Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Memories of Sartoriusstrasse

In Friday’s post I talked a little about our family’s sojourn on Sartoriusstrasse in Wiesbaden, Germany. Today I’m going to tell some more of what I remember; hoping that perhaps, through the magic of Google, someone else with memories of those days will be in touch.

We arrived, as I mentioned before, in late October or early November of 1955. The American, British and French occupation of West Germany had officially ended only in May of that year, and Germany was still rebuilding from the war. Probably because we had a large family of five children, we were assigned quarters in a requisitioned town house in the center of Wiesbaden, on Sartoriusstrasse. I did not realize until I looked at this map that we were only a few blocks from the main train station in Wiesbaden! In my researches, I’ve been hampered by not knowing the exact address where we lived; of course all our mail came to the APO address and was picked up by my father at work. A nearby hospital has been enlarged since we lived there, so it’s possible the building has been torn down; but I did find this photo of 29 Sartoriusstrasse, which looks very similar to what I remember. Our quarters, as best I recall, was the middle house of five. My parents later reminded me that the basement was common to all five houses, so that all the children could play there on rainy or cold days. The back yards had, I think, stone fences separating them, but that did not stop us either.

For the six months preceding our trip to Germany, my mother and we children had been living in our little house in Maine – four rooms and an attic, with an outdoor privy. I know that at one of the times we lived there,  we also got water from the neighbor’s well, but possibly we had some kind of running water, at least from a pump, by this time. In any case, living in this rather fancy house in Wiesbaden was a big difference. There were three floors, with a bathroom on each. At first, I had my own room on the third floor, but at 7 I was a little too young to appreciate that so I soon moved in with my 3-year-old sister on the second floor. In addition to a living room and dining room, we had a playroom, I think on the first floor, which must have saved my mother a few steps when we needed supervision.  The house came furnished with heavy, dark furniture and even china – Brother #1, I believe, has the slightly chipped gravy boat that we had to buy from the Army when we moved because we had chipped it. It’s white with a dark red stripe like some church dinnerware, but more delicate. My sister has a souvenir of the furniture – a tiny scar on her forehead where she slid under my parents’ bed during a chase.

Our previous homes had certainly had no more than three bedrooms or two stories, and there were still many Germans looking for work. So, for the first and only time in her life, my mother had household help. Our first maid was Magda, who was younger (well, under 40 anyway) and skinny. We children thought she was mean, too. I’m not sure if she quit or was fired, but then we got Hilda, who was stout and jolly. She taught my mother to make some German dishes, and was happy to help me with my school German although her dialect was not the Hochdeutsch we were being taught.

My father, who was a Master Sergeant at the time, was First Sergeant of A Battery, 63rd AAA Missile/Gun Battalion. (I’m not sure exactly when it changed from Gun to Missile.)  As a First Sergeant, he had some responsibilities for the men in his battery, beyond simply their work performance. I benefited from this responsibility when one of his men came to him for help – he had signed up to buy the Book of Knowledge for his infant child and couldn’t really afford the payments. My father bought this great children’s encyclopedia from him and I (and quite a few other family members) got years of enjoyment and education from it.  I remember too that we did a lot more entertaining of people from work than at any other time in my memory – extra people at Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, for example. 

In the house two doors to the right of us lived the Larsens. Larsen Sr. was some kind of Naval officer (I don’t remember his rank but probably a Lt. Commander), who was most likely attached to the Rhine River Patrol. My memory is that he was actually from Norway, but I wasn’t then as knowledgeable about Scandinavian-Americans as I am now. His wife, however, was Swiss and was my Brownie leader. Their two elder daughters, Karen and Esther, were in the troop as well. There was one son, Larry (Lars or Lawrence?) and two smaller girls –- I think one was named Astrid.

Right next door to us were the Mellingers, an Air Force family. They had a lot of children – maybe as many as eight? More than five, anyway. The eldest, Yvonne, was about 14 and I think Butch, the oldest boy, was a couple of years older than I, but still young enough to join our play.

For some reason I can’t recall the name of the family who lived on the other side of us or really anything about them. Perhaps one of my siblings will remember. The last house was inhabited by the Toms family, and I think Mr. Toms was a civilian employee of one of the services. There were two older boys and a girl, Rae Liz, who was my age. She had a fantastic dollhouse. The other thing that I think I recall from the Toms household was that they put angel hair on their Christmas tree. Angel hair was, I think, made from fiberglass (ouch!) – it looked really pretty, though. (I’ve linked to a site where you can actually still buy it, which claims that the angel hair it sells is not like the rough, scratchy kind I remember. I still wouldn’t use it around pets or small children, though.)

For some reason we don’t seem to have any photographs of those years in Germany.  This seems odd to me, as we have photos and even slides from the years immediately preceding them. My hope is that photos were taken and sent home to Maine, and that perhaps there are some in an album or shoebox at the home of one of my relatives. Later this week, after a visit from SonShineIn’s inlaws, I’ll write a bit more about our time in Wiesbaden.


Mompriest said...

Very interesting. I've never lived overseas and wasn't born until 1957. I enjoyed reading this, thank you!

Mark said...

It's great you have these memories! Thanks for the photo of the old neighborhood.