Office – OMGUS – Berlin, G’y
17 January 1946
It will surely be grand to get some word from you – and from others in the States. Eighteen days away and no mail. But I suppose that the phony APO which, for some obscure reason, they gave us when we received our orders in the Pentagon, has been a contributing reason for this. It will also probably send my January magazines and Washington Post astray. But my main concern right now is to keep in touch with you folks and learn as quickly as possible about the big event scheduled for this month. It will be a great relief when it is over and word has been received.
One week in Berlin yesterday and already I’m beginning to feel like an old timer. It’s that way over here for most of the group is so new. Of course, Col. Onthank flew into Berlin last summer with the first load of military government personnel, but most of the staff measure their period here by days or weeks rather than months. Quite a large percentage of them are reconverted Army men on WACs who have elected to stay on, also there is the large but constantly dwindling group of military, commissioned or enlisted.
OMGUS enrollment at the present time is about 1800 in Berlin, planned for reduction to 1400 by June. At present only about 400 are civilian personnel, but this number is expected to be between 900 and 1000 in five more months. Generally speaking, the civilians appear to be a pretty good bunch, altho many of the girls don’t give startling evidence of having come over primarily for the work potentiality of the job. However, one can’t blame them for that, for the lure of adventure and an opportunity to see something of Europe are a natural lodestone. Many of them are sorely disappointed right now, for there is a ruling that civilian personnel can take travel leave only after nine months in the Theatre – rather a restricting regulation but one based on sound reason, for the very limited travel facilities here, both air and rail, must be reserved first for official travel and second for leaves for GIs, many of whom have been here for from one to three years without travel opportunities. I am hoping that, by summer, the 9 month restriction will be cut to 6 months.
I have just been interviewing a 23 year old youngster whom I am going to take on as a secretary, if and when arrangements can be completed. She has an excellent 5 year background in Army and State Department personnel work, is eager and intelligent, and appears to be just what the doctor ordered. I have now occupied my own little office for just one day, fighting for every stick of furniture and bit of equipment in it. Now to get some equipment for her. These things are in very short supply here, from desks to paper clips and those who were among the first to arrive got the cream of the selection. There is a big chunk of plaster off of one of my walls as a result of bombing and that, as well as a broken window pane must be repaired.
My office looks out on a courtyard, about 200 feet square, around which the building is built. It is landscaped with white birch (had to fill my pen), weeping willow and oak saplings and a squad of POWs is busy preparing the soil for grass and flowers. The POWs seem quite happy in their work, kid and fool with each other and appear to get on very well with their American guards.
I’m now in my new and, presumably, permanent billets at 67 Im Dol, sharing the little house with one other chap, a major whom I haven’t met, as he is in Paris, reputedly sick. So I’m rattling around in it alone now and find it a bit lonesome. The house is the home of Herr and Frau Phillip Schaefer. He is one of the outstanding department store architects of Germany and his home, while small, reflects the taste of its owner. Frau Schaefer is my “Housefrau”, a charming lady, probably in her 50s, whose attitude toward me lacks nothing in gracious hospitality, despite the fact that we have driven them out of their charming home and that she has to do our housekeeping, washing, clothes pressing, etc. Imagine my surprise last evening to find that she had “gone the second mile” and polished up my house slippers – quite beyond her required duties.
I invited Herr & Frau Schaefer to call on me a couple of evenings ago and we had a very pleasant visit together, what with our common architectural background and the completely sporting way in which they are taking their adversity. I broached a bottle of Hennessey *** and supplied cigarettes, two luxuries which are not directly available to the Germans and their extreme delight at the unusual treat was almost pitiful. They are strong anti-Nazis and apparently took it on the chin pretty badly, first from the Nazi treatment, second from the Russians when they were occupying this section, and now from the necessary American regulations. They had five Russians billeted on them and apparently the experience was anything but pleasant. Once the Russkys demanded wine and, when told none was available, one of the occupying gentlemen drew his pistol and shot at Herr Schaefer, missing him by inches and leaving a gaping hole in a lovely oil painting hanging in the hall. They showed me all through the house, from bomb-proof cellar and furnace room to Herr Schaefer’s little studio on the second floor. Herr S. goes in for cabinet work as a hobby (!) and, on his own volition, is now making me a picture frame for a swell map of Maryland and Virginia, dated 1755, which I picked up in a little shop on the left bank of the Seine. I hope to see more of the Schaefers socially. She speaks no English, his is quite limited, despite the fact that he has done some architectural studying in the States, – and my German is my High School Deutsch of forty years ago, so some frustration enters into our conversations.
The worst fly in the ointment is the lack of heat in the house – I haven’t seen it over 16°C (61°F) since I have been there. OMGUS orders 65° for evenings and will get it up to that soon, I hope. It’s amazing, however, how quickly one gets accustomed to the lower standard – whether he likes it or not is another question. I have quite a heavy cold which isn’t helped a bit by refrigeration.
Our first four days here were dismal, intermittent rain which turned to a lively snowstorm on Sunday, but yesterday and to-day the sun shines from a cloudless sky on the surrounding snowscape, but the temperature remains well below freezing. All in all, woolen longies, a wool shirt and heavy uniform feel pretty comfortable, both indoors and out. The office, thank Heaven, is pretty comfortable, though they make no effort to warm the hallways.
Destruction from bombing is more evident in the area where I’m now living than in the section with which I first became acquainted and every house still shows some evidences of damage. My billet is no exception – practically the entire roof had to be replaced and many of the windows are still filled with plywood in lieu of glass.
My circle of acquaintances is broadening daily as I continue to meet my office associates and mingle in Harnack Haus society. We had a good dance Saturday evening. Sunday’s buffet supper was delightful, – dinner music by an excellent three piece orchestra (the violinist was with the Berlin Philharmonic), candle light on each table, set in centerpieces of evergreen, tables attractively set, solicitous waiters buzzing around, – and a menu which included five kinds of cold meat, salmon salad, potato salad, cold slaw, potato chips, hot rolls, butter and jam, coffee, tea or chocolate, and two kinds of ice cream with sweet cookies for dessert. Every evening there is tea dancing during cocktail hour, with an orchestra of piano, accordion and traps. Where can you beat all this in the States?
I could continue for many pages – but must get to work. I’ve kept my nose pretty closely in contact with the grindstone ever since reaching here, so don’t feel too badly about this digression to visit with you folks. Wally (Maj.) Dietz, our Administrative Officer and I are lunching together shortly and I’ll mail this at that time. Heath (Col.) Onthank left yesterday for a couple of days in Frankfurt. Joe (Lt. Col.) Henderson, his second in command returns today from leave in Switzerland, and Geo. Vadney gets back from Frankfurt Sunday, so next week Personnel will have a full staff at work.
Lots of love – and keep the letters rolling!
Another note enclosed:
To Sir Holmes,
The bath is prepared.
I am sorry, we couldn’t meet you to this evening.
I am into the house at 8 o’clock tomorrow.