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West Berlin, February 1967 (A Poem), by Kitty Kroger

2 Aug

A wooden spoon

an alarm clock

rumpled sheets

dirty white tennis shoes

water color paints waiting to be used

books on the desk lining the wall waiting to be read

blue-red blaurot

blau rot


French stamps torn from the corners of envelopes to send home to Dad

little black notebooks with French lessons, art history lectures, ideas, lists of books to read, quotes once enjoyed waiting to live again, waiting to breathe again

posters of Austria (Österreich), of art exhibits, of George Gruntz’ “Jazz-Goes-Baroque”

sneezes—two in a row—Gesundheit…Danke schön…Bitte bitte….

apples in a white porcelain dish…an efficient bookend until you eat one too many

striped turtleneck t-shirt, wide green and blue stripes

Color! maroon and orange and deep green and turquoise. Life!

Poems of Yeats nailed to the wall

coke bottles and a quarter bottle of wine and Apfelsaft and milk bottles lining the top of the closet of the Schrank wherein poor dad oh dad is not

dreams of intellectuality and of beauty

letters from Faye full of impressionism, from Christy with exuberance, from Buck with sober hopelessness and nohumorness, from parents with concern and catalog of relatives, from Rolf with “it’s over”-ness, from Donna with Kittyness

Disorder in Order or vice vversa

picture of Rolf with a cigarette drooping fro his sulky upper lip…melting eyes, offering up a Ringo- Tamborine

constant ticking away of the seconds

Allen Ginsberg—Kaddisch

Fontane’s Effi Briest

music from Radio Berlin

Parisian Lafayette gift wrapping paper pinned to the wall: striped elephants and clowns and drummers and paisley monkeys and a big orange lion

and isolation that matters in the best sense

and every range of feeling except boredom

and black light switches and brass door handles and wallpaper; non-offensive stripes of pale-gray-on-cream sea.

white paper in a blue cover

map of Berlin—the Wall down the middle

notes on Vietnam and Bernard Fall books and Senate Hearing books

partially written letter to: dear family

article on “Picasso in Paris,” lying for weeks on the floor by my bed

pop art can go to hell:

it’s antiquated and non-art

Allgemeineversicherungsanstalt und herr schmidt whose eyes flickered up and down me in his unmoving head as I sood impaled on the blackboard in my green cord jeans

luxuries which become necessities

staying in Berlin indefinitely and why not-ing….

Fremdenverkehrswerbung wien…”printed in austria”

the rest is silence but not Hamlet

Kitty Kroger

Letters from West Berlin, Part 5, by Kitty Kroger. January and February, 1967

17 Jul

Berlin, Friday the 13th of January, 1967
Dear Mom and Dad,

I just got this new typewriter so I’ll try it out on you. Since it’s a German machine, it has the keys ß [ss], ä, ü, The y and the z are exchanged. Therefore there may be a few screwy words in this letter. The machine is a Triumph or Adler . It cost DM 158. Very small travel typewriter.
Just saw The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflute) at the Deutsche Oper (opera). Tomorrow night I’m going to see Troilus and Cressida, so I’m reading it first in English. I saw some good French flicks last week: Last Year at Marienbad and Les Cousins.

There is an excellent book on the Vietnam War which you really should buy.  This book is definitely against the war, which of course you should keep in mind as you read it. In fact, I think there are a couple places where the author has not been completely fair. But on the whole it is one of the best sources I’ve read for these reasons: the first three-fourths of the book is a picture history which brings vividly home the reality of this war, which is easy to forget as we go about our own comfortable lives at home. The pictures also facilitate absorption so that you, who don’t have much time at all, can learn easily and efficiently. The last fourth of the book has a compact and thorough coverage of Vietnam from the French occupation from the 19th century onward. This book, although opinionated, is factual and is no more one-sided against the war than Time magazine is for the war. In fact, it is an excellent balance to Time magazine. If you want to understand this war at all, you’ve got to rely on more than one source. The book is called Vietnam! Vietnam! in photographs and text, by Felix Greene. It costs $4 or $5.

Another excellent book is the AFSC’s Peace in Vietnam. It is better even than Green as far as a study of current policy goes.

Howard, the American from Cornell studying architecture, came over, just back from a trip to Paris. So we sat and joyfully reminisced about the fantastic city. Then took a walk to an art museum in a palace near here, then went to the theater where I sold my ticket at the door, then went across the street to a concert hall where he bought a ticket from someone for DM 2, and someone gave me an extra ticket, and we managed to find two seats together and heard the greatest concert, Vivaldi, Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique, and Mozart’s Symphony in G Minor. Then we went to about four different places to drink beer and talk, including a fantastic Wurst stand run by an Italian and packed with young German workers, and you could order a delicious Shish Kabob with rice and ketchup and onions for DM 2.20.
Love, Kitty

February 22, 1967
Dear Mom and Dad,
I went around to seven or eight bookstores, looking for work. One boss talked to me for about half an hour and told me to come back in a week. Another offered me a 30-hour-week-at-DM 200-a-month job as an apprentice. I was pleased at the kindness of the various owners of these places but I finally settled the matter by being accepted at Marga Schoeller’s, an international bookstore that handles international books, especially German, English, American, and French. It’s the best bookstore in Berlin, with a real artsy atmosphere, young employees, many art students. The store has the latest journals in the arts, language books, political writings, novels. The pay is something over DM 500 per month—nothing by American standards, but not bad by German standards, especially if you take into consideration that unlike most German booksellers, I have not done a year to two-year apprenticeship in a bookstore and my German is not yet so fluent. I’ll be working 42 hours a week, with two days off, Sunday and another day. I can probably save DM 100 a month for travel later.I feel a real obligation to help in the U.S. Campaign against the War to try to bring some pressure upon the state department and to give some latitude to the Vietnam doves to work out some kind of viable negotiations in the Vietnam matter.

Next winter I’m going to get a room with central heating. A kachelofen (clay oven) is just not suited to my personality. It’s too much trouble, too filthy ( I blow coal dust out of my nose and squeeze it out of my clothes) and too cold, if you don’t have the right knack. (My landlady does it so well that it keeps the room warm for 24 hours and there’s no coal dust at all. I can’t figure out how she does it despite her trying to teach me.)

I’m developing a political and social conscience, meager to be sure, but at least it’s something. I was shocked today to read in the New York Herald Tribune that Bernard Fall [left], a French professor and author in America, was killed in Vietnam. He’s written many responsible texts about Vietnam. and I almost felt as if I knew him. He was so cool. He was on a fellowship for a year to study Vietnam. Only 41 years old. What a loss to the world and especially to Americans.

Love, Kitty
P.S. Write your congressman, senator, and governor. Ask for their position on a specific question about Vietnam.

