began and when the civilian administration arrived, the tide turned against us. The no-fraternisation rule, although justified, has done us no end of harm. By the time it was lifted, there was a kind of unofficial no-fraternisation rule amongst the German population. "No decent German would like to be seen with English people" was an expression I heard repeatedly. There are, of course, exceptions.

          The next complaint was, queer enough, about the inefficiency and laziness of the Administration. Germans are probably the most industrious race on earth and they regard the British with contempt because their offices do not open until 10 o'clock and very often close again at 12. What they do not know about organising is not worth knowing and the present state of "improvising" arouses no respect.

          Requisitioning is another thing which has hit them hard. One can hardly blame the individual for feeling bitter, like, for instance, a school teacher who was told in the morning that she would have to leave her flat by the afternoon. It was during the very cold winter and she had nowhere to go. Finally she went to the attic of her school where she camped amongst packing crates. For some reason or other her flat was not occupied for some months but the doors were sealed and any effort to "loot" her own furniture and belongings was in vain. It is no good telling her that the Germans had an even less gentle way of commandeering houses in the occupied countries.

         On my wanderings through Hamburg I came to one large open space, surrounded by barbed wire and when I asked about the type of bomb which did this rather neat damage I was told there used to be houses on that spot after the war but the British decided to build a kind of compound for their administration and therefore turned the people out and blew the buildings up. Later on they decided against the plan. In view of the quite disastrous housing situation this has been a rather sad mistake.

          The overcrowding, although it is not our fault or at least very indirect, is almost worse than the lack of food. A house that would normally hold four to five people now has some 25 living crowded together in rooms. The present allowance is 4 sq. m. per person so that a medium sized room should hold some five people. This also means sharing kitchens, sinks and lavatories, with all the resulting quarrels, not to speak of infection.

          Gas is rationed, which is another source of irritation. One can hardly blame undernourished and tired people when they cheat and steal. Mothers are frantic to get all they can for their children by any means. Stealing of coal is regarded as a quite legitimate thing by people who would not have dreamed of taking a penny stamp before the war.

          People are quite surprisingly uninformed about the world in general and their country in particular. If we have tried any propaganda at all we seem to have failed amazingly. The absence of wireless sets and scarcity of German newspapers may account for some of it. I talked to highly education people who used to take a keen interest in world affairs. Their knowledge was slight, to say the least of it, and even this type of people seemed to rely on rumours. The quite universal belief is, for instance, that we carry their food to England, fruit is flown by planes and by night directed to Covent Gardens.

          Every single item which German factories produce goes straight on the English market. Every effort of building houses is made impossible because they have to apply for a licence first and fill in endless forms. Permission to use certain raw materials for manufacture is often withheld until the raw materials have deteriorated. This is all done quite deliberately. When I told them that we could not just build houses without any kind of permission and that things have deteriorated in our country because the relevant ministry could not make up their minds to give their permission, they would not believe it.

          When they complained that they could not buy cups and saucers I told them we couldn't either. The fact that our food and clothing was still rationed was only quite vaguely known. They thought it quite interesting to hear that we had electricity cuts. They had never heard of any world crisis. They were just deliberately starved to death as part of the general British plan. Is there nothing we can do to inform them a bit better?

          The last and probably most serious problem was brought to me by a young student who had been a pilot during the war. He said quite openly that he had been an ardent Nazi and that the bottom had dropped out of his universe when all was over. He ceased to believe anymore but he confessed there was nothing to take its place.

          "You see, national Socialism was not just politics to us young people, it was a religion and I can assure you it was a beautiful religion which demanded our fullest devotion and all our thoughts. It is horrible to feel this void but our Lutheran church cannot possibly replace our beliefs. We have a feeling it has failed us when we were willing to turn to it in despair. It has to be something much stronger. We Germans give our best when there are great demands made upon us. Democracy is not a religion and it does not suit the German character. Besides, see what a mess the British are in. There is no advertising value in democracy here."

          I asked whether the Church of England had done anything to help as I had heard of a discussion centre where young students and potential youth leaders were invited to attend lectures and discussion for a fortnight. He admitted they had done some good but it could not possibly influence them as a fortnight was much too short. Much more and more intensive work would be needed to have an effect, especially on cynical and highly critical young men, however ardently they might desire to find new gods to worship.

          When I said that Christianity had certainly gone through a much longer "approbation" period than National Socialism and had proved its worth in this world, he suddenly said: "There is one 'creed' that attracts a great number of us and that is communism."

          Against my usual arguments he put the really dangerous one that is bound to come up sooner or later: "We do not want the Russian Communism, we need a National German Communism."

           If the Church of England cannot convince these young people soon it will be too late. And the problem is that we probably cannot find the right people in time to tackle this formidable task because the best padre will make no impression unless he knows the psychology of young Germans very well indeed. He will have to fight with their own weapons and meet them on their own ground, he will probably have to adapt his idea of Christianity to the German mind, or in other words, we shall have to send out missionaries into a highly civilised country where only the very best minds are good enough. This young German ex-Nazi who is anxiously searching for something to replace his old beliefs, willing to drink from any cup that promises to slacken his spiritual thirst, looking from West to East, waiting for a new "leader" seems so typical of young German people and the idea that we shall fail them in all probability whilst there is still time, frightens and saddens me.
Lottie and Hully, Hamburg, 1946

The Swan (Part 4 and a half): WAR

IV and a half.  A genuine German anti-fascist

TRANSLATED COPY/Translated by H. Jakubowicz

The following is a true and exact rendering of a letter written by a genuine German anti-fascist in the German language. Names of persons and places have been abbreviated.

Paris, August 9th, 1945

Dear H.,

     After staying in Berlin illegally for two and a half years I have returned some time ago to Paris and I am sorry to find that you are not yet back in Europe. Therefore I will give you a short account of all that has happened to me since we saw each other in the Summer of '41.

     When we embarked in Marseilles I was still a mechanical founder in F. Later, however, I was working as a construction engineer in the works at F. During the middle of 1942, however, the position became precarious, the police had the noble intention to arrest me for deportation I vanished and went to B.E. at L. There I spent about seven months. E. had arranged things for himself in L. quite well. Without any difficulties he could study at the "Bibliotheque Municipale." 

