Circular Letter #5
On the Breakfast Porch, In der Halde 7,
Berlin, Germany, 7 April 1946.
Dear Home Folks:
The middle of a lazy Sunday afternoon. This morning Jen Christiansen and I took rather a long walk through the beautiful residential suburb of Dahlemdorf surrounding our billet, then after lunch at Harnack Haus I left her and her buddy Barbara Willis at the U-Bahnhof Oskar Helene-heim where they were taking the sightseeing bus for the downtown Berlin tour. Now I’m home in a quiet house, with my two billet-mates each about his chosen business, to commune with you friends back in the States. Jen is one of my closer girl companions, a tall, spare American civilian, born in Norway, and recently arrived from a 19 months tour of duty at Anchorage, Alaska. This war and its aftermath is surely getting our American folks around the world, and I can’t but be assured that this complete scrambling of nationalities which we have over here is going to make us all better citizens of this new world we are trying to help construct. A bunch of us were idly chaffing at the dance last evening and I turned to Barbara and said, “If you were walking down I St. in Washington a couple of years from now and someone behind you suddenly said “Harnack Haus” to you, what would you do”. “I’m sure”, said Barbara, “without even looking, I’d turn around and throw my arms around him”. This association which we are all sharing is one that will live in our memories for the rest of our lives.
The forsythia are in full bloom, and crocuses which have profusely sprinkled the lawns, particularly in and around the Compound, have passed their prime. The thousands of tulips of myriad variety imported from Holland have been blooming for a month or more in pots in the houses and are now starting to come into their own in the outdoor flower beds. The birds, which seem to sing more sweetly here than anywhere else I have been, have begun to fill the air with their song. Home gardeners (I was just about to say Victory Gardeners, then remembered that there is no victory for these poor folks) have tilled the soil and started their planting. This morning we passed a characteristic Berlin scene. Just over the fence were a row of graves of Russian soldiers, each surmounted by its red pyramid and star, while behind them, in front of the shattered remains of a lovely home, a German was carefully planting his immaculately neat garden in the front yard. It is a city of contrasts. Spring, with all of its fine beauty has come to Berlin and with it comes the first faint vestige of the sweet, putrid smell of dead, decaying bodies, which still lie undiscovered in the ruins, a smell which has lain dormant through the cold of the winter. Children, more than I ever imagined existed here during the cold months, are playing out in the streets, greeting passing Americans with the customary, carefully phrased, “Have you any chewing gum?” All of the youngsters seem to be about the same age, – five or six, evidence of the many marriages immediately preceding mobilization of the German Wehrmacht – and the many more children who resulted from the Nazi philosophy of “Children, and more children, legitimate or illegitimate”, which was so actively disseminated just about that time.
Last Monday evening we three went to the concert of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra at Titania Palast, said to have been the favorite music hall of Emmy Georing, before her marriage to Fatso and while she was playing the circuit as one of the stage favorite of pre-war Germany. It is a huge hall, now run by the Special Services Division, and it was filled to capacity with folks of all the Allied nationalities, mainly in uniform. I was struck by the predominant number of enlisted men of all apparent types of background. The concert was delightful, the music played with complete sympathy and understanding by an orchestra of about 75, led by a young chap with a Russian name, clad in a very shabby full dress suit. And in the intermission I stepped out of that atmosphere onto the street, and was immediately thrown back into the characteristic Berlin scene, – rubble, grotesque and mis-shapen walls and sightless windows on which the wan new moon shone cheerlessly. An occasional light in a window in the ruins gave evidence to the fact that a family had made a room or two barely habitable and was trying to build a new home out of all of the distruction and disorder. There is so much that is beautiful and delightful – and so much that is completely heartbreaking in our life and surroundings here. None who has ever seen these things, and the old women in tatters trudging home with huge bags or ruck sacks on their backs filled with twigs and other firewood which they have picked up in the streets or woods, the rickety wagons, drawn by emaciated horses, with a dining room dresser, a couple of chairs, and a disconsolate family, – the aftermath of war, could ever to anything to help start another one, or be anything but horrified by the thought of such a world catastrophe.