March 16, 1967
The work at the bookstore is pure drudgery. All I do is write out bills to the various universities in Germany for books they have ordered from us. I sit at the same table for nine hours every day and type. I thought I would get to do general work of all kinds including selling. I asked the owner Marga Schoeller, and she said there are unfortunately no free jobs in selling. So I gave notice until the end of the month.

I’m beginning now to make more contact with East Berliners through the American girl who has the room next to mine. I met an Austrian boy who lives in East Berlin, who introduced me to a whole slew of people “over there.” They include an Australian and his East Berlin wife and one-year-old daughter. The wife studies physics and is an assistant at Humboldt University. They have a tape recorder loaded with Bob Dylan, African music, blues, jazz, and straight jazz. They live in an old two-story house, which they rent for about DM 50 per month and which they have decorated in a distinctively western collegiate style on the inside. Other people I met that night were a blind student/assistant of English at Humboldt, an American who works in West Berlin under the Quakers at a youth settlement house, a Kenyan who studies in Hungary. This Saturday there’s a big party there and I’ll meet more E. Berliners. Last Saturday we had a great evening discussion. You guessed it—politics. Trying to learn Kenyan native dances, etc. I stayed there all night because it was late.


Last night I went to tutor Marta Mierendorff and ended up staying all night, it was so late. Walter Wicclair is writing an autobiography of his life and I may type it for him. [Von Kreuzburg bis Hollywood: From Kreuzburg to Hollywood]



Honeymoon Story, by Mira Mataric

1 Aug

Dr. Mira N. Mataric has 42 books (poetry, short stories, novels, memoirs and translations), published in two languages, with numerous citations in publications of Europe, America, Asia and Australia. Her works have been translated into several languages, and she is the recipient of over 20 international awards, including five presidential medals for volunteer work in education.  

She has taught world literature, creative writing, and foreign languages to youth and seniors for many years, edited a literary magazine, and founded and chaired Women in the Arts, Inc., a non-profit organization (for 20 years). She is active as a public speaker, a facilitator of workshops and at public poetry readings.

You can read more about Mira at:


It is the autumn of 1961, bright and mild, with the sun and the rest of the world caringly smiling upon the two of us, a newly married couple. We packed full our little Fiat 600 and took our honeymoon drive through the most beautiful sceneries our country of Yugoslavia could offer. Right now we are in Slovenia enjoying the serene beauty of the glacial Lake Bled. Somebody told me not to miss visiting the tiny isle in the middle of the Lake, with a church that has a rare power: it will fulfill one wish. I will ask for a good marriage, of course.

The lake is peaceful and sunlit, like a mirror reflecting the blueness of the skies and endless greenery of the surrounding mountains and grassy turf. We already visited the church, and now I am walking around the Lake, picking wild flowers that are more beautiful here than ever before. I have always loved wild flowers, but these are special. Everything is special. I have never been on a honeymoon. My husband is behind me, taking pictures. All of nature is observing us with a benevolent smile. Everything is perfect, in harmony with my state of mind.

I bend over to pick a unique blue flower and hear a man’s voice call and laugh. Not my husband’s. I turn quickly and quite unexpectedly see a big black convertible passing by—a car that was nowhere to be seen a second ago. In it is a man in a light-colored hat and another man, bigger, hatless and almost hairless, but with a huge smile, waving and shouting at me.

I am stunned and breathless because we were completely alone with nature a second ago; now, suddenly, the Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev is smiling friendly and waving at me, and next to him the president of Yugoslavia, Marshal Tito. Tito has a villa here, I remember later—much later—when I recover and start thinking reasonably. And yes, Khrushchev was scheduled to visit, but we had forgotten it due to our own important events.

Suddenly realizing who is who, my husband takes a quick photo, by that time catching the car and people only from behind. I stand speechless, regretting not throwing the bouquet toward the guest. He showed hot appreciation of Serbian women through just one specimen and with limited data: just legs, partially. My new husband saw it as a compliment to Serbian men for their good taste. Once we had time to discuss the unexpected experience, we had zillions of additional versions and possibilities that Khrushchev might have enjoyed, since he seemed happy with so little.

For years we laughed and wondered about the other part of the story, the one we could not know: Tito’s and Khrushchev’s.

Could it be that the little church, having so many demands, somehow made a mistake, fulfilling my wishes a bit flippantly? Destiny is as blind and prone to mistakes as humans.

Meeting Tupolev at Pugwash, by Mira N. Mataric

16 Jul

Dr. Mira N. Mataric has 42 books (poetry, short stories, novels, memoirs and translations), published in two languages, with numerous citations in publications of Europe, America, Asia and Australia. Her works have been translated into several languages, and she is the recipient of over 20 international awards, including five presidential medals for volunteer work in education.  

She has taught world literature, creative writing, and foreign languages to youth and seniors for many years, edited a literary magazine, and founded and chaired Women in the Arts, Inc., a non-profit organization (for 20 years). She is active as a public speaker, a facilitator of workshops and at public poetry readings.


September 1963, Belgrade, in the now non-existent Yugoslavia. Clear, sunny autumn day. I am on the bus, filled to capacity, standing, not having to worry that I may fall—there is nowhere to fall. We are like sardines in a can transported to our daily work. Finally, the bus stops at the most beautiful and famous spot, Kalemegdan Park with a Fortress on the high hill and a view of the two rivers’ magnificent confluence. The Sava flows all the way from Slovenia and joins the Danube, the second longest European river after “Mother Volga” (as it’s called by Russians). The Danube comes from the Black Forest in Germany. By the time it pours its waters into the Black Sea, it passes through nine countries: Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova and Ukraine, and through four capital cities: Vienna (Austria), Bratislava (Czekia), Budapest(Hungary) and Belgrade (Serbia). The Danube is 2,860 km long (1,780 miles) when it finally, at the widespread delta, mixes its water with the salty water of the Black Sea.

Every inch of soil and water here is pure history and old culture, from the Neolithic era of Vinča (near Belgrade), to Roman, Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires, all worth studying through the plentiful archeological findings. To this day, valuable remains are found unexpectedly during the building of new sites.

I am one of young librarians, proud to work here during the re-birth of a new National Library of Serbia, whose staff in the past involved famous writers and intellectuals. The old building of the Library is at the end of Knez Mihailova (Prince Michael’s) Street (lovingly known as the Bond Street of Belgrade). The street is filled with ornate 19th century edifices, museums, galleries, the Serbian Academy of Science, elegant stores and famous restaurants, some with a long history, like this one, once a fine restaurant and night club, facing Kalemegdan Park. Its popularity included the fact that the King of Serbia used to play chess and billiards there. Now it is the National Library of Serbia but we hope that is only temporary. The original Library was burned and leveled in the merciless bombings announcing the beginning of the German “Blitz Krieg” invasion of Yugoslavia on Easter morning of April 1942.