     I succeeded in obtaining good documents—naturally forged ones—for the comrades who were living in L. For E. I had procured papers from Lorraine, which he kept for the beginning in reserve because he could still exist legally. We had conceived the plan to go to Germany with our false papers. The plan was discussed exhaustively and E's great experience was a great profit to me. I should go as an advance scout, should reconnoitre and prepare, on the ground of the experiences gained, with my forged papers, his removal too. The French workmen who were, at that time, forced to go to Germany, had all a claim to return on leave after six months. So in February 1943, I left L. with the intention of being back by the end of the summer. 

     E. did not give me the addresses of our people, because they did not know me personally and they hardly would have been prepared to deal with me on the strength of perhaps very vague personal references, because they all had to fear informers. One month after my departure E. was arrested because of an entirely bloody and unimportant difficulty with his papers. Friends who are here reproach him for his alleged careless behavior, but I can hardly believe that. Our connections in L. were so good that, for example, M.F. a short time after his arrest with forged papers, was released again. Probably E. has had just damned bad luck. He was in the clink only for the ridiculous time of a fortnight, but as he had been arrested under his real name the NSV (NS.-Volkswohlfahrt-NS. Charity Organization) took an interest in him. They told him he should not be so dumb as to sit in the clink for the French, he should rather go to the Reich. Because he refused, the Gestapo took the matter up. He was carried away and we have never heard of him again. Naturally, one has to expect the worst in this case.

     In the middle of February I arrived in Berlin. At first I was working as a construction engineer in an aircraft factory in Tempelhof. My flat was in Wilmersford. Already then war morale was on the decline. In the construction offices we were building the "Stukas NN"—the man occupation consisted in sleeping. Even in the construction offices 80% of the staff were foreigners. After about a week I found the first communist. There was no organization, but also in isolation he stuck with unshakable firmness to the proletarian creed. After hardly a month had passed in Germany, the Gestapo arrested me. A French fascist had reported me for "anti-German" activities. Still as a Frenchman I went to the Gestapo headquarter in Burgstrasse, from there to the concentration camp at H. I was able to talk myself out of the charge—for which the punishment was death—and got a close shave with 56 days K.Z. This was not an ordinary K.Z., but a special camp where "intensity was calculated to replace the length of the punishment period." 

     In the main, recalcitrant foreigners got their treatment here. We were about 1,000 men from all possible countries. Our mortality rate in summer was 20 men per day, in winter about double. Daily we had to do about eight hours of heaviest railway work. Three hours march daily to and from the S-bahn (fast suburban railway) building site N. and roll calls every morning and evening extending over four hours in every weather. We received extra rations for heavy manual workers but especially the roll call exhausted men completely. Beatings and murders were perpetrated on principle by the Ukrainians and Poles whom S.S. selected for this task. The corpses were thrown into a large pit. The building contractors received laconic information, e.g. "workmen X. died from pneumonia" or "appendicitis." 

     The death certificates were already filled in in stock with the medical orderly. Only the name had to be put in. The air raids were the most terrible thing because we were locked up in the huts and in case of a hit the men should rather die than be left at large and thereby offered a chance for flight. The maximum punishment for a European was 28 days, for Russians and Poles, 56 days. (As a "political" I was an exception and had also 56 days. As the S.S. was incapable to run the complicated camp administration themselves they appointed some German communists who were already imprisoned for years and who ran the show. I shall never forget these fellows. There morale was entirely unbroken and they ran the camp in model fashion. Their moral and physical cleanliness contrasted impressively with all the other prisoners. After about four weeks of extremely heavy work for which, however, my navy and foundry work at F. had been an inestimable training, I fell ill. When that happened the communists took me into the office because they, as I did myself, assumed that I would remain in camp until the war was over. (Nobody knew my "time.") Daily they read smuggled newspapers and they were informed about the London broadcasts. There were serious valuable political discussions. The communists were of the age groups of 30 and 40 years. Ideologically, they had nothing in common with "the filthy party line." 

     After my release I met a woman with whom I lived the whole rest of the time.

          In November 1943 the heavy English air raids on Berlin began which later on devastated the whole West of Berlin by fire. In spite of the tremendous material destruction these raids naturally  could not bring about the revolution. The effect on the factory was almost insignificant. People suffered the inevitable and life went on. 

          The leave regulations had been changed and I could not return to L. before February 1944. There I heard of A's arrest. This had made all our plans futile. Shortly afterwards I returned to Berlin. 

          There I worked then for X. who built "Panzers" and later I was transferred to Y. where important engine parts were made. 

          Although this work was priority no. 1,  sabotage in this factory was rife. A precision raid by the Americans caused heavy destruction in this factory and nothing went ever right again there. The demanded amount of labor was 72 hours per week. But that was only on paper. We sat there but we did not work. The regulations about secrecy were carried out in such a way that we could take away all the blueprints of the factory if we wanted. Everybody was fed up. I could observe a general "je m'en foutisme" (let them all go and hang themselves). Nevertheless, everyone was subjected to an iron military discipline. S.S. with bloodhounds were in command of the work-security guard. At the most 10% of the workmen were Germans. 

     The air raids had changed their tactical character, after February '44. The Americans attacked, in daylight precision attacks, mainly industrial targets. Civilian casualties in Berlin were relatively few. But when they attacked the city proper, the effect was devastating. So, for instance, in the heaviest air attack on the area of the City of Berlin on the 3rd February 1944. On that day from the Gesundbrunnen in the North to the Hallisches Tor in the South the whole East of Berlin was reduced to rubble. The Americans dropped mainly heavy explosive bombs. Within three-quarters of an hour at least 50,000 people died. The streets were reeking of corpses for weeks and this smell is still in my nose.

