Questions and Pre-planning

January 22, 1959

Dear Dad, Aunt Clara and Uncle Russ:

I sure hope this letter coincides with your arrival in Saskatoon, Dad – you’re getting as bad as your youngest son the way you’re traveling around these days!

Really not too much news to report at the moment because things are as quiet as usual here in Bonn. With the exception of course of quite a few dinner invitations and the audit party or two.

The only exciting bit of information I have to pass on your way is the fact that both Johnny York and myself are going to be able to ship our VW’s back to Canada via Hamburg to Montreal for the nominal sum of $38.50 to cover loading and unloading charges! We wrote the shipping firm concerned in Hamburg two weeks ago and their letter of yesterday informed us that they would be only too glad to take our cars. In our letter to this firm we pointed out that we were expecting to arrive in Montreal on May 28th and would like, if at all possible, to have our cars there waiting for us. The shipping company made note of this but can’t tell us exactly when the cars can be shipped because they haven’t as yet completed their spring shipping schedules. However, they are going to give us a date around mid-March and, as they know we are anxious to have cars in Montreal before May 28th, I’m sure they’ll do their best to accommodate us.

I mentioned in an earlier letter that I was going to jot little things down concerning my return to Canada as they came to mind because I’m sure to forget something if I wait until the last moment. A few little questions that maybe you, Dad, can answer for me after you return from Ottawa: first of all, do you think you could get together any papers, diplomas, records, etc., that you think I would need to take with me when I approach Carlton U re: my proposed attendance starting next fall? Perhaps if you contacted the university they could let you know what they like to see in cases such as mine. I may not have the time, of course, but at the moment I am thinking along the lines of trying to have at least a preliminary interview with the university as I pass through Ottawa on May 29 on my way to the Haliburtons and Toronto. Another question I have concerns my car and perhaps the Ottawa police department can answer this one for me: how long can I drive in Canada with German license plates on my car? And for how many months is my European driver’s license good in Canada? I know that coming from Canada to Germany we are allowed, I think, about three months during which time we can sport Canadian license plates on our cars and our Canadian driver’s licenses are good for that long too. I rather think it must work both ways but I just wanted to be sure because it would complicate my leave plans a bit if I were delayed over a trivial little thing like a driver’s license. Personally, I think that any person that can cope with European driving conditions for 3 1/2 years should be granted an honorary lifetime driver’s license good anywhere in the world! One other question concerns might Zenith “trans-oceanic” portable radio, model no. RL-600: can I buy batteries for this radio in Ottawa as I would like to take it with me to Haliburton if this is possible.

Well, this turned out to be more of a questionnaire than a letter, I’m afraid, but really must dash now and do some work.

Lots of love to you all, Dave

February 9, 1959 – “Rosenmontag”

Dear Dad and Russ,

Today is a holiday here – “Rosenmontag” (Rose Monday) – but nonetheless I’ve been having a particularly busy day of it here at the Embassy. As a matter of fact, come to think of it, I’ve been having “particularly busy days” every day for the past two weeks what with the Germany and Berlin business. As a result, I have amassed no less than 65 1/2 hours overtime just since January 26th! In terms of days, this means that I will have about 9 1/2 days coming to me in overtime leave which I must take before leaving Bonn or else lose it. In addition to this recently accumulated overtime leave, of course, I have another 15 or 16 days overtime leave which I haven’t touched yet – which will probably mean that I will be going on leave around Easter time and staying on leave until the day I depart Bonn for Ottawa, May 20th. I got stuck on this overtime leave thing when I left Phnom Penh because you are supposed to use all overtime leave at the post where it was accumulated – which I didn’t do when I left Phnom Penh and thus lost about two weeks leave. However, as in this case the leave amounts to something like six weeks, no amount of pleading on the part of this Embassy will ever convince me that I might just “donate” this time to Queen and country. Besides which, I will more than likely be very glad of some leave come “packing up” time – even now it gives me the willies when I think of all I have to do before leaving!

