Gerhard Postpischil’s Memoir

My father wrote about this memoir about the first twelve years of his life, from birth (April 1943) until leaving Austria (May 1957).

My mother said she went into labor on Sunday afternoon, and I was born at 7:10 a.m. on Monday. The location was the Wiener Allgemeines Krankenhaus (Vienna General Hospital). I have absolutely no recollection of the subsequent years (mom had a photo of my father holding me, during furlough in 1944, in front of the Hexenhaus, a vendor’s hut on the path down from the Cobenzl). We lived at Glasergasse 11, in the 9th district, in a typical apartment building, with three stores on the street. Each had two similar large openings, with a door in the western side, and a huge window in the other (the front has now been converted to six smaller windows); each of the six openings also was protected by a Rollbalken (for some reason my mother used only the one over the door, but not the window). I remember sitting in the sunlight in that window, and peeling and eating paint chips. My mother said I had Whooping Cough as a baby, but thankfully I don’t remember that. I remember being bathed in an enameled footbath, which my mother filled with warm water. Most of the time she poured water over my head just as I was inhaling; it never occurred to her to tell me when to hold my breath. When I was three, my mother placed me on the bed, and did some chores. I decided to explore, and fell over the edge of the bed, hitting my head on a chamber pot underneath. I was rushed to the hospital, and they patched me up, but I still have a bald spot on my right temple. The chamber pot did not come off so well; a huge triangular chunk was missing, and the rest was cracked. I should add that like most contemporary houses, this one had one shared toilet per floor, and no bathing facilities. The fourth family on the ground floor served as concierge, and had a small, windowless apartment.

Either in late fall of 1946, or early spring of 1947 (I remember wearing a heavy coat, but neither a cap nor mittens) we walked south on Kettenbrueckengasse to do some shopping. We crossed at a green light, but I was walking so slowly that we got caught by a light change in the middle of the road. When we finished crossing, there was a policeman who wanted to give my mother a ticket. She explained that we got caught in the middle of the street, but he didn’t want to believe her. I didn’t improve things any by asking my mother if the stupid man was bothering her. He finally let us go with an admonition to be more careful.

The other thing I remember was crying myself to sleep with a dark brown teddy bear, with a dangling black metal button eye. When I was about five, I remember being mad, at myself, for breaking a train. This was an assortment of three tinplate cars, bent out of shape by my trying to ride on them. I don't remember ever seeing or playing with them before then. I also had a U.S. Army half-track truck that I used for riding on. Except for the wheels and axles, it was wood, and could be nailed together again when it broke. I also had a set of alphabet blocks, with an insufficient number of letters to do anything with, and a building set with columns, arches, and various sizes of blocks. Also I remember that my mother had a curling iron, about the size of small hedge clippers, that needed to be heated on the stove or oven.

When my mother was born, my grandmother was unable to take care of her, so placed her in a children’s home (it might have been an orphanage?); all I knew was that they didn’t get along. The only personal details I ever got out of them was that once my grandmother worked as a waitress, and the elastic on her underwear failed, resulting in whistles and applause from the men. My mother related that once, in the home, she stared out the window when she should have been going somewhere, and one of the attendants screamed in her ear; she had a hearing loss in that ear since. Also when she was a teenager, she was drafted into the Hitlerjugend, and sent to work on a farm in Westphalia. She relates that at the first meal, she buttered a piece of bread the way she was used to, but the farmer’s wife scolded her and scraped off most of the butter (my grandmother used at least a quarter inch of butter on a slice of rye bread, and that was her most frequent solution to a request for something between meals).

As I got older my grandmother’s and mother’s relationship improved, and my grandmother (“Oma”) did babysitting while my mother worked. I remember one evening when I was four, being picked up by my mother from my grandmother’s store (she ran the larger section of a store, selling ladies underwear, ribbons, and the like, while my grandfather (“Opa”) sold stamps in the smaller section) at Kettenbrueckengasse 15. As we were waiting for the subway (Stadtbahn), I remember seeing a sign on the other side, and I sounded out the letters, and realized that they spelled Kettenbrueckengasse. That was my start of reading. I also need to add that my grandfather married my grandmother in or after 1941, and was absolutely no relation to me; however he always treated me as his own. I remember one embarrassing incident when I had diarrhea, and was wearing something like long johns with a rear flap. No matter how much I struggled, I could not get the buttons undone, and soiled myself. I sat on the toilet crying for a long time, until my grandfather knocked and asked what’s wrong. He cleaned me up and helped me change clothes, when he could just as easily have asked my grandmother to do it.

When I was small, but house broken, my grandmother would take me to a bathhouse on the Linke Wienzeile. I’ve already mentioned that most houses lacked bathing facilities, and it was common to wash in the sink using cold water (if you wanted hot water, it had to be heated on the stove). An attendant filled two tubs with warm water, and clients were not supposed to touch the faucets. One time I was busy playing, and got tangled in the chain holding the stopper, which pulled out. I was clumsy and couldn’t replace the stopper until most of the water had run out. When I got a little older, I was given money and sent to the Dianabad. This has existed in several variations, but at the time was in a large building in the 2nd Bezirk opposite the Schwedenplatz. It had several floors with lockers and showers, and two large pools. One pool had a wave machine that ran for five minutes every hour, the other had a kiddie pool with a separating wall. The wall had several openings for water circulation, and I found that I could dive down and swim through them. But as I grew, one time I got stuck, and barely managed to get out in time to avoid drowning. This building also had stores, such as a milliner, jeweler, and my favorite, an ice cream vendor who sold Pistachio ice cream cones.

Occasionally my grandfather would take us on the Stadtbahn to Hietzing to a private swimming pool and recreation center. The only thing I remember about it is taking a shortcut around the west side of the station, and under an overpass constructed for water runoff. When I was small, jumping the stream was a challenge.

As I grew up, I found it difficult to get information. None of the adults would talk about the war, or their relatives. I knew about the war because a house diagonally across from ours, on the next block, was just a heap of rubble. We were two blocks from the Franz Josephs Bahn railroad terminal, and that was considered a legitimate target. My mother mentioned that during air raids she grabbed me and sought shelter in the doorway (we had a large room intended for sales, with a bed, and a smaller one with a table, day bed, cold water sink and coal stove). I’m not sure she thought this through, but it must have given her some comfort.

Every year we had a small Christmas tree, with real candles. The tree was decorated with angel hair, cotton snow, and lots of candy — my favorite were miniature liquor bottles with real liquor. One year my mother placed the tree on the breakfront to get it out of the way, but it fell, and caught fire. I managed to eat most of the candy anyway, despite some burned chocolate.

For breakfast I usually got a bowl of Gries (semolina), cooked with milk, and topped with a liberal sprinkling of cocoa powder and sugar. Sometimes she made Palatschinken (thick crepes with jam filling, rolled up and coated with powdered sugar). Occasionally I got a soft-boiled egg that was easy to eat with the commemorative spoon I got in Bolsward. Lunch usually was a slice of bread with butter and some topping (marmalade, jam, liverwurst). For dinner my mother made a brown sauce, with diced potatoes, sliced pickles, and Duerre wurst (cheapest, “dry” sausage); a variation was mashed potatoes, topped with blackened onions. When we could afford meat, she made Rindsrouladen (pounded veal cutlets, filled with mustard, pickles, and egg, and rolled up). We usually had some sort of vegetable soup, but occasionally she made “Floating Islands,” a soup made from milk and egg yolks, with beaten egg whites floating on top. For dessert she made Kugelhupf, a light ring-shaped cake in a Bundt pan, occasionally with cocoa powder swirled in for variety; I don’t recall her baking anything else. But she was good at improvising; for one of my birthdays she couldn’t afford a cake, but made a paste of cocoa powder, sugar, and milk, and used that as a filling for wafers (thin, and about the size of a waffle), and assembled that into something resembling a cake; it was delicious. Occasionally she made pudding using a Dr. Oetker mix (the brand of pizzas in our frozen food section); one time they had a promotion for a puppet show, with free entry with five (or ten?) pudding envelopes. I knew roughly where it was taking place, in the 9th district, and got on the streetcar on Alserbach strasse, looking out for street names. There was a family with a kid my age on the tram, and I figured I’d get off when they did. They still hadn’t gotten off by the time we got to the Guertel, so I started walking back. I finally found it, and got to the show a few minutes late.