          From Winter 1943-44 hardly anybody seriously believed in victory. Almost everybody listened to the B.B.C. Anti-fascist feeling was widespread. Because there was no organised expression of this feeling all the the countless individual actions failed. From the beginning of the war the number of special tribunals had been raised from one to seven. They worked without stopping. In general a miserable travesty of justice. I have listened to some of the trials. The main form of anti-Nazi activity was something like that: whispering propaganda with B.B.C. slogans (the Moscow radio was practically not listened to at all because of its monotony). Ca'canny, absenteeism, actual sabotage, passive resistance. Desertions from civilian and military services were already considerable. A tremendous impression was made by the first sign of the nearing storm, the fall of Italian fascism. The Nazi badges suddenly vanished from the buttonholes. The N.S.D.A.P. had to issue a party order which threatened everyone with expulsion from the Party who did not wear the Swastika. In the dustbins of Wilmersdorf S.S. uniforms were found which had been thrown away. Far into Nazi circles the S.S. had the names of bloodhounds. The most hated man in Germany was no doubt Hein (Himmler). What actually happened in the K.Z. however, the masses ignored. Also I was carried away by the general feeling and I anticipated a coup d'├ętat (a putsch) of the Right after the Italian model in winter. 

     Once again everybody was seized by feverish expectations when the generals made their putsch in Summer '44. At that time I lived near the Landwehr Canal off Bendlerstrasse where the German War Ministry was. At night one heard the shootings. The feeling of the people during the following days is best characterised by the often-heard words, "T'is a pity." From this time onwards life in Germany degenerated unbelievably quickly. Practically, there was only one punishment left: death. Also for petty criminal infringements, according to the so-called "Law against persons harmful to the People's interest." Children under 16 could be sentenced to death. Every soldier had the right to shoot on sight persons whom he only suspected of treason. Sexual morals corrupted. Everybody who could only creep was armed. Women and girls were forced by the Labor Exchanges to man the S.A. and searchlight batteries. The most dangerous profession belonged to a police or Wehrmacht patrol because anybody who had reason to fear them fired on them on sight.

          When the Russians stopped on the Oder in February '45 we believed that the Gestapo would still gather enough force to deal with those elements they thought dangerous. Indeed the assassination of former leading members of working class organisations in the working class quarters became more numerous. Gestapo gangsters bumped them off in this way. From February '45 I never went out unarmed. A doctor who was friendly with me provided me with sickness certificates and I never had to work again. We knew that Himmler had issued the order to "liquidate" all the K.Z. prisoners and ex-prisoners when the retreat from the East had started.

          Form February '45 onward there was an R.A.F. raid with 2-tonners each night. The warning went about 10 p.m. The all-clear came about 4 a.m. The people made a habit of going to the shelters already before the raids started. In addition there were the American daylight raids. Everybody heard with great relief of the breakthrough in the West, this could only be the end. Before the Russians had got going with their assault the Americans had crossed the Elbe between Magdeburg and Wittenberg but then they stopped. For several weeks already gas and electric power in Berlin was confined to a few hours daily. The sirens sounded usually only after the first bombs had announced the presence of enemy 'planes. On April 21st was Adolf's birthday. On the 22nd we heard Russian gunfire in the East for the first time. At the same time the first Stomoviks came. The Berlin Radio announced that Berlin A.A. batteries would now be used only against targets. 

     In the meantime the Gestapo, the S.S. and Co. had fled already. But about 7,000 barricades had been erected. The next day Russian guns bombrded the Alexander Plaatz. Two days later the Russians held already the Ring of Autobahnn round Berlin. That meant that the city was entirely surrounded. I observed the whole carnage from my girl's house in the Brandenburgische Strasse in Wilmersdorf. Now day and night hell was let loose and never stopped. In broad daylight the Russians bombarded the center of Wilmerdorf from Wannsee-Nikkolassee. Although many shells exploded in the middle of the long queues of women waiting for food the survivors went on queueing, forced by hunger. Now there was no gas, no electric power, no light, and no water. There was also no German Army left. From sergeant-major up to general everybody roped in his handful of soldiers in the streets. A motley crowd of marines, Luftwaffe and Army soldiers, of police, Volkssturm, S.A. and S.S. formed the so-called "Combat groups." There armament was very poor. Most of them had "Panzer fists."

          The house in which I stayed was fought for during five full days and five full nights. At first a German obsolete Panzer defended it which after 12 hours had used up its whole ammunition and therefore rolled away. Next morning a Russian "T 34_ advanced against us. At a distance of 22 yds. they fired into the neighbouring building were the police were entrenched. Then a young fellow shot it up from the next building. When the Panzer started to burn several houses went up in flames as well. After that the Russians tried to soften us up with heavy mine throwers. The effect of these things is only to be compared with the heaviest bombs. During that time we played Skat (a German card game) in the cellar. Soon after this the Russians sat in the houses opposite us. Some S.S.-men threw them out again in a counter attack. In one of the houses the women had welcomed the Russians and given them hot coffee. A young S.S. scamp thereupon shot all the inhabitants of the house. "Traitors of the people." Already before an army private had been hanged on a balcony as a warning. In this absolutely hopeless situation the power of Nazi terror was once again demonstrated. The Nazis had the cheek to spread the solgan in the cellars: "We need only hold on for a few more days. The relief army is on the march. It stands on the Avus (the automobile racetrack between the West end of Berlin and Wannsee). In the meantime our flanks had been turned. The Russians advanced through the Uhland Strasse and they fought already for the Zoo-shelter where the Fuhrer's staff was. All the houses opposite us were gutted. The house on our left burnt out. Behind us the Russians already in our block. Uninterrupted infantry fire. Then the roof of the house next to us is set on fire. 

     We had only one way out—to the right, before our house is burnt to the ground. With some bold men I am rushing on to the roof and in a hail of shells we extinguished the blaze. I had to take over the practical command and we decided to close up the breakthrough to the neighbouring houses, that meant to brick up all exits, and to hoist the Red Flag. After a debate of several hours with the NSDAP boobies, I had to withdraw with the others, otherwise the S.S. had liquidated me. In the evening in the midst of battle—it was 1st May—we left the house. Towards night the infantry fire subsided. Under cover of night we looked for shelter. It was an eery sight. The flames of innumerable fires plunged the town in a weird blood-red hue. Now and then a patrol crept from the shadow of the houses and examined us sternly. We were taken in in an ordinary basement where gravely injured people lay around. All the other soldiers drank until they were senseless. But all of them were fighting on. The next morning somebody shouted "Urri" through the cellar. The Russians had arrived. The first thing they did was to take away all the watches "(Urri-Uhren-watches).