With an eye to the future and such time as when I might have a place of my own, I am buying dishes, cutlery and crystal here in Germany to have shipped home with my personal effects. Of course, I shall be only too glad to have good continuous use made of it at 574 Kirkwood as it will be very nice, I think, to have the proper wine glass to go with the proper wine, etc. I’ve already ordered the dishes and I think you’ll agree when you see them that they are very nice indeed. They are “Rosenthal” dishes, pure white, and are in Rosenthal’s “Form 2000” which you may have seen advertised in some Canadian magazine at some time or another. I haven’t chosen the crystal as yet, but imagine it will be quite plain, as will the stainless steel cutlery. The cutlery costs about $15.00 for an eight-person setting. And the dishes – they practically give them away over here at the nominal price of about $35 for a complete 12-place service!!

Rosenthal Form 2000 porcelain

Rosenthal Form 2000 porcelain

You may well wonder from whence cometh the money for such buying sprees – well, to tell you the truth, I have thought the matter out for a long time now, and have decided to forgo my wee Grecian-Turkey jaunt in favour of something more constructive, material, and longer-lasting, i. e.: household effects. I shall also be buying the odd clothing article from time to time before leaving this part of the world, especially, I am sure, on my shopping/theatre junket to London next weekend.

Speaking of London, I am so busy of late but I haven’t had a chance to write to Bob for weeks so last night I decided to just phone him and clear up all sorts of little outstanding questions and answers that have been pending for sometime between Bonn and London. It took me quite a while to get through to him as I do believe that the long-distance operator was just slightly under the influence of the prevailing Carnival spirit, but we finally made connection and I had a nice long (about 20 minutes) chat with him. Joanie, as I think I mentioned earlier, has been in the hospital for a week now for a very minor operation (something she had to have done in order to have children) but Bob informs me that she is rallying beautifully and hopes to be out sometime this week in time for my arrival in London on Friday. I think poor old Bob is the one who is suffering the most as he has had to eat out every day! However, as it now stands, Phil Weishar and I shall be arriving in London Friday morning at 9:14, drop our bags at Canada House, do some shopping, meet Bob for lunch, do some more shopping, have supper and then see Sylvia’s show “West Side Story” that evening. I imagine that Sylvia will be joining us all after the show for a “coffee pot” chat. On the Saturday, Phil has a ticket for “My Fair Lady” (hope she has better luck with Rex Harrison than I did!) and then we both have tickets for another musical that evening. Sunday shall most likely be spent lounging around the Rivoires (Phil is staying with a Canadian steno who lives in the flat upstairs from Bob and Joan) and then we shall catch the 7:30 boat-train back to Bonn, arriving here around 11:00 Monday morning. I really love these weekend jaunts up to London as so much always seems to happen in such a short time but the weekend seems like a week instead.

I mentioned the prevailing Carnival spirit – well it sure is prevailing here in the Rhineland. And personally, I am avoiding it like the plague! This is just one of many little German characteristics I find most revolting, this Carnival business. I fail to see what fun there is in “having a good time if it kills me” just one time every year (the rest of the year, the German race are so sober and staunchy it hurts!) The whole of Bonn and Bad Godesberg are submerged in frenzied fun-having, everyone is tight as a tick, and the Carnival participants are seen everywhere in (what they think are) funny costumes and hats. I even saw a dog today all made up in a clown’s costume and hat! I think the most obnoxious thing about all of this is the fact that all this nonsense is unfortunately not restricted to the children – makes no difference your age, as long as one can make a consummate ass of oneself, it’s O.K. Even my steely-eyed, iron-sided old putzfrau must be living it up these days as she didn’t turn up at the apartment last Thursday when she was supposed to, but instead put in an appearance on Friday. And judging by the way she did the cleaning and straightening up, methinks she must have been out on a royal old toot the day before. Did you know, by the way, that every year around this time, people too poor to do otherwise, will actually sell their furniture and clothing just to have enough money to rent a costume and buy beer??!! Another sidelight of Carnival is the famous story of the man from Mainz who now holds the world’s honor of ever having been able to drink himself to death in just one night! Oh well – come next Wednesday (Ash Wednesday) and all this frivolity will be shelved for another year.

