Berlin, Dahlem, Bachstelzenweg 11,
3 October 1946.
Dear Family: That’s the way the German addresses his letters – first the city, then the town or borough, then the street and lastly the number. Read it backward and that’s the way we do it. Are we verucht or are they – I’m beginning to wonder. We say, over here, “think out the logical way to do a thing and then discard it, and you have solved the German’s line of thought. (Incidentally, that goes for the Army too, God bless it.) But it is amazing how completely their minds have been regimented – twenty five years? it will take three generations to get them thinking along independent, individual ways. They are so completely regimented that it is no longer a joke for those of us who have to abide by their ways. We have boiled kartofeln seven days in the week. We suggest that we would like fried kartofeln for a change. So we have fried kartofeln for one evening, then a week of kartofeln boiled. So we set them aside, untouched – and we’ve so completely bewildered them that we haven’t had potatoes since. I deliberately rearrange the things, minor nick-nacks, in my room – the next day they are back where the German mind believes they belong. I move them again, and the game goes on. Eventually they get the idea – and then Hell or high water won’t get them to deviate from the new order. An amazing race, no wonder they accepted National Socialism, once it was forced into their collective craniums. That, in a nutshell, is the big problem of Military Government in Germany in this year of grace 1946. And, in a fa— how do you spell facetious, anyway, mood to-night. (It doesn’t make sense, so what?)
It has been a she dog of a day, and I got just a bit boiled before friend John showed up for dinner. He was the same, so we had a couple of drinks together, ate dinner to the tune of Erika’s kidding (she has a bad sinus attack and is ultra ultra as a result. Then we played a few hands of solitaire to see whether we were lucky at cards or love.) We were both unlucky at cards —- so we separated, each to our lonely billet to pass a quiet but bracing night. Such is Berlin in the middle of the week.
Golly, I wonder how long I can take this rat race.
Nevertheless and notwithstanding, it was a swell birthday. First came a letter from Jimmy – she never lets me down. I got through breakfast and to the office with no one the wiser. But there I found my desk completely covered with golden zinnias, a sweet, hand painted birthday card and a little gift from one of my German girls, Ursula Tüpelmann. In the middle of the morning George wished me a happy birthday and admitted that Mrs Tüpelmann had told him. At lunch – with the Sarles – they gave me the same greeting – and I wondered how the grim news had spread. And about three a sweet letter arrived from the Ade, which was a distinct ray of sunshine for me. Along about four, Kay Lynam, the boss’s secretary, dropped in and told me I was wanted in the front office. I went – and found forty or fifty of the staff gathered around the biggest and loveliest birthday cake I have ever seen, with “Happy Birthday, Art”, inscribed on the center. I was completely overcome, but still had the wit to kiss all of the girls present (I’d been wanting to do it to a number of them for some time). It was a grand party, the cake went all around, to the last piece, and I left the party with a real glow and a feeling that, no matter where you are, you can still surround yourself with good friends. It seems that Mrs. Tüpelmann had told my Dotty, Dotty had arranged for the cake and gotten up the party – and there you are. To the Germans “Geburtstag” is the most important day of the year, with the possible exception of Weinachtstag, and they make a great fuss over it. There are some things about this Krautland which really get under your skin.
Well, I came home to a quiet dinner – and found that John had arranged for company (Capt. Brander, about whom I believe I haven’t spoken before). We had Martinis, with Erika, then a good dinner with singing and festivity, while Hans and Hilda came upstairs to wish me well. While at dinner the Sarles invited us all over for the evening, but, as John had previously arranged plans, I went alone and had a quiet but very pleasant evening with old friends. Then home, threading my way through the Stygian streets with Ahyaks in the lead, to your cable. And, the following morning, Hildagarde, my German who is on vacation, stopped in at the billet and left me a lovely bunch of carnations, with a pictorial card and touching greetings. —- At thirty eight, which they decided at the office party I must be, one gets a genuine glow out of that sort of thing, and it goes a long way to dissipate heimweh and make one feel that, wherever one is, he is still among friends. And so I repeat, it was a swell birthday.
Mr. Trier, my new billet mate has just been spending about an hour talking “sealing wax, and cabbages and kings” with me. He is most interesting, German born, understanding them more completely than most of us, and considerably less tolerant of them than are those of us who may know less than he of what it is all about. I wish you might have had a record of the conversation.
The rat race in the office continues, and still we don’t know where we are headed. Last Saturday, without one minute of warning we were all ousted from our offices and crammed into impossibly small quarters in order that the part of the office which had been across the street could commingle more closely with us – a consummation devoutly to be desired, but not at the cost which we had to pay. We are all most unhappy about it. I’m jammed into one small office now, 8’ x 16’, myself, Dotty, and the two Germans, with all of our desks and files – and to-morrow my assistant regulation and procedures gal, for whom I’ve been waiting since April, arrives. God only knows where I’m going to put her. The situation is rapidly becoming completely intolerable, but nobody yet knows what the answer will be. My business days are completely hectic – I’ve never seen anything like it before, and I earnestly hope that I can get into some other shop before the deluge.
Gotta take Ahyaks out for his evening walk now and then get some surcease pending the arrival of the morrow. Best wishes, good people, and for Pete’s sake drop me a line.
I think you’d enjoy the program of the show we saw last week, the Sarles, the Vadneys, little Jane Griswold and I. It was completely uproarious – an originally broad play with wonderful opportunities for snappy cracks, brought up to date, topicalized to fit into the Berlin picture and enlivened with G.I. humor of a sort which would never have passed the Broadway or Hayes censor. But, seriously, it gives you a picture, especially in the history of the OMGUS Little Theatre, of how hard everyone has worked here to build a society and civilization such as we have known in the States, even under the most discouraging handicaps. Incidentally, the show was beautifully staged, costumed and played. And Sapiens, the leading man – the Warrior’s Husband, completely stole the show – a nineteen year old Pfc who has prior to his induction a professional dancer. It’s just one of those memories which will always stick with me.