          Berlin fell after exceedingly hard fighting. The superiority of the Russians in numbers and material was enormous. Nevertheless the Russians lost here quite a lot. The combat tactics were fighting from house to house. Nowhere did the Russians attack with cold steel as I saw it so beautifully filmed in a Paris newsreel. With snipers they worked from building to building and advanced slowly. The had Panzers for support. But since the appearance of the Panzer fist the Panzer has become a very vulnerable weapon in street fighting. In the first days after the fighting was over I could see the proof of this. Hundreds of shot up T 34s were lying about. In Berlin the Red Army has lost thousands of Panzers. Almost all of them fell to the Panzer fist. I have seen only very few destroyed German Panzers, that means that the Nazis had almost none left and they had also very little heavy artillery. In the Panzer fist the Nazis have created an excellent weapon for civil war. 

     The equipment of The Red Army was very good, very great numbers of AA and light guns. Heavy ones I have hardly seen. Every Red Army man who was in the fighting line had a tommy gun which, however, was much heavier in weight than the German model. The trucks were almost all Studebakers. The officers were clean but the soldiers were filthy and unappetizing fellows. Generally they were peasants. Russian, Ukrainian, Polish and also Mongolian troops participated int he fighting for Berlin.

          When we returned our house was fortunately still standing. Russian soldiers were just starting to loot everything. With us were two Ukrainian girls who could make themselves understood. Therefore they stopped looting. We were still living in the cellar. It was the 2nd May. Berlin did not fall before the next day. Relieved and without any idea of what was to come we wanted to sleep in the cellar  but soon one of the two Ukrainian girls came to my wife and in an absolute panic told her to make herself invisible at once unless she wanted to be raped in the night by Messrs. the officers. The girl had heard such warnings. I did not want to believe it but my wife became scared. The small Ukrainian cried and implored us to go away. As "Frenchman" I asked an officer who understood some German whether I could leave. He said: "Without woman." Then I knew what was coming. 

     We organised a regular escape through a hole in the wall and went to the flat of an acquaintance in the Schmargendorf. There the Russians had already been for a week and we thought that it might be quieter there. In the street I met a woman with her young daughter who pushed a pram. She was crying bitterly. "My daughter has just been raped five times." What I saw later in Schmargendorf was horrible. Without ever stopping the Russians searched all the houses for "arms" and always found women only.These were not regrettable incidents but literally the common behaviour of the Red Army in Berlin. Immature children and old women—as incredible as it may seem—had to atone for the Nazi crimes. It was not rare that individual women were raped up to 30 times. Execrable mutilations of women. 

     An epidemic of suicide began to spread. The rapes were so common that nobody would ever believe if there happened to be a young woman who said that she had not been ravished. Dozens of my own friends, women, have gone through it so that everybody can believe me without fear. A girlfriend asked my wife whether she had also been violated. As I had managed to save her from it the other one asked quite astonished: "What? You haven't had to do that? Does such a woman exist?"—Generally it can be asserted that about half of all the women of Berlin were raped. The city itself was robbed completely clean. There was no exception with foreign workers or their wives or prisoners of war. Who refused was shot. When the Russians captured Berlin there were two and a half million inhabitants left. The rest of the 4 million people had run away with a bad conscience. Those who remained greeted the Russians as liberators. The disappointment was cruel. Many communists on the first day had donned red armlets. After they had seen that their wives and daughters were ravished with the others they threw their armlets away again. For days on end unbroken chains of trucks were rolling eastwards from the Hallisches Tor. Not only watches and valuables were stolen but especially the few household goods which poor workmen had saved from the air raids. The Russian trucks were crammed with mattresses, crockery and clothes. For the Russians who did not know the still relatively high standard of German workers there was simply nobody else than "bourzhuys" left in Berlin.

          On principle looting and raping was prohibited in the Red Army. At least the proclamation said so. Practice, however, was different. In Stalin's proclamations and manifestos Berlin was painted to the Red Army man as the citadel of German Fascism. The bureaucracy simply incited them. The officers in most cases took part in the excesses. Exceptions were as rare as white ravens. However, there were exceptions. Significant for the attitude of the Russian authorities was the following incident. On the second day after the end of the fighting two thousand woman had been treated in the St. Gertrauden Hospital. Naturally the doctors also procured abortions. Then the order came from above that only internal ablutions against venereal diseases were allowed. Abortion of the foetus was prohibited—without doubt out of tenderness for the sacred feelings of the women. I am sorry that I once believed such stories to be atrocity stories of Goebbel's propaganda and that I advised women to stay in Berlin. I shall never be able to forget what I have seen. I was deeply shaken. I heard the same from Frenchmen who returned from Poland and Austria.

          Politically this produced a catastrophe. All those who had waited to be able to wring the necks of the Nazis were as paralyzed. All of them, Germans and foreigners were treated alike. What the Nazis were never able to bring about these Russian idiots succeeded to achieve. There arose something like national solidarity among the Germans. Why report the neighbour as a Nazi if they rob you in the same way as him? Everybody tried to save his own skin. In the general chaos nobody molested the Nazis and they could go underground. A communist whom I knew told me "When the S.S. saw that all was lost they quite comfortably shed their uniforms, burned their S.S. military passes and changed into Wehrmacht uniform. (They all had forged duplicate military passes.) "I have not reported one of them. You will now understand why."

          When the new City administration was organised (the Nazis had destroyed all the files), the gang of petty bourgeois bargain-seekers from Kurfuerstendamm at once pressed to the front ranks. Honest elements gave the new jobs a wide berth. Nazis were fairly numerous in the new administration. The case of one of the most active people of the C.P.-line in Berlin was typical. He was fed up. The working-class elements were openly cold-shouldered. The Nazis had to report themselves but most of them of course did not do so.

          After the fighting had stopped the town looked entirely desolate. Berlin is one heap of debris. Some parts of the city got off more lightly, others have completely gone. Seglitz, Zehlendorf and Neukoelln are not entirely destroyed. There the Nazis had been disarmed by the population and the district had been handed over by the district-burgomaster. The Reichs-Rundfunk House (Reich Radio Headquarters) was surrendered at secret orders as well as all telephone and telegraph cable works. The inner city is absolutely wiped out and is now a desert of stones. All the public traffic facilities went to the devil. The North-South underground railway (S-Bahn) was blown up by S.S. in a place where it crosses the Teltow Canal. This happened during the battles when many thousands of people had sought shelter in tunnels. Many people lost their lives.