While Porzellangasse was the major shopping street, our immediate neighborhood also had stores. Next to our house was a chain store, Anker Brot, that sold bread and rolls (still there today, but with added table and chairs). On the facing street was a butcher (I was addicted to horse salami), on the south corner there was a greengrocer, next to that a candy store (selling Fondants — fruit and coffee flavored sugar, pressed into small shapes, with a sugary crust; I also liked Grape sugar, and the local version of jelly beans). Adjacent was a small branch of the public library (this was a tiny room, with bookshelves in the back, and a front counter where you dropped off and received books; there was no provision for browsing), where I started out as their smallest and youngest user. The lady recommended books for me to read, and frequently she picked uninteresting ones. I remember one about a bunny that could twirl its ears so rapidly that it could fly like a helicopter. As I got older, she improved, but I remember hating The Little Prince and Little Lord Fauntleroy, probably because I had no experience with the background of the stories. I loved books by Erich Kaestner, especially Emil und Die Detektive that echoed our home situation. Next to that was a print shop, with a multi-window display showing how they did four-color separation. Farther down the street was a Konditorei, nearer to Seegasse, serving coffee and milk, and baked goods. I loved their Schaumschnecken (foam snails) — piped meringue filled with sweetened whipped cream. On Glasergasse towards Porzellangasse there was a joiner on our side of the street, frequently with furniture outside waiting for the glue to dry. Opposite was a Volkschule (elementary school with grades 1-4), and next to that a general store that we purchased marbles, chewing gum, and comic books from. Regrettably we cheated the store owner; there was a small dispenser in front of the store, containing chewing gum, marbles, and similar small items. The coin slot was intended for a 50 Groschen coin (about two cents at the exchange rate), but all the kids soon realized that the machine would also work with a 20 Groschen piece. The marbles were made from clay, and usually had any shape except spherical. We used to play marbles in sidewalk cracks, especially some nice ones by the print shop. The blocks on Alserbachstrasse between the Stadtbahn station Friedensbruecke and the Franz Josephs Bahnhof also had businesses, of which I remember a fish monger (part of a chain; selling herring in aspic that I craved), a toy store, a movie theater, and opposite a bank. The only businesses on Porzellangasse I recall were Mrs. Berry’s beauty salon, and a book store, with a nice selection of children’s books. Somewhere around there was a candy shop, that had expensive delicacies; one of their common window displays was Rahat, being Turkish jelly cubes, covered in rose-scented confectioner’s sugar. My mother bought it once, and I couldn’t see anything special about it.

So, most of what I believed growing up was obtained from snatches of overheard conversations, and physical evidence. My father was missing in action, and I believed he was in the army. From stuff lying around (as it turns out, he never lived there except on leave, and my mother and grandmother did), I assumed he was an accountant, doing business out of our apartment, and would merit an officer’s commission, or at least non-commissioned officer rank. As it turns out, he was in the SS (drafted? I hope that he didn’t volunteer) [This unsourced statement is not supported by records I obtained for his father. —edp] and had a rank half-way between Private First Class and Private. Also he wasn’t an accountant, but a Lagerist (generously translated as warehouse manager, but just as likely someone sitting at the loading dock checking off deliveries). Back then the radio had regular news reports listing the names of soldiers repatriated by the Russians. We sat by the radio hoping for news that never came.

Our apartment was a repurposed store with two rooms; it is possible that my grandmother ran her business there? The outside room held a bed and living room furniture, and my play area in the curtained window. There was a door to the smaller room, that held a day bed, table, and cold water sink on one side, and a coal stove and breakfront on the other. There must also have been a gas stove for cooking, but I really don’t remember it. The large room also must have had a closet, that I also don’t remember, where I found a pair of ballet shoes, a leather satchel containing a large hammer, large screwdriver, an adjustable pair of pliers, and a star drill. Another item I found was a cork swim belt that I later used to go swimming at a public pool in the Augarten. After a while I realized I could float, and swim, just fine without the belt. The Augarten was a large park across the Danube canal in the second Bezirk (district), and it had the swimming pool, tennis courts, and a Flak tower with platforms that held anti-aircraft guns during the war. The tower had one entrance at the bottom, chained, and was hollow, with large horizontal projections on top for the guns; I have no idea how they got the guns up that high (I think that it also served as a shelter). The park had a lot of shrubbery that we kids played in, and I am still surprised that the ground between the bushes was bare earth, unlike the rest of the park.

In 1950 or so I spent the summer with a host family in Bolsward, Holland. They owned a restaurant and bakery, and I remember having an enjoyable time. When they baked cookies, these were separated by a thin layer of dough that the children were allowed to eat after the cookies were removed. Also, the house was on the corner of the intersection of two canals (that I can’t find on current maps), and diagonally across was a loading dock that had been bombed. There were twisted tracks, and remnants of carts, but nothing in usable condition. One weekend we drove to a huge seawall, and they explained how Holland was turning an arm of the North Sea, the Ijssel Meer, into land for farming; the first stage was a dam built across the inlet, turning the ocean into the Zuider See. (Today all the water has been replaced by farmland, with giant pumps to keep the land dry and the water fresh) I also remember exploring the area outside the city, and carrying a large pole that was used to jump over drainage ditches. I returned with other children on a bus, and remember the adults holding a sing-along of memorable songs, but none I had heard before (“Hoch auf them Gelben Wagen”). As a souvenir, I had a commemorative spoon, and few children’s books, in Dutch, that I was able to read for a few years, but then promptly lost.

A year or so later I went to summer camp. Before leaving I had to have a thorough physical exam that including drinking a glass of barium sulfate so they could get good X-rays of my digestive system. We wound up in a small village, with a stream, plenty of fresh air, greenery, and cows. It was tolerable, but I was homesick, and that was exacerbated by a bigger kid who bullied the smaller ones. One time he hit me so hard that I lost consciousness. We spent a lot of time outdoors, and went for walks. The village had a small store that sold postcards and stamps, and I remember buying some and sending them to my mother. She may still have one with a drawing of Indians around a campfire and a prisoner on a pole. I recall crying for hours when I finally came home, and that was the last time she sent me to camp.

About this time I had acute tonsillitis, and after a house call, the doctor had me sent to the hospital. My tonsils were removed, and I was promised ice cream once I was released; it hurt anyway. About a year or so later I contracted mumps, for which there was no cure or vaccine at the time. The recommended treatment was to pour warm oil into the ear canals, to provide symptomatic relief. I suspect that at least once the warm oil was too warm, fusing my ear bones, resulting in my current hearing impairment. That’s a speculation I never wanted to burden my mother with, and I’ve always wondered whether she suspected the same.

My mother was fairly religious, and I recall going to an improvised church (basically a white-washed room with a table holding a bible, and a cross on the wall; it also provided child care during Sunday services. I remember playing telephone, and musical chairs; I did poorly in both. I also recall going to a house south of Vienna for an easter egg hunt, and singing songs (“Guter Mond, Du Gehst so Stille”) in the bus on the way home. And one year we received a care package through the American Lutheran church; I recall large bags of flour, sugar, and powdered egg.

When I started school, I was sent to one run by the Lutheran church, in a converted office building two blocks from my grandmother’s house. Again I have very little recollection of what transpired, except that the building did not have a gym, so we had to change into our uniforms and walk several blocks to another school (on or near Gumpoldskirchner Strasse); I always felt a bit self-conscious when we did that. The other thing I remember was asking to be excused to go to the bathroom at 11:50 a.m., and the teacher saying that I could wait until the end of class at noon. He was wrong, and my grandmother had to come pick me up. I suspect that most of the grades we used pencils to write with, as I don’t recall using ink; in later grades we had desks with an inkwell, a bottle of ink, and pen holders with replaceable nibs. I don’t recall any class mates, but do remember occasionally playing with some on the way back to my Grandmother’s. One pursuit was climbing a sloping retaining wall in an area holding three basement stores, across the Wien river (covered and paved over). I never saw any report cards, but must have done fairly well, because after four grades I was transferred to the Franz Schubert Gymnasium (this building, on Glasergasse, is now a Realschule; schools at the time provided four grades in elementary school, the Volksschule, and additional grades 1-8 in either a Realschule for general education, or a Gymnasium for academically inclined students).