At work an unusual surprise waits for me. The director of the Library, Čedomir Minderović 1, calls me to his office. He is a renowned writer and poet, ex-diplomat, in his youth a partisan fighter during the Second World War.

I sometimes write his business letters in English (though he speaks good English). He usually gallantly adds, “You will do it better than I,” then spends time talking about literature, which we both prefer doing. I actually enjoy writing letters to the Library of Congress, British Museum Library, Bibliotheque National in Paris, and others. Now he is sending me, as a translator of English and Russian, to Dubrovnik for the International Pugwash Conference on the Peaceful Use of Atomic Energy.

Dubrovnik?! One of the most beautiful historical Mediterranean cities and year- round, prime international resort. Wow! The President of Yugoslavia, Marshal Josip Broz Tito, has a villa there. Like other people, there I enjoy summer vacations with my family. Pleasant memories of the Adriatic Sea with its clear waters ranging from azure to turquoise to deep navy blue, transparent for over 45 meters in depth immediately surface.  The romantic Mediterranean nights filled with cicada-symphonies and lavender fragrance splash over me in waves.

But atoms? What do I know about atoms except small size and big power? I am not an expert in that field. I can translate literature on the spot, any time, but for speeches and papers of internationally renowned scientists and engineers, my brother would have been a much better choice.

I try to explain it to the director, but he knows it already. His wife is also a translator and interpreter of English. With a friendly smile, he tells me: “I know you will do your best. That will be enough.” That calms me temporarily. I love challenges. He wishes me a good trip and I go back to my room planning what I need to pack.

Now in Dubrovnik, greeted with mild September sunshine, I confirm that the Sea is cold and no one swimming. Hotels are filled with participants of the Pugwash Conference. That’s why they are here. You too, I remind myself.

In a tiny cubicle, a cell useless for anything but focusing on atoms in two languages, none of which is my mother tongue, I am hot, my head hotter and after a while aching. Who ever thought this was an easy job? My colleagues in the Library now envy me. I am in Dubrovnik, they at work. We forget, things are not what they seem to be.

At the end of the day, tired and numb, we gather at a common table for dinner and a friendly chat. I am sitting next to a short, chunky man, far from young yet looking strong like a hippopotamus. He smiles and introduces himself, but I am barely listening. I do that often, then during the conversation regret but dare not ask again for the name. Tonight, all I want is to go to bed. Suddenly, I turn to him ”Tupolev2 ? Did you say Tupolev? “I cannot believe it. My brother and his colleagues, aeronautical engineers, pronounce his name with respect like Nikola Tesla’s.3.  This is the most famous Soviet aircraft designer and a high officer in the Air Force!

Now I regret not knowing at least something about him. All I can do is smile my noncommittal smile and listen more carefully from now on. I feel like a ditzy blond smiling because it’s all she knows how to do.

Luckily, he is not even mentioning airplanes or atomic energy; he’s chatting about things that interest me too. What a man—a gentleman, in fact. He is more than double and plus my age but has energy and good manners to entertain a woman whom he knows he will never see again.

Now I notice more. There is another, tall, slender, good looking man, thirtyish or so, standing close to him. They came together, but this man does not sit with us, or talk to anyone. He just stands like a post, a statue. Very strange.

First, I talk to Tupolev in English but change to Russian as soon as I realize who he is. He answers brilliantly in both languages. When I drop in a Serbian word here and there, he understands. I am impressed. He is making this evening comfortable and relaxing, instead of my doing it for him, as a guest. This other man is just here, not really looking as if he hears or understands. Like a portrait. His face stays the same. Expressionless. I wonder, would he change expression if I pulled his nose? Would he smile, laugh, be surprised, participate, be with us?

He has to be a Russian. An outstandingly good-looking man. I do not want to say that he is a waste of good material, yet Russians usually like to talk, sing, even dance Kozachok4 if you ask them—especially if they drink first. I would prefer to sing, maybe Podmoskovskie vechera, Ryabinushka or Ochi Chornie. I believe all of the people around us, tired and just eating, would sing at least E-ey uhnyem, which is almost an international expression of hard toil and working together. Music is an international language, like numbers—we could all be happy together before we go back to our rooms and never see each other again.

I am not happy with myself. Tupolev was so nice with me. I could not reciprocate on his level. I wish my brother were here. They would have enjoyed talking about airplanes, propulsions, and such. The dinner is finished and I will never see this fine man again. Famous people are usually so full of themselves they do not notice anything else. Not pleasant to others at all. This man designs airplanes. For him the skies are not too big, too high or unknown. What a perspective!

But we get up, smile and leave with a few nice words. The two Russians leave together.

But, oh, it is not the end yet! More surprises tonight! Their room is next to mine! What a coincidence, I think. Then, finally in bed, I sink into a deep sleep.

Early, too early, in the morning, something strange wakes me up. Muted and hushed but active. In the room next to mine. Scraping little sounds and dull thumps like a body pulled on the floor. It is not stopping, but becoming stronger and stronger. I am listening and all the dark movies I have ever seen come to mind. What are those strange sounds—and why so hushed? I do not like it. It is not stopping. I cannot take it anymore. Should I call the desk or the Police? Better to apologize for a silly mistake than regret not calling before it is too late. Hamlet’s tragic flaw was thinking too much, not acting enough. I will call now.

Just a second  for a quick look from the balcony outside. The Sea is quiet. Nobody around. It is still dark and everybody asleep. But, oh, down there, two dim silhouettes come out from the hotel and quickly run to the Sea: one short and stocky, the other tall and slim. They jump into the water and swim together as fast as possible. Where? They swim and swim, fast, becoming smaller and smaller in the cold early morning, until they reach the open sea where big ships pass. I remember, sharks always follow them, their tails sharp like an always ready guillotine because the ships throw a lot of food overboard, a real feast for all of them.

The two swimmers now are two tiny needle heads far, far away. They don’t seem to be afraid. Are they unaware of the sharks? Have they seen them, as I have, always following ships with a good reason? They better start swimming back soon. Such a huge distance will take some time. It is not safe. However, I cannot believe how strong and fit they are. One of them is not young at all. How do they do it? What gives them such energy?

Then,  it dawns on me. Yoga. The hushed noise in the room, exercise with chairs, deep breathing, movements on the floor. That is why they can run and swim fast and the water is not cold for them. That is why Tupolev’s age does not stop him from enjoying a full life. What a lesson!

I never saw them again. Andrei Tupolev died in Moscow, December 23, 1972. His bodyguard is now old if still alive. I am a not-that-young, ridiculously naïve girl myself, but old as Tupolev then, but without his greatness and fame.

The world has changed, too. Soviet Union is Russia and there is no Yugoslavia. I live in the Serbian diaspora in the U.S.A. My memories are my capital and I am rich with them.