          At once the Russians started to dismantle the industrial plants. For instance Siemens, A.E.G., etc. Also the S-Bahn (Suburban railway) was dismantled as well as several trunk railway lines.

          On the 16th May all foreigners had to leave Berlin. I left on the 27th May. I had to go to the transit-camp Wittenberg where I spent one month until I travelled on to France. The grub there was too miserable for feeding a dog. I went to the farmers in order to scrounge something edible. The farmers were entirely stripped of every possession—looted. No cattle left nor any agricultural machinery. Here, the Russians grabbed the women still now, two months after the ceasefire. The villages empty of people, the doctors have no medicine for the women who almost without exception have been infected with V.D. A distressing picture. This winter famine is inevitable under these Russian masters of organisation. Under these circumstances the "Werewolf" has gained some importance. "Werewolf" is the reaction to these indescribable humiliations. Already in Berlin the killing of Red Army men was a common occurrence. Usually the Hitler Youth set also fire to houses with incendiary torches. In Wittenberg we were billeted in barracks of an A.A. regiment where there was an ammunition dump. The Hitler Youth blew it sky-high in broad daylight.

          On the 17th June we crossed the demarcation line. Under the Americans we saw for the first time fairly orderly conditions. Without doubt everything was less bad there. On the return journey we stopped at Bonn and Mainz. The towns are very much destroyed. Aachen is a waste of ruins Coblenz the same.

          On the 26th I arrived in Paris. I saw I., and Z. and R. The I travelled to S. to see W. He has kept himself wonderfully. He was badly shaken by my Berlin experiences. We are just preparing his removal to Paris. In his hamlet he would eventually go nuts. On my return journey I came through L., where I found my genuine papers which I had hidden before I left. I need them for my "legalization."

          Then I returned to Paris. There the Brigade Criminelle arrested me. The scoundrel who had reported me to the Gestapo in Berlin had been shot dead here in Paris. One of my French comrades for whom he had also secured a stay in the K.Z. has taken vengeance on him. After seven days in the clink I was released again. I think I shall find work here but I hope to be able to return to the Reich as soon as possible.


Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Swan (Part 8): In pursuit of Chekhov's gun

VIII. In pursuit of Chekhov's Gun

The text of Part 4, which I titled "Delila and the Molotov Cocktail," trails off just before Lottie's birth.
It started peacefully enough in that I was born at home to the sound of music. Mother and the midwife were doing their bit whilst father sat at the piano and played the opening choir of Bach's St. Matthew Passion, "Come ye Daughters..."
That narrative begins, 
Before I explain how the marmalade got onto the bannister...
but neither the marmalade nor the bannister are mentioned again, so we know the piece is incomplete. She's broken her promise to explain. Lottie's marmalade on the bannister is Chekhov's Gun—the plot device that demands that when starting a story with a seemingly trivial element (marmalade on the bannister), its true significance must be revealed by the end of the story. 

          This morning, stuffed into an unpromising folder containing pages of German, I found several pages, which pick up exactly where the Marmalade piece left off: 

The recorder

Mother and the midwife were doing their bit whilst father sat at the piano and played the opening choir of Bach's St. Matthew Passion, "Come Ye Daughters." One daughter came and was forgiven for being a girl although the firstborn. Two boys followed.

          We have always been fond of music. I had piano lessons when I was five years old and could read music before I could read letters. My practice took place before I went to school, summer and winter, and the room was not heated in winter. Mother remarked one day that my scales sounded curiously muffled and discovered that I was playing them with woolen gloves on. At six I taught my brother who was then five to play the piano. Little brother, some eight years my junior, tended to have bronchitis and our old family doctor prescribed flute playing. We then took up recorders—treble, alto and tenor— and together with one friend who had a viola da gamba we made music deep into the night, bewitched by the sound we made.

          One day I decided that both piano and clavichord were a bit tame and that an organ might be preferable. I took lessons from the organist of our local church and had a glorious time until I had to use my feet as well. It made demands on the body and the mind, a division of attention which proved a bit too much for me. I persevered for some time and found it interesting to pull the stops for my teacher, turn over the music and occasionally accompany him on concert tours in the neighborhood.

          In one old church we went through the routine of all required stops and I came to one which was a bit stiff. I pulled with all my might and out came a moth-eaten fox tail and hit me in the face, a joke invented by the builder of that organ some 200 years before and regularly tried out on young and innocent helpers. The end came at a concert in a huge cathedral when I had to pull stops and turn over music at terrific speed. At one point the organist shouted "turn" and I was so unnerved that I dropped the music on his hands which made the organ give one mighty howl. The organist removed the heavy volume and continued to play as if nothing had happened. At the end of the concert I resigned and reverted to my recorder. At least I could not do any serious damage with it.

The house in Hamburg

          We lived in a comfortable house in the middle of the town, a small garden in front and a larger at the back. At the bottom of the staircase stood a large iron anthracite stove which in cold weather heated the whole house. Drawing and dining room had open fire places in which a special aromatic wood was burned. The nursery on the first floor had a large white-tiled stove with a recess which could be closed with a brass door. We could bake apples in it or it was used before Christmas to dry out a special kind of quince paste which was finally cut into all sorts of shapes, turned in rather coarse crystal sugar and which appeared usually on the Christmas tree with bright red string threaded through each one, hanging next to the glass icicles. 

          Rooms on this and the next floor had stoves in all shapes and forms, iron and tiled, and during the winter it was quite a job for one of the maids to remove the previous days' ashes and light a fresh fire, if required early in the morning. It never occurred to us that a bedroom should not be heated. In my very early years I remember gas lighting in all the rooms. Some required a match but the large rooms downstairs had a kind of pilot light burning and they lit up when one pulled a small chain. 

          We always had a telephone which was fixed to the wall in the most unsuitable place, namely the staircase, next to the large iron stove. One turned a handle to attract the attention of the exchange. I often blocked incoming and outgoing cals by endless chats with one of my school friends, comparing notes about homework, solutions of math problems (one of my particularly weak points) and idle gossip.

