From Dona Wolking
The Morris Tribune, Morris, Stevens Country, Minnesota
July 4, 1947
Dona Wolking, On Way To Berlin, Will Write Articles For Tribune
Miss Dona Wolking of Donnelly went to Minneapolis yesterday, will leave by rail from there Saturday for Westover Army Air Field at Chicopee Falls, Mass. and will leave from there July 7 by Army transport plane for Berlin where she will have a Department of State (sic OMGUS) position with the occupation personnel.
Readers of The Tribune will be able to accompany Miss Wolking on the trip overseas through a series of articles she will write for this newspaper. In them she will describe some of her experiences, the sights she sees, the people she meets (and among these she expects to meet several Stevens county folks now in Europe). Her first story will appear next week.
Miss Wolking, a graduate of St. Mary’s high school in 1942, eventually hopes to get into radio work in Munich. She is something of a radio veteran now, having spent two years in radio research work in New York, a year with the National Broadcasting company in Hollywood in programming, promotion, continuity writing and sales work, and in the Pacific coast office in Hollywood of Station WLW Cincinnati as assistant to the sales manager.
Last year she returned to the University to complete her journalism course. While there she was advertising and business manager of the literary magazine, “Undergrad.”
July 11, 1947, Volume 73, Number 28
Editor’s Note- Here is the first of a series of articles Miss Wolking will write to readers of The Tribune about her trip to Europe. This was written prior to her departure July 3 for Berlin.
Well Folks, you can call me the Fraulein from Stevens county now. (Until I can manage to drop the “lein.”) I’m off to Berlin and will be talking to you now and then through this column. The Department of State is shipping me next week. I’ll be taking a train to Westover Army Air Base in Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts and from there an Army transport plane to Berlin, probably via Shannon, Ireland. To you boys and gals from the Service, the is probably old stuff, but for this green civilian, it’s all new and darn exciting. I’ll try to cover the story from all angles- items of interest to you folks at home who have been there, as well as those of you who have kept the furnaces going. Naturally, I wont know as much as you G.I.s about Piccadilly Circus in London* or the streets of Paris, but if at all possible, I’ll tell you what’s happened since you left. (Any addresses boys?) I’ll be in the American zone of occupation, but they’ll let me into other countries, I’ll try to find out what the ordinary people like you and me are doing and thinking about us. My nose may lose a little skin now and then, but it will be worth the try, and I’ll have along a good supply of band-aids.
* The square in London where the boys met old and new acquaintances - of the charming sex, preferably.
I’ve mentioned my plans to a number of people. The reactions certainly have been varied. “Berlin! You poor girl. You’ll starve to death!” (Goodbye waistline) Others, “Are you lucky! It’s the chance of a lifetime, and you’re seeing Europe at a very different period of its history.”
I talked with Mrs. Tom Stahler, sister and sister-in-law of Mr. and Mrs. Lambert Stahler, now in Berlin. Lambert is Assistant Chief of Food, Rationing in the occupied zone, and writes home in glowing terms about the living conditions for occupational personnel. I’ll probably end up in a 50-bed barracks, shower five doors down ... but I asked for it. The food is supplied by the army and is supposed to be pretty good. Besides, I LIKE stew. And I’m taking vitamins along.
A number of our Stevens county people have beaten the path for me, so I'll do my best to track them down. I’d like to hear from any of you. Let me know what you’d like to know about our European neighbors. Just write The Tribune and they’ll see that the letter reaches me.
Next article: The trip over. I’ll be talking to you!
July 18, 1947, Volume 73, Number 29
I boarded my sleeper in St. Paul Saturday night with full support of my send-off committee and amid constant sly references to my status as foreign correspondent for The Morris Tribune. I was also instructed to make thorough analysis of the German wolf call. One of the parties even ventured to give his interpretation - a low, long, American whistle, followed by a resounding “ach!”
I lay in my berth and watched the high stone banks slip by as we sped along the Mississippi. We passed another Pullman and I glimpsed a face, like mine, peering into the dark. I wondered if Johnny Mercer wrote the lyrics to “Laura” in a lower berth - “like a face in a train passing by…”
I fell asleep wondering when I’d see the Mississippi again. Somewhere in Wisconsin my hatbox made a three-point landing on my face. Some joker thrust one of the Pullman “Quiet” signs through the five-inch crack in my berth curtain. I took it, “gently” crossed out the “please,” wrote in “yes, isn’t it?” and returned it to the waiting hand. I still don’t know who the funny, funny man was, but I strongly suspect the gentleman in the upper. He probably wanted a lower. My mission completed, I put a damp cloth on my forehead.
Morning crept up or dawned, or whatever mornings do. I watched the cornfields of Iowa roll by. (I didn’t know it was Iowa until I looked it up.) Then Chicago - skyline, coal yards, rail yards, cars - “Do not hump,” (what did the railroad man tell me that meant?), back yards, smoky buildings, warehouses, the Sunday morning sandlot baseball, and Union Station. I was absolutely amazed at the change that has taken place in Chicago stations since the war years. I remember one trip through Chicago, in 1943, when porters were rare as radium, waitresses and conductors snapped at you, and baggage clerks delighted in telling you your trunks were lost. It was a pleasant surprise to find all of them once again courteous and concerned about your comfort.
My baggage led me a merry chase in Chicago. I am probably not the only one who abhors changing stations, and learns he’s in the wrong one ten minutes before train time. I very foolishly allowed my trunk to be handled by a transfer agency and gaily hopped a cab to the LaSalle Street Station. I was politely informed there, that the bag would probably be over the next day. That bag was to go with me by plane and was all that stood between me and a bathing suit in Berlin. The clerk mapped out some closely timed strategy for me, and it was thus that I found myself in the deep, dark baggage cellar of Chicago’s Union Station. With the help of a Chicago cabbie from Brooklyn, I was admitted to the secret confines, and asked to intercept my baggage. Then, the fun began. You’ve seen these pint-sized tractors that tote baggage. Well, the boys fixed up a seat for me and we played “let’s find my trunk” for ten minutes - the cabbie cheering from the sidelines every time we turned down a new row of trunks. I have never seen so many assorted trunks in my life. But for the fact that my bags had just come down from the train, I would probably be there yet. I told my driver it was a wonderful place for a murder mystery, or we could try cops and robbers.
I dropped over at NBC, the midwest office of my alma mammy, and talked to Bob Murphy of the Breakfast Club. Bob was ready to do his stint on the Quiz Kids but we had time for a couple of quick lemonades. He took the elevator up and I took the elevator down. I made my train, but if you heard the Quiz Kids minus an announcer one Sunday last week, you’ll know that an elevator got stuck in the Merchandise Mart.
Passing Landscape - Chicago’s Comiskey Park, home of the White Sox, The Indiana Boat Works, beautiful Lake Michigan, the docks and dredge boats, and soon, Elkhart, Indiana, Toledo, Ohio (I nicknamed it the City of Bridges), Cleveland, Lake Erie at dusk, hazy, much like the ocean. Buffalo (no Niagara Falls this trip) and once more to my berth.
Massachusetts in the morning is lovely, especially when you can lie down and let the scenery come to you. I could see the misty blue foothills of the Berkshires in the distance, heavily wooded terrain in the foreground, and an occasional mountain stream rushing over the rocks. An hour later, Springfield. Springfield has a lovely station, but pre-war service has not yet returned. Or maybe it was Monday morning. I finally got a cab to Westover Army Air Field, seven miles of pretty landscape, much like Northern Minnesota. I reported to Embarkation Headquarters and the picnic started. Orders, questions, instructions rolled off glib-tongued sergeants who sounded like phonograph records running backwards. Believe me, I was. “Weigh your baggage, take care of your personal affairs (I told him I had already made my will), get your briefing, get your ditching; up to that last word, I had been patiently absorbing all, but when he pulled this “ditching”, I opened my mouth wide, and said, “What!” He repeated, menacingly, “ditching, three buildings down,” so I went. For you inexperienced civilians, ditching is simply what to do when you land in the ocean. The boys flying between England and Europe originated it. The English Channel is called the “ditch” and quite a few of the boys unwillingly used it as a landing field.
I learned how to hold myself during the crash, how to abandon ship, how to act in a life raft for thirty days, how to wear a Mae West, how to - I walked out of there reeling, and right into the Medical Office. One sergeant grabbed my orders, another my arm and I emerged with a typhus shot in one arm, a diphtheria shot in the other. If I hadn’t talked fast I’d probably have had a couple more. I stumbled to headquarters again, and the boys gave me billeting -room and board to you folks. I asked him where it was. He took me outside and pointed to a speck on the horizon. “How do I get there?” I naively questioned. “Walk,” was his answer. I smirked and walked, right though parade grounds, freshly planted grass, past Off Limit signs, forging ahead with only one goal. I made it to my bed all right, and didn’t move until morning.
July 25, 1947, Volume 73, Number 30
I was lucky enough, today, to interview Capt. Walker and Maj. Finan who are in charge of traffic at the Base Terminal here on Westover Field. Their job is to direct outgoing and incoming planes, and keep the place running smoothly from that standpoint. Major Finan has been on this base since it was first converted to ATC (Air Transport Command) a year and a half ago, and Capt. Walker since September of last year. Both were active in the Pacific Theatre during the war. Major Finan was in charge of ATC operation at Kun-Ming Airbase in China, one of the largest central bases in that area. You former servicemen will recognize Kun-Ming as the China terminal of the famous Hump operations. As many as 45,000 tons of cargo were handled in one month. When you consider that one railroad car handles 32 tons in one month, you can realize the tremendous efficiency with which a base of this sort must operate.
Capt. Walker was based in Myitchina, Burma and handled the Hump operation from that end. It was principally a gas supply station, situated about 320 miles north of Mandalay. Capt. Walker added an interesting note on Kun-Ming field before taking off over the Hump. These will give[J1] an idea of the danger of the trip, and why a great number of planes were lost.
The men gave me a few statistics on the Air Transport operation here. Westover Field is the central base of the North Atlantic Command, one of three now operating. The remainder of the world is served by the Pacific Command, Fairfield, Calif. and the Caribbean Command, Mobile, Alabama. During the war, there were nine commands, situated in all parts of the world, but since the end of the war, they have been cut to the above mentioned three. The principal duties now are to transport priority passengers and cargo to points in their designated areas. Of course, immediately after peace was declared, their principal operation was transporting returning servicemen.
Westover Field during the war was a big bomber and fighter base, the largest in New England, and covers an area of 4700 acres with some 300 to 400 buildings. There used to be as many as forty foreign and domestic planes out each day but that figure has been cut to about seven now. I thought the statistics on the equipment carried for each passenger in a place were interesting. The huge C-54’s carry 800 pounds of cargo, twenty passengers and a five-man crew. For each man, there is a life vest (Mae West), exposure suit (looks like something from Mars), emergency rations, parachute harness, and emersion suit. There are ten life rafts in each plane, each of them fully supplied with emergency equipment, including a homing radio (Gibson girl).