In the Gymnasium I made two close friends, Franz Kohlbeck, and Peter Kneussel (the teacher assigned seats alphabetically, and they were both in the row in front of me). Franz lived on Seegasse, and Peter on Porzellangasse near the Seegasse intersection. A search for Franz on the Internet shows a retired professor of Geology; I wonder whether he’s the same one. There’s a Peter in the Vienna telephone book, but I found no other information. I also had some more casual friends, one of whom, Poremba, lived on Alserbachstrasse (the larger shopping street perpendicular to Porzellangasse at the Bahnhof); one time his mother invited me to dinner, consisting of noodles with sugar and ground nuts. The other friend had to commute from Nussdorf on the other side of the Leopoldsberg. I visited his house once and he had a small set of Kleinbahn trains. I always wanted trains, but our house was in an area with DC power, hence transformers wouldn’t work. One Christmas my grandparents got me a battery powered train, consisting of two permanently joined F units in Santa Fe warbonnet colors, running on a small circle with no hope of expansion. I played with it, but it wasn’t really what I wanted. The standard batteries at the time were about the size of a wallet, rated at 4.5V, and came with long copper strips as terminals that would short out unless bent out of the way or covered with a sleeve; the way of testing if a battery was usable was to place the tongue across the terminals — if it felt sour the battery was good.

During all this time my mother was struggling to make ends meet, and she took any odd job she could. I remember her sewing men’s pants, and she worked as an assistant in Mrs. Berry’s beauty salon on Porzellangasse (Mrs. Berry had a son named Walter whom we considered a possible match, but he was interested mostly in opera, and had a fairly prominent singing career since). Sometimes money was so tight that my mother pawned her winter coat, only to redeem it just when it got cold again. I remember walking with her to the rental office one time, and the building had a continuous elevator — a loop of connected cars, without doors, that never stopped moving. Another time she couldn’t pay the rent, and was taken to court; the judge decided that she was unable to pay, and as long as she made a good faith effort to pay, we couldn’t be thrown out.

My mother enjoyed the outdoors, and whenever the weather was nice and we weren’t at my grandmother’s we would go for walks. Usually we would take a tram to the foothills of the hills around Vienna, and then start going uphill. I remember hearing, but haven’t been able to confirm, how they got their names. The Danube separates the Alps on the west and the Carpathians on the east. The last hill in the Alps is relatively devoid of growth, unlike the others; it is named Leopoldsberg after Emperor Leopold I. The next one over is Kahlenberg (bald mountain, which it isn’t). The story I heard was that the bald mountain was originally named Kahlenberg, but Leopold wanted one named after himself, and the officials of the time just shifted the names of several hills one hill to the west.

Gymnasium was mostly very enjoyable. Our home room teacher taught the core subjects, and we had other teachers for art and crafts, gym, math, and music. Mr. Vodlicka (there’s a hacek over the c) kept the school library in his office, and I borrowed books frequently. My favorite were adventure stories by Karl May; as an adult I look at them less fondly, as May was extremely bigoted in his writings, but professing otherwise in the tales. And he inserted numerous monologues extolling the Christian, i.e., Catholic, religion at every chance. In arts and crafts I remember doing two watercolors, one of an erupting volcano, and one of a strawberry plant that my grandmother liked so much that she had it framed (it’s on the wall in the picture of my great-grandmother’s eighty-fourth birthday celebration). I also made two ashtrays for my grandmother, one shaped like an infinity symbol and one in the form of a rectangle with a chiseled interior I just could not get level, a box with a veneer inlay top, a clown riding a stick (the stick had a wheel, that when pushed made it look as though the clown was pedaling), and a sailboat. The sailboat turned out to be top heavy, and never got used. For several years I also sang in the school choir; in Vienna one route out of poverty was acceptance to the Wiener Saenger Knaben (Vienna Boy’s Choir), but I was too old to qualify. At least they don’t castrate them any more.

For geography we had to buy an Atlas (still in my possession, although falling apart); one day I was doodling with my compass, and I placed the compass on various cities to compare distances. When I placed it, I noticed that Vienna and Oslo were the same distance from my center (the page still has the hole in it); the next day the teacher called me to the front of the room for an impromptu quiz, and the first question was “what’s the capital of Norway” — I replied Oslo almost before he finished the question, and was sent back to my seat, spared more questions that I might not have known the answer to. I also had difficulty with poetry; the teacher would ask us to learn poems, and made us recite them. One time I was asked to recite Schiller’s “Lied von der Glocke” (song of the bell), and never got past the first line.

The school system had a policy of taking field trips. The first, when I was ten, was to a cloister and church complex at Melk. We left from the Franz Joseph’s station, and I knew that train travel required a ticket, so I bought one for seven Schillinge; it never occurred to me that the school would have made arrangements for transportation. Some time later we went to an observatory in the western foothills to see a comet through a telescope; mainly I remember walking through vineyards back to the tram in the late evening. The comet was just a little speck in the telescope, and didn’t really impress me. Another outing was to the Musikvereinssaal (the formal name is something like Concert Hall of the Friends of Musik), a venue that’s been rated as one of the top three in the world for its acoustics; I don’t remember what we heard, but probably a selection of classical favorites (any Strauss, Mozart, Schubert), and their signature encore, the Radetzky march. Another trip was to the Schoenbrunn palace; all I remember were large rooms, sparsely furnished, and a huge portrait whose eyes appeared to follow you around the room.

The trip that impressed me most was an extended trip to the Dachstein area. We traveled by bus, and stayed in a government owned building (this site has been expanded so much that I couldn’t recognize it at all; I remember going slightly uphill from the road, but the current area is flat). Some of the teachers came with us, and we held regular classes, mostly outdoors. On walks the biology teacher pointed out plants, and something of their taxonomy. For art, the teacher showed us how to measure relative size by holding up a thumb, and using that to scale objects on the drawing. We also took the cable car up the mountain, and got a tour of the caves. Then we went to the top (the Dachstein is the second largest mountain complex in Austria, with several peaks close to 3,000 meters); all I remember is a barren, windy area with a little snow. The last day was very busy; we went to Hallstadt to visit the salt mine (pre-Roman), then took a bus to Salzburg. We visited the Mirabell palace, and took a funicular up to Salzburg castle (there are two linked cars, and the one on top is filled with water until it starts going down and pulls the other car up; these days they’re electrically operated). Outside Salzburg we went to Heilbronn, a palace built by an evil practical joker. The grounds are full of hidden water pipes, and when you least suspect it, you get drenched. It also had some interesting hydraulic effects that were more benign. Finally we took a bus home. At the time I only had a small net bag to carry my things in, and I had some drawings that stuck out; I spent a good part of my time just making sure I didn’t lose anything. It’s funny how minor annoyances stick with you, but more important things are forgotten.

While I don’t recall the reasons anymore, I was a frequent visitor to the principal’s office. Dr. Jellinek managed to instill fear in the students, even though he never did anything to justify it. The usual punishment for infractions was to write a four page essay on some subject or other, which we accomplished by folding a standard sheet in half, and writing extra large, something he never commented on. One time I was very late for school and was called to the office. On my way to the school our train broke down, and we had to wait for evacuation, and then walk to the next station (Schwedenplatz). Luckily for me I saw Dr. Jellinek walking two car lengths ahead, so had a very good excuse.

When the Danube canal was built (1870s), it was with a park and recreation area along most of its upper length. The street level had a path, with trees and bushes, over the Stadtbahn (resembles Riverside park in New York City), with a railing and staircases to the next level. The lower level was even with the Stadtbahn tracks, and had a walkway with occasional bushes and grass. The terrain sloped down to the water, with a concrete boundary just large enough to walk on. After school we frequently played on all levels. The water had rescue boats on it, but they were secured with a chain and padlock. We played in the boats, and once I fell in, and had to walk home soaking wet. When the water was low, it exposed sand bars; I discovered that a hole dug in them would attract water to a level higher than in the canal. Just before the Friedensbruecke subway station, there was a large opening, used to carry rainwater from the streets, with walkways on each side; it may also have been part of the sanitation system before that was replaced by a treatment plant. One time we went inside, but we had no artificial light, so didn’t get too far. Another time I walked north to the beginning of the canal, and found a huge lock, partially open. While there, a jeep with four soldiers came up the path, and I wondered where they were going to turn around. Instead they drove up a staircase to street level; I didn’t know that cars could do that.