 The veranda

         At the back of the house there was a large veranda, overlooking the garden which contained a chestnut tree, some lower borders and a sandpit. On warm summer evenings we had supper on the veranda which was next to a small sitting room with the lift to the kitchen. It would only take trays with food. Cook loaded it in the basement and the housemaid would take it out and hand the dishes round. In other seasons we had our meals in the dining room next door. Only very favourite guests would have a seat at the large table on the veranda. Often on warm evenings mother would brush my hair on this veranda, we would sing together and watch the sky, clouds and swallows.


          During the first World War we kept rabbits in the garden but nothing would induce us children to eat one of our pets until we were assured that it was not one of ours, tastily dished up in caper sauce, but one of the neighbors whilst they were consuming one of ours which was missing from our rabbit hutch.
Henry and Minka
          We always kept at least one cat and the one that stayed with us for years, called Minka, was white and affectionate. It had one vice: it liked to descend to the cellar and visit the coal bunker and roll round and round until it was dark grey if not black. We had a special chamomile shampoo and used to wash Minka which she disliked intensely. She looked pathetic when wet, all dripping fur and bones, but she forgave us when we had rubbed her dry and put her in front of the stove where she began to bloom into a snow-white fluffy cat. The first person to leave the door open saw her disappear downstairs, straight to the coal cellar where she restored the status quo.

          Later we were adopted by a very large Police-trained Alsation, a beautiful, faithful creature. In those days I used to sit up late into the night working for an exam and before going to bed I went out for a walk with "Lord." There was one street which often contained some doubtful characters and I always remember how a man approached me and tried to stop me. The dog had been roaming free but he always kept a watchful eye on me and the moment he saw what happened he came rushing along, put himself between me and the man and began to growl. I bent down, put my had in his collar and said, "He is trained to kill. You better go." He ran.

          At that time I was a trainee teacher at the school where I spent many years as a pupil. One morning "Lord" decided to accompany me and he was cunning enough to hid himself from my view. I only became aware of him as we approached the schoolyard and I quickly closed the gate. The yard was surrounded by a very high wall and I was sure that the dog would have to sit outside and wait for me until I went home. He would not go without me, nor would he go with any other member of the family once he had decided that it was his duty to stay with me. I ran across the yard when I suddenly heard shouts from the street. There was "Lord," balancing on top of the wall and then gracefully descending on the inside and at my heels in no time. I had to go and see the headmaster and explain the situation. Fortunately, he laughed. 

          The second lesson I gave was gymnastics to a class of some 30 children. I had them lined up nice and orderly for a high ump when I suddenly beheld the dog in the queue. He did his jumps and easily outshone the children who were delighted. I prayed that no school inspector would come and we were lucky. After that I always made sure that he did not follow me.

Swimming lessons

          Living in a city with a huge lake in the centre and many canals and small rivers running into it, children were obliged to learn to swim before they were allowed near or on the river. Once a week my class went to the nearest swimming pool where we had to struggle along as best we could. I hated it. Even during my summer holidays I was pursued by swimming teachers, one being a retired army sergeant with a black moustache, who dropped me in a pretty little lake, held by a sort of angle from which I struggled like a fish, just hooked, all to no avail. I did not learn it until my brother and I went to a private swimming bath in the middle of the city where we were treated like precious little dears which we imagined we were and eventually persuaded that water did not mean immediate death. We actually enjoyed swimming in the end. 

          This meant that we were allowed to hire a rowing boat and go down one of the canals to the centre lake. We invariably misjudged the time for the return journey and were too late for a meal, causing our parents and poor Nanny no end of anguish. The last bit of the canal was done in Oxford/Cambridge style, beating all records, and we then had to run the whole length of our street, purple in the face and breathless.

The Baltic Sea

          Most of our summer holidays were spent on the shores of the Baltic Sea, sometimes in small hotels and sometimes in a house, rented for a few weeks. One of these was surrounded by trees and each morning we used to run through a small pine tree and birch wood which separated us from the water. After a brief swim we would run back again to our house where breakfast was awaiting us. The journey was always made by train and we had two compartments reserved for the family plus cook and one maid. We took our own bed linen, china, and cutlery.

          One year Mother and I stayed in one of her friends' small wooden house, a stone's throw from the water. The house was cleverly constructed in that it had a stove in the centre which went right through to the second floor and the rooms were arranged like the spikes of a wheel. Small vents enabled one to heat any room which required some warmth, especially in the evening. We used to sit on a bench outside the house and watch the Moon rise over the water.

Lottie's father, Siegfried, center
William and Lottie
          There were no noticeable tides and the water was usually as smooth as a millpond. But when there was a gale blowing, the Baltic Sea could be as frightening as any large ocean. We had occasion to observe it when we stayed in the northern tip of Denmark and saw the steps to the bathing hut demolished by huge waves. 

          Three things made this Danish holiday unforgettable: one could still read a book in


the garden at midnight as the Sun did not sink far under the horizon—I learned to ride a bicycle and I discovered a small guest house in the garden to which I could retire undisturbed, a valuable hide-out since I was supposed to do a certain amount of math homework, not that it helped. Not one of my generation was any good at figures and we put the blame on our grandfather who was an astronomer and first-rate mathematician.

Siegfried and William

Traveling alone in a delightfully aimless way

         As soon as I had drawn my first salary as a teacher I went on a holiday in a delightfully aimless way. I studied the various destination signs at the central railway station, picked one which sounded attractive and bought a ticket third class which meant wooden seats. I once travelled all through the night with a group of actors and caused a certain amount of confusion. Every time the manager or director counted his sheep he found that there was one too many, having me included. I did not enlighten him nor did the actors around me who enjoyed his dismay.

          At about 3 o'clock in the morning we stopped at a main station, brightly lit and quite empty except for one or two trollies with hot drinks, sandwiches, cigarettes, newspapers and chocolates. On arrival at my destination I looked up an hotel, booked a room and went sightseeing. Sometimes I stayed for a day, sometimes I left again in the evening. I once arrived at a small town near the Swiss border and as it was a hot summer day I walked into the dark and cool woods, surrounding a lake. Eventually I came to a barrier across a lonely road and was greeted by two Customs officials who informed me that I had reached the frontier and could only proceed after they had seen my passport.