Capt. Walker took me before a huge map of the world, and pointed out the airline routes followed by the ATC. During good weather, the pilot follows a clockwise path, taking advantage of prevailing winds by following the north leg, through Stevensville, Newfoundland, the Azores, Paris and Frankfurt, and returning by the south leg through Paris, the Azores and Bermuda. The bad weather path, then, follows a counter-clock wise course.
As I was leaving, Major Finan told me to be sure to mention that ATC pilots are the cream of the crop, and that the North Atlantic Command has an outstanding safety record. I was decidedly happy to hear that!
Well folks, I’ve been alerted; in plain English, that means I’m next on the passenger list and will leave within twenty-four hours, maybe. My heart descended to my stomach for a while last night when the transportation man came to pick up my bags for the flight leaving in an hour. Imagine my chagrin when I arrived at the Terminal to find he’d made an error. It was good practice, though; I dressed in four minutes flat, and will probably reduce that record when the real thing comes. I got a little preview of what the boys went through when they were waiting for take-off. Only I know where I am going, and that my chances are pretty good to get there. They didn’t.
Next week: The trip over.
August 8, 1947, Volume 73, Number 31
Hello Folks…I’m writing this from my room at the Pruesserhof, one of the official women’s hotels in Frankfurt. Our plane landed last night (Tuesday) at Rhein Main airport, 5 pm E.S.T. just 25 ½ hours after leaving Massachusetts. The actual time in the air was 20 hours. It was midnight here and the terminal was deserted except for a few German workers, waitresses and U.S. army personnel. I had coffee with Col. Birchard, C. O. of the Air Transport Command in Frankfurt, and he gave me a few hints on what to expect in Berlin. I boarded the army bus with the plane crewmembers and we drove nine kilometers into Frankfurt.
The pilots were typically exuberant and I had a difficult time realizing I wasn’t right back in the U.S…. that is, until I looked out the window. Only then did stark reality hit me. It’s strange that one can watch newsreels, read and hear endless stories, and look at news pictures, and never feel the full impact of a great catastrophe until it affects one personally. That was the way I felt when I saw my first block of bombed out homes. We were driving along a lovely tree-lined avenue large, colonial-style homes with lights in the windows… and then, one block with no lights. It hit me.
The little German hotel man took me up four flights of stairs to my room - clean, but equipped with worn furniture and bedding. The wallpaper was ripped along one entire wall, and it visualized the moment when those walls shook and plaster fell. Of course, there was no adjoining bath and I spent ten minutes tiptoeing through the halls. I nearly jumped out of my skin when I turned around and found the owner following me. I managed to stutter out my purpose, and he very casually pointed to a door on my right. I blushed and stumbled in. (All the door sills are raised here, and I’ve stumbled into every room I’ve entered.) After that, I stayed in my room behind locked doors until this morning.
My bed is a museum piece. It imposes extreme hardship, since it requires one to sleep sitting up. Seems to me I remember my grandmother having a raised mattress similar to it. My heritage forsook me last night, however, because I had one heck of time trying to curl up and get my head down to sea level. About 3 am this morning my mental faculties returned and I investigated in the dark. As I surmised, the mattress piece could be removed. I threw it half way across the room and settled down for the night. I went to sleep with the noise of train whistles in my ears. The Frankfurt rail station was just across from the hotel. This morning, like most hotel guests, I opened my French windows and looked down. There it was again! Try looking out the second story windows of the Merchants hotel sometime and imagine looking through surrounding rooftops right to the ground floors. These buildings had been gutted with incendiaries, and were absolutely useless as such.
My air trip over was ideal and extremely exciting for a cub pilot like myself. I was alerted at noon, Monday, for a 3:15 takeoff. The formal procedure of bag checking and customs inspection completed, I settled down to wait with one other civilian passenger, a Mr. Johnson, and fourteen G.I.s destined for Stevensville, Newfoundland. By this time, I was supposed to know how to adjust my parachute harness, but the servicemen were so helpful that I left the matter entirely in their hands. By the time they were through, I realized why St. Paul headquarters were so insistent that I wear slacks on the plane. The standard story around the base concerns a padre, just in from Algiers, whose yards of flowing robes proved quite embarrassing when it came to fastening leg straps.
A light drizzle was falling when I boarded the plane. It was hot and muggy inside, and there seemed to be a slight tenseness in the air - or perhaps I imagined it. We were lucky enough to get “plush” seats rather than the “lawn chair or bucket” type of seat. Cargo was stored on the side opposite us. The flight clerk briefed us: parachutes under the seat; Mae Wests above us; keep parachutes and safety belts fastened until signal from pilot; four and one-half hours out of Stevensville, Newfoundland, we would cruise at 7000 feet -probably a little bumpy. I heard the muffled voice of Capt. Walker from somewhere outside, “Okay, let her roll!” Number three engine, number four, number two, number one…taxi to the runway, flaps down, then a signal from operations tower, blow out the motors…down the runway, and, (I caught my breath), into the air. It was exactly 3:40 by my watch, and in no time, fleecy clouds floated by the window. The sun was shining brightly up above the clouds, and far below, through a gray mist, I could see the Connecticut River worming through the valley. Inside the plane, it was once more comfortably cool. But the flight clerk pulled a fast one on me. “Parachute drill in a few minutes.” I muttered, and he must have heard me, because he said he’d help me.
At some point in New Hampshire we went out over the ocean. Battleships looked like rowboats. Portland Harbor; Bangor, Maine; and miles of forest, then the St. Lawrence river. After three hours in the air, I became extremely bold and asked if women were allowed in the cockpit, fully expecting a snappy “no”. Somebody must have made a concession, because I was detailed to a jump seat between the captain and the co-pilot. Dials to the right of me, dials to the left of me, above me, below me…never have I seen so many gadgets in such a small area. And to be funny, I said, “Just like the cub I used to fly.” Captain Steer (Knowles, Wisc.) replied, “It may seem strange, but these “fours” are easier to fly than a cub. You don’t cut your power until you’re on the ground, whereas with a cub, you cut on the downward leg and glide in.” I merely cocked an eyebrow, skeptically. When I tired of watching the passing clouds, I watched the radio man send messages via code, and swapped stories with the crew. Later, I put on earphones, expecting to hear dots and dashes. The men laughed at the expression on my face when the strains of a popular orchestra reached my ears.
I returned to the cabin and put on my Mae West and fastened my safety belt for a landing at Newfoundland. Stevensville, itself, is only a little fishing village of about 500 people, a mile or so from Harmon Field, where we landed. The government has started a new thirteen-million-dollar construction project, hence the reason for the servicemen on our plane. A captain in operations told me that Gander Field was an hour and a half by air and 18 hours by train. I believe several Stevens county people helped to build the base there.
We took off in two hours for the Azore Islands, a new crew in charge. Mr. Johnson and I were the only passengers and were quite elated at having our private “Sacred Cow”. It was dark and the stars seemed close enough to reach out and pull in. It was quiet and peaceful in the dimness of the cockpit; the men smoked, made an occasional instrument check, and told war stories. Both Captain Studlow and Lt. Walker were aspiring writers, and we talked about the book they had already begun. If space permitted, I’d like to have their two stories appear in this column. In a short while we saw the lights of St. John below us, then inky darkness again.
I returned to the cabin and rather than curl up in a crowded seat, I took blankets and pillows and made myself a soft bed on the floor. I asked the clerk to call me for sunrise services. He winked at the Captain and I surmised a drop of about 2000 feet as my alarm clock at dawn. It was a gentle awakening, however; what I saw upon entering the cockpit was a sight I’ll never forget - an endless expanse of gray ocean with billowing clouds tossed haphazardly around - like pillows on a sofa. The horizon was a riot of pink, blue, and orange. We seemed to be suspended, motionless, but a glance at the altimeter showed us at 9000 feet, doing about 222 miles per hour. Those “soft pillows” were cruising at 3000 feet.
We landed at Lagens Field, Terceira Island, at ten in the morning. Terceira Island is one of the largest in the group, fifteen miles wide and 23 long. Mr. Johnson told me an interesting story about his trip to the states just three weeks before. Mr. Griswold, former governor of Nebraska, was one of the passengers and because of bad weather they were forced to land on Santa Maria, a smaller island in the group. At the airfield, a Portuguese bus driver who was evidently hep to inflation, wanted $2.40 from each person to drive to the village - actually only a five minute walk. The G.I.s were entitled to a free ride but civilians were obliged to pay. The crew is still laughing at the sight of Mr. Johnson and the Governor trudging along the road, as the bus loaded with G.I.s roared past. That’s the stuff that makes governors! However, we were lucky enough to land twenty feet from the terminal door. It was ten in the morning, island time, but steak and French fries, with Italian wine tasted mighty good.
In no time, our new crew was ready and we were heading for Paris. We passed over Paris at 6 pm Tuesday (EST) adding a new thrill to my already saturated schedule. The pilots, learning that it was my first trip, very obligingly made a wide circle over the city. Col. Birchard, Commanding officer of the ATC, who joined us in the Azores, pointed out some of the most interesting spots. I saw the Seine, winding its ancient path through the city, The Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe and the famed Avenue Champs Elysées bisecting that section, Orly airport, the crazy quilt pattern of carefully tended farmlands, lovely suburbs, factories, estates--still reminiscent of the feudal days, and finally, Versailles. In what seemed a matter of minutes we were landing at Rhein Main airport in Frankfurt. You know the story there. Next week I’ll tell you about Berlin. Bye now.
August 15, 1947, Volume 73, Number 32
I’ve been in Berlin two weeks now and it wouldn’t be difficult to write a book. I’ve made changes before, from one section of the U.S. to another, but it was never like this. The American people here live a life entirely foreign to anything I’ve ever experienced. It’s an artificial world, half American, half European. The combination makes for plenty of excitement, and a like share of grief. Custom dictates that you be housed, fed, clothed and treated according to your military rank or your Civil Service rating. But to get back to Frankfurt, where I left you folks last week. I checked out of my hotel that morning and started walking in the general direction of the Army bus stop. After I’d gone four blocks I realized I was lost, and even more so when I attempted to get directions from a Germany worker who had never heard of the English language. My German vocabulary at that time consisted of three words - please, thank you, and good-bye - so I was quite elated when I spied an American soldier. He led me in exactly the opposite direction.
I noticed Germans staring at me, and my only defense was to stare right back. I imagine I looked quite odd because I wore stockings, shoes without holes in them (except at the toes), a dress of a style somewhat later than 1933, and a fairly well fed expression. They looked just as odd to me, because I simply could not, and still can’t get used to seeing German men in short pants - all the way from reconverted army trousers to gray suede jobs with matching suspenders. (Remember the Swiss yodelers in the movies?) The hausfraus were scurrying about with that ever present shopping bag slung over their shoulder. (The girls here in Berlin call them loot bags. The Army issues them as Musette bags.) Most of them look like Wall Street executives, but the bag in all probability contains two cigarettes, a stick of wood and a sandwich without butter. Some of the more ambitious used baby carriages as shopping carts.
Everyone who doesn’t have one of those odd German cars rides a bicycle, which means that most of them ride bicycles. Everywhere is destruction, piles of rubble, useless buildings. The eight-mile ride through green countryside to the airport was quite a relief, though somewhat limb shaking. Hitler built super- highways but somebody forgot to tell him about pavement. Cobblestone roads are hard on the constitution. It’s harvest time here, and I noticed women in the fields gathering wheat into bundles. Farm machinery disappeared long ago.