  1. Čedomir Minderović (Belgrade 1912) , a revolutionary poet and fighter against fascism, imprisoned and tortured as a high school student at age 18,  as a “danger to the State” in 1930. Wrote diaries about his life with the partisans during WWII and revolutionary poems that became popular hymns (after  1945). After the war he became a popular poet and writer, Yugoslav diplomat in India, and Director of the National Library of Serbia until his death in India in 1966. Here Minderovic is with Indian writer Amrita Pritam (1919-2005


  1.  “Andrei Nikolayevich Tupolev (Russian: Андрей Николаевич Туполев; November 10, 1888 – December 23, 1972) was a pioneering Soviet aircraft designer.

“During his career, he designed and oversaw the design of more than 100 types of aircraft, some of which set 78 world records.

“In 1911, Tupolev was accused of taking part in revolutionary activities, including demonstrations and distribution of subversive literature, and was arrested. He was later released on condition that he return to his family home in Pustomazovo and was only allowed to return to IMTU in 1914. He completed his studies in 1918 and was awarded the degree of Engineer-Mechanic when he presented his thesis on the development of seaplanes.

“On October 21, 1937, Tupolev was arrested together with Vladimir Petlyakov and the entire directorate of the TsAGI and EDO on trumped up charges of sabotage, espionage and of aiding the Russian Fascist Party. Many of his colleagues were executed. In 1939, Tupolev was moved from a prison to an NKVD sharashka for aircraft designers in Bolshevo near Moscow, where many ex-TsAGI people had already been sent to work. The sharashka soon moved to Moscow and was dubbed “Tupolevka” after its most eminent inmate. Tupolev was tried and convicted in 1940 with a ten-year sentence. During this time he developed the Tupolev Tu-2,[6] He was released in July 1941 “to conduct important defence work.” (He was not rehabilitated fully until two years after Joseph Stalin‘s death in 1953.)

“Tupolev headed the major project of reverse engineering the American Boeing B-29 strategic bomber, which was the world’s first nuclear delivery platform.

“By the time of his rehabilitation in 1955, Tupolev had designed and was about to start testing his unique turboprop strategic bomber, the Tu-95.

“At about the same time, Tupolev introduced into service the world’s second jet airliner, the Tu-104. The aeroplane was the first jet transport to stay in uninterrupted service.

“After Khruschev’s removal from office in late 1964, the ageing Tupolev gradually lost positions at the centres of power to rivals.” [Source: Wikipedia]


  1. “Nikola Tesla (Serbian Cyrillic: Никола Тесла; 10 July 1856 – 7 January 1943) was a Serbian-American[2][3][4] inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer, physicist, and futurist who is best known for his contributions to the design of the modern alternating current (AC) electricity supply system.” [Source: Wikipedia]





  1. Kozachok is a Ukrainian and Russian folk dance.

5. Erih Koš (pronounced Kosh) is the fifth from left (in a swimsuit). Vida Marković sits next to him (fourth from left). She was (Mira’s) University professor of literature. An outstanding scholar and writer, Kos was a member of the Serbian Academy of Science and Arts, poet, writer. They both were in the Pugwash Committee in charge of the organization. The list of all  participants is available online.




The text and some  notes by Mira N. Mataric aka Mirjana N. Radovanov Mataric

Letters from West Berlin, Part 4, by Kitty Kroger. December 1966: Awakening to the Vietnam War

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 fourth 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.

December 1966

December 10, 1966
Dear Mom and Dad,

Today I took part in a demo against the war in Vietnam. I feel strongly about it although there are still so many gaps in my knowledge. But the more I learn, the stronger I feel.


Dec. 10, 1966
Dear Charlie,

Berlin.U.S. Campaign2I’ve recently become part of a study and action group of American students who are against America’s presence in Vietnam. We may start marching in January. Meanwhile we’re learning. We have a lot of literature on Vietnam, and we read all we can. All the kids in the group are clean-cut types, no beats at all, which should impress the conservatives at least. Today I joined a group of Free University students, about two to three hundred, in a short march and protest speech in the heart of Berlin. I was very disappointed that the group got rowdy at the end so that the police had to disperse them from blocking traffic and even had to haul off three or four students bodily. But the interaction of discussions between students and bystanders was very profitable. At the end, however, the students burned a Papier-mâchéhead of Johnson, shouting Johnson Murderer, etc., which probably doesn’t do anything at all to advance anything at all. About ten Americans took part in the march itself, not in the aftermath.


Monday, December 12, 1966
Dear Parents,

I’ve been reading a lot about Vietnam and also a novel Steppenwolf  by Herman Hesse in German.

I read a good article saying that Vietnam can’t be compared with Hitler’s conquest of Europe because China is not able or willing to move in and overtake another country Blitzkrieg style. [At the time one of the arguments for the Vietnam War was that China wanted to take over the world like Hitler did.] She [China] works through internal subversion and exploits national unrest and revolution, which is occurring in South America, Africa, and Asia. America is outdated, unenlightened, and immoral if she thinks she can prevent Communism by distribution of military support to governments all over the globe “whose main virtue is often their anti-communism” and whose vices are greed and exploitation of its own people’s poverty and an eagerness to take American money into its own pockets.

Here according to my limited knowledge is what I think is happening in Vietnam and elsewhere. America pours money into many foreign countries to support the governments in the status quo. In doing this we disregard the fact that we are making these countries extremely dependent upon us industrially, which the people and leaders of the people resent. America promises support and protection of the ruling regime (like Batista) against communism and revolution in return for the raw materials of these under-industrialized lands. America buys these goods out, cheaply develops them in her own factories and with her highly developed industry, then in return sells them back to the countries at a tremendous profit. The people don’t receive even the initial price for the raw goods. The government in power receives this money, which it uses to build palaces, great monuments to its own glory, to support mistresses, and for an army to defend itself against its own people. Thus the money doesn’t go to build factories, to enable the people to produce their own finished products. The lands remain backward and poor, and the people grow more and more dissatisfied.

So the communists support revolutionaries who overthrow (or try to) the government, and then America is forced to send military supplies—and in Vietnam and elsewhere—men to suppress these uprisings. It’s a fallacy for us to assume that these virgin governments, which are just beginning to attain independence, will simply become puppets of China or Russia. They want to be independent, to be allowed to develop their own industry. Look at Ghana and Indonesia and Cambodia. They are not communist, although they have sharply dealt with America. They have succeeded by themselves in setting back communism and they want to be left alone to develop, to be neutral, to trade with both the east and the west. But first they have to have a period of isolationism, just as we did in the nineteenth century, to build themselves up. If we put pressure on them to accept our way of government, then the communists react with counter-attacks and the country may even become a battlefield.

We shall lose economically when a country “breaks away” from us, but we shall not necessarily lose it ideologically.

Yes, there is no doubt that Vietnam will become communist under Mr. Minh.