Crossing the border illegally

          I could not oblige as I had left it in my hotel room and I regretfully turned round as I would have liked to see a bit of Switzerland and could not go back to Germany and my hotel. The men finally relented. I made a mental note of the way I had taken in case I would ever have to cross a frontier in a hurry without being noticed. 

          When it came to flight I crossed the Dutch border illegally. What made it possible was the fact that we had lived in Holland for many years and that I could speak the language without an accent which is rare. As I got out of the train at the Dutch border an official asked me for my passport and I told him in a very convincing Dutch that he had already seen it and I could see no sense in my producing it a second time. He saluted and said, "Sorry Madam!"

In case the Germans felt like invading

          I stayed in Holland for a few years without a visa and constantly afraid that I might be discovered. It gradually dawned on me that my friends' maid went through my correspondence and as we suspected her of Nazi sympathies I got the wind up and put the Channel between myself and the Germans in case they suddenly felt like invading the Low Countries.

To Prussia in a pram

          The very first border I crossed was in my pram. Hamburg was a Republic, surrounded by Prussian territory. We had our own constitution, postage stamps, coins and even national anthem. The Prussian border Police was some 15 minutes' walk from our house and our children's maid must have found it rather attractive to cross into foreign territory. Mother told me later that the answer to her question "where have you been today?" was quite often "abroad" with the smug expression on her face, indicating the courageous explorer.

Travel on father's diplomatic passport

          In contrast to this illegal entry into Holland, we used to travel on father's diplomatic passport as long as he was attached to the Embassy in the Hague. We stayed in the train and watched the other passengers streaming to the passport and customs points. Our luggage was never touched and father insisted that we never packed anything that might be subject to duty. With us were usually other diplomats and one or two members of the royal family. All very cosy.

Northern Ireland

         I crossed another border although not in flight and that was in Northern Ireland when I stayed with friends in County Donegal. They lived in a small village and practically all social events and all our shopping was lying in Londonderry. I joined a choral society in Derry and used to drive my friends' car to the bottom of a fairly steep incline in the centre of the city. There I disembarked as I could not trust myself to get to the top of the moderate hill as once I stopped I could not get into gear again and slowly but inevitably rolled down to the bottom.


         After shopping and a joyful rehearsal of one of Handel's lesser known works I drove back to the Republic. The frontier was closed at dusk but one could obtain permission to cross up to an hour later on payment of half a crown. The frontier was invariably closed by the time I arrived and the closure was achieved by a large iron gate between two pillars at each side of the road. The Customs people had gone home and all was peace and quiet. No latecomer ever stopped perplexed outside the forbidding gate. It was perfectly easy to drive off the road into a potato field, around one of the pillars and up again on the other side. Deep ruts indicated quite clearly how one had to proceed.

          A certain amount of smuggling was going on all the time. I once went by bus and opposite me sat an old woman who had bought a pair of boots in Derry and had tied them with a string round her middle under her skirt. As long as she was sitting down the boots were visible to the Customs officials. The moment she was told that she would have to pay duty she stood up and the boots disappeared under her skirt. She looked incredibly innocent and enquired, "What boots?" The bobbing up and down exercise was repeated several times and the old lady was quite safe as no male Customs official was allowed to touch a female traveller. We knew which posts occasionally had a woman and avoided them if we had anything stuffed into our pockets which we did not want to declare.

My collections

          The only thing I ever collected was not so much a concrete object but a view and it was a special view from a lavatory. It began with a small wooden hut where one could settle down and look at the sky and trees through a heart-shaped aperture in the door. In one hotel on the Rhine all comfort stations were situated on the side of the cathedral and it was awe-inspiring to look up to the huge tower. One house in Brabant stood completely isolated from the world and the view from the lavatory which was raised on a sort of dais ranged for miles over flat land and somewhere near the horizon there tidily lined up some seven villages with tiny church spires. One house was built into a hill and the first time I saw it I could not believe it: a miniature white horse was galloping along the window sill. It was an optical illusion as I gradually discovered—the horse was miles away, halfway up the hill.

          The view to round off my collector's zeal was of a different nature altogether. It was in an old farmhouse. I looked round for a chain to pull but there was nothing there. It worried me and I could not quite make out what one had to do. As I bent over the bowl I looked straight into a pair of beautiful blue eyes with pale golden lashes. The loo was built over the pig sty.

Being a domestic servant

          The only work I was permitted to do was as a domestic servant and I therefore hired myself out as a cook-general to a middle-aged couple who kept a stationery and newspaper shop in north London. I had never learned to cook but it is astonishing what one can gather from books as one goes along. The first time I had to wash the laundry I carefully read the instructions on the packet of soap powder. What it did not say was that one was supposed to rinse the soap out of the bits and pieces. I put them on the line to dry in very hot weather and in a short time I had a handsome collection of weird shapes, stiff like boards. Nobody saw my mistake and I hurriedly began to rinse. Second time lucky.

          At 11 each morning I had to have tea ready for the newspaper sellers who praised my brew as I tended to make it fairly strong. I was reprimanded and told not to waste expensive tea. It was not really my line of business and I found another post, this time in the country to look after a little boy. We disliked each other on sight and I managed to swap jobs with cook who adored the small monster and I wrestled with fairly large meals. 

          Family and guests liked to go about in the nude and bathe in a fairly large pond in the garden. Their morals left much to be desired and when I went round in the morning with cups of tea or fruit juice I never knew who was sharing a bed with whom. The local rector met me one day and advised me to depart with all possible speed. "My daughter, you have landed in Satan's nest." I thanked him kindly and stayed, at least for a while.

Lottie's bookplate
The owl

          The house cat was an outsize tom who attached himself to me and accompanied me on my regular evening walk when I needed some fresh air after a day in the hot kitchen. He feared nobody and nothing, an impressive animal, black with bright green eyes. If I had a tendency to being a witch he would have made excellent familiar. One evening as we were peacefully walking through a nearby wood he suddenly dashed between my feet with every sign of fright. The next moment a large white sheet fell down over me and I instinctively raised my arm to protect my head. As quickly as it fell the sheet removed itself and I saw a huge white owl. The cat and I turned and walked home with some speed and never entered that particular wood again.