My plane to Berlin didn’t leave until 5:00 p.m. so I was able to spend a most cosmopolitan afternoon watching passengers board and alight from outgoing and incoming planes. The Rhein-Main airport is internationally used, consequently I observed Swedish, Norwegian, English, French, Irish and South American passengers. At 7:00 p.m. I was in Tempelhof Airbase, Berlin. And I might add that nowhere in the U.S. have I seen an airport of the size and beauty of this one. I was lucky enough to get a ride to the visitor’s bureau with one of the OMGUS officials. I’ll explain right now that OMGUS means Office of Military Government for Germany (U.S.). I wandered in ignorance for two days, because everyone used the phrase so offhandedly that I felt quite reticent to ask. I was billeted at the Gossler Hotel that night. (In the Army, you’re never put up or housed; you’re billeted.) The bed was hard and I again joined the nomads of the hall; but nothing mattered. I was just too exhausted to care.
My next day was a nightmare of house and job hunting. Although the general procedure is cut and dried, the War Department still offers its civilian employees some choice. But, if you’ve ever attempted to find your way around a foreign country whose street names are five syllables long, you’ll understand my plight. It took me a whole morning to figure out that “strasse” means street and when written, it is connected with the street name itself. From then on, I instructed German jeep and taxi drivers with a vengeance. Most of them gave me startled looks when I attempted German pronunciation, but I firmly repeated my directions and they obeyed. I learned later in the day that one places the house number after the street name. Despite my difficulties, I was extremely fortunate in finding an apartment before nightfall. The American sector of Berlin was formerly the more exclusive residential section. Our apartment house is one of the few with central heating and hot water twenty-four hours a day. Most of the girls keep firemen during the winter to tend little corner stoves. Each apartment in our building has four bedrooms, a large living room, a dining room, reception hall, kitchen and bath and the hominess of the place depends on the ingenuity of the individual. The girls with whom I am billeted have done wonders adding draperies, pictures, lamps and a grand piano (rented for $5.00 a month.) They have also managed to secure what the army calls a “B” mess. In plain English, it means we are allowed to buy food at the commissary and cook at home. Without that privilege we would be obliged to eat all our meals at one of the few mess halls, the largest and newest of which is Truman Hall. The food situation for officers and civilians is not bad. The Germans uphold their reputation as fine cooks. The nicest service of all, of course, is the maid. Each billet is allowed one housemaid whose salary is paid by the government. She does the cleaning, cooking and some personal service, and usually a cigarette or two will get you anything your heart desires.
The military government here is rather overwhelming to a newcomer. No American can possibly realize what a tremendous job it was to bring order out of the chaos, which existed in 1945. Some of the old timers tell me the German people wandered the streets in a daze. Most of them were without homes, food or clothing. This last winter didn’t help matter any; thousands die from the extreme cold. Each family was allowed so many briquettes and the only solution was to stay in bed. The average temperature for weeks at a time was about 20 below zero. Even we Minnesotans did better than that. German girls employed by the government begged to stay in the offices rather than go home. To me, the German people still look shabby, weary and dazed, but everyone tells me they are in wonderful condition compared to last year. Most of them consider it a privilege to work for the Government and more and more jobs are being turned over to them. Truman Hall employs all German waiters and waitresses. Several of them were former countesses, and great numbers came from wealthy families. They value the job most of all because they are given one meal a day, and thus able to conserve the meager 1500 calorie ration at home. The German economy is improving though, and probably three of four years will show an almost normal production schedule. The average American expects a miracle, but it is unreasonable to expect an overnight conversion of production machinery which was used almost wholly for destruction. Rest assured that there is a minimum of waste, and that the American taxpayer’s money and food is not being used to build up another militaristic Germany. It’s an old, old saying, but worth repeating - “You can’t teach Democracy on an empty stomach.” If you’ve been sending CARE packages, keep it up. You’ll never imagine how gratefully they are received by poverty stricken families.
The initial plans for Military Government as you know, were laid at Potsdam, and the Big Four, U.S., Russia, England and France are now carrying them out. Other countries are allowed Military Missions, but do not take extensive part in the Military Government. Germany is divided into four zones -one for each of the Big Four Powers. Berlin, the former capital and Hitler’s home camp is divided into four sectors, one for each power. American personnel are allowed in any of the sectors, but are absolutely forbidden in any zone without extensive orders. Since Berlin is entirely surrounded by the Russian zone, with only one road (well guarded) leading from it, it’s best not to get too nosy. It is possible to visit other countries on leave orders after a prescribed time.
August 22, 1947, Volume 73, Number 33
There are now approximately one million people in Berlin. Some sources estimate it will take twenty years to rebuild, but my estimate is that it will take fifty. The damage is beyond the conception of anyone who has not seen it. If some of you taxpayers are wondering how long our Occupation will continue, let me give you my very vague findings. The Potsdam Declaration was written on the basis of the mistakes we made after the last war. Our primary fault, withdrawing from occupation in 1923, only six years after the war’s end, will be quite thoroughly corrected this time. Private sources estimate that it will take twenty-five to seventy-five years to prevent Germany from ever again becoming a threat to the peace of her neighbors. Breaking of the war potential is only 10% of the job. The big problem will be to break the cultural and class distinction line - to reorient the children on democratic principles.
Although marvelous work has been done already by some of the greatest minds in the U.S. and other countries, the great task still lies ahead. I wish I could elaborate on one program being carried out, but censorship forbids. One thing I would like to make clear is that contrary to most press reports, there is occasional agreement between the four powers, and more specifically, Russia. However, human nature enters in, and it is usually the disagreements which are highlighted. I was privileged last week to attend a meeting of all four powers in the Allied Control Council. It was a fascinating experience - Generals, Secretariats, interpreters, and your Stevens County fraulein. I was taking only verbatim minutes of the meeting, but the officers, from the Generals on down, bowed or kissed my hand as they left. I’d like to see some of our Morris hotshots try that!
I suppose you’re wondering about the Black Market in Berlin. Almost everyone has dawdled in it, but activity is pretty well on the downgrade since cigarette imports were banned. A goodly number of American girls are coming home with furs and diamonds bought with fifteen or twenty cartons of cigarettes. I was told the other evening that cigarettes were bringing 1000 to 1200 marks a carton last winter. In legal exchange, a mark is worth from 10¢ to 30¢, so figure it out yourself. The new export tax, which was imposed as of July 1, has also proved rather effective in combating the Black Market.
I was sightseeing with a friend last week when I noticed some girls loading a taxi with cigarettes, coffee, soap, and candy, by the cartons. We knew what was in the wind, so just for fun followed in our car. They stopped first at the jeweler’s and entered by a side door. One-half of the loot was left there. I saw the same girl the next week with a two-karat diamond on her finger. From there they went to a private apartment house, way off on a side street. She was inside for quite some time, and then came back to the waiting taxi. The remaining loot was carried in and the girl left with a beautiful fur on her arm. We continued our “sight seeing” tour through the Tiergarten past the remains of the Adalob Hotel, one of Hitler’s principal residences and quite similar to our Waldorf-Astoria, the demolished Reichstag, once the official Nazi headquarters, down the famous Unter den Linden, over to Kurfürstendamm, the one-time Broadway of Berlin, and back to our American sector. Already I had begun to give bombed churches, homes and railroads only a passing glance. It seems to be the only solution.
I attended services in a typical German church last Sunday. The walls, pillars and even the ceiling beams were of solid red rock. I’ve often heard my father speak of the pipe organ and how it shook the walls and windows in his hometown church. I couldn’t help but think of his story when the pipe organ burst forth last Sunday. If the stained glass windows hadn’t already been bombed and boarded, I’m sure they wouldn’t have held up. The German frau beside me seemed relatively unimpressed, so I quickly squelched my smile. It was impressive, and I won’t forget my first Mass in a German church. I talked to Chaplain Powers later in the week. His has an amazing story, and I hope to tell you about it later.
Already I have encountered people I knew back in the States. (Already I am talking like a foreigner). Imagine my surprise when I encountered Linda Stevens in Truman Hall last week. Linda has made quite a name for herself in radio in the last few years. Besides singing with name orchestras such as Kay Kyser and Ted Streastor, she had several of her own shows over ABC. She just finished recording several record albums with Les Paul and His Trio, and also a short with Paramount Studios. Right now she’s with the Army show, “Strictly Ad- Lib” and upon completion of the tour will go to London under contract to an English picture firm. We had quite a gab session about our mutual California radio friends…women need very little excuse to roll off a few hundred verbs and participles. I’ve also talked to Mrs. Lambert Stahler on the phone, and relayed messages, which Morris people sent with me, but I haven’t yet visited their mansion. I know there are probably many things, which I haven’t covered. If so, let me know via letter or carrier pigeon to the Tribune, and I’ll try to answer in my next article - so long as the question doesn’t involve political issues or my work-points on which I am not permitted to divulge information. Thanks for listening… I’ll be waiting on those letters.
February 27, 1948, Volume 74, Number 9
Editor’s note- Readers of The Tribune will remember the interesting series of articles written last summer by Miss Dona Wolking of Donnelly and published in The Tribune, in which she described her trip to Berlin where she has a Department of State position with the occupation personnel. The Tribune is pleased now to present another series of articles from Miss Wolking in which she will tell of some of her experiences and observations since arriving in Europe. The first of the new series appears herewith:
Portrait of a writer procrastinating: Twirling my writer on one finger and absently gazing at a map of Europe, I wonder about my fellow Americans. The choppy boundary of “Germany” steps out for a moment, and then settles back, divided by four. My eye is caught by a small circle outlined in red in the northeast corner. Berlin. General Clay denies all reports of the mobilization of dog sleds to evacuate Berlin. Wonder how the average American felt when the failure of the London Conference was announced...wonder if they thought about it over here and if Washington had let them down. My eye slips over the red border (no pun intended) to Potsdam... city of broken promises, through forbidden territory south to Leipzig. I recall my trip to Leipzig in the fall and make mental note to talk about it later. Over another boundary, this time to the northwest. Another familiar name - Hannover - in the British Zone. I think about the wild boar hunt, and the German who gave me the recipe for schnapps. Must remember to tell my readers about him. A fast trip south brings me into Frankfurt, American Zone. I remember my first stunned impressions of that city, and laugh now that I could have once imagined it cold and foreboding. Mainz is not too far from Frankfurt. That’s where we crossed into the French Zone on our recent adventure to Paris…the cities along the way will be familiar to the Infantry boys, this war and last. Saarbrucken, Metz, Verdun, Chalon, Chateau Thierry. The boys will enjoy hearing about Paris. I’ll report on their once-favorite spots, or maybe they’d rather keep their own files of memories. And addresses. Switzerland borders the eastern edge of France... I look into my desk to see if I still have that letter confirming my reservations for the Olympics at St. Moritz in February. Over boundaries again…didn’t realize how close Garmisch, Germany was to the Austrian border. That’s where I spent a delightful Christmas on top of a mountain. Back into Austria - Vienna. Must tell the folks that I talked via phone to Mrs. Bob Hutton, nee Claire LaFave in Vienna a while back. Too bad I couldn’t include Vienna in that last trip. I’ll try to see her before she returns to the U.S. next Spring. Quite a number of Minnesotans in Berlin. Merle Potter, former Minneapolis Tribune movie critic, now advisor in General Galley, proved that when he rounded us up before Christmas. The readers will be glad to hear how well Minnesotans responded to a recent call for clothing….and how much fun we had unwrapping and tagging each article, from fur coats to baby dresses. They’ll be happy to hear about Lambert Stahler’s recent promotion to the very responsible position as Chief of Food Rationing… and his jubilant spirits when I cornered him in Truman Hall last week to congratulate him. Must write Mrs. Moffatt in Chokio and tell her I spent an evening with her son, Ralph and his girl friend, in Munich during the holidays... and what a celebrity he is everywhere he goes. His modest, unassuming personality had taken him a long way as is evidenced by his fan mail from 28 countries. Can’t forget to tell all the people who have given me addresses of relatives lost and known, that I’m working hard to locate them...but in several cases have hit blank walls and the Soviet Zone. I must also reassure those people who have been wondering just how hungry Europe is… and tell them what one Britisher said when I told him about the poultry-less-eggless-meatless days.. .”Do you mean that Americans really can buy eggs and meat and poultry every day?” And then, his humorous comment that the only reason he subscribed to American magazines was to look at the luscious food pictures. I’ll also have to comment on Mr. Morrison’s December 5 editorial on the Friendship Train, and tell him that we on this end got the same reaction - a gift which comes so completely from the unselfish hearts of Americans is the greatest advertisement we can make for Democracy. I’d better get busy.
