Letters from West Berlin, Part 3, by Kitty Kroger. October and November 1966: Hitchhiking, Trip to Paris, and Talking with a Student from Hanoi

13 Jul

Berlin.Kitty.East.1967In the summer of 1966 upon graduating from Colorado College, a friend had arranged a summer  job for me in a youth hostel on Sylt, a German island  in the North Sea off the coast of Hamburg. After two months, I left by train to see a bit more of Europe before returning to the U.S. My first stop was West Berlin. Maybe I thought the divided city would be especially interesting, or was it just the first place on my route?

Whatever the reason, I ended up living there for four years. Following is the third of a series of selections from detailed letters to my parents during that time. As you will see, over time I was altered by my experiences in 1960s West Berlin and ended up a different person from the politically naive girl who first arrived there.

THIRD IN A SERIES
October 1966

Berlin 1966 Oktober

Dear Mom and Dad,

I wanted to tell you about my trip through Austria. I hitched about half of the trip alone and never had any problems but I got sort of tired of rejecting invitations to go out dancing with truck drivers, to drive through the Alps with 45-year-old travelling salesmen. But I did get some interesting rides with a foreign correspondent for French newspapers, with one of the inspectors of the German Starfighters, with an ex-SS soldier, and with a Viennese war refugee. When I hitched with other people, the rides were sometimes even better. A Dutch couple bought me and my two hitching mates from English and Australia each $1.25 bus tickets to Hitler’s tea house high in the mountains above Berchtesgaden.

Berlin.BerchtesGaden.commons.wikimedia.orgimages

An Italian businessman picked up Dave and me in S. Austria. We communicated in grunts and gestures the whole way. He had a flat tire. Once Dave and I stopped to buy bread and cheese for lunch, and the grocer insisted on giving us a partial tour of the town and on driving us right to the door of the youth hostel. His son and family lived in America and he was so proud of it.

Another time a Persian guy and I just happened to be hitching on the same stretch when a truck stopped and picked us up. The Persian spoke almost no German and although he spoke English, he understood almost nothing. Besides that the truck made so much noise you couldn’t hear anyway. But our truck driver insisted on speaking to us, which required a tremendous use of gestures because of the noise and all. Several times the truck almost ran off the road, and then from time to time the driver would take a swig of some brown liquid from a brown bottle. He kept calling it Kaffee, but the Persian and I arrived unanimously at the conclusion that the Kaffee smelled strongly of beer. In addition to all that, the man kept saying things like “I’m a Russian really,” and “Goldwater gut, Hitler gut—both strong, not wishy-washy.” In the face of all this, the Persian kept trying to convince me to spend the night with him instead of hitching on to Berlin right away. And I don’t think he got the message that I had no intention of “taking advantage” of his hospitality. At any rate he kept repeating the invitation every five minutes, and by the end of the trip I was a nervous wreck.

I think I had the best experience in Salzburg.

Berlin.Salzberg, Austria

The city is small (100,000 approximately) and reeks with atmosphere. One night my English and Australian friends and I went to a large café for dinner. There was an Austrian six-piece orchestra that played Straus waltzes and Austrian folk music. At our table sat a very distinguished looking elderly Austrian gentleman, with his glass of Schnaps (German for schnapps—hard liquor), and his Wiener Schnitzel. From time to time he would sing to the music in a beautiful baritone. When dinner came the English and Australian guys started to show me how to eat European style, and although the Austrian had been oblivious to us up to then, he couldn’t resist showing me the only really correct way to eat, the Austrian way, which consists of holding the fork in the left hand, stabbing a piece of Wurst (sausage) with it, and shoveling sauerkraut and potatoes onto your fork with your knife, then stuffing the whole mixture into your mouth. Another night in Salzberg, we all went to a pub for dinner—about ten of us from the youth hostel. A group of young Austrian workers were sitting at another table. They started to sing, we started to sing, and we took turns singing English folksongs and Austrian ones. Finally, they all came over and sat with us and someone started playing an accordion, and we danced the polka and kept drinking more beer. Of course we had to all head back to the hostel for 10 pm curfew.

Classes at the Technical University (T.U.) have started. I’ve attended two so far.

Two nights ago I went out dancing with Howard. First we walked about three hours around Kreuzberg looking at the architecture. We wandered down to Stuttgarter Platz, a cheap striptease section of town, with streetwalkers standing in front of every door. Every bar looks the same. The outsides are plastered with pictures of strippers and the façade is always black tile with a thick curtain hanging before the door. You walk in and there’s a jukebox and a screen for the filmstrips (literally film strips). We chose one with good beat music, talked the manager down to half-price for our drinks, and danced and talked for about three hours. It was 6 am when I finally got home. I slept until 3:30 pm the next day. What a depraved life!