I have two letters here – one dated January 31st from Dad in Vancouver, having just returned from Victoria. I note that you will be back in Ottawa on the 16th, Dad, so I’m hoping that this letter will coincide with your return. I notice in your last two letters that you’ve commented on the “bad spell” of weather we’re having over here this year. I am confused – this is without doubt the nicest winter I’ve had in Europe (my fourth winter at that). I will grant you that we had quite a bit of rain before January, but just after I returned from London last time, we had a lovely week of snow which, strangely enough for these parts, remained on the ground for almost three weeks. This was followed by about a week and a half of gloriously sunny, clear and warm weather which washed all the snow away, but at least it didn’t rain much. And lately, though we haven’t had any more snow to speak of, we have been having lovely crisp days with frost all over everything in the morning and lots of sunshine and blue sky. I must confess, though, that the last three days have been rather bad. We’ve been in shrouded in a very thick fog – so thick, as a matter of fact, that several Canadians have had to abandoned car and take to foot on occasion. I’ve been lucky though and have always managed to make it home, even though it took me nearly three times longer than usual. So with the exception of the past very few days, I really am forced to wonder where the Canadian papers are getting their European weather forecasts from!

The other letter I have before me is from brother Russ, dated January 24th with the well-loved epic “The Ride of the Bearded Ones” (part one) enclosed. Many colleagues here at the Embassy have read this report, Russ, and enjoyed it just as much as I did. The Yorks, particularly, got a large charge out of it and it even inspired them to bring forth some never-before-mentioned episodes that occurred during “the bearded ones” second visit to Bonn – the one I liked most being being about “somebody must be living up there (in the lamp post) because there’s a light on!” I guess, probably, I should have thought to warn you and Pete that Wahn airport is internationally known for its bees with breakfast – but at the time of departure I was so involved in trying to figure out how I was going to BLUNDER ALONG in Spain (and Spanish) that it must have slipped my mind completely. However, glad to hear that you both survived the ordeal and were able to go on to even greater and more startling discoveries, such as “beerinthebakeshop” and “beerinthegasstation”. Your expressed amazement at such completely commonplace and accepted facts in Europe, brought rudely to mind the fact that I shall soon be returning to the land of nobeerinthebakeshop and what’s even worse and more ridiculous – nobeerinthegasstation! The question immediately comes to mind – “What is a thirsty traveler supposed to drink when visiting bakeshops and gas stations?” I was also glad to note that you have discovered some palatable Canadian wines and, as I pointed out earlier, I shall be returning with the correct vessel for each type of wine, plus liqueurs. And, of course, my collection of beer steins. Do private citizens have to have a license of some sort to serve wine with their meals? Wouldn’t surprise me in the least if they did!

Whoops – just remembered another one of those many questions that keep cropping up from time to time: could you please let me know how much tires cost in Canada for VW’s? I was thinking of re-tiring my car over here but somebody suggested that tires might be even cheaper in Canada, so perhaps I should wait till I get there. The old tires have just about had it, inasmuch as my car now has somewhere in the neighborhood of 99,300 kms to its credit.

Mayor Willy Brandt shows his wife the key to the City of Ottawa presented to him, 1959

Mayor Willy Brandt shows his wife the key to the City of Ottawa presented by Mayor Nelms, 1959

I was listening to a broadcast (in German) a night or two ago concerning the visit of Mayor Willy Brandt of West Berlin to Ottawa. It was evidently a re-broadcast of an eye-witness report of the visit and it was very nice to hear old familiar terms like “der Bundeshauptstadt Ottawa” [federal capital city], “Burgermeister Nelms”, “Fünfzig bis zwanzig grad UNTER nul” [15-20 degrees below zero], and “Brrrr!”

Well, I do believe that that’s all about all there is for now, so will close off and get back to the overtime.

Lots of love, Dave


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