Dona Wolking is Home From Berlin
Miss Dona Wolking, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. L.W. Wolking of Donnelly, arrived in Minneapolis yesterday from Berlin, Germany. She was met in Minneapolis by her parents and accompanied them home for a visit here.
Miss Wolking has had a position with the Department of State in Berlin the past year. During that time she has authored several series of “Dona Grams” which have appeared in The Tribune and in which she has recounted some of her experiences and observations in Europe.
(Miss Wolking recently returned to Minnesota for a short visit and is again back in Berlin. She writes of her impressions below.)
During my recent visit at home, I was besieged with questioners who wanted to know “Was Berlin really as badly bombed as it looked in the newsreels, or were the movie-makers only playing on our sympathies?”…”Should we really send boxes or are we being suckers again?”…”How is Berlin life for the Germans different from Minnesota life for Americans?” Many times my answers were vague perhaps, because those questions cannot be answered in a street-corner meeting. I was impressed that people busy with affairs of everyday small town life were so very concerned with the lives of distant neighbors, and most of all, that they bothered to question, to wonder and to dispute. There, I realized, was the greatest difference of all between inhabitants of Little Town, America and Kleine Stadt (Small City), Germany. That scrappy, never-say-die American spirit towards constructive ends is most lacking in the greater majority of Deutsche Volk (German folk). True, their lands have suffered a destructive war but I cannot help but think that the spirit which wins wars, builds a better mousetrap, or inspires great music would also prevail if she were called upon to rebuild her country. Each has his private interest; to maintain it, he must support the whole. Europe is a group of states, each struggling not for the universal good, but individually. No small wonder our most far-seeing statesmen speak for a United States of Europe.
I suppose I could have told those who queried me about the ticket agent at the airlines counter in Washington who spoke English and cashed a check for real green dollars; about the clerk who said my bags would be safe in the lobby – no one in American stole bags in a crowded lobby; or about the newsstands filled with the latest books and newspapers only a few hours old; or the waitress, kind and courteous, who understood so perfectly when I ordered; or the menu which read like one year’s ration for a German. But those things are silly, everyone in America knows about them. I could have told about the shiny so very clean lunch counter which served fresh, fresh milk and steaks; or the two young men discussing the “wammie yackels” they had dated the night before…..almost a foreign language yet so America; or the rubble free streets and the unbombed buildings; or the young draftee who was having his first plane ride, who told me the status of Russian rearmament and why it was important that he receive military training; or the warm feeling which spread over me when the strangeness left and I realized this was America, this was what I had been missing.
I could have mentioned the banana split which contained as many calories as one day’s diet for a German; the store windows filled with men’s suits which did not cost $800, the equivalent paid by a German; the lovely University of Minnesota where young men and women were free to study or play without political pressure or fear of life; and the free elections, where all, eligible, voted without violence and knew the man they elected would not be forced from office with terror tactics. They probably would have laughed has I asked whether they would prefer two kinds of money in Stevens county –one kind recognized in the eastern section, and the other only in the western portion; or if they would mind having guards posted at all county line cross points to inspect their inter-country passes and uncover any food they may have been trying to carry to destitute relatives in the next county; or if they would mind not being able to travel freely throughout Minnesota for five or ten years. They would have laughed, yes, but I hope they also would have wondered.
March 5, 1948, Volume 74, Number 10
Bits that pass in the day… The German-English dictionary kept in a kitchen drawer to break deadlocks encountered during meal instructions to the maid... thumbing a ride to work in a Jeep and the technique required to enter and exit… the professional beggar with one eye on the corner of OMGUS’s busiest intersection…the mournful-eyed youngsters who come to the house with flowers pleading for a chocolate bar…the lineup at the tobacco counter in the PX on Saturday, the first day of the new ration week…the 10:30 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. parade to the snack bar at Truman Hall, just across the road from the main Military Government compound…the cobblestone sidewalks which make mincemeat of heels in one week…the absence of street lights on all but well-used thoroughfares…the odd looking sleds which the German children appeared with after Christmas…the very mild 50-degree weather Berlin is experiencing this winter…the frazzled edges of the Soviet flag flying over Brandenburg Gate...fewer sightseers at the Reich Chancellery since the blasting of Hitler’s bunker… the lovely green lawn in front of Truman Hall, which seems to stay that way despite frequent snowfalls…the very comical red tape encountered to determine the round trip airline rate to Moscow…avoiding American Forces Network “Join the Regular Army” commercials by tuning in a German radio station…the appearance of several modern store fronts on devastated Kurfürstendamm, Berlin’s one-time fifth avenue…the high brick walls and iron gates around almost every home…the toppling of bombed ruins during the rainy weather…American housewives lining up at the food commissary just before 8:30 opening time in the hope of getting steak or fresh milk…the unfriendly darkness at 5:30 “quitting time”…the German custom of lighting four candles set into a pine wreath four weeks before Christmas...the smug looks on the faces of car lottery winners…the mail room lull after Christmas...the custom of hanging a wreath on the topmost beam of an unfinished house, and the celebration accompanying the removal of the wreath when construction is completed….AMAZING… The estimate that 1,200,000,000 cubic feet of rubble awaits clearance in Germany today, enough to build a wall 150 feet wide, 15 feet high and 400 miles long, the distance from Hamburg to Munich. It will take Hamburg fifteen years to remove debris; Hamburg can do it faster because it can be dumped at sea. Berlin had 800,000 dwellings destroyed, plus hundreds of public buildings. During the building boom of 1927 to 1930, 40,000 dwellings were constructed annually. At this rate, it would take 20 years to reconstruct the destroyed buildings. There is an estimated 3,000,000 freight car loads of rubble to be cleared from building sites. Thus, if 10 trains of 50 cars a day were used, it would take 16 years to clear the rubble, INTERESTING… the stories of one of our German file clerks. She tells about the radio she hid in her basement to keep abreast of the “real” news...that rationing began in 1934...that during the 1936 Olympics they were given extra rations for three months...how she was indicted by the Gestapo for leaving food in her garbage can for the forced laborer who collected it. GRATIFYING… are the tireless efforts of the American Women during Community Chest and March of Dimes campaigns.
March 12, 1948, Volume 74, Number 11
It happened in September. Hannover, Germany is about 250 miles from Berlin, in the British Zone of Occupation; we left on Friday night’s train to make it a long weekend. I was traveling as the guest of a British Colonel and his wife in their private coach. My contribution to the party in lieu of food ration coupons were P.X. articles such as olives, chocolate syrup, crackers, tuna, and juices. They told me later that they hadn’t seen those items since before the war. We woke up next morning on a private railroad siding in Hannover; it was a sweltering day which we promptly remedied by diving into the nearest British Club swimming pool. Promptly at 10:00 and later at 4:00 we dropped everything and had tea, and blimey, if I wasn’t enjoying it before the weekend was over. My hosts were always ready to order coffee if I wished it, but I’m sure they would have been offended if I had.
Hannover is one of the most devastated cities in Germany. It was pounded by the RAF in the early stages of the European war, and today is a mute reminder of that dogged persistence of the victorious Allies. The rubble has been pushed back from the streets, and looted for anything of value, perhaps a rare bathtub or a birdcage, and the tired looking people move on. They run to catch the S-Bahn (street car) but there is no sprightliness in their step. I walked alone on Sunday morning, looking for a church. I asked directions from a young policeman on the corner. He spoke English, but being a young German, wasn’t much interested in God. His elder crony was of the old school, however, and pointed in the general direction, with instructions that I would find the Kirche in die Keller (church in the basement). That’s where I found it...the top had been blown to bits, and I had to descend dark, musty smelling stairs. There, in dim crudity, Germans worshipped their God freely. They sang loud and prayed fervently; the sermon in German went way over my head, but I liked the sound of the young priest’s voice. It had a ring of hopefulness in it. I watched two youngsters, long braids switching their backs, as they scurried from their front row positions to kneel a brief moment before a picture of the Infant Child. I wondered how they would look in the bright starched pinafores of an American six-year old. As I tried to slip out quietly at the end, a lone American among 150 Germans, I heard a young man whisper “Amerikanisch.” I climbed the stairs into the sunlight, and wondered how they distinguished me from one of the British who occupy Hannover.
During the course of the previous evening I had met a Member of Parliament, who wasn’t a bit stuffy, an honest-to-goodness Sir, a man named Tiny who weighed 250 pounds and had lived in California 16 years before returning to England during the war, and a peculiar individual who called everyone George. Naturally, the crowd was entirely British and I learned much about our Ally that night. This group in particular had a wonderful sense of humor, and the so-called reserve which Britishers supposedly exhibit towards strangers is soon broken once an acquaintance is struck up. The majority dress formally for dinner and drink a different type of wine with each course. It’s certainly not done with the slightest thought of superiority, simply a century old European custom that no one has ever thought to break. They dress just as informally for sport, which brings me around to our Sunday morning objective. We met two other British couples and drove through most picturesque countryside - red tile roofs, brick barns, undamaged, oddly, cobblestone roads, and tree-lined cow paths - and stopped ten miles later at a quaint little farm. The owner of the place was a fat little farmer who looked like Robin Hood in his green, Bavarian hunting costume. He personally conducted our shoot through every inch (I swear) of his 350 acres. I casually asked what was in season as I casually sighted my 16 gauge. Just as casually I was told buck, partridge, hare, rabbit and wild boar. Not so casually, I swallowed. I looked at the treeless plain. Minnesota was never like this…buck, hare, yes, but wild boar! We walked. We sweated. We flushed. We shot. We retrieved. My companions were excellent shots and any game we saw was ours. They didn’t know, but my primary thoughts throughout the shoot were to keep up the masculine walking pace, not to rip my jodhpurs while crawling under a fence, and never to see a wild boar.
