Circular Letter #6
Im Dol 63, Berlin, Germany.
Sunday morning, 28 April 1946
Just in this morning from three days in Frankfurt and Wiesbaden, – beautiful Spring days, warm on the back but with just a touch of authority in those spots which the sun cannot reach. Frankfurt is perhaps a couple of weeks more advanced than Berlin. Trees are mostly in full leaf, horse chestnut trees, lilacs, and fruit trees are in gorgeous bloom, gardens are giving a promise of a harvest and the early plants are already yielding their products, – rhubarb, lettuce and early greens. The countryside is grippingly beautiful, yet I cannot say “Where every prospect pleases and only man is vile”, for man – generations of men – have taken a willing nature and moulded the Germany of fertile fields, broad pine forests, and charming little farming towns of white plaster, half timber and red tile roofs, and there is nothing evil in the result. Nowhere, except where war has left its scars, is there the raw, unfinished look which accompanies America’s beauty in so many spots.
I must tell you of impressions I gathered last Friday evening, standing in front of the Carlton Hotel in Franfurt, my favorite Caravanserie in the E.T. It had been a beautiful day and the long, deep evening shadows of the ruined Hauptbahnhof (the main railway station) were cast half way across the Station Square in front of me. Around the crescent facing the Station the once dignified facades leered at me with empty eyes, for the roofs are all open to the skies and the spirit of devastation rules in the once living buildings. In the block next to the hotel is the Red Cross Canteen in the old Schumann Theatre, made temporarily habitable for the comfort of the invaders. On the balcony of the Canteen overlooking the Square a dozen G.Is. sit and ogle the Fräuleins passing consciously below.
The platforms of the trolley stop in the middle of the Square are black with people, mainly homewardbound German workers patiently awaiting the coming of their particular trolley train, for the cars here run in chains of two and three, – white, ugly cars with awkward looking pantographs reaching Heavenward to the wires overhead. The severely pruned trees in the Square surrounding the reflecting pool are tentatively suggesting their coming greenness, and two huge, ornate cast-iron lamp standards, rearing sixty feet from the pavement below, completely dominate the picture.
The passing scene is interesting and varied. Supplementing the steady stream of trolley cars an unending flow of vehicles passes the Carlton’s door, – jeeps, civilian motor pool cars, many converted to charcoal burning, Army trucks of a hundred kinds, and huge Diesel-powered German tractors and trailers, an occasional Ford, Chevrolet or Plymouth, a Mercedes-Benz or an Opal, thrifty Germans on motorcycles or bicycles, often with a standard type, two wheel trailer bouncing along behind. The jeeps predominate, dull olive green with the large white star signifying Army ownership, bright green, or the white of the Military Police cars. Most of them are titled by their adoring masters, – Texas Aggie, Jersey Bounce, Fifi – and one just passed carrying the appealing sales line “Schlaffen Sie mit mir, Fräulein”. One M.P. jeep clatters past surmounted by three M.Ps., a French Territorial – and a flaxen haired Fräulein. Each car is different and all are interesting.
A comparable flow of pedestrians streams by on the sidewalk, – two British aviators in their slate blue uniforms and with garrison caps cocked over one eye as only a Britisher can wear them, an American chicken colonel with four rows of fruit salad on his left breast, an Allied National USFET girl – British, Canadian, Belgian, French, Polish, Luxembourgian or what have you, on his left arm, and a silver mounted swagger stick jauntily tucked under his right armpit, a German civilian, ex-Wehrmacht in his black-dyed uniform, trousers tucked into calf-high cowhide boots, and the ubiquitous rucksack hanging behind from his shoulders, two bold eyed Fräuleins, with cork soled wedgies, amazingly short tight skirts, pony coats and high French coiffures, invitingly but silently appealing to every American as they pass, hoping to find a comfortable bed and a pack of cigarettes (black market value 150 marks) in repayment for an evening’s effort, a couple of small boys who hang around in front of me awaiting the moment when I shall toss away my cigarette butt – for these have real sale value in Germany, American civilian employees (male and female) of U. S. Military Government, Red Cross girls in skirts or slacks, UNRRA workers of many nationalities, a Merchant Marine Lieutenant who has strayed a long way from the sea, – the line is endless in its numbers and its variety and the roles played by the actors are legion. This, my friends, is Frankfurt of an April evening in the year of our Lord 1946.
The companions for whom I have been waiting, Lt. Col (Luck) Luckenback and Capt. Nancy Gossard, do not appear, probably tied up with some USFET associates out at the I. G. Farben Building, now USFET Headquarters, and are dining at the Casino (comparable to our Berlin Harnack Haus), so I enter the Speisesaal alone for an excellent meal of vegetable soup, lamb chop, f. f. Potatoes, peas, lettuce and sliced orange salad, ice cream and coffee. It is the first lettuce and lamb chop I have seen in the European Theatre, so the evening is momentous. The six piece orchestra does its best to make you forget – a first violin, second violin, ‘cello, bass viol (bowed, not slapped), piano and accordion. No faint suggestion of saxophone or traps, God be praised. We listen to Strauss, Schubert, Mozart – and occasionally an American number, anti-1938, for that was when the little Austrian paper hanger outlawed foreign productions, whether they be music, graphic art or drama. I loll through my meal, made doubly pleasant by three seidels of passably good local beer, pay my check totaling 5 marks and come up to my bedroom, cost – for free. The room overlooks the Station Square and has an excellent attached bath which I share communally with two other rooms. They offer me everything,- well, almost everything, which I could get at the New Willard or the Hotel Astor, thanks to the excellent repair and restoration work of the U.S.Forces.
It is 6,000 miles from America, and one can never forget it, – devastation ever going hand in hand with luxury and beauty, pathos and bathos inextricably mixed in every sight and experience. Post-war Germany, against which you harden your heart – and for which your heart cannot but cry out in passionate sympathy – the most completely emotion-provoking spot I have ever visited. ****** I don’t feel that my suggestion of the picture has been in the least degree successful, for this is something which one must see and experience personally in order to visualize its amazing qualities. I glance from my hotel bedroom again at the view before me. Front walls torn off, concrete floors hanging like curtains from the tiled or painted walls behind, crazy piping and a radiator or two silhouetted against the evening sky, – and a row of toilets standing with grim precision against a wall four stories above the pavement – and with no floor beneath them to permit them to serve their destined purpose. No, what I have set down is just a suggestion, a facet of the stage setting in which we are trying to play our parts, if I may be allowed to mix my metaphors.
I’ve moved my billet. Since Joe Henderson went home Heath Onthank, my delightful Boss, has been living alone. The shop at In der Halde 7 has broken up, for George is already occupying the new billet which has been given him for his large family, so when Heath suggested that I move over with him I was glad to respond. He is a grand chap and the billet is tops, just two blocks from my former residence and three doors from the little home of Herr and Frau Schaefer, where I spent two cold weeks. Heath goes home in a very few weeks, unfortunately, and I have no idea what will happen to me then, but I’m gathering rosebuds while I may and enjoying them to the full. It is after dinner now and we have been having rather a hilarious time in the back yard. Frau Edith Pieper, our hausfrau, stocky and solid, mother of two youngsters who live with friends a short distance away, is a former dancing teacher and a robust ball of muscle. She has been doing some steps, barefoot, out in the yard, before our cameras, and ended with a swim in the rather cold water of our private outdoor swimming pool, filled while I was on my Frankfurt TDY. Ho hum, as I said before, this is 6,000 miles from America.
Best regards to you all. I’m trying to get some personal letters written but there is so much to do and so little time in which to accomplish anything. I hope you will all continue to be enormously patient.