At some point I had a wooden scooter, and used that all over town. But some years later a bicycle store opened a couple of blocks from the school, and he also rented bicycles and scooters by the hour. I only had money to try that a few times, but those scooters had pneumatic tires, and were wonderful to ride on, compared to my wooden wheels with a steel strap.

Friedensbruecke was the common route to the second Bezirk, with the Augarten and some additional shopping opportunities. One day my mother and I were on the bridge, and walking rapidly. She swung her leg, and her shoe went flying off into the water. The east side of the Danube canal was less fancy, and one of the things I remember was a small entertainment center just north of the bridge. There was a shooting gallery, where I won an occasional artificial (paper) flower; there was also a swing set consisting of boats. I don’t remember how much each cost, but I rarely had money anyway. South of the bridge, where there is now another bridge, there was a ferry across the canal. Each bank had a large tower, connected by cable, with a pulley connecting to the boat by a lighter cable. There was enough current so that the rudder sufficed for moving across. I remember the fare being 10 Groschen, and the rim of the boat being low enough so I could trail my hand in the water.

After my mother married, my grandmother moved out of the house; I’m not sure when she married, but it was fairly soon thereafter. My grandfather, Johann “Hans” Soucek (another hacek over the c) had a store at Kettenbrueckengasse 15, and a two room apartment in the same building, but on the second floor on the other stair. He also owned a weekend property at Zifferergasse 4 or 6 (I didn’t know the street or number then) in Essling (formerly part of the state of Lower Austria, but annexed by the city of Vienna) that he divided with his sister Marie and brother-in-law, who lived there year round. The property had one gate (chain link fence all around), and a concrete walkway that forked just after the entrance (the western side still remains). The fence on the east side had lilac bushes, roses, then hazelnut bushes, and a long row of miniature strawberries (Erdbeeren), followed by some gooseberries near the end of the fence. The walkway had a trellis full of grapes (dark colored, probably Pinot Noir), ending in a deep (8 foot?) pond with a huge evergreen. The walkway divided the property into three equal sized areas. The west side had a herb garden cultivated by aunt Marie; the east side was lawn and fruit trees (Plum, Apple, Pear, Apricot (Marillen), and Cherry). Aunt Marie’s house was east-west oriented, of wood construction with a tar paper roof, and electricity. Grandfather’s house was square, appeared to be a single concrete pour, with an entry, one large room holding two beds, a tiny kitchen (with a Kerosene and a wood stove), no running water, and a bathroom with no water. In all the years I never got to use that bathroom; it was sometimes used by my grandparents. It connected to a cistern at the rear corner of the house, and my grandfather carefully cultivated the contents preparatory to spreading it on the plants. My grandfather and a friend of his built a combination bed and seat in the entry, that also got a table and chairs for use as a dining area by day, and my bedroom by night (and afternoon naps). About where the walkways ended, there was a walnut tree in the middle, next to an old bathtub and a water pump. When I got tall enough to reach the lowest branch, I would climb the walnut tree, but later I preferred to climb the cherry tree, as it was taller and the view was better. One spring I dumped my things, then ran to climb the tree; it was only after I was all the way up that I realized it was completely covered with caterpillars and their tents. I also used a branch from the cherry tree to make a bow, but couldn’t find any wood stiff enough to make good arrows.

Each spring we had to carry a jar of water to prime the pump, and once the weather turned warmer my grandfather transferred goldfish from a huge tank in the store to the pond. On the east side were the pond and evergreen, and a large bush of Pfingstrosen (Peonies) surrounded by tulips and a couple of rose bushes. Next to the well and bathtub was an outhouse, and next to that a storage shed, with an earthy smell, for garden tools. Next to the shed were elderberry bushes (Holunder), and behind that some more shrubbery and a compost heap. The space between the walkways was a lawn, shared, and used for drying laundry and parking visitors. Hans and Marie had another sister, Rosa Timan. Rosa had two sons, Paul and Hans. Paul studied to be a conductor, and Hans an opera tenor. They spent some weekends at the house. I never saw Marie tend her herbs, that had interesting scents, some medicinal, some unusual, but it’s possible that she did that during the week, and relaxed on the weekends. Her usual leisure activity was solitaire; she had a deck of small Patience cards (about half normal size). Her husband collected and pressed the elderberries, and set jars for fermenting on their window sills. Each had a trap on top, and every so often a bubble of carbon dioxide would push through. The shed also had storage for lawn chairs, simple devices with two hinged wooden frames and a cloth stretched between them. My grandfather regularly sprayed the vines with a concoction of copper sulfate; he had a tank strapped to his back, and a handle to activate the spray. When the grapes ripened, he used a small wine press; he also collected and fermented the juice, but I don’t remember ever seeing him drink wine. At the rear of the shed was a small compost pile, used mainly for grass clippings and leaves. One time I threw a partially eaten walnut on it, and for the next seven years watched a sapling grow.

As I got older, I got to help in the garden. The grass was cut by hand with a sickle, and weeds were removed with a hoe. The hoe had an elongated diamond on one side, and two tines on the other; all the hoes I’ve seen for sale since had three or four tines. One problem with working in the garden was mud if we got there after rain. My grandfather’s solution was to build another walkway, on the east side between the erdbeer beds and the row of trees. There was a general store on the large street a few blocks away (Niklas-Eslarn strasse), and we took a wheelbarrow and bought a sack of cement (about 100 pounds). I got to take the wheelbarrow back, and had trouble keeping it going straight (it didn’t occur to me to pull it). After we got back, my grandfather cleared some sandy soil next to the house, made square wooden forms, and mixed batches of concrete to place in them. He made enough flagstones for the front and right side, with a few extra. The sandy patch next to the house was nice for playing in; I don’t recall ever seeing a sandbox in a playground.

At some point I had Syrian hamsters (sold as “Gold” hamsters). One summer I brought some with me, and my grandfather put together four one-meter boards as an enclosure for them. But one male escaped; when we returned the subsequent week, I spotted a puddle with a small skeleton on the dirt road just before the turnoff to our street. I’ve been wondering ever since whether that was the hamster, or just a field mouse.

At this time my mother was dating a veterinarian, who had a practice on the street between Porzellangasse and Liechtenstein strasse, a short connecting road between the two; he was an inspiration, and I decided to become a veterinarian. I also had a rocking horse, and liked playing with the hamsters by letting them ride on my shoulder. One day the hamster fell off, and I heard a crunch; he had fallen under a runner. He was moving, and obviously in pain; I put on winter clothing and bundled him in a mitten and took him to the veterinarian, but he died before I got there. The vet was also a member of the Austrian equivalent of the ASPCA, that had a clinic and refuge outside Huetteldorf (near the Lainzer Tiergarten). For a while I had the run of the place, and found an old horse and a deer in the rear of the property, along with gooseberries. I visited two buildings with cages, one for dogs, one for cats. I also was witness to their electrocuting a sick animal that they were not able to help. One benefit was that I got copies of their yearbooks, large 300-400 page books with pictures and stories of animals, and some ads. My mother also dated, and for a while corresponded with a man in the French Foreign Legion, but nothing ever developed, and I always hoped to get information about my father.

I don’t recall what I did, but one day, about lunch time, I did something that made my mother say I was going to get spanked, as soon as she finished (I don’t recall what she was doing, but either baking, cooking, or cleaning). I had never been spanked before, and didn’t want it, so I hid under the bed. My mother called me, and thought I had run out through the unlocked front door; finally she went to the police. After several hours she sat down and cried, and I finally came out. Instead of a spanking I got hugs. My family didn’t believe in physical punishment, and in all the years there was only one exception. We were eating lunch in Essling, something with vegetables and mashed potatoes, and my knife kept getting dirty. Usually I would just run the knife over the fork, and clean it that way, but I realized that by tilting the knife between two tines I could scrape both sides at once. My grandfather told me not to do that (no idea why), and when I thoughtlessly did it again, slapped me.