We ate our lunch in the farmer’s house, which we entered through his barn. It was dark and swarming with flies, but a welcome place to take off our boots. We gave him a couple of our sandwiches, and he reciprocated by serving a drink. In some circles it might be known as Schnapps. I asked for the recipe. He tosses in some sugar beets, Wasser (water), Hefe (yeast) lets it stand fünf Tagen (five days), pours off the mold and bottles the poison. Don’t ask me to translate that. I couldn’t even drink it.
I was back in my office bright and early Monday morning.
March 19, 1948, Volume 74, Number 12
We left Frankfurt am Main en route to Paris on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving in a 1947 Buick - a rather startling comparison to the tank and armored car scene such a short time ago. Entering the French Zone of Germany at Mainz, we were stopped by the first of many border patrols, and asked to show our Military Government orders. The scenery, Minnesota style, made me a bit nostalgic, but according to one of the officers, “looks mighty nice from a car window, but try crawling through those pines with a full pack, knee deep in mud.” He’d been with Patton’s Third. Occasionally we hit a stretch of cobblestone paving, but the major portion of the road was tarred; the countryside was pleasant and uninteresting, but the villages…ah. Stone buildings hugged the “main street” and we often had to slow down for odd bits of farmyard personnel. Straw was piled beside the front door of either the barn or the house; I had difficulty determining which was which until an ox or horse poked an inquiring nose through the window. Our gray and blue Buick caused a minor sensation, and well it might, disturbing a postcard scene such as that. I have an idea that a great many autos are still buried under haystacks, along with the family silver. What amused me most of all was to see a team of oxen trudging down the road, then suddenly come upon the remnants of a former filling station. The “dismantled” pumps stood as mute reminders that Germany once operated on 20th Century standards; that Mr. Rockefeller got around.
The first town of any size was Kaiserslautern; if you read newspaper accounts of the recent C47 plane crash, you’ll recognize that name. As we approached Saarbrucken and the French border, it began to snow lightly. The Saar Valley - much coveted and sought after - was the last place I wanted to live at the moment. And then, a few miles later, as if to apologize for unfriendliness, the drizzle stopped, and a full moon popped over the mountains. It was warm and friendly inside the car and our radio became exceedingly versatile. When we tired of hearing French, we turned to German; but more often back to AFN-Munich. The customs control at the French-German border was pleasant. We had expected to have our car examined from stem to stern, but were required to show only our passports, visas and military entrance permits. Metz, the first city of any size beyond the French border gave us some trouble. Our French POL (Petrol, Oil and Lubrication) list informed us there was an American station somewhere in the city. After speaking a combination of French and German, with a few American words thrown in for good measure, we changed the word petrol to benzene and began to get some action. With great waving of arms and babbling of mouths, we learned the general direction in which the station lay, “mercied and dankeschoened” our way out of the crowd which had gathered on the sidewalk, and decided to find the place without further “assistance.”
We reached Paris just as the city had begun to gather its breath for a pre-Thanksgiving celebration. Porter, desk clerk, man on the street…all seemed gay and yet concerned. My hotel overlooked Place de la Concorde. I stood at the window in my darkened room and watched the activity in the square below. I could see the street lights along the Seine River, and I was drawn back to the days of the Revolution. Charlotte Corday rode through this square on her way to die…I remembered the high school declamation piece in which I’d portrayed her death scene. The spirits of great men - Robespierre, Voltaire, Napoleon, Richelieu, and Louis VI - paraded on the sidewalk below me. To the left, along that wall…wasn’t that where the Germans executed a French patriot each day during the occupation? Were those flowers and wreaths? I could barely see in the dim street light. And on my right was the American Embassy. I couldn’t see it, but the porter had told me it was there, and somehow I felt secure.
The women in our group won out next morning and we quite naturally landed n Place Vêndome, Perfume Circle, as I named it. It is the most pleasant sensation to walk past a door as it opened and catch a whiff of perfumed air escaping, and luring…Ciro, Schiaparelli, Molyneux, Worth, Guerlain….all the names worth knowing in the realm of lovely odors.
Our Thanksgiving dinner at quaint little Bon Accueil café was anything but traditional. I shall never forget it, because we ate luscious, rare, tender steak, cooked only as the French can cook. And French fries. And celery. And real lettuce. We hadn’t seen those items for months. We were recognized as Americans everywhere we went, and felt just a bit self-conscious at first. Waiters and managers went out of their way to give us extra service, greatly perturbing their other French customers.
Everywhere we were besieged by boys and men who wanted to buy our traveler’s checks or American greenbacks on the black market. The legal rate at that time was 119 francs and the inflated rate 265 francs per dollar. Just another example of the unbalanced economic system prevailing throughout the world now.
Our three-day schedule followed the usual path of tourists…to the Folies Bergère, with its accent on women, the Paradise Inn, the Opera to watch another heroine die in the arms of her hero, and the Lido where our American Laurel and Hardy were wowing the dinner hour customers amidst velvet draperies and plush carpets.
Our daytime activities took us under the Arc de Triumph, up the Eiffel Tower (finally found out that it’s really only a big hunk of steel put together rather well), down the Avenue Champs Elysées, and into the Cathedral Nôtre Dame. After all I had heard about the lovely Nôtre Dame, I was very disappointed to find it dark, cold and damp, and in my humble opinion, not even approaching our St. Patrick’s in New York. Back along the Seine, past the statue of Joan, we went into the La vie est belle (Life is Beautiful) restaurant. It was, because we gorged on some more wonderful food and returned to our hotels to gather strength for the evening offensive. We needed it. That afternoon, an Irishman had approached one of the men in our party and had asked him to come to his restaurant for the best Chinese food in Paris. This sounded no less than amazing and quite appealing to us “Berlin Americans” who couldn’t indulge in taste fancies whenever we got the notion, so we accepted. After considerable difficulty, we finally found the club at the end of a dark alley. The owner had been an American jockey, and the place almost smelled of horses. The sole Chinese touch was furnished by a group of contented Chinamen eating calmly at a table in the corner. The piano player, for our benefit, was giving forth with some of the jazziest American music I have ever heard. Here we were – a group of Americans from Germany, sitting in a Paris restaurant, easting Chinese food, listening to an Algerian play “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” I expected to see the owner’s wife do a Russian folk dance, just to add another touch to the international scene. Oh yes, the owner told us a couple Irish jokes.
We were scheduled for the Bel Tabarin (Paris’ version of Billy Rose’s Diamond Horseshoe, or vice versa) after dinner. Our plans hit a snag when we reached the theatre and learned the government had closed all cabarets that evening to ward off a suspected Communist uprising. This smacked of considerable intrigue, and put us right in the mood for an evening of Dick Tracy. We managed to creep back to out hostels under cover of darkness and via several “protective clubs” where incidentally, we always found someone who spoke English, and asked us to join their table. It was fun practicing our high school French on waiters even though we didn’t always get what we asked for. Our primary thought next morning was to learn what damage the Communists had caused. We couldn’t even find an ash can over turned and chalked up another one against Moscow for almost spoiling our night of fun.
Paris at dusk, a light snow falling, newsboys screaming in French, chic shoppers hurrying to get that last article before doors closed, display windows lighting up, filled with high priced articles, autos racing at that maddening Paris speed, the “Gendarme” (policeman) directing calmly in the middle of it all, salesgirls descending that stairs to the Metro, messenger boys, salesmen, bank clerks, all wearing berets… I rest for a moment in a little wine shop, sipping a warm glass of wine, eating a sweet, sweet cookies. I wonder if Paris has hamburger shops.
March 26, 1948, Volume 74, Number 13
I think back of my first impressions of Germany, and I am startled that they should have changed so greatly in seven months. My first reactions were of pity and sympathy, natural for a woman, and more especially one who had never seen front line action. But I have learned through trial and error, that I must temper that pity with firmness and less emotion. Perhaps to a few Germans Democracy is still a workable reality, but to most it is simply a matter of politics regulated to the groanings of his stomach. How very elementary is this world of ours when we trace the great sounding of brass tinkling of cymbals in Washington or London or Berlin to very commonplace centrality--a man’s stomach. And how very elementary are they who seek to ignore those distant groanings.
My recent trip into Bavaria, the southern part of Germany, was enlightening. Perhaps it was because of Christmas, maybe I was in jubilant spirits myself, but somehow the Bavarian folk are more cordial, more willing to lend a helping hand than a Northern Deutscher. If I may go out on a limb, I would compare it to the Middle western cordiality versus New England staidness. Faces seemed less pinched and worn, eyes seemed brighter, and only once or twice did I note the belligerence so prevalent in Berlin.
Our group left Frankfurt the day before Christmas. The day was more like May 30 than December 24. The snow which had fallen the first of the week was completely melted and the fields bore a faint tinge of green. We drove on to the Autobahn shortly after leaving Frankfurt. I had heard much about Hitler’s autobahns but this was the first I’d been able to see for myself. Save for occasional detours where bridges had been blown out by the retreating SS troops, I would have thought myself driving the turnpike between Pittsburg and Harrisburg.
Somewhere between Mannheim and Stuttgart, we stopped at the only military gas station within miles, refueled the car and invaded the snack bar. The menu was quite American - hamburgers, waffles, sundaes, pie alamode, and toast - with butter, 5 cents extra. This was my first trip into the American Zone of Germany and I was determined to eat everything that smacked of “back home.” The hamburgers tasted like rubber, the ice cream was watery, the pie was really apple strudel cut in squares (Germans certainly never heard of pie until the Americans arrived), and the malteds were thin. Please, dear God, don’t put the White Castles and Bridgeman’s out of business. They are a symbol of America, with nuts and whipped cream, please.
Conversation lagged occasionally, as it is wont to do on long auto trips, and each of us retired to his private thoughts. One would comment on the passing scene - note the rich black soil, the farmers fertilizing their fields with the odd watering tanks drawn by oxen, a shrine along the wayside, a steeple in the distance. And then, the army men in the group would recall how those steeples were once an objective - a point at which to converge after the village had been taken. We passed Heidelberg later in the afternoon. I recalled the “Student Prince” and wondered if the city were as romantic as that operetta led me to believe. I also remembered the story my boss Colonel told me about that city being declared open, how the troops had stormed through, only to be met by German forces just across the river and the city limits. Any of you men in the Infantry?
It was 4:30 and approaching dusk as we skirted Munich, trying to avoid the crowds who preferred the road to sidewalk. Most of them had just left their offices, hurrying to get home to the festivities of Christmas Eve. There seemed to be an air of expectancy in their half-running step. I suddenly realized what I would be doing if I were at home, and childhood memories of Christmas Eve floated back. I wondered if those people would be opening packages that evening around a Christmas tree, if Santa, or St. Nick or the Christmas Father would show up after he’d made his rounds, mainly to have a sandwich and a glass of beer, and if they’d be as surprised as I was when he took off his mask and was really only the man who delivers the coal.