A man in blue pyjamas

          At night the tom would appear on my bedroom window sill where he sat for a while before jumping on  my bed and curling up on my feet. One night I woke up because he began to growl and in the dim light I beheld a man in blue pyjamas who had entered quietly as I could not lock or bolt my door. I said in a very loud voice "No!" and as the cat continued to growl, the blue pyjamas turned and left as quietly as they had come in. Peace reigned again after I had wedged a chair under the door handle.


          Shortly after the end of the first World War we moved to Holland where father was attached to the Embassy. He worked with the Society of Friends in America and his contact was Jane Addams. They arranged for supplies of food, especially condensed milk, to be sent to the Ruhr where children were severely undernourished as a result of the blockade. The Embassy was in a very beautiful old house, facing a small ornamental lake in the city centre. Next door was the Belgian Embassy and we were told that they had fixed a device to the back of their fireplace which backed onto ours so that they could listen to our conversations.

          Every time there was a confidential meeting I had to kneel in front of our fireplace and make a crackling noise with some paper as a sort of protective shield. I was also entrusted with carrying confidential papers and I was thrilled to know that I was followed by a detective although I never discovered whether it was friend or foe. I was really still a school girl and had nothing much to do.

Diplomatic life

          At embassy receptions I joined the ambassador's son who was about my age and we helped to hand round dishes in spite of a surfeit of servants. Official dinners lasted for hours and as mother was ill I had to take her place and had to work my way through one course after another, making polite conversation. It soon took away all illusion a young girl could have about the joys of diplomatic life and elegant international society. 

Lottie's father, Siegfried, 2nd from right
          An official meal in the restaurant of the five-star hotels had the added horror for me that a gipsy group was making music in the background and I was asked what song I would like to hear when the leading gipsy would come to our table, stand behind me and played for me. I blushed furiously when I saw that people turned round, looked at me and smiled. Even snails in wine sauce would not comfort me.

The milkman

          The first morning in Holland we saw the milk arrive. It came in large copper urns on a small vehicle drawn by two sturdy dogs and the milkman filled jugs and saucepans held out to him by all the maids of the neighbourhood. Something else was new to us: the huge barrel organs which made their attractive music even when pushed from one street to the next. I can only remember the figures of one: King David playing the harp with jerky movements of one arm.

The Royal Academy of Arts

          Eventually my lazing about came to an end when I was enrolled in the Royal Academy of Arts where I followed classes in drawing, painting, engraving and anatomy. The latter took place in a huge room and I was told that Rembrandt had been there which I did not believe. It was a cold winter and we all gathered about one small iron stove. The model on which our teacher demonstrated was a young fisherman on whose back were drawn lines with chalk to show the outline of the muscles. He was blue with cold and the teacher used blue chalk and I never learned much about the back muscles.

          Later I joined a group of Dutch girls in the private studio of a Czech artist who specialized in portraits. She had a very individual style which we tried to imitate and I never quite got it out of my system. I have often envied "primitive" painters who knew nothing of technique and could express themselves unhampered by too much knowledge.

Wind, and small cream cakes

          Our house was not far from the North Sea and during the last years of our stay in Holland we lived in a comfortable boarding house on top of the dyke. When a gale blew from the sea we could not use the front door and had to sneak in through the back. We could open the door but were unable to close it again. 

          The Dutch make the most delicious small cream cakes and we were able to look into a nearby bakery with binoculars. One of us used to go and point at various cakes and when the one which was fancied was reached, one simply raised an arm.

Special permission from the Queen

          At one point our parents went back to Germany and left brother William and me in an hotel. I was still too young to sign cheques and special permission from the Queen had to be obtained to make an exception. The bank cashiers proudly pointed out to other customers that they had orders from the Queen to honour my checques.

          William got it into his head that smoking a pipe would be a manly thing to do although he was still a schoolboy. He could not get the pipe going and I had to light it for him in the corridor and then dash into the so-called lounge where to the astonishment of all guests I waved the pipe, scattering ashes, and shouted "it is alight—here your are!"

The Dutch

          The Dutch have always been a down-to-earth nation. When the elastic in my knickers gave and they dropped to my feet, people did not discretely avert their eyes—on the contrary—they pointed at me, nudged each other, laughed uproariously and demanded an encore. I must admit that this happened in a fishing village where the mothers suckled their young in public and older children sometimes came and cadged a drink from mother. Curtains were not drawn at dusk and passersby could look into the main room on street level without let or hindrance. The explanation was "we have nothing to hide." 

          Everybody, including Queen Wilhelmina, went by bicycle, unless they used an ornate coach on state occasions. The old Queen Mother, Queen Emma, had her own coach and I once was the only person in sight during a gale on the promenade and I dropped her a deep curtsy. She smiled and waved a limp hand. Queen Wilhelmina's husband was Prince Hendrik and father once drove with him in a coach and as they passed the royal palace in the Hague, the Prince pointed at it and informed father that "my wife lives here."

          Dutch railways had then (and for all I know they still have) the habit of dividing their trains without previous warning and it could happen that one aimed at The Hague had arrived in Amsterdam instead. Embarrassing when one had no money left but I was fortunate enough to find a sympathetic porter who simply pushed me into the right train and enabled me to have supper, be it somewhat late, at home.


          When I went back to Holland in 1947, I found that I had forgotten most of my Dutch but I still managed to impress the passport control who shouted to a colleague: "Come here, Henk, there's an English lady who can speak Dutch." They stared at me with obvious admiration.

          On my arrival in Hook of Holland I was the last off the ferry as I knew that I was not in a hurry and the official quietly emptied my suitcase until he found a box with watercolours. He was a watercolour painter himself and we had a lengthy discussion about this form of art. In the end I realised I would have to run for my train and the official helped me to put all my belongings back, he kindly sat on the suitcase, which was bulging and would not close, and he carried it to the train with his own fair hands. I did not have anything to declare anyhow.

A hot knife through butter

          I have never tried to smuggle anything through Customs and on the whole went from one country to another like a hot knife through butter.