I frequently traveled between my grandmother’s place and our apartment. When we were time constrained or the weather was bad, we used the Stadtbahn (Vienna is ranked one of the top three cities for public transportation, and we had many options. Usually the fastest was the subway on the Danube canal — Wiental line. At the time the subway was a simple double-tracked loop with a long tail. The long portion ran east-west adjacent to the Wien river, then bent north to run along the Danube canal, then turned again to run over the Guertel back to the middle of the Wiental line. There was also an extension of the Guertel line to Heiligenstadt, where there was a clockwise return loop. Other options were the D tram, that ran from Franz Josephs Bahnhof to the Suedbahnhof, but we got off at the Opera and walked the rest of the way. Frequently we just walked; usually from Porzellangasse to the Boerse (stock exchange and exhibition hall; when I was small, we occasionally stopped by. One lady had a knitting machine, and I got to run it, helping her to show that even a child could do it — it was basically a long row of teeth that you started your thread on, and a slider that went back and forth), then to the Hoher Markt (where we once happened on the filming of The Third Man), then Stephansplatz, Kaerntner strasse, and the Linke Wienzeile (the Vienna river was channeled and paved, and used for an open air market, with wooden shacks selling fresh fruit, fish, and other foods). Sometimes we would avoid the inner city and go along the Ring instead; one such time in summer of 1953 with my grandmother, we stopped at an outdoor restaurant in the Ratshaus (City hall). My grandmother had coffee and I had a hot chocolate and probably some dessert, when a kindly old gentleman stopped by to chat with us. It turned out to be the President of Austria, Dr. Karl Renner, and he told me to do well in school; sadly he died that December, and we all received a small book containing his biography. Another variation took us through the inner city, but coming out via the Michaeler platz; this had a thoroughfare housing several stores. One sold expensive jewelry, and had window displays of various gems. I remember a geode with Amethyst. Another store sold animals, and for years they had a chameleon in the window, and it was a bit of a challenge to find it. My favorite, when I was traveling alone, was to take the bus that came close to our route through the inner city. Before the war Vienna had left-running traffic; by edict that was changed to right-hand running in 1938, and everything except the Stadtbahn changed. The buses had their doors moved to the right, but the driver’s compartment remained on the right, and the left side had a bench seat. I got on at the second stop of the route, and this seat was usually available, and I had a good view.

A curious feature of the park in front of the Rathaus, the Volksgarten, and the Stadtpark was that they all had metal chairs, linked by chains. Each park had a licensed collector, usually a war veteran, who was authorized to collect money. They come around once an hour, and collect one Groschen from each person sitting in a chair. This was so little that I never saw anyone trying to cheat them out of it.

One time after I came back from my grandmother’s, I heard a knock on the door. It turned out to be a policeman who asked me my name, and wanted me to go to the police station with him. Once there I spotted my wallet, apparently lost on the way home. The sergeant apparently fancied himself a detective, and asked me to assemble a Tangram puzzle I had in the wallet, which I did as quickly as I could place the pieces on the table. He considered that adequate proof of my identity, although I could have solved it without prior knowledge.

I had some narrow escapes. One day I decided to explore an electrical outlet by sticking two knitting needles into one, and placing a third one across. I got a big spark; then I started to pull the two remaining needles out, concurrently to save time. I got a big shock, but managed to pull free. In general my mother’s kitting needles took a beating. One winter I opened the coal stove door, and found that the coal was unevenly distributed. I took a large knitting needle and tried to push coal around, only to find the needle disappearing without a trace (iron dissolves in carbon, as I learned later); just to make sure, I did it with another needle. Another winter I was walking home from my grandmother’s, and found an interesting piece of ice — flat on both sides. I decided to take it home to study it. My winter coat had a hole in the pocket, and I placed it in there, where it migrated to my back. By the time I got to the Danube canal, I found a mound of snow deposited by the snow removal crews, used by several other kids as a slide. The challenge was to stop yourself before you went into the canal. When I finally got home, there was no trace of the ice, and my coat was completely dry; the ice had sublimated.

As I got older, I started exploring Essling and surroundings. To the west was a private air strip, and I spent much time just watching small planes perform acrobatics (the next community over is Aspern, where Napoleon’s army was defeated, but the Austrian generals didn’t follow up, and were beaten when French reinforcements arrived two days later; later the air strip was replaced by a General Motors assembly plant, and currently by another garden community and a U-bahn line). This location was also a target for bombing, and for many years had numerous bomb craters. We didn’t know, or worry, about unexploded bombs, but used the largest crater for our swimming hole. It had cattails on one side, and comfortable warm water in summer. One summer, on the way back, I spotted some corn leaning into the road, and took an ear; all I had was a small bathing suit, so I put it in there, and got some stares from a woman going the other way.

The next road to the north of Zifferergasse also had a large bomb crater, used to discard trash. I remember finding many shards of glass and porcelain in interesting colors that I hadn’t seen before. One of the buildings on this square was a restaurant with a girl about my age, and the area was a favorite playground for a number of kids; now the area has been turned into a park. About a half-mile or so north was an east-west railroad line running on an embankment. Usually I stayed on the south side, where there grew wild raspberries; once I went to the north side, and found a street. I followed that for a while until it forked; in the interior of the intersection was a pond with lots of greenery, and I saw my first wild rabbit, and a deer. Frequently we could hear a bird singing, but only after some exertion spotted a lark, as a tiny dot way up in the sky. I remember playing with other kids in front of our house, but only recall one’s name — Franz Fleischhacker. The road was unpaved, but one section had small rocks and cinders; during play I fell, and acquired a scar over my left eye. Another time we were playing with a tin plate revolver, and I landed on the sight and got another scar over my left lip (both scars have disappeared with time).

I don’t remember the year, but one evening we had an unusual event; at first it looked like a sunset, but in the east, and it persisted all night; later we learned that an oil field in Hungary had caught fire.

Over the years we visited many friends and relatives, most of whom were never identified to me. One family lived a few blocks from my grandmother; they were aunt Mitzi (nickname for Maria) and uncle Rudi, a daughter Lilli who was my age, and a son Gerhard who was two years younger. I have since learned that my mother had a cousin Maria living in Zermatt, and suspect that that was she. We were frequent visitors, and the adults usually went to the movies, sometimes with the children. On late movie nights (about 11 p.m. or so) we slept over; the apartment had a living room with a bed and a sofa, a small kitchen, and a room for us kids. I remember seeing a translated version of “Showboat,” except that they kept the original “Old Man River” by Paul Robeson untranslated. I was so impressed by it that I kept singing even after we were put to bed, and had to be shushed repeatedly (I don’t know why I acted up). Mitzi also cooked dinner for us, of which I remember only two dishes. One was cubed, stewed pumpkin with a dill sauce, the other, after a hike in the woods, a wild mushroom omelette with potatoes. The family belonged to a book club (Donauverein) that shipped one or two books every month. The only one I remember, and enjoyed reading, was a copy of Pippi Longstocking that they got for Lilli. Rudi worked in a toy factory, and bragged about how he could get me trains. One time I asked him for a locomotive, and a few weeks later he brought one. I suspect that he stole it, as it came without container, and was just the locomotive without a tender. Also it was the wrong scale (I think it was O gauge, where mine were HO). Another time I had to be someplace and was running late, and I got a ride on his scooter; all I remember was going too fast, and hanging on to his waist for dear life.

My grandmother also took me to visit another, older family whose names I don’t remember. I recall that one time the woman got a blender, and she made me (alcoholic) eggnog. We also played rummy, until one time I was dealing and got a perfect hand. She accused me of cheating and never played with us again. They had a bookcase of wonderful books, and after some misgivings I was allowed to borrow some. When they saw that I took good care of the books, they were less reticent. The only ones I remember were from a series, somewhat similar to the Life series on Natural History and one on Mathematics, fairly technical ones about astronomy, and those sparked an interest. I eagerly awaited the return of Halley’s comet, but that was a disappointment.

Another relative was Steffie Tante (Aunt Stephanie). She had a house in the Leopoldau, an area east of the Danube, and then part of Vienna. She had three children I played with, and a Walnut tree I climbed. She kept a goat, chickens, and rabbits, and had fenced fields of clover and alfalfa. Only later I learned that she was my grandmother’s sister, and the kids her grandchildren. Their parents were never mentioned, and I didn’t know enough to ask. Sometimes I was invited for dinner, and remember walking home on warm summer evenings watching the stars; back then the milky way was still visible.