Berlin.Ho Chi Minh[Ho Chi Minh led the Việt Minh independence movement from 1941 onward, establishing the communist-ruled Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1945 and defeating the French Union in 1954 at the battle of Điện Biên Phủ. He officially stepped down from power in 1965 due to health problems, but remained a highly visible figurehead and inspiration for those Vietnamese fighting for his cause—a united, communist Vietnam—until his death. After the war, Saigon, capital of the Republic of Vietnam, was renamed Hồ Chí Minh City. when (if) we pull out, but Vietnam has had an unhappy history of horrible colonial exploitation by the French, which was finally ended by Ho Chi Minh and the communists. Then the bungling and cruelties of Diem, who was apparently set up by America, caused the National Liberation Front to arise within South Vietnam itself. In other words, Vietnam is not a Nazi situation and is no test case for America and its desire to check the flow of communism. (Source: Wikipedia)]

Please comment if you have time.

Love, Kitty


[December 1966]
Dear Family,

Thanks for your letter, Dad. I’ll answer it soon. Hope you had a great Christmas.

People were very nice to me at Christmas. My landlady brought me a huge plate of assorted fresh fruit and chocolate. She still keeps bringing me homemade applesauce with lemon rinds, cranberry sauce, homemade potato soup, and other goodies. For Christmas Eve I went to the home of a German friend Elizabeth. The family stems from Bayern (Bavaria). They speak a strong Bavarian dialect among themselves, and it was wonderful to hear them all talking excitedly among themselves and brutalizing the German language. The mother played “Silent Night” on the piano and we all sang. We had carp—boiled and fried—and a delicious sour cream dessert. They gave me a huge plate of nuts, fruit, and cookies. I gave Elizabeth a bright red and blue plaid tablecloth. We watched part of “A Christmas Carol” auf deutsch on TV and then an exhibition of religious frescoes and oil paintings from the Middle Ages and Renaissance—also on TV—while the father, a psych prof at the Technical University, explained some of their typical characteristics to me. The whole family (three daughters and a son) all walked to Midnight Mass through falling snowflakes. They light the candles on the tree for the first time that year. (All Germans have candles instead of colored lights, which they first light on Christmas Eve.)

On Christmas day I went to Wicclair and Mierendorff’s apartment for supper and wine and bloody Marys. I gave Mr. Wicclair a theatrical calendar which I bought in East Berlin and I gave Mrs. Mierendorff a copy of Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast because it deals with his life in Paris during 1920-1924 or so and because Mrs. M. spent time there after the Second World War and fell in love with it just as I did. She gave me a book of German poetry and he gave me a huge box of chocolates.

On the 26th, I went to Frau Kern’s [she had employed me to babysit and houseclean] for a delicious half-chicken lunch and schnaps and wine. I brought the kids a “doctor set” and they gave me a wonderful “Care” package, which consisted of fresh fruit, Wurst, candy, eau de Cologne, tea bags, and canned mandarin oranges. I discussed “life at the University” with Herr Kern, who is an assistant physicist there, working on his doctorate. friend in East Berlin is an elderly man about 70 years old. He invited me and a friend to hear some Beethoven on his record player, and he treated us to an egg liqueur and he and I played Mozart for four hands on his piano. He was very warm and cultured and dignified and sweet—and somehow so tragic too because of his isolation in only half of what used to be his whole city.

Being here in Europe has made me terribly proud sometimes of America and our schools and art and spirit and friends. After [I was] held by the East Berlin officials [one] day and discussed politics briefly with [an] official, I was especially proud of our freedom of expression and of my liberty to express to that man my own political views without having to worry about whether I was expressing ideas in accordance with the ruling party of my government or not.

The East Berliner expressed only ideas that were in the strictest harmony with the “party line,” but by so doing he didn’t impress me as being either sincere or even rational. The only impression I received was one of stupidity that he could defend his government so blindly with the same responses to whatever I said. Or I felt pity that he was so afraid to discuss openly with me both the mistakes and the progress made by his government. Not that I would expect him in any case to condemn his government, but he couldn’t even admit the possibility that perhaps the mess that Germany is in today is the result of many complex factors involving errors on both sides. And not just on Germany but on every single issue he assumed the same sort of stereotyped attitude of black and white. It was impossible to discuss solutions to problems with him—he was too concerned with making East Germany and the communist-block countries appear golden.

Berlin.Map1Once during the conversation I mentioned that my interest in politics had quickened after I’d been in Europe a few months, and that for the first time I was beginning to actively study the Vietnam War and take issue with some of my government’s policies. The official responded in the most sincere manner, “That’s understandable. Of course you couldn’t criticize the U.S. policy when you were in the states: you’d be put in jail.” I was shocked, but he was very sincere; I think he really did believe that. I said, “Where did you ever hear that? That’s completely false. you couldn’t be more mistaken. I can criticize the government as much as I want to.” He shrugged his shoulders and said, “Oh yes, the American freedom.” Then he changed the subject.

We are losing face all over the world by our stand in Vietnam, because of the way we are handling the war. If I am sincerely against the war for intelligent, well thought out, and largely moral grounds, then I can’t be so hypocritical as to appear otherwise, and I can’t do any service to my country regarding its image in the eyes of the world if I either verbally support or at best refuse to discuss outside of the family the topic. The world has got to know, Johnson has got to know, that a large number of Americans intelligently, not blindly, and strongly follow what they believe to be their moral responsibility in opposing the continuation of the war. Johnson is not the only American. I am an American too. And I think, Dad, that the information is available to the layman, to the non-specialist, to the public.


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.

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.


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.


Letters from West Berlin, Part 1, by Kitty Kroger. 1966: First Impressions of West Berlin

28 Oct

In 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. The island was charming, with a resort beach (Frei-Korper Kultur) which meant “nude beach” in the center. The youth hostel was in the north. You could walk around the entire island, as I recall. There was a short train ride from the center west that took you into Hamburg, where I would meet my boyfriend.

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 first 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.

August 1966

West Berlin, August 1966
Dear Parents and Charlie [my brother],

Berlin.TrainAtBahnhofZooFor the first time since I got to Germany I am completely on my own. I’ve been in Berlin a week  now, staying in a Studentenheim (student dorm) at the Free University for $1.66 per night (DM 6.50). I’ve met all kinds of people — three Persians, an Egyptian, an Australian, Americans, an Ethiopian, and a German boy 23 years old, who spent three days helping me find a place to stay in this enormous and confusing city.

Meanwhile, I’m looking for work. [My room] costs DM 100 a month, which is $25. It’s very dead here; most students are on vacation. The city is fascinating, especially the political aspects of it. Yesterday Jeanie [a friend] and I went to East Berlin and met an elderly man who showed us all around.