My room is cold—perhaps I’m not using enough coal. But I think the coal oven is not very efficient. Anyway, the coal is costing a lot more than the DM 9 a month which my landlady assured me.

 

November 7, 1966

Last night after spending my morning at a lecture on T.S. Eliot and my afternoon in the American-German library reading plays, I went to the jazz concert to get a ticket at the last minute and I met friends there; afterwards we went to an all-night jazz party, where all the entertainers jammed. Dave Brubeck, Astrud Gilberto, bossa nova, the Kuhn brothers quartet. It’s rather ironic coming to Berlin to hear fantastic American jazz. We all bought a hot Wurst (fried hotdog) for breakfast and went to the end of another party, then headed home after driving around Berlin in the dawn to look at architecture again. Got in at about 9 am and slept till 1 pm.

The courses I’m auditing are French, literature, art, German. Last week I saw No Exit by Sartre. I heard a lecture at Amerikahaus in German on “Why Foreign Aid?” I talked about Vietnam with a Persian student. I met an Austrian man whom I had coffee with; we had this wild conversation about beauty and character in people. I didn’t really understand what he was trying to express, but it was interesting anyway.

[The Amerika Haus Berlin is an institution that was developed following the end of the Second World War to provide an opportunity for German citizens to learn more about American culture and politics. (Source: Wikipedia)]

Postcard of Brandenburg Tor, Friday, November 10, 1966

Dear Family,

I’m off to Paris for ten days. Leave at noon on a bus with eight other students from the T.U. Back the 20th. Whole trip including food and room only DM80 ($20). It’s part of an exchange trip with students from Paris. We’ll stay in a dorm at the university of Paris.

Went to East Berlin yesterday to get a visa for the zone transit. Saw a great ancient Near East museum there called the Pergammon. Sculpture, ceramics, sarcophagi from 2000 B.C. Berlin has so much to offer.

 

Berlin, November 20, 1966

Dear Family,

Now to tell you some about my Paris trip. We visited a Renault factory, where two models were completely assembled before our eyes in our two-hour visit there. Much of the work was done by people rather than machines, and I was told that in America machines do much more of the work.

I met Vietnamese students, one from Hanoi, who I talked with a long time. His jacket came directly from Hanoi and had the label in. He said there is no North and South Vietnam, there is only Vietnam. But the Americans are the invaders for economic interests of their own. That the South Vietnam government is only a puppet of America, to whom America can dictate, and that much of the fighting goes on in South Vietnam itself by South Vietnam people against the puppet government and the foreign imperialists, which is, I’m afraid, just exactly what we are. And I’m ashamed. The more I hear about America’s foreign policy, the more depressed I get. But it’s difficult to know, after a while, just what Truth is, Right is. American is protecting her economic interests in Vietnam and elsewhere in this world—is this wrong? And yet can this be right when thousands of innocent people are massacred and when our own soldiers go to Vietnam thinking they are fighting and dying for peace and freedom? this is another of those complex issues which frustrate me so completely.

Kitty

Advertisements

4 Responses to “Letters from West Berlin, Part 3, by Kitty Kroger. October and November 1966: Hitchhiking, Trip to Paris, and Talking with a Student from Hanoi”

  1. riamanetta January 30, 2016 at 8:37 pm #

    MOST INTERESTING …. please keep me in the ‘loop’ 🙂 >

    • Kitty Kroger February 3, 2016 at 4:50 pm #

      Will do!

  2. Iris Nathalia Edinger February 3, 2016 at 12:03 pm #

    Kitty, And to think I thought I had an adventurous youth hitching all around Europe in 1952 at age 23! Actually, Eddie and I were in Berlin in 1960 for a few days – before the Wall was built. I was amazed that East Germans didn’t all get on the subway and go to West Berlin. I promise myself I’ll get busy and write up some of my experiences, but never seem to get to it. I’ll try to forward you a note from the Los Angeles Review of Books about a new book by Darryl Pinckney about his experiences in Berlin. We saw an excellent production of “Caberet” at our our local Pierce College last year. I also recommend highly a book I just picked up at the library. It is by Jennifer Teege and is called “MY Grandfather Would Have Shot Me.” Sincerely, Iris

    • Kitty Kroger February 3, 2016 at 4:49 pm #

      I hope you get to write them up. They would be a good companion piece to my story. Please do forward me the information on the books. Perhaps you can put it in this comment section.
      Also, what is the second book that you mention about?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: