11 Bachstelzenweg, Dahlem, Berlin, Germany.
27 October 1946.
This Sunday started off with a blaze of sunshine, albeit cold, but quickly clouded over and it has been raw and a bit unpleasant ever since. Now, at twenty minutes before five it has started to get dark, and in another hour will have reached the proportions of full night. It is the less enjoyable time of year in Berlin. The pond in the park through which we walk to go to the office and where Ahyaks gets most of his exercise is frozen over about an inch and a half thick. When we walk it is brisk exercise. I find that, after getting accustomed to army uniform clothing, with heavy shirts and all, that my civilian clothing, which has always amply served its purpose in the U. S., is a bit inadequate. I’m very glad I have my big heavy overcoat available when I shall be needing it, although I’m holding off as long as possible, awaiting the arrival of real biting cold, of which they say Berlin has its share.
It has been one of the typically relaxing Sundays, without which we’d be lost after the strain of the week – and, I must admit, usually of the preceding evening, although I was very temperate last evening, spending most of my time reading the weekly digest of news, culled from the Stateside newspapers, telling of what is going on in the various occupied areas of Europe and Japan. And as I read the vomitings of the Fourth Estate I marvel that anyone on your side of the water can develop any coherent ideas and opinions of the status over here, what with the curious blend of facts, half truths, misinformation, and emotional opinion. Tough as the situation is, it is not nearly as bad as our news sheets, always looking for the sensational, dish out to you. By prearrangement John was not here for breakfast, so I arranged last evening to send a taxi for Maja and we two brunched together at ten o’clock, – grapefruit juice, prunes (which she loves as much as I do), griddle cakes, syrup and bacon, and plenty of authoritative coffee, steaming hot, to fill in the chinks. Not a bad meal, but it makes me feel a bit guilty when I think of the Germans and their near starvation diet.
We spent the balance of the morning looking over the crayon sketches and water color paintings of Herr Bley, the architect-artist friend I met at Frau Hoch’s. He left them here last Thursday evening when he and his delightful wife were at dinner with me, – they, Maja, John and Ruth Something-or-other, a charming German girl whom John admires (as do I also). I’m planning to buy some of them, a rare memory of my year in Germany. He was a German combat artist, with the army. The black and white crayon sketches are all military, the watercolors scenic, which he did in Crete, north Africa with Rommel’s Afrika Korps, Italy, the Balkans, Russia and France. Technically and artistically they are tops, and should be of considerably value considering what they are. If I can get them, I shall consider them the most valuable souvenirs I shall have of my European exposure. They really form a museum collection. Maja left about one to have dinner with friends and I’ve been reading, writing, dozing and walking until now I’m about to have my abendessen in lonely grandeur, for John won’t be here, although Ahyaks and I plan to spend the evening with him at his billet. It looks now as though his family will arrive about the second week in November, delayed a couple of months by the shipping strike.
I had an amusing time last Sunday. The average German mind is not flexible nor is it receptive to changes. When I came here to Bachstelzenweg 11 I found certain well established customs, installed by Erika, I suspect, and tolerated by the then occupants. Hans and Erika ate with the Americans – definitely against military government policy. Meals were thrown at us, – soup, meat, vegetables, dessert all on the table when we sat down – and usually cold, at that. And so things went. I’ve been conducting a slow and gentle (as possible) revolution and it has not always been accepted by the powers that be below stairs with full cooperation. The living room was horribly arranged, and last Sunday I took it on myself to completely alter it. You would be amazed at the difference it makes in the big room (18’ x 36’). But every move made tore the heart strings of my German friends and there was an ominous distance between us for several days. However, now they admit they like the change, after living with it for a week and all is again sunlight and happiness. I’ve also demanded meal service and hot courses, served in proper sequence. You would have laughed to see the boiled potatoes issue we had. John and I used to shudder each evening to see a huge pile of those unsavory articles adorning the center of the table. We delicately hinted that we’d like to have them mashed or fried once in awhile. So we got boiled potatoes. Finally, for two successive evenings we just put them aside without disturbing the architectural symmetry of the dish. Thereafter we got pan friend potatoes every night and it was necessary to call a halt on them. Eventually we were able to strike a norm, but oh, what a struggle! Americans who haven’t been exposed to the German mind just can’t comprehend what an amazingly one track affair it is. It is easier to understand the success of the National Socialist movement when you study their psychological approach and know the ground in which the seed is nourished.
Cocktail parties are getting to be a racket in our social colony. Two or three a week, invitations mimeographed and always original – usually the excuse, if such is needed, is a birthday, the redeployment of personnel or the raise in rank of one or more of one’s officer friends. They are usually from 6 to 8, which means missing dinner, but with a plethora of attractive hors d’oeuvres which take its place, plenty of a variety of drinks from straight poison to French 75s or punch, and always a stringed orchestra. I took two in my stride last week (as usual) but this past week took in one and passed up two. And often they are followed by another party, planned or impromptu, which lasts far into the night. If they are on Wednesday or Saturday the whole gang ends up at the formal dance at Harnack House. I long for the simple social life of Alexandria, where parties were usually limited to Saturday evening.
Monday morning in the office – and I’m in the pink – despite the lowering sky and raw atmosphere outside. But poor Dotty had a rough weekend, helping four of her army friends celebrate their early redeployment and departure for the States. I’ll have to keep her busy to get her through the day. This Berlin!!
Still not much dark room work – waiting for supplies. I wired Willoughby’s the middle of September to send me the rest of my order of 12 July first class mail. They shipped it parcel post on Sept 26, and it is still en route, while a huge package Burt sent me on 17 October took but a week to come through 1st class. I’m afraid that I won’t get much done if I come home at the end of my contract for I plan to spend two (possibly three) weeks in travel leave. It’s a bit disappointing, but at least I have my films and can print them when I get home if needs be.
I suppose the days in the Garrison household continue busy and, in the main, happy and that all is going well. By the way, Rog, did you ever get on the mailing list of “Heute”, about which I wrote some time ago? I have an idea that the chap who promised to send it to you never did anything about it.
Now to work – all my love and best wishes to you four who mean so much to me –