While the blog is called “Brush off the dust!” and I evoke the image of treasure hunting through the grandparents’ attic, I have never had the opportunity to crawl through any of my own grandparents’ attics. In fact, I am pretty certain Mom’s parents did not have an attic in either of the houses I visited. Dad’s family lives in Germany, so my opportunities to go attic-spelunking in Deutschland have been relatively few. (For the record, I envy those of you whose matriarchs and patriarchs own attics.)
Conveniently enough, for me, my grandmother sent some small portion of her “attic”-worthy belongings my way when she made the decision to downsize earlier this summer. (What treasures!) Among these are included English-language relics of post-war Germany.
Grandpa was already an Army officer when the U.S. entered World War II, having signed up in Wyoming back in the 1920s. While he did not actually see any fighting action as a logistics officer, he was in France behind the front lines, negotiating for lodging and food for the reconquest of France and Germany. After the war, in 1949, he was stationed there, in Würzburg. So, in my possession are several German publications, three of which I want to share, here.
One of the things I received among my Grandma’s treasures were Grandpa’s 1943, U.S. War Department-issued, introductory German language guide (TM 30-306). Being reasonably competent in German, myself, I find this little booklet rather absurd and amusing. (Pity the poor American sergeant who relied upon this guide to make his way!) One particularly interesting aspect I noted is the pronunciation of the German -ich, the most important of which is the nominative, first person singular, Ich, which is described as “ish.” I don’t know if it was done like this because the actual pronunciation is difficult to describe in text to English-speakers, if it was accidental because the writers of the guide were from Berlin, or learned from German-speakers speaking in the Berlin dialect, or if it was intentional that Americans should speak as Germans from the German capital. Regardless, the guide must have produced thousands of ludicrous moments between awkward-speaking American soldiers and the beleaguered Germans.
Berlin was divided into four zones, just as the rest of Germany was, following the Allied defeat of the Nazis: the American, French, British and Soviet sectors. Relations with WWII-ally Soviet Russia began to deteriorate quickly as the Second World War ended and the Cold War began. This was dramatically played out in Berlin as the Soviets tried to starve the West out of West Berlin, leading to the dramatic Berlin Airlift. (For a great synopsis of Berlin in 1948-9, click here to see this segment of CNN’s Cold War series, Episode 4.)
In 1950, right after the blockade had been broken with the Airlift, my Grandma’s Women’s Club got permission to travel through the Soviet sector and visit Berlin. As a result of the blockade being broken, the Soviets allowed periodic visits across their zone capping the numbers per month. I have an English language brochure about Berlin that was printed by Graphische Gesellschaft Grunewald, “issued by the ‘Official Travel Office’ [sic] of the City of Berlin.” This answers questions such as, “How do I get to Berlin?” (“The time has passed when it was complicated and inconvenient to make arrangements for a visit to Berlin. Today there are excellent air and road services to Berlin. There is no difference between arranging a trip to Berlin and travelling in the Western zones. However if travelling by car or railway a Russian visa must be obtained from a Soviet Consulate prior to departure in order that you can cross the Soviet zone.”) “By what means shall I travel?” (“Air travel is by far the fastest and least complicated method of reaching Berlin. In this case a Russian visa need not be obtained.”) “What currency is used in Berlin?” (“The currency used in the three Western Sectors of Berlin is the same as in Western Germany, namely the German West Mark (DMW). In the Soviet Sector of Berlin the currency used is the German East Mark. It should be borne in mind that it is not permitted to have West Marks in one’s possession when visiting the Soviet Sector or Zone.”) And, so on. The “Official Travel Office,” or Verkerhrsamt, was located on Fasanenstrasse at Berlin-Charlottenburg in the Western zone. The brochures placid answers and matter-of-routine tone fail to mask the sinister reality of East Berlin and Soviet-controlled East Germany: anything “not permitted,” especially something so simple as having foreign currency, should not feel so ominous!
For this trip, busing Army wives through East Germany to Berlin, the Special Services issued a tour booklet: Special Services Tour of Berlin, 1950. (It was compiled by Viviane W. Adams of the Berlin Military Post.) The booklet covers historic German landmarks, some former Nazi landmarks (such as the SS and Gestapo Headquarters) and other tourist sites–many of them still in ruins from the bombing.
If I have the opportunity, I will need to ply Grandma for more information and stories (maybe photographs!) about the trip. I know she recently relayed to Mom that a friend of hers wanted to see the airport where the Airlift had taken place on this trip and they were able to go right up to it and take pictures. I hope Grandma took pictures, too! Back to the “attic” I’ll go!