Tag Archives: East Berlin

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

28 Oct

Berlin.Kitty.East.1967
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. 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.

 

FIRST IN A SERIES
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 Blue.blog.craniumfitteds.com

 

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.

Berlin.Kachelfoen
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.

Berlin.Montage.OldBuildings

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.]

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