It was dark when we reached Garmisch at 6:30. The center square of the village was decorated with a gigantic Christmas tree, but the bulbs were only white. I wondered if Germans before the war had used colored bulbs. We passed to the further end of the village, and then turned to a side road, which led up to our hotel. Mountains had suddenly grown out of the prairie, and in the bright light of the stars, the snow glistened most appropriately. We started climbing, and high on the mountainside I could see the hotel ablaze with friendly lights. Not until our wheels started slipping and we had to shift into second was I aware that this was actually my first taste of winter. I became most acutely aware when I had to get out and push.
Editor’s note- Lack of space prevents using all of Dona Wolking’s story of her trip to Bavaria in this issue of The Tribune. The remainder of this article will appear next week.
April 2, 1948, Volume 74, Number 14
Editor’s note- Lack of space in the March 26 issue of the Tribune prevented use of all of Dona’s story of her trip to Bavaria. Following is the remainder of the article.
I shall never forget the scene before us as we approached the quaint Bavarian hotel. A huge Christmas tree, American style, stood in the yard, and from somewhere in the distance, a loud speaker was playing Christmas carols. We drove up before the door, and before I could shake myself out, Santa Claus came out to help us with our baggage. Probably to cover my amazement, I quipped, “What do you tip him with? Brazil nuts and peanut brittle?”
The atmosphere was the same throughout our stay; it was an all-American resort, where you danced at noon in your ski clothes, and wore an evening dress after dark, where everyone said hello and you soon knew most of the people in the dining room, where you returned to your bedroom in the evening to find sheets turned down and fresh flowers on the desk, where you are simply relaxed and forgot about the rest of the busy world. Someone coined a phrase, “Everyday’s a Holiday in Garmisch, and I heartily subscribed.
We ate Christmas dinner on top of a mountain. It was necessary, however, to descend the one we were on and take a cable car up another. I’d never ridden in a cable car before, and every time it swayed, I said another prayer. The view as we moved over the pine tops was breathtaking; one can gaze at valleys from the Sequoias or the Catskills, or the Appalachians and always the scene before you surpasses the rest. But the tiny toy village on this postcard was different. There were red tile roofs, oddly shaped steeples and lazy roads. The snow banks were ten feet deep on top of the Kreuzach peak. I know, because I tried to walk off the path without skis and sunk in to my waist. Skiers in colorful outfits swarmed all over the place. We took motion pictures of some of the better ones taking off down the mountain side. When I saw the sign post advertising mileages by various trails--14 miles to Garmisch, 10 to cable station, and heard one of the men commenting that he’d been clocked at 60 miles per hour several weeks before - I quietly slipped by the ski supply room and distracted the others by commenting on the smell of food floating from the hotel. I heard one of the men remark that he might try it later, and I mumbled something about a condemned man eating heartily. The atmosphere of the hotel was as informal as we in our ski clothes; most of the diners had taken the trails down that morning and were ravenously hungry. I hadn’t taken any ski trails down or up or sitting down, but I did justice to the turkey and sweet potatoes.
Oberammergau, city of the Passion Play, was disappointing. I had expected to find a vast open air arena, instead, only a gray, barn-like structure. Perhaps if we had been able to locate the caremaster or the famous woodcarver, our story would have read differently. I have found so often that it is not the place or surroundings, but the unusual people one meets that makes a memory. I pounded on each of the 14 doors of the Theatre, but to no avail, and the only response to my knock at the gate of the woodcarver’s house was a violent welcome from the German police dog. It was snowing lightly as we wound through the narrow streets of the village, but that didn’t deter us when we decided to visit Linderhof some 12 kilometers away. Mad King Ludwig’s castle, we had heard, was a sight not to be missed. The roads were mere paths cut by some primitive snow plow, but we were in no hurry, and the country side was lovely under its white disguise. Just at the foot of the hill leading to the village of Linderhof, we met our waterloo. Our German Opel couldn’t make it and we slid into the embankment. As if called by some magic whistle, five German boys in assorted sizes appeared, and I suspiciously pondered if they had been waiting for the next victim. With the aid of half the village, we managed to reach the crest, at a cost of one package of cigarettes and five candy bars. I had deserted long before the final push, led by a small five year old who showed me the way to the inn. He opened the door of the deserted hotel for me, escorted me to an inner room, and told his Mutty, politely, “Die Dame ist kalt.” (The lady is cold.) I was hospitably led to a warm room, with a pot belly stove in one corner, a Christmas tree in another, and red checked cloths on the tables. The young lady of the family brought me a stein of beer which the father, newly arrived on the scene, snatched from my hand and placed on the stove to warm. When he offered “Kaffee, nicht Americanisch,” I eagerly accepted. After Operation Push had been completed, my friend joined me; we sat around in spoke back chairs, feet propped against the stove, and with our “pidgin” Deutsch, wormed the family history. We promised to come back another day to see the castle, but today the elements were far madder than King Ludwig, and I didn’t relish sleeping in a snow bank. Two of the boys, speaking perfect GI English asked if they could ride down the road ein wenig (a little)….they loved to go sehr schnell (very fast), and the soldiers in the jeeps had often given them rides. We had qualms about letting them off in a blinding snowstorm to walk back, but they insisted, and we laughingly consented. We picked up several other groups… one mother and her two children, and carried them a few miles. With my limited German, I passed the time of day, and acknowledged their grateful dankeshoens. Most of them have not ridden in autos for years, and it is a distinct treat. It was pleasant to get back to the warm fireplace at our hotel after a nerve wracking drive through treacherous mountain roads. We sat around on the floor in our ski clothes and watched the local child wonders perform. The supervisor was just as nervous as any American teacher on opening night, but believe me, the actors were more talented than any I’ve ever uncovered in my perusal of Christmas plays and Easter cantatas. Ranging in age from six to fourteen, the kids in their bright Bavarian aprons and suspenders stole our hearts. They performed the schuhplatter dance, complete with yodeling and tossing of hats; one youngster played a mean zither accompanied by his buddies in the background swinging some weird foreign instrument between them. We went to dinner slapping our heels that night.
The world would be a very pleasant place in which to live if it could but imitate a peaceful, Bavarian village at Christmas time.
April 9, 1948, Volume 74, Number 15
Swiss fantasy…She is a gay, fabulous, carefree woman…this holiday Switzerland. She has my heart; she has left memories, like herself, lifting, mirthful, some sad. Snow-capped memories…holiday memories…skis, skates, bobsleds. Tinkling sleigh bells...and the horse that laughed at me when I took his picture.
Plane ride, on a cloud, landing at Zurich…two hours from Frankfurt. Twenty-four by train. Customs…pleasant, thorough, passports…visitor’s bread coupons…how long will you stay?...A lightening tour of Zurich…beautiful Baur au Lac hotel on the lake…overwhelming service, gratifying courtesy…doors always opened, ski boots always waxed and waiting on nippy mornings. Beds turned down…billowing comforters to get lost in….gigantic pillows from which to survey the maid with your breakfast…home was never like this.
Beautiful carillons calling to church…Sunday morning, European breakfast of fresh, so fresh strawberry jam, and thick, strong black coffee…startled eyes...ham and eggs...missing the first train to Davos missed…catching the next...never caring….happy. Converting to francs...everything terrifyingly expensive. Drinking Swiss beer and eating cheese with holes this big…the waiter - looks like Jimmy Durante, never knowing,…constant surveillance by Swiss, German, French. “Thees Americain”...Skis tossed over shoulders...sharp pleats standing smartly out of waxed ski boots...no snow, yet. Landquart...change trains, Mink coats, hooded ski jackets, black derbies. Accommodating porters...one franc please...luggage through the window...first class, second class, or third?....what’s the difference? wooden seats?...next please...babbling… “nicht verstehen”...what is it? German, French, or both? Davos. Taxi?…closed sleigh...lightly falling snow...slow trodding of horse...the gee, gee of the coachman far above me. The Belvedere. Porters...clerks...room with the south balcony. What for?...sun, of course. King Michael two doors down…sorry, ex-King Michael. For how long will Madam stay? Five days...yes Madam…if we can be…dressing for dinner...meeting friends, more Americans. Always adding a casual touch to a stuffy continental dining room….food delightful, different…what is it? French, British, Swiss. Waiters….always like penguins, white and black…morning…noon….evening...dancing...rumba,samba, waltz...gracefully.
Early, so early awakened by a maid...train leaving 7:30...into ski clothes...half asleep, wool socks...sweaters...more sweaters...red mittens...hooded jacket. Too late for breakfast...sip ghastly Swiss coffee…soon awake…bus leaving hotel, lunch sack swinging on wrist. Train, napping…glass cold against cheek. St. Moritz, Programmes…hockey today, Sweden - Austria…up, up the steep hill. Palace Hotel. People, more people. Each an individual, British, Italian, French, Greek, Norwegian. Many Americans. Bright, bright clothes…silly to wear white where snow is so dazzling. Snatches of conversation ...”best ski instructor...bluest eyes.” “Mable met Barbara Ann Scott...and did you see Dick Button?”
Expert skiers on main street…narrowly missing auto, walker, and horse. Sleigh ride into the country…green, dark green, pine trees, so blue sky, red plumed horse…warm, black buffalo robes pulled to chin. Cresta run…suicide run…bob sled finish. Four francs please. Back again….to the Funicular...up, up surveying the world below. End of women’s downhill ski…meeting old friends…terraced café…bright sun…warm…jackets off. Sipping brown beer…so good, so tired…ever-present camera…waiters scurrying...musicians wandering among tables...unbelievable in the snow…valley below…crisp, indefinable air.
At night...dancing, merry, warm, continental. Stars. White, sparkling peaks. Thin silver moon...train again...British writer...”must visit me in London” ...more friends, more dinner, more dancing.
Skiing…small slopes, big slopes…purple knees. Crawling ski lift, frightening. Bobsled run, thrilling, round iced corners braked by your capable Swiss boy...laughing, screaming, five minutes down a mountain. Hot chocolate.. .try it again...back up with the cable car. Into the village...children’s singing coming from a school…stories, modern, filled, American, fascinating. Then, hot grog…silly little man singing silly little ditties...fireplace, relaxing, sleepy. Browned...sunburned faces, white circles under sunglasses...outside, skis standing, peaks skyward, poles crossed lazily.
Into the lobby after dinner...politics with the French...”What’s happening in Berlin...do French like the Americans...what about the Marshall Plan?” To the Roulette table...entrancing.
Next day, St. Moritz again...joining radio crowd...twenty-nine studios...every country...scurrying reporters...every language. Attention! Yours will be televised...s’il vous plaît? Merci...Bon...très bon. Red barber, Henry Cassidy…tense before broadcasting...will a line go out? All smiles, later...dining, talking shop...mutual acquaintances. “We got Gretchen Merrill up here today...Mrs. Frazer tomorrow...did you see that spill on the ski jump today? Paulette Goddard’s here...King Peter...Norma Shearer...New Yorker, Post...Herald...Texas Gazette...Chicago Trib...CBS, NBC, ABC...XYZ.”