Last weekend was a delightful one. Saturday afternoon, George, Tommy (Lt. Thomas), and I took the Personnel Office car (a 1937 Mercedes Benz) and Ludwig, our chauffeur, drove us down to Wannsee. It was warm and sunny – about the first real spring day we have had, and we drove for several miles up and down the shores of that beautiful lake. Much of its banks are left without development, part of the extensive park system and nationalized forests, but there are also extensive areas where the shores are lined with high class residences, many now occupied by Germans and Americans, but many simply gutted hulks. We left the car at several points and strolled along the shore, through yards of graceful boats, lying idle and going to pieces on their props, past the ruins of yacht clubs, now prone and blackened, but each with its huge pile of empty wine and liquor bottles, mute evidence of the joie de vivre which used to rule in their halls. That evening was given up to the customary dance at Harnack Haus, following which I saw Jen home – and spent the night on the couch in her living room, for dark streets, lack of late night (or early morning) transportation, and the constant danger on the streets at night, lead to the development of conventions quite different from those in the States. We were up early, breakfasted at Hittorhaus, one of the officers’ messes, then walked a mile and a half to In der Halde 7, arriving just in time (as planned) to join George and Harold in another breakfast. We walked much of the morning and in the early afternoon took the bus to Wannsee for a further hike. At one of the boat yards we ran into Bill (Lt. Col.) Woolley, one of my friends and business associates, and he, his girl, Jen and I persuaded the Army lieutenant in charge of the army patrol boats to take us out for an hour’s motor boat ride on the lake. It was gorgeous, skimming along with the spray in our faces and the love of living in our hearts, as we covered practically all of the American and part of the British portion of the Lake. The larger lake, Grosser Wannsee, is too rough for safe small boating and the Americans were not permitted to venture out, but a lot of small German craft were on the water, sailing canoes, foldboaten, etc.
The present weekend has also been fun. Yesterday was Army Day and we all gathered on the grounds of the Berliner Hockey Club for a review of the troops and a very fortuitous speech by General Clay, head of OMGUS and Deputy Commanding General of the U. S. Forces, European Theater. Then, by prearrangement, I was picked up in a one star car by General Mead, director of our Internal Affairs and Communications Division, Col. Sam Brentnall, his deputy, and Major Joe Sachtel, of the I.A.& C. Secretariat. We drove out to the home of the General and Colonel at Wannsee, a palatial home formerly occupied by Hartmann, big German pencil manufacturer. There we four played real knock down, drag out bridge from noon to after six o’clock, interrupted only by a very delicious lunch in the formal dining room of the mansion. They were excellent company and it was on-your-toes bridge from start to finish, with Joe and me triumphing for a total win of five marks each, about as close as one could wish it, at a tenth of a cent a point. They would have played on, far into the evening, but I had to excuse myself to keep an appointment with Jen and the bunch for dinner and the dance. This time we brought Jen to our home, where she reposed in our only guest room – the former maid’s room, half way up the front stairs from first to second story. Nine thirty breakfast, then the walk already referred to – and we’re back where we came in. The warmer days are bringing a broadening of our daytime recreational opportunities and week ends are coming into their own. Wally Dietz bought a sail boat yesterday – practically stole it, as a matter of fact. It is a 21 foot yawl, open cockpit, and it is being put into tip top shape by its former owner, new sails and cordage, a paint job, etc. And Wally paid all of 3,000 marks for it, – $300 equivalent, or, in the black market, two and a half cartons of American cigarettes. We had an amusing half hour last evening proposing names for it, but arrived at no accepted title. I was planning to go sailing all day to-day with Bill Woolley, but the prohibition is still on and no American boats are out on the lake.
This is a rambling, inconsequential sort of a letter, and it probably leaves you with nothing but a slight picture of our life and doings. But even that has some interest to you, I’m sure. I have my own typewriter again, evidence that my water-borne baggage has arrived at long last, but in horrible condition. My Voitlander camera is broken, some of my developing equipment is smashed, and the foot locker, which was apparently allowed to stand in a pool of water before it left the States, arrived with everything in it soaked, stained and mildewed. But most of the stuff is salvageable, although much of it will never be the same as before, and the loss is not too great. The worst damage was to my dark brown gabardine civilian suit, the only one I brought with me. But Else has washed it and now it looks as though I may be able to use it. – Best regards to you all, I’ll visit with you again son. ‘Bye now. Dad-