My grandparent’s store had an attached room with a huge table, a hand-built storage rack, a sink, a gas stove, and a curtained alcove my grandmother kept supplies in. At the rear was a blocked off window, with a perpetual calendar on the sill. The calendar was perpetually set to February 8, which I later learned was the day my grandfather’s first wife died — I always considered that to be insulting to my grandmother, but she never mentioned it. The table had two chairs on each side, but had room for three. I used it for homework, and when my grandmother wasn’t busy, we played games. One of my favorites was Canasta, but my grandmother made her own rules — threes were not used to block, but could be used to build a Canasta, as could deuces and Jokers. On rarer occasions the family would play Monopoly. I also had a Scrabble set the pieces of which interlocked so the tiles would stay together once played. We were frequently joined by an older woman who was my grandmother’s best friend; the only thing I remember about her was that she was a functionary in the Austrian People’s Party (OeVP). I assembled a matchbox, some wire, string, and nails, and built a cable car in the back of the store. I found that waxing the string would make it go better. My grandfather got me construction paper, and showed me how to plan, and cut out shapes to make buildings for my train. One counter held a wrapping paper dispenser, and under that he had an electric heater and a small pot. He had a bag of brown pellet, that dissolved in hot water turned into glue, and I used that to assemble the buildings.

I usually managed to get something for my mother’s birthday, but one year I was out of ideas; I had saved 16 Schillinge, but that wasn’t enough for anything she might want. So I wandered from my grandmother’s to Schoenbrunner strasse, and found a store selling used goods. One that caught my eye was a serving platter, white, with roses and a gold trim, that was close to our china. It was fifteen Schillinge, so I bought it. On the way back I turned the corner to Kettenbruecken gasse, where I saw a street sweeper cleaning up. He had made a neat pile, on top of which was a 20 Schilling note. These days I would have pointed this out to the workman, but back then I didn’t think twice and just picked it up.

My grandmother helped out by treating us to dinner, and for several years I spent most of my afternoons with her. Her dinners were a lot more varied than my mother’s. One of her favorites was sauteed Liver and Onions, which I absolutely detested; however, I loved liver in the form of Leberknoedel soup. She also made Apricot dumplings by removing the pits and replacing them with a sugar cube (she bought sugar only in “cube” form, really in the shape of a domino). She also made Augsburgers (Knockwurst sliced and fried), and what she called “Rissi-bissi” being rice cooked with peas. When she didn’t feel like making a great effort, she would get bologna cut into cubes, some diced onions, and marinate them with vinegar. Another favorite was noodles with sugar and ground poppy seeds. And I remember many times when I didn’t want to finish my vegetables, and wound up sitting at the table until I finished. My grandmother’s admonition to think of starving children in China I finally countered by offering to send the food to them.

I always looked forward to Christmas. My grandmother always kept a vase of fresh pussy willows on the table. On December 6th we celebrated Krampus Tag (supposedly an angel and a devil go around to leave presents for good kids, and warning bad ones; the presents usually were walnuts and dried figs). The coffee and tea store on Kettenbrueckengasse always had interesting window displays, and on the corner there was a vendor selling roasted chestnuts from a cart. Usually I also spent time opening windows on an Advent calendar; I don’t know why these are so exciting, as the presents revealed never seemed to relate to what we actually received. We had another ritual for New Year’s. For New Year’s eve we had sparklers, with a wonderful smell, and at midnight we melted lead trinkets (from the tobacco store) in spoons and poured them into cold water. Supposedly the resulting shapes could be used to tell your fortune for the upcoming year. Also once or twice we had “magic” snakes; you lit the end of a small black egg, and the ash would form a long snake.

Both my mother and grandmother kept a radio on most of the time. The Austrian network (ORF, for Oesterreichischer RundFunk) mostly played light classical music, interspersed with news, and a weekly “radio family” similar to some of the shows in the U.S. I generally liked the music, and one day my grandparents surprised me with a ¾ violin. I practiced a lot, but never got to the point of actually producing anything other than noise, and after a while I stopped trying, and the violin just disappeared.

My father’s family was never mentioned, and I was given to understand that they considered his marriage a poor match. My only contact with them was after my grandfather’s funeral, when I was bequeathed a small metal box with lots of coins that he accumulated during overseas travel, and some postcards. The only ones I remember are a round coin with a square hole, and a set of postcards from Japan, taken in black and white, and then colored. Much later my mother and I visited a young couple moving into their first apartment. At the time I learned only that he worked for the Austrian Federal Railway (OeBB). Later I learned that he was the son of my father’s twin brother (my father was named Emmerich Maximilian; his twin Maximilian Emmerich), and learned that they also had a sister.

Kettenbrueckengasse was a shopping street. On the corner with Rechte Wienzeile was an Apothecary, then a grocer selling coffee and tea, next to that a restaurant. Further up the street is a government run tobacco shop (that’s still there) that also sold newspapers and lotto tickets. After that some stores I don’t recall, then my grandparent’s store, a milliner, and a barber. Across the street was a stationer that also sold maps, construction paper, and decorative paper (translucent paper in several colors, with embossed patterns, used for gift wraps and privacy screening on glass panes). In elementary school I bought maps of Vienna’s districts there, starting with the 5th (grandmother’s), and the adjoining 4th and 6th. I’m fairly sure I never had one for ours, the 9th. Also on that side was a candy store that sold Eucalyptus flavored gum drops that my grandmother liked, and sent me to buy.

For less frequent shopping there was Mariahilferstrasse. The shopping section of this road runs from the Ring to the Guertel (by the Westbahnhof), and has stores on both sides. Near the Ring was a conference and exhibition center (now replaced by a new one near the Prater) that I visited only once, during a toy fair. Adjacent to that was a 24-hour movie house; they presented an hour-long program consisting of newsclips, cartoons, and Disney shorts. Tickets were good for an hour, and occasionally I overstayed, when a cartoon started at the beginning, I watched it again at the end. For some reason we always walked on the north side, and always uphill. I remember a toy store, also around Christmas time there would be a large room-sized layout by Kleinbahn in a building just off Mariahilferstrasse; on that corner was a shoe store were my grandmother bought me shoes one time; they had the absolutely latest and greatest — an x-ray machine so you could see how the shoes fit (these machines have since banned due to too large radiation dosages). If you could afford it, the other shopping streets were Kaerntner strasse and the Graben; all we ever did was window shop.

Another oddity in Vienna is the number of houses with multiple entrances, used by the general public as shortcuts. One such is on the Linke Wienzeile, near the bath house, leading to a staircase and the lower portion of Mariahilfer strasse. Another is close to the Boerse, providing a convenient shortcut to the Volksgarten.

Vienna is divided into twenty-three districts (Bezirke). The number grew after World War I, and again after WW II. Originally much of the land around Vienna, mostly to the east, was swampy, and the Danube branched out through most of the flat area, and the town was built on islands. Over time the western land was filled in, and Vienna was fortified with a wall around the 1st district, and a cleared area in front (the Glacis). As the town grew, buildings were erected around the town, and a second fortified wall was built around those. In the second half of the 19th century it became obvious that the fortifications were useless against “modern” weapons, and the government started a major building program. Except for one commemorative segment opposite the University, both walls were torn down. The inner one became the Ringstrasse, and the outer one the Guertel. The Glacis was used to erect public buildings. In the 9th district the army built a Kaserne (armory, housing, etc.), followed by private buildings, then a large park in front of the Votivkirche. Adjacent to the park is the University, and opposite that are the Burgtheater (National theater) and the Volksgarten (a park, with a small “Greek” temple used as a garden shed). Next to that is the Parliament, then two museums, one for fine art, and one for natural history, also a large park and the Rathaus (City hall). Opposite that are another park, and the Imperial Palace (Hofburg), then more buildings and the national opera. Most of the buildings were erected between 1860 and 1690.

Building erection was not the only achievement of this period. The Wien river was confined to a concrete channel, starting on the western outskirts of Vienna, near Hitzing. The section running through the 5th and 6th district was covered, and used for a huge market. In the 3rd district, it was open, and a park was built on each side (the Stadtpark). The branch of the Danube nearest the 1st district was channeled, with floodgates, and became the Danube canal. The Danube was channeled, and an area to the east, about twice as wide as the Danube, was built a couple of feet above the normal water level, and levees were added the entire length of the east side, and part of the west side. This area, the Ueberschwemmungsgebiet (flood zone) was used for recreation, and had no permanent structures on it. One area, just north of the Reichsbruecke, was left in its natural state, called the Old Danube. A public recreation area was built, with a peninsula and two beaches. The bath survives in truncated form, but the Ueberschwemmungsgebiet is gone. Instead there is an artificial island, the Donauinsel, with another arm of the Danube, and most of the area has been razed and used for buildings (the U.N. City, among others). I was a frequent visitor to the beach. One time my mother came, and she didn’t believe I could swim. I got a swim mask as a present, and took that to see under water. The south beach had a merry-go-round built in the water, and I played there, but one time fell and broke the mask. One of the buildings of the facility had pinball machines, something I hadn’t seen before, and enjoyed playing.