Shining ice, figure skating, graceful, elevating, heartbreaking, gladdening, Reporters...always swarming...applauding, appreciative crowds...bright flags, Barbara Ann Scott...queen of the day...sweet, accommodating. Free cigarettes...free juice...two hundred miles away...picking up cigarette butts...ski jumping...last day of Olympics...soaring birds, gasping at first jump...tense...relaxing at the final swish...tightening...another fall. Snowing heavily...cold noses...train again, bags again...goodbye again...
She is a gay, fabulous, carefree woman...this holiday Switzerland. She has my heart...she has left memories....
August 13, 1948, Volume 74, Number 16
(Editor’s Note - The Tribune is pleased to present another five articles by Dona Wolking of Donnelly, who has been in Berlin during the past momentous year. The first of her thoroughly readable, descriptive and interesting articles appears here.)
The sun shines, planes fly. Berlin, city of intrigue, smugly aware that the eyes of the world are upon her, maintains a practiced calm. American housewives show their maids how to make pie for the eighth time. German shops continue business as usual, despite currency reform. Black marketeers cut their profits 10%. Shortages still exist. American workers continue to enter the Military Government compound at 8:30, and if they are lucky, leave at 5:30. The flag in front of Truman Hall is flying half-mast. We know that Pershing is being honored. The lights go out at Wannsee Club at 11:00 p.m., as they do every night all over Berlin. Ingeborg, the great violinist, continues Ave Maria; we sit in darkness for a while, and then a waiter brings candles. Gas is rationed to five gallons a month. We walk. Even the planes overhead no longer sound like the Eighth Air Force on a bombing mission.
The Little Theatre produces a ‘mellerdrammer’. The first night audience is unusual, but taken in stride. To my right is Herr Schmidt, owner of a German “Modellsalon;” behind me is a Britisher who rebukes the villain with cries of “Nawsty Mawn;” in the balcony are G.I.s who heckle friends in the cast; during the second act, General Clay slips in, almost unnoticed. A sign on the wall informs, “Due to present confusion in financial circles, no credit will be extended. Please pay waitress.” Democracy in action.
We still dance - to songs already six months old in the States. We discuss the convention three days later. We wonder about television, and we fight over fashion magazines on the newsstands. We pass the word when marshmallows or steaks are being sold at the commissary.
My tailor queries, “Gibts Krieg?” (Will we have a war?), and I shake my head emphatically...“Nein, nein.” The great Yehudi Menuhin receives roars of approval from his German-American audience, and plays a Mendelssohn encore. He shares his curtain calls with Herr Ludwig, the German conductor.
An American band comes to town and the Harnack Haus is mobbed; an Italian floorshow receives wild applause. A German employee gets married and Americans pool for the food; a call for sporting equipment for German youth brings gratifying response. My maid asks for flour, “nur ein tasse” (only one cup) for her husband’s birthday cake, and I give her candles also. She consents to work until midnight when I have a dinner party.
A German merchant solicits American patronage, anticipating export trade in future years. He struggles to eat now, but not without hope. America has stood by him; he can see ahead.
Next week’s article - Frau Heinrich’s story.
August 20, 1948, Volume 74, Number 17
I worked with her for almost a year without knowing that she had a story to tell. She, like the rest of the German secretaries, had become simply a part of the office machinery, a person to whom one says ‘Good morning’ and ‘Good night’. Someone called her to my attention one day. She was the wife of a banker, a highly educated German and had fought the Nazis. I derisively asked, “...like the rest of the Germans in Germany today?”
Last night, we had dinner together. Hers is a type of story that is difficult to retell. One must see that round, gentle face with the deep, tearful eyes, and hear a voice, which cracks, not in sympathy for herself, but for those people she could not help. I was impressed that she did not once solicit pity or complain, like so many other German people with whom I have talked.
“You are so young, perhaps you do not remember the first days of Hitler, and perhaps you would not have cared anyway. I visited your America in 1930, Maine, New York, California, from coast to coast, and now I remember those two years as the happiest of my life. Always, I was impressed by your children. Their minds were so full of happy things, inventions, new ways to do bigger and better things. Our German children are taught always to hail their leader, to fight for him. And they become militaristic, nationalistic at such a young age. It is a pity.
“When I returned to Germany in 1932, people were laughing at Hitler. von Hindenburg had been elected, in a free election. Then something happened. Many people say it was because Hindenburg was too old, but I say it was a fraud. Hindenburg appointed Hitler as his Chancellor, or Prime Minister, you might say. When Hindenburg died in 1934, Hitler came into power by a 98% vote. How I laugh at that percentage. I would say even at the height of his power, only 75% of the people believed. At the time, Allied control had all but ceased in Germany. There was great unemployment, as there was even in your country. Hitler grew in popularity because he promised bread and work. And naturally he gave work, because he began to rearm the country. The army was restricted to 100,000 men and that was only the first of the barriers he overcame. His big opposition was met in the Communist Party, which opposed rearmament. A Communist named van Ossietzky won the Noble Prize for Peace because he wrote a book, which showed how Germany was rearming. He never received it because he was indicted, sent to prison and later to a concentration camp.
“Hitler’s next step was to stop reparations to the Allies. He broke all treaties. Even then, people were not opening their eyes. The French had their Maginot Line and thought they were safe. Afterwards we saw the line was worth nothing.
“The rest of the story is history. In early 1939, he demanded the free port of Memel from Lithuania; the Sudetenland (Czechoslovakia) had been diplomatically acquired with SS men; Austria had been annexed; then came Malmedy and Danzig. I think so much today of the corridor to the port of Danzig when I hear Americans talk about the corridor to Berlin. It was the same then. To force them back would have meant war, and people were so afraid of war.
“Already in 1935 we were rationed, restricted to one-half pound of butter per week and no cream at all. This fact was dramatically announced by Goering, and was made to look like the smallest act one could perform for Germany. Hitler was using all foreign currency at his disposal for ore and similar materials of war. He had no money for import of food. Later coffee was rationed, and on August 20, 1939, we received ration cards as a ‘protective measure.’ This allowed us one-half pound of meat per week, and one pound of sugar.
“Finally, on September 1, 1939, German troops marched into Poland. “
I interrupted her then to ask how she felt that day, referring of course to the universal shock of American people on that fateful December 7, 1941.
“For we who could think at all, it was a sad day. We knew that Germany could not win. But all around us were hailing the Fuehrer and his victorious troops. England declared war on Germany because of her promises subsequent to the Munich Pact, and we who thought became sadder.
“From that day forward I was to know the meaning of fear; a fear deep inside me, always over me, never ending.”
(Frau Heinrich’s story will be continued next week).
August 27, 1948, Volume 74, Number 18
(Following is a continuation of Frau Heinrich’s story which began last week.)
“Maybe you remember the forced laborers, the Ukrainians and Poles who were brought back to Germany to do the lowliest of tasks, the building of roads, the collecting of garbage. It was a misery you cannot imagine because they had no food and often I would see a poor man picking potato peels from my garbage can. I placed a piece of bread inside the can for him. My neighbor saw me. I was reported to the Gestapo and for forty-eight hours I was held and thoroughly questioned. That is Germany. They are not a nation. They are a group of individuals who do not help each other.
“That was only the beginning of my fears. Many of the laborers were Polish Catholics. They wanted to go to church, and were forbidden. My neighbor’s brother was an organist and arranged with a priest to allow a group of Poles to attend Mass. When they were discovered and reported to the Gestapo, I allowed them to hide in my home. The priest was tried and sent to Dachau. I was again observed and reported to the Gestapo. For even these small things was one sent to prison.
“My sister died in a concentration camp. She belonged to a religious sect which was opposed to the Nazis. She was sentenced to eight months in prison before the war. When she was released they gathered clandestinely, the Gestapo came and I have never seen her again.
“Hitler was like a great hypnotizer. I have watched the crowds as they listened to him speak from the balcony. Promise a German the world, do it with bands and a parade, and he will believe you. They were a mob obsessed, insane, pledging their lives to his leadership. Only now are they awakening from their trance.
“Then, on the 23rd of August 1943, my home was bombed. It was the first time we had seen phosphorous bombs. Even giant trees were burning like matchsticks. I was blind for ten days from the phosphoric vapors. My husband had been partially buried in the rubble, but was unharmed. After long days of searching, I found a room in the home of an acquaintance. In late 1944 I visited my mother-in-law in Danzig. During my stay, there was an air raid, and I decided to return to Berlin. I waited in the railroad station for my train. It was a gray, bitterly cold morning. Across the station I saw dimly a group of people, and seemed to hear an odd, awful sound of chains clanking. When it grew lighter, I gasped when I saw they were chained together, and wearing only the most ragged clothing, even in the intense cold. I asked a woman, ‘what is that?’ and she said ‘Don’t you know? These are Jews.’ Tears rushed to my eyes and I wanted only to help them. She said ‘Be very silent. You could go to a concentration camp for that.’
“We were prohibited to listen to a foreign radio. It meant loss of our lives. Can you imagine, listening to a radio a capital crime? My husband and I hid a radio in our basement and listened often to BBC (British) and Radio Moscow. We knew the Allies were coming, and where they were. We heard BBC repeat again and again that Germany must not burn her lands as she retreated, that the Allies would bring their own food. My friends laughed. I know America. And your Government kept its word. A Government which keeps its word is so wonderful. We were fed with lies, lies, lies. For me truth is a wonderful thing.”
(Frau Heinrich’s story will be continued next week.)
September 3, 1948, Volume 74, Number 19
(Following the third and last part of Frau Heinrich’s story).
“In the last days of the war, we spent much time in the air raid shelters. As always, I could not control my tongue. A number of high-ranking Nazis used the same shelter, among them a Major General. He talked always of fighting to the very end, and I laughed at him. The night of the 24th of April 1945, the Russians came. It was sometime later that I learned the Nazis had taken steps to have me put in a concentration camp on the 25th of April.”
I saw that she was very upset at this point and suggested that we go into dinner. She sat down very shyly, and then quite recovered, and very much like a woman, she exclaimed over my dinner set. “My hobby was collecting china. I lost all of it. Your set will become more valuable. The Soviets have the factory now. They manufacture Stalin plates.”
She began again her story. “For me it is only that I lost my house, everything that was dear to me, perhaps photos of my parents, my books, that was one thing. But the war, I can’t imagine that we lost the war. I can only imagine that we got rid of the Nazis and the bombs, and so we win the war. Can you understand? I have lost that fear, that pressure always over my head. I do not feel we have lost the war. We have won our freedom.”
As we drank our coffee in the living room later, I ventured on the subject of the Russian Occupation of Berlin prior to the Americans’ arrival.
“I must tell you about the Russians. I returned to my house on the 25th of April to find all the occupants outside; the apartment building had been taken over by five Russian officers, one of them a major general, another a colonel. But I would be permitted to stay if I would act as a housekeeper and my husband a janitor. We were more than grateful; at least we still had room. The officers were gentlemanly, but the orderlies were maniacs. They tore furniture apart to look for jewels. I climbed to the roof and hung my small bag of jewels just inside the chimney, and they were never found. Our building was ransacked twenty-five times. The men were filthy. It was necessary for my husband and I to put stepping stones on the floor of the dining room in order to begin to remove the excrement. I attended funerals of four girls who had committed suicide after being raped. All through the night we could hear cries of help. It was gruesome, but those are the things of war.