[Note: At this time, as a result of the postwar settlement, Germany was divided between the Soviet Union and the Allies. The former capital of Germany, Berlin, now in the middle of East Germany, was divided between the Soviet Union, France, England, and the U.S. Bonn became the new capital of West Germany, and the Soviet sector of Berlin remained the capital of East Germany. Berliners were not allowed to visit the Soviet sector, called East Berlin. West Germans could visit, with the proper papers. Foreigners like myself could cross the border into the eastern sector for 24 hours, surrendering our passports at the border.]

Berlin.Map.Red and


Berlin, August 19, 1966
Dear Parents and Charlie,

Right now I’m working in the small office of a driving school. Often I sit the whole time alone with no telephone calls and no people coming in. It is good and bad, for I have lots of time to read but I am not improving my German. I earn DM 225 ($50) per month.

The other day I finally found a room. It costs DM 75 per month [$19] plus DM 10-15 in winter for coal. I have to prepare the coal myself in the tile oven. The room has a small balcony overlooking the courtyard—like in the movie “Rear Window.” Hot water and bathroom, which I share with another [young woman] renter, and a small hotplate and cupboard for dishes and food just outside the room in the hall. It has a [long] hallway to enter by. Apartments in Berlin are expensive, as is everything, in comparison with wages. Apartments are from DM 350 to 400 and up. The landlady seems very sweet. She’s about 60, I think. The room is right in the center of town near the railway station.

I can’t believe that this is really me here, doing what I’m doing (which is I’m not sure what)!


Berlin, August 25, 1966

It’ll be nice to be settled in my new address on September 1. It’s right in the center of town. [In Charlottenburg.] And from there I plan to spread out and “uncover” the city. My work situation is pretty good. I make barely enough to exist on but I have in return a variety of jobs. My tutoring job is with a very interesting woman  [Marta Mierendorff]. She has her PhD., is writing a cultural book, and lives with a  playwright actor and citizen from L.A.

Walter and Marta, Berlin 1967

Marta Mierendorff and her partner Walter Wicclair. Berlin 1967

Today I “worked” four hours for [a] young “Frau” with three kids. All I did was sit outside and talk to the two older children for an hour, wash a few dishes, and vacuum a rug in the nursery. For that I received DM 15 and a very nice lunch, much conversation with the kids, and some with their mother.

A large flask of wine is only about $1 and beer only 15 – 20 cents.

I enjoy being so entirely independent as I am now until I figure out what I want to be dependent upon. It’s sort of a vacation from life.

I’ve been reading a prodigious amount of German about all sorts of things: Berlin, Deutschland, Vietnam, Draußen vor der Tür [The Man Outside] by Wolfgang Borchert, the relationship between German and American grammar, music, etc. And I’ve talked to some interesting people. A girl on my floor in the Studentendorf, who I’ve cooked dinner with a couple of times—she just finished her exams as a veterinarian, was a high school foreign exchange student to Minnesota, and studied at Munich as well as here in Berlin.

The German worker earns perhaps DM 500 [$125] per month for every $400-$500 that the same worker in America earns. Thus although a furnished apartment may cost only DM 300 –400 [$100] per month, the average worker couldn’t possibly afford it. Thus the Germans live in rooms, not apartments. And it’s customary—not  looked down upon as poverty—as it would be in America.

Coffee is very expensive. 1/10 pound of instant Kaffee cost me 75 cents (DM 3)!!

Telephone calls in public booths cost only 5 cents but to mail a letter within Deutschland, it costs 7 ½ cents, to America 17 cents for 5 grams. Subways are about half-price here in Berlin. Medicine is much cheaper and doesn’t seem to need a prescription.

TV is great! No commercials except for 20 minutes once a day. Many good programs and news analyses.

Billboards consist merely of thick, round poles on street corners, around which many ads are pasted. Whereas our buildings at home are the “tallest” or “biggest,” here the people seem to be proud of having the “oldest” of everything.


Here everyone calls you “Miss” Kroger, unless they know me very well and are approximately my age. All other people call me Miss all the time—with Miss comes the formal or “Sie” form of “you.” Children call me “Fraulein Kitty.”

Trains seem much nicer. The windows are bigger. The seats on trains face each other.

Berlin.Double-deckerBusThe two-decker city buses are very common—and excellent fun for a good bird’s-eye view of the city. A bus ticket costs simply 12 ½ cents for anywhere on that line. You can go all over Berlin for 17 cents on a two-decker bus

There are flowers all over the city. Every balcony has its window box of carnations. No women are ever to be seen in curlers! Everyone almost speaks some English here. I never leave tips [at restaurants] here. It is added on to the end of the bill as 15% extra.

If you say hello (Guten Tag) to some stranger as you pass him or her on the street, he will assume you know him some way or another. I met one woman cyclists on the sidewalk and blithely said hello, upon which she slammed on her brakes, stopped, and asked, astounded, “Do we know each other?” I muttered apologetically, “Nein,” at which she said “Oh,” and rode on.

There are miles and miles of bike-ways in Berlin on the sidewalk next to where one walks. There are also many parks; “places” in the middle of a street with lawn, flowers, benches, and trees; regular forests and camping spots; lakes; farms. And the streets have many trees and flowers. There seems to be much building of new houses and rebuilding or repairing of old ones. There are many brand new apartment buildings.

Beatle pants (bell bottoms with checks, stripes, patterns—English models, especially on the young working men) are worn all over, as well as long haircuts. But the students generally dress “relatively conservatively.” Sandals and thongs of all kinds for both men and women are popular. None of the girls shave their legs. Contrary to popular belief, tennies, blue jeans, and wheat jeans are worn fairly frequently—and any clothes which were “in” in America are definitely “in” over here except for Bermuda and Jamaica-length shorts.

It’s fairly safe to travel alone late at night on subways, S-Bahns, or buses. This town, however, closes down its transportation at 12:30 am.

[In] the Studentendorf  (student village) boys and girls can visit each other any time anywhere—i.e., open dorms with no restrictions. Drinking is allowed in the dorms and liquor is sold in the cafeteria on campus.

Among the students, professors, and “intellectuals” in general, there is much anti-American feeling, some of the Germans resent us because of our Vietnam policy.

[To be continued.]

Leather Mini-skirts, Shop-ins, and Prince No Good Schnook, By A.W.

4 Jun

A.W.  has a long history of activism in Los Angeles, including in civil rights, feminist, anti-war, and environmental  issues. She is currently especially interested in unionism and in the worker-cooperative movement, has been to Mondragon, Spain, and will soon visit cooperatives near Bologna, Italy.


Although politics were rarely discussed openly in my home, I later suspected that my parents had been left-wing activists in their youth during the ‘30s, because I absorbed anti-racist, anti-capitalist values, and a desire to work for social justice. Later I realized that they were so silent because of McCarthyism. In 1963 I graduated from UCLA. I was moved by the Civil Rights Movement, which was just getting started, but UCLA was quiet and I felt isolated there. I hung out with liberals but couldn’t find any activists. After college I taught second grade for a while. I hung out with “artsy” types. When the March on Washington took place in August of that year, I was eager to go to Washington D.C. but knew no one who was going. I couldn’t find anyone who was involved in civil rights support work although I was dying to participate. (It’s ironic how we on the left always say that we need to involve new people but I couldn’t find anyone to mentor me.)