The inner walled city became the 1st district; the land between the Danube and the Donaukanal the 2nd district in the north, and the 20th district in the south. The land between the Ring and the Guertel became the 3rd through 9th districts (clockwise), with the land outside the Guertel, and on the east of the Danube the 10th through 23rd districts.

1953 was an interesting year. For my birthday I got a book on Greek and Roman mythology, that I still have. My mother always wanted a dog, so she got one on the pretense that it was for me. It was a black dog (possibly Labrador or mix) whom I named Ajax. I also had a small, fixed lens camera that I took his picture with. On weekends we went for walks in the Ueberschewmmungsgebiet, and in the Leopoldau and Floridsdorf. But after several months, my mother decided things weren’t working out and she found him a home in the country.

When I was little, I slept with my mother in the big, brass bed. The frame was constructed from welded tubing with a square cross-section, where round is more common. This was located on the west side of the big room. The small room had the day bed, that I used to sit on for meals. As I got older, this bed was moved to the east side of the room, and my mother slept in the small room (kitchen). Somehow I never got enough time for all the reading I wanted to do, so once in bed I hid my nightlight (a tiny green plastic lamp) and book under the covers. Apparently my mother never noticed.

Occasionally I didn’t want to school, and upon waking complained about not feeling well. My mother would put a thermometer in my mouth, and go off to cook breakfast. I would hold the thermometer to the nightlight until I had a good temperature. I didn’t do this too often, and I was a good student so my grades didn’t suffer. At this time the chamber pot had been replaced by a bucket under the sink; one night I unexpectedly had to use it, and when I walked into the kitchen surprised Kurt and my mother. From then on I slept in the kitchen, and they in the large room. One time they went out, and my mother told me I could read while the candle lasted (my nightlight wasn’t usable in the kitchen because there was nowhere (free?) to plug it in, and she didn’t want to waste electricity). The candle was placed on a coffee can, with lots of old wax and wick stubs. When the candle got low, I wanted to keep reading, and propped up some of the stubs. This gave me a nice, bright light, but also produced a lot of heat. I got scared, and tried to put out the flames by pouring a glass of water on them. This resulted in a small explosion, and drops of wax all over the room. My mother never said anything, so I wonder whether she even noticed?

My grandfather decided I was old enough to be trusted with an ax, and it became my task to chop firewood for the stove in Essling. The ax was standard, with a wooden haft, an ax head, and a small wedge to secure the head. Somehow I spent almost as much time retrieving the ax head and driving in the wedge again as actually chopping. Another rite of passage was Saturday lunch; my mother would give me 10 Schillinge, and I would walk to the Ring where there was a restaurant. I would always order Augsburgers with roasted potatoes (think Knockwurst, halved lengthwise, scored with a crosshatch pattern, coated with flour and pan fried). This restaurant was a block from a Kleinbahn store (the store survives to this day), where I would spend time in front of their display window. In the other direction was the Votivkirche, with a park in front. One day I decided that one of the trees was just begging to be climbed, but as I came down there was a park employee who gave me a ticket, even though I protested there were no signs forbidding tree climbing. The fine was five Schillinge, and I managed to save up the money and pay it without ever telling my mother.

1954 was interesting. In summer there were torrential rains, resulting in flooding on the Danube and Wien. I remember taking the tram to Essling, and seeing all of the Ueberschwemmungsgebiet under water, perilously close to the top of the levee. On the west side of the Danube (Handelskai) many buildings were flooded. I also recall that the Stadtbahn continued running even though the bridge over the Wien (between Stadtpark and Schwedenplatz) was under several inches of water. Later in the year there was a partial solar eclipse. As I mentioned, the Guertel line of the Stadtbahn had an extension to Heiligenstadt. About this time the city decided to extend the Danube canal line to Heiligenstadt; I was fascinated by the work involved in building concrete supports for the line, and the over and under arrangement required to avoid crossings. At the time, all tickets were punched with the origin, destination, and start time of your trip, and you were expected to complete it in reasonable time; I assume there was some fine for non-compliance, but I never found out. I went to Heiligenstadt when the extension was finished (and should note that the return loop there ran clockwise, contrary to what one of my books states). Occasionally I went to my grandmother’s house by going the long way around, via the Guertel line. It should be noted that the Stadtbahn cars looked purple, but actually they started out in standard red and white livery, with the appearance altered by dust from braking. The other interesting thing is that the cars were built as regular streetcars, but then got beefed up brakes and electronics to allow multiple-unit running.

Hans Timan helped in my grandfather’s store. I recall a homework problem in elementary school, to construct a 3*3 magic square. I tried and failed, and Hans offered to help me. Unfortunately his solution only worked for horizontal and vertical lines, but not diagonal ones (I’ve since learned the algorithm for odd-sided squares). My grandfather went to auctions and estate sales, and purchased new and used stamps. He made packets of stamps (e.g., 100 stamps with a common theme), with a few pricey stamps, and many fillers, but a fair value. Every once in a while he complained that he couldn’t find a valuable stamp, and suspected that Hans had made off with it, but he never had proof.

Hans was a frequent visitor at Essling, and occasionally brought his brother Paul and a friend named Kurt. Hans and Kurt were students at the University of Vienna at the time, which is how they met. Kurt was studying Physics, and after some time arranged for my mother to type his thesis (on turbulent fluid flow). Special signs and characters could not be typed, and had to be hand drawn (integral signs, etc.); I remember a large number of erasures, some making holes in the paper (fairly thin, almost like onion skin). I’m not sure exactly when, but they married about 1955 or so. What I do remember is my grandmother’s being outraged over my attire, and she dragged me to a men’s store for a suit, just in time to wear to the wedding. We went on a delayed honeymoon later that summer. I don’t remember the name of the small town, but remember a fairly long train ride to the south of Austria. From the railroad station it was a hefty walk to the hotel. The town had a stream bisecting it, and it was shallow enough for playing in. On the hotel side there was a mill, with a canal to power it. We kids found a large board, and used that to float from the stream to the mill (protected by a grate). I remember the water’s being comfortably warm. Several times we went on hikes in the surrounding hills. One time we went quite some distance, and a passing farmer offered us a ride back on his wagon. Another time we had several days of rain, and the stream became a raging torrent. There was a small footbridge across it near the hotel, and I remember bystanders yelling at us not to cross because the bridge might collapse or be swept away; but who listens to adults. We crossed successfully, but got water in our shoes climbing the slope on the other side. Shortly after this, we went on another hike, and came in an area with bad smells. Around a bend we came across a farm that had been hit by lightning, and burned to the ground. The inhabitants got out, but were not able to save the animals in the barn. That smell has stayed with me a long time, and I still hesitate to eat meat.

A German publisher started a series of “dime” novels, featuring the exploits of Perry Rhodan, an intrepid space explorer. Wikipedia and some other sites claim the series started in 1961, but that’s late by several years. The series was successful (about 3000 issues by now), and the publisher decided to start a parallel series of unrelated science fiction, comprising translations of American SF. I didn’t realize it at the time, but most were heavily abbreviated to fit into their 64 page format. Kurt’s mother owned a store in the 17th Bezirk, selling mostly buttons, and some ribbons. Three walls of the store had shelves from top to bottom, filled with boxes of buttons. Each had a sample button on the cover, and the boxes were sorted by color and size. Over the entrance there was an electric outlet, and another vendor used that for his store in the road (there were two rows of wooden shacks parallel to the street; he sold fruit, and also candied fruit that I bought whenever I had the chance). I started helping in the store every Saturday, by asking buyers what they needed, and getting the buttons from the shelves, so that all she had to do was ring up the sale and pack the purchase. After a while she started giving me 5 Schillinge each week, and that was just enough to buy the latest novel. She had a large apartment a few blocks from her store, and I became an occasional visitor. The apartment had a kitchen opposite a breakfast nook, with table and benches, a large living room with a small piano, and presumably a bedroom that I never saw. The breakfast nook had built-in shelving, and held bound boy’s magazines. Kurt had a subscription to these; most were partially propaganda showing the latest and greatest ships in the German navy. I also remember one book about the feasibility of space travel.