“We waited always for the coming of the Americans.”
I interrupted her. “Forget I am an American. Don’t tell me what you think I want to hear, tell me the truth.” And she stopped, baffled that I should doubt her word.
“I can only tell you what comes from my heart. Perhaps I was silly when first I saw a jeep and the American flag on it. The soldiers asked where the movie was, and I spoke to them in English. I asked if they were really Americans, and if the Americans had come to stay, and they were a little angry with me and said, ‘Yes, what do you think?’ I could only ask them to forgive me for crying and in a moment I would tell them where the theatre was. When they went away, they gave me a cigarette. I brought it home to my husband. He would not believe that the Americans had come, and I said, “Yes, believe me, see, see, here is a Lucky Strike! And then came the American lady soldiers, and they seemed so pretty, and so clean, and I loved to talk to them. If you could only know how happy I was, how the fear had gone. I am afraid if the Americans leave Berlin, I shall know again that feeling of fear.”
September 10, 1948, Volume 74, Number 20
An American secretary goes to bed in Berlin. It’s past bedtime and the car seems noisy in the night stillness. It’s of German origin, requisitioned by military authorities, and the mechanical processes are many. First, the key, which must be turned twice, then a wrassle with an unfamiliar shift. Two more twists of the wrist, and the machine is under control. The girl waits her escort to come around and open the door, dreading the great effort involved to climb through the small opening.
“May I come in?”
“But you’ll need someone to light candles for you, it’s past eleven and the lights are out.”
“And you forgot to buy matches at the PX today. I heard you tell the housekeeper when she asked you at lunchtime.”
“Well...maybe I can use your cigarette lighter?”
The apartment door, a dark hall, then the lighter ablaze.
“Number one key...the Zeiss lock first, two twists, key number two, one twist, key number three...there it is. Careful, don’t stumble over that hall chair. I’ll get the candles...the housekeeper should have put them out...hold the lighter higher, I can’t see...let’s try the kitchen. I bought six candles in the commissary yesterday. Yes...here they are...There. Hungry?”
“Well, what are you waiting for then? I won’t need your cigarette lighter anymore.”
“You look pretty good in candlelight.”
“I won’t need your cigarette lighter anymore.”
The Zeiss lock is turned from the inside, windows checked. At home, her folks didn’t even have a key for the door. The candle sputters as it is carried through the long hall. Clothes are hastily removed and tossed at a chair. The housekeeper will hang them up in the morning. The army issue blanket, even more drab in candlelight, is turned down and she crawls between rough PX sheets. The quartermaster straw mattress crunches, and she can feel the space between sections, just below her shoulder blades. If the Army had to requisition mattresses from the German economy they might have concentrated on inner springs, or at least mattresses, in one piece. She reaches for the candle, extinguishes the flame. She settles, and then remembers the window. Should she risk being eaten alive by mosquitoes or suffocate? Up again. The windows turn in; she hooks one side open, lamenting that Europeans had never heard of screening. The planes are flying high tonight. It’s very dark, but the stars are bright. Strange how you can tell when it’s bad flying weather...they come in so low and sound so loud. Tonight, it’s a nice comforting sound...a size C54 sound...all four engines. The green and red lights twinkle like stop and go signs in the stars. Back in bed, the night sounds became louder. Steps outside on the sidewalk, slowly, then almost stopping. She knows it is the German policeman, and she knows he once warned her about open windows on the ground floor. His footsteps continue on. She muses. Must remember to remind the Colonel of his appointment tomorrow morning. Wonder what rating I got on my efficiency report. Maybe if the Colonel has enough gas, I can wrangle a ride to the commissary. Wonder what the news from Washington was tonight...Must remember to remind the Colonel...
Epilogue by Tam Agosti-Gisler, August 2014
During the occupation of post-WWII Germany, the Soviet Union tried to block the Western Allies’ access to the three sectors of Berlin they controlled. By stopping railway, road and canal access to West Berlin, the Soviet Union thought they could force the Western powers to allow them to provide all of the food and fuel for the entire city. This was with the intent of taking control over all four sectors. In response to the blockade, the Western Allied powers began an airlift to carry all of the needed supplies to the people in West Berlin. Crews from the collaborating air forces of the United States, Canada, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa made over 200,000 flights during the 11 months of the crisis with up to 4,700 tons of fuel and food brought in daily. Dona lived through that Berlin Airlift and told her children stories of the cargo planes that landed at Templehof Airport every four minutes, twenty-four hours a day.
The airlift began on June 24,1948 and lasted until May 12, 1949. When it was clear that the Soviet Union’s tactic had failed and they no longer wanted the embarrassment, the blockade was lifted. As a result, the creation of the two separate German states occurred. The western-controlled sectors became the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG or West Germany) and the Soviet-controlled sector became the German Democratic Republic (GDR or East Germany). Berlin was also split into two. Dona returned to the United States that summer and set up residence in Manhattan.
The USSR tightened its grip over East Berlin as well as East Germany, making them and other eastern European countries part of the closely controlled Soviet Eastern-Bloc. Emigration from East Germany was restricted, but until 1952, the border between the divided Germanys was easily crossed in many places. A barbed-wire fence was eventually erected between the two Germanys, however, it was still relatively easy to leave the East if one crossed from East Berlin to West Berlin.
Due to the tight controls and the lower standard of living in East Germany, by 1961, 3.5 million East Germans, or 20% of the population had immigrated to West Germany to seek better lives. Many skilled laborers, as well as the young and well–educated left. This brain drain was alarming to the East German leader, Walter Ulbricht, and he sought permission from Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev to take action.
Twelve years after Dona left Berlin, that city was to undergo a dramatic change overnight. Shortly after midnight on August 13, 1961, East German soldiers begin constructing a barrier between the Soviet-controlled East Berlin and the democratic western section of the city using miles and miles of barbed wire and bricks. Those were soon replaced by a six-foot high 96-mile long wall of concrete. Guard towers with machine gun posts and searchlights were added and the East German Volkspolizei or “Volpos” began 24-hour patrols.
The wall cut right across many streets. Historic photos show how some buildings were cut right in half by the wall and friends and family suddenly divided. Over many years, thousands of East Berliners and East Germans lost their lives in attempts to get over that wall. Even though they raised the wall’s height to ten feet, about 5000 were successful in escaping. The Berlin Wall became a powerful symbol of the Cold War between the West and the East, between capitalism and communism, between democracy and totalitarianism.
Checkpoint Charlie or Checkpoint C was the name the Allies gave the most well known crossing point in the wall that allowed West Berliners access to East Berlin, but not the other way around.
In January 1979, Dona’s daughter, Tam, the third of her eight children, began a study trimester at Stanford in Berlin. As an international relations major, she chose this overseas campus of her California university after hearing stories about her mother’s life there in the post-war occupation times. Tam’s studies took place in the Villa Matthias on Pacelliallee 18-20, not far from the home that Dona shared with three other women. Tam found the address and sent her mother a picture of her former residence.
Tam rented a room in a war widow’s home and took a bus to the Stanford Center every day for her classes. The bus stop was situated next to the Wall in the direct line of view of an East German soldier positioned in the guard tower on the other side of the wall. This made her rather anxious as he spied on her daily, machine-gun in hand.
Tam related many of her adventures to her mother, especially about her frequent U-Bahn (subway) trips under Checkpoint Charlie and the wall to visit East Berlin where food, drink and entertainment, albeit limited according to Western standards, was much more affordable for a student. She had interesting discussions with East German youth who were anxious to learn about life on the other side. When one student told her that his bedroom wall was covered in colorful paper food wrappers and shopping bags that had flown over the wall, it became clearer why there was so little garbage littering the streets of East Berlin. Tam made other trips to the Eastern-Bloc countries of Czechoslovakia and Poland during her Berlin tenure.
Tam had one harrowing experience on a day-trip to Potsdam when her class went to see to the building where the Allied Forces had signed the agreement of the same name after Germany surrendered. The Stanford students were allowed to exit West Berlin via a special gate in the Wall since they had temporary West Berlin residency permits, but were cautioned that they must be back through that gate before midnight. The East German Volpos arrested Tam and another student at gunpoint when they mistakenly thought they had missed the last bus and were walking on the shoulder of the highway towards the gate on that cold, dark winter night. Not only was this verboten (forbidden) but also was very foolish since land mines were planted off-road in the vicinity of the Wall. Fortunately, after a short detention in which all of Tam’s limited German skills were put to the test, they were loaded on the last bus that serendipitously arrived just as the Volpos were discussing what to do with these two American/temporarily West Berliner students. Tam and friend were relieved to be expeditiously sent back through the gate to West Berlin.
The decline of the Soviet Union began in the 80s and in the later part of that decade, the East Germans authorities initiated liberal reforms in their country. On November 9, 1989, hoards of West and East Berliners gathered at the Berlin Wall and starting climbing on and over it. There was no action taken by the East German Volpos and in some case, they joined in. The people began to attack the Berlin Wall with picks, rocks and bare hands. This hated symbol of Cold War repression was destroyed and eventually dismantled. In less than a year, East and West Germany became one nation again. They signed a formal treaty of unification on October 3, 1990.
In February 1991, Dona Wolking Agosti returned to Berlin for the first time in 42 years accompanied by her sister and several West German members of their Loegering family, some who had never been to Berlin because they were afraid to travel through Russian-occupied territory by car and air travel was too expensive. A number of historical moments occurred during that trip. Dona took particular delight in chopping off a piece of the wall, which she subsequently brought back to Alaska. Dona and her sister, Dot, were required to go through customs at Checkpoint Charlie while their German cousin walked proudly through the Brandenburg Gate, one that had been sealed for 29 years.
The main thoroughfare, Unter den Lindenstrasse, on the East German side, whose name had been Americanized to “Clayalle” in West Berlin looked impressive, quite like the street on the western side of the wall. But if one were to walk a block in either direction, the rubble of bombed buildings remained some 46 years after the war’s end. Dona proclaimed when she saw the old street name, “They wouldn’t dare take away General Clay’s name after all he did for Berlin!” The following week, however Checkpoint Charlie was gone as were all the “Clayalle” signs. Checkpoint Charlie is now relocated in the Allied Museum in the Dahlem neighborhood of Berlin and is a big tourist attraction.
During the division of Germany, the seat of the West German government was in Bonn. It was said that it would NEVER be moved from Bonn back to Berlin. That proved to be an incorrect statement and eventually Berlin became the capital of the reunified Germanys.
The most impressive outcome of the reunification of Germany was the willingness of the West Germans to foot the high tax bill paid to catch East Germany up with West. The biggest problem according to Dona’s relatives, Gertrud and Josef Loegering, was the attitude of the workers who were used to four people doing one person’s job. The retraining would take a couple generations, and once again, German workers from all part of the country are known for their work ethic and productivity.