I’d read about the sit-ins. In LA, there were “shop-ins”—coordinated by the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)—which were protests against grocery chains for not hiring black workers. People would pile their carts full and leave them at the checkout counter, yelling Hire blacks! as they walked out. As a teacher at that time you could be fired if arrested, even for civil disobedience. I agonized and decided to risk it. I had read about SNCC in the newspaper and decided I would volunteer, too.


I walked into the SNCC office, my heart pounding, and said I wanted to help out. At the time I lived near the Sunset Strip; my mode of attire was a leather mini-skirt, boots, long straight hair, a purse that hung over my shoulder, and makeup. The man behind the SNCC desk stared at me. After a moment he said, “Well, nothing is happening right now but we’ll get in touch with you.” I felt embarrassed and awkward, as if I was walking into a world of which I knew nothing.


Jane Fonda and mini-skirt in the 60s

For two or three years I continued teaching. In those days I was able to save half my salary. Then I quit teaching, which of course upset my parents, and decided to travel to Europe with a girlfriend.

In Europe we hitchhiked all over. I loved Tangier, Morocco. Then I  traveled around the world with a guy I later married. It cost $3000 for 13 months; hotels were only 50 cents a night. We hitchhiked except in Turkey and Afghanistan, where we told it was too dangerous. There we took buses instead, which were very cheap. I remember we were on a bus in Afghanistan; there were women who were fully draped from head to toe in their hijabs and burkas;  it was a long, hot drive. The bus stopped in the middle of the desert, the men all got off to pee, and in that moment all the women took off their burkas and fanned themselves.

Through Time Magazine I kept track of what was happening back home. I remember reading about the trial of the Chicago 7. There was a drawing of Bobby Seale, shackled and gagged, in the courtroom. I was shocked. What kind of country would do this? When we met European kids,  I felt that I had to apologize for my country. We often claimed to be Canadians.

In Copenhagen there was a big square with a TV. People filled the square to watch the first moon landing. Later on the train in India some men were having an agitated discussion, and someone translated for us that they were debating whether it was really possible for men to go to the moon. According to their religion, it would be impossible.

Between trips, back home in Los Angeles, I experienced the “flower power” culture. I lived in West Hollywood near Sunset Strip. There were “be-ins” at Griffith Park. I held myself aloof from the flower power culture; I considered it frivolous. My boyfriend had given  me a book by William Hinton called Fanshen: A Documentary of Revolution in a Chinese Village, and another one by John Reed called Ten Days that Shook the World, about the Russian Revolution. Both of these enhanced my political education. My boyfriend also knew Communist Party (CP) people in England. In London we stayed with squatters (who had managed to hook up free electricity).

We spent New Year’s Eve 1969 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. We visited the Angkor Wat ruins. Everywhere were motor scooters vying for riders, but we learned that the guides had cooperated with each other and set common prices, then pooled their money—unlike in other countries where it was every man for himself. Many people supported the Khmer Rouge and hated Prince Sihanouk; they called him Prince No Good Schnook. (Of course, this was before the Khmer Rouge took power and committed so many atrocities.

Prince Sihanouk

When we met CP people in France we were underwhelmed. They seemed indistinguishable from the Democratic Party. One woman was wearing a power suit. The party had a glossy magazine with ads for French auto manufacturers. When asked about that, they said that corporations had no influence over them and that if they wanted to contribute to the party, then why not accept their money. I came away with little respect for the CP in France.

At one point my boyfriend and I went off in different directions for a while. I was in Indonesia on my way to meet him in Tokyo when I realized I could get a free stopover in Saigon. On the plane I met some Americans who lived there but had been back to the States to see their families. It turned out they were Friends (Quakers), who were there to oppose the war. Almost every week they held demonstrations at the American embassy. Now they were worried that they wouldn’t be let back into Vietnam. Informing me that the only places to stay were brothels, they invited me to stay with them.

At the Saigon airport when customs officials saw Eastern European stamps in my passport, they balked. They had a huge book with names of everyone who wasn’t allowed into the country. My name wasn’t there, but they were still suspicious. After questioning me, they told me they must call the assistant American ambassador. After a while I saw a guy walking towards me. He asked me still more questions but finally let me enter the country. I was still wearing my mini-skirt outfits.

I stayed with the Friends. We could hear bombs near the Quakers’ house but they weren’t concerned: “If the bombs are more than two blocks away, we don’t pay attention to them,” they said.

Through them I met South Vietnamese men—leftists and communists—who were resisting fighting for the South. Their goal was to hook up with the rebel National Liberation Front. The Quaker people would smuggle them in the backseat of their car. One time the Vietnamese men crouched on the backseat floor while I sat up straight on the seat, hoping we wouldn’t get stopped by the police or military. Later I wondered if one of the reasons they took me in was that they thought I would be a good cover for their smuggling trips.

I Love Paris in the Springtime: May 1968, Part 2, by J.F.

12 May

I had become “politicized” back in middle school around the issues of the war in Vietnam and nuclear disarmament. In fact, opposition to the War in Vietnam was very strong in France and there were many demonstrations protesting American imperialism.  I never went to any of them, but my family did have the news on, as I have said, and the reports from Vietnam we heard were—to my ears—heart-wrenching.  It just seemed that the horror would never end.  The assassination of Martin Luther King was a big blow too.  It seemed that the United States was going in the wrong direction.  The assassination of Robert F. Kennedy later in June was another devastating piece of news.  Coming shortly after what I considered the defeat of “our” movement, it affected me tremendously.  I remember talking to a girl whom I had met during the “occupation” of the school, and we were both quite depressed over it.

At the same time my political awareness was growing, I had become more aware of the cultural shift happening in the sixties.  In 1966 when I was in eighth grade, my family had decided to visit my grandfather’s homeland (Yugoslavia).  We contacted his living relatives in Yugoslavia and Bulgaria.  Since it was kind of on the way, my parents decided to extend the trip all the way to Istanbul through northern Greece.  (My grandfather’s hometown is about 16 kilometers from the border.)  We were camping most of the time unless hosted by the relatives.  This was quite an eye opener for me.  We discovered a world we had never thought existed in Europe.  This was 1966 and globalization had not hit yet, so countries still had their own flavors and people were genuinely interested in meeting each other.  The youth, especially with the advance in transportation and, let’s face it, more affluence, hit the roads of Europe and elsewhere, in search of ….  I feel that these encounters were important because they reminded us that material comfort is not an end in  itself, that life has other purposes.  We met people on their way to Iran, Afghanistan, India.  The world was so open then.  There was none of the fear we have now.

We picked up a hitchhiker in Kosovo.  We usually did not do that, because with three kids in the back of our Peugeot 403, there was not much room.  This time it was different because we knew there were so few cars on the road he would have to wait a long while before being picked up.  He was a student in Paris and was taking advantage of his long vacation (at that time university ended in May and started in October!) to hitchhike through Europe.  He was on his way to Greece.  The road was barely existent and we must have driven at about 20 miles per hour.  We passed by Gypsies (as they were called at the time) on horseback and drove along steep riverbanks on one side and mountain on the other.  It was beautiful and very wild.  The hitchhiker slept in our car once we got to Skopje [Macedonia] and we spent the night in a hotel.  The city was still recovering from the 1963 earthquake, and there were ruins of buildings and the plaster of our hotel displayed some very worrisome cracks.

All this and what was going on in the United States had a lot of influence on the “Zeitgeist” of the times.  Young people were following very closely what was happening across the Atlantic.  American protest songs were known (and sometimes sung in translation!).  Also we were aware of what was happening (in a fuzzy way) on U.S. campuses and streets.  There was this program on the radio station I mentioned called Europe 1 that I listened to a lot.  Its name was “Campus.”  It gave us a lot of info about the United States, the music, the whole scene.

To go back to May ‘68,  in the end it was depressing. At the end of May there was a big pro-De Gaulle demonstration on the Champs Elysées.  The government did come to the negotiation table with the unions and some good things—not negligible if you were a worker—such as raising the minimum wage, did happen.  De Gaulle left the following year after losing a referendum, but his replacement—Pompidou—was certainly not an improvement.  In fact, he nearly destroyed Paris in his attempt to make it “modern.”

Paris 1968.Demo       Paris 1968.Je vote      LEE1968015W00001-01

We didn’t change the world after all. When Robert Kennedy was assassinated, we knew the Vietnam War would continue. After World War II there had been a lot of idealism, but in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, the road diverged like in Frost’s poem, the one the world took and the other not taken.  Idealism still survived for a while:  some youth became involved in organizing in the factories.  Others, such as the Red Brigades (though not too much in France) turned to armed rebellion. And there was also the counter-culture movement with its back-to-nature communes. But mainly one could feel that the “affluent” society and its emphasis on consumerism had won. Even though it took a while for all the sparks to die, it eventually happened.

And we all grew up.

I Love Paris in the Springtime: May 1968. Part I

9 May

By J.F.

J.F. was born and raised in France and came to the United States in 1974 for a visit, where she met her husband. She has been living in Los Angeles since 1975.  She teaches high school ESL and French. She is still very much interested in social movements and in politics. Her background and family definitely shaped her values, while the sixties were formative years in her understanding of the world.

Paris 1968

Part I

It was at my cousin’s communion that May ‘68 started for me. The situation that led to the general strike had started earlier and we were all following events intensely, but things got to a boiling point on that day.

I remember a heated discussion with my grandmother. She supported Charles de Gaulle, who was a flashpoint of the rebellion, representing the stale Old World. Politics must have come up and points of view about the student rebellion must have been exchanged. I was definitely on the side of the students, and my family and relatives in general were fairly supportive, except my grandmother, who was a Gaullist. I was 15 years old at the time and the oldest of the grandchildren. Some of my cousins and I were participating in the “grownup” discussion.

Just before came the March 22 Movement, of which Daniel Cohn-Bendit was the leader. He was in Nanterre at a new university in an old working class neighborhood outside Paris. It was next to a large shantytown, and the students protested conditions in the university and injustices in the society such as the low minimum wage.

What had started as a student movement very quickly extended to the working class even though the Communist Party and the trade unions were very skeptical about a movement that had originated with middle-class kids.  Because it included both students and workers, it was a potent movement.

Late in the evening, I was in my uncle’s car and we were taking back to his place one of his nephews who was a pastry chef apprentice in Paris at the time.  His name was Jean-Claude and he was my age.  It was dark and on the way we passed by the entrance of a factory displaying a red flag and a banner:  On Strike.  There were workers still there since the strike was tied to occupation of the workplace.

Paris 1968.ComiteInternational

On Monday I went back to my school, which turned out to be on strike too with occupation by students and faculty. I did not know it had been decided since I had not gone to my Saturday morning classes as usual due to the family gathering on the occasion of my cousin’s communion.

I had to decide whether to leave or stay and participate in the activities. I stayed with some trepidation, not knowing what to expect. I was aware that this was an unusual, history-in-the-making kind of event, and I had no idea where it could lead.  The student rebellion in Paris had had some fairly dramatic development already as reported in the news.

My family did not have a TV and our source of information was the radio and the newspaper.  We were assiduous radio listeners, especially at the news hour.  At the time my parents listened to a station, Europe 1, whose transmitter was located outside France, since only state-controlled stations were allowed on French territory, and the contents of their news could be censored by the government.  There was a censorship commission, which was abolished after May ‘68 (this was one of the results of the uprising).

Day after day I went back to my high school.  I remember intense and heated discussions about anything and everything.  We were all a little dizzy with what was going on and were very intent on remaking the world.  The Chinese Cultural Revolution was big among students.  Mao’s Little Red Book was well-known even if we had not read it.  What we knew about the Chinese experiment sounded very interesting and different from Stalinist communism.  The remaking of society, going after the establishment, making manual labor noble and worthy, the idea of communities being able to sustain themselves industrially and agriculturally, all of this had been topics for discussion, and not only among the youth.  There was the liberation movement in South America.  We all had read about all this, heard discussions and listened to intellectuals argue about it.


In school and outside, a lot of flyers and publications were handed out.  There were different tendencies and they all had their printing presses going.  I had to learn quickly about the different acronyms, distinguish between Trotskyists, Maoists, anarchists, and the rest.  One main subject was the police repression going on in Paris, with stories about beatings and interrogations at police centers.  I met students who were in the same school as I, but whom I had never met before.  Some teachers were present too.  I remember my French teacher participating in a discussion on that Monday when I returned.  Others who later would be my economics teachers in 11th and 12th grades were there too.

We would be addressed as “comrade.”  I supposed some of them were already active in the Communist Youth.  The Communist Party was very active in my city, which had had a Communist mayor and city council since 1935.  However, in May 1968, the party was fairly discredited because of its disdain for the student movement.  (It got even worse during the summer with the repression of the “Prague Spring.”)  It tried to make up for lost time, and when we were not allowed to go into the school anymore to “occupy” our classrooms, city hall gave us permission to relocate to the public library.  We all walked down the street with some students monitoring to make sure we were going in an orderly manner.

At the same time the school scene culminated with a student-led forum one evening, to which parents were invited.  I attended with my mother.  A lot of people were present.  I believe we must have explained to them what it was that we wanted.  No, I can’t remember the details, just that it went well and excitement was in the air.   [To be continued next time]