In all this time I never visited a dentist, but eventually I got a toothache. Kurt had a student friend named Loewy, who was studying dentistry, but had not yet obtained a license. He had a drill operated by a foot pedal, and worked on a small cavity without anesthetic. From that time I hated dentists with a passion, and didn’t see one for twenty years.

On one occasion Kurt’s mother lapsed into a diabetic coma, and my mother and I went to her apartment to tidy up. The kitchen had a large pot that originally held cabbage soup, but now was one-third full of awfully smelling maggots. My mother decided not to clean that, but discarded the whole pot.

After the war Vienna was divided into four zones, with the Soviets claiming everything east of the Danube canal. Generally this occupation was no hindrance, except that all adults had to carry identification. My mother relates that just after the war, she was pushing the baby carriage on a street, and saw a Russian soldier just shoot a woman with a carriage on the other side of the street. In 1954 there was a popular movie in which everyone tore up their id cards, and that may have spurred something. After negotiations, the occupation was lifted in 1955, and Austria signed a treaty agreeing to stay neutral. The physical occupation was replaced by a propaganda effort. The Soviets had a building in the 3rd Bezirk, near the Stadtpark, that showed movies (I remember only The Bicycle Thief and one about how heavier-than-air flight was invented by a Russian, illustrated by dropping a strip of paper that rotated as it fell). The building also had a store that sold inexpensive food and consumer goods. Kurt bought a Zorky camera (a Leica knockoff), and some deer meat. After one taste I decided not to like venison. The U.S. had a building on Kaerntner strasse (about where we bought the T-shirts), run by the Agency for International Development. They offered feature movies and shorts (I remember one about Yellowstone park and Old Faithful, and another about president Eisenhower); the main attraction was a circulation library that offered books in both English, and translations into German. I vaguely recall one by an author in the A section, involving a space ship than jumped in and out of hyperspace; I can’t recall anything else, but guess it must have been Asimov.

About this time my grandfather got sick, and died of stomach cancer. Nobody suspected a thing, as he never complained, but just got a little less active. He was cremated and the ashes buried at the Vienna Central Cemetery (Zentralfriedhof) in the 3rd Bezirk. I remember taking the tram with my grandmother, light rain and a gloomy overcast sky, and nobody else showing up. That was one of the few times I didn’t pester my grandmother to buy me something.

The state opera building had been bombed during the war, as it looks like a railway station from the air, and it was not rebuilt until 1955. As part of the work, the city built underpasses at the Kaerntnerstrasse and Mariahilferstrasse intersections with the Ring. The only one I’m familiar with is the Kaerntner strasse one, as we used I frequently. Each corner building had an entrance built into it, with an escalator and a staircase. The underground space had shops arranged in a circle, divided by the entrances, and the center had a coffee shop with a circular glass wall. My grandmother would stop here often for a cup of coffee, and I was introduced to chestnut puree (the chestnuts were ground to a fine paste, mixed with sugar and spice, and sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar). Both underpasses also had bathrooms, staffed by an attendant, that replaced some of the pissoirs that lined the Ring.

During the war Kurt was interned in a work camp (Mauthausen, I think). I grew up believing he was Jewish, and didn’t understand why his mother didn’t have any problems, and why she kept a copy of Mein Kampf on the piano. It turns out that she was Catholic, and his father was Jewish; Kurt would be Jewish when it was to his advantage, and Christian when it was not. One of the advantages, as a minor reparation for his interment, was a state pass that entitled him to free or discounted admission to state run businesses. After the State Opera was bombed, the production moved to the Volksoper, a smaller venue on the Linke Wienzeile (the Volksoper has moved to the 17th Bezirk, the State Opera is back in its original building, and the old Volksoper building looks like a theater or movie house). We went frequently, and I remember “The Marriage of Figaro,” “Die Zauberfloete,” “Don Giovanni,” “La Boheme,” and some I considered forgettable. The free tickets were for standing room only on the top balcony, about three or four floors up, where I had trouble hearing or seeing well.

Kurt also liked to go hiking. He was a member of HAKOA, a Jewish organization furthering sports. They provided shelters on some mountains around Austria. One time we went climbing, and missed a blaze (all of Austria’s hiking trails are marked with stripes in three colors). The trail we were on was fairly wide, but dead ended at a logging area. In hindsight it would have been faster to backtrack, but instead we walked straight up the mountain. By the time we got to the top it was dusk, with heavy fog. We found a path, and followed it to the right, but it seemed to descend. We went the other way, and came across a spacious, although spartan, log building. There was one large room with wooden cots, skimpy mattresses, and blankets.

Another time we took the train the Semmering, and a tram to the Rax. Kurt didn’t have enough money to pay for two-way tickets on the cable car, so we went straight up underneath the cable, sometimes on all fours because it was so steep. We finally made it to the top, just in time to catch the last cable car down. Back down, we found that the tram had stopped running, and we had to walk back to the train station, about 4-5 miles, in the dark. And of course the local train had stopped running, also. We finally got on an express train from Italy, but there were no seats available, and we had to ride in the vestibule, which was a bit on the bumpy side.

Kurt was fanatical about chess, and played every chance he got. One year there was an exhibition in the garden of the Ratshaus, when Max Euwe played several dozen experts, and won most games. If I recall correctly, Kurt managed a draw. Kurt also belonged to the Austrian Chess club (federation?), and won most games. (Ellen says she was told he was Austrian Chess champion at some point, but I have not been able to confirm that). He subscribed to a Russian chess periodical, Schachmaty, and I read the last pages, that were about checkers, played on a 10*10 board, with a crowned piece moving like queen (unlike the U.S. Version were a promoted piece moves like a king). The Austrian version of checkers plays on an 8*8 board, and also with a queen.

After some time a friend of Kurt’s, Willi Rindner, arrived from Israel with his family, wife Ewa, her mother, and a daughter Edna, about six years younger than I. I remember that I bought an unfinished doll crib, and painted it with white lacquer, for her sixth birthday. Some time later I bought her some dollhouse furniture; I was fascinated by the electrically operated items, that came with (oversized) plugs, and matching wall outlets, all battery powered.

After he got his Doctorate, Kurt taught classes at the University of Vienna. I was surprised that his salary was about ten times what my mother had received as a pension. In 1956 Kurt arranged for a job in New York City, and it was arranged that I would stay with my grandmother until I finished 4th grade. My grandmother started sending me on errands — buying cigarettes, newspaper, weekly lotto tickets, and magazines at the state tobacco store, and movie tickets around the corner on Schoenbrunner strasse.

I don’t remember when my grandmother sold the store, but it was only after I put my old train set in the window to attract attention. I expect that she got good value for the business, as she sold it with a Maria Theresia certificate that allowed the owner to run any business that did not require professional certification. For my 13th birthday I finally received a train set I wanted (a Kleinbahn starter set with an 0-6-0T steam engine and several freight cars). I was also confirmed in the Lutheran church, and at this time sincerely believed; for the confirmation the barber in her building, a friend of my grandfather’s, gave me a free haircut. At the time I thought that the places of worship were modest, but the confirmation ceremony took place in a church on Gumpoldskirchner strasse that was as ornate as any Catholic church I’ve been to. After the ceremony we went to the Prater, were I rode on many of the rides, but not the Riesenrad (Ferris wheel) nor the miniature railway.

My grandparents had separate beds, and I slept in my grandfather’s. It had a built-in bookshelf on top, and I read some of his books. One was a two-volume set of expeditions to Asia by Sven Hedin, the other about natives in northern Kamchatka. While my grandmother didn’t walk, or go hiking, as much as I did with my mother, we did get around. Ellen has a picture of us in Linz, that I don’t recall ever visiting. A frequent excursion by tram and bus was through a dark valley southwest of Vienna, ending at a farm turned recreation area. My grandmother would sit in the sun sipping coffee, and I would get money to rent a rowboat and paddle around a large pond.

On the store side of the building, one floor up, lived a family who were friends with my grandparents. They had a daughter, Christina, my age, who never appeared in public unless chaperoned by a parent. Her father worked as a chauffeur, and he invited us on a Sunday trip. He had a Volkswagen beetle, and I had to sit squeezed between her mother and my grandmother. We went north to the Czech border, over a road that was extremely hilly. The border itself consisted of a small stream, with rock walls on each side.

I did fairly well in school, but also had a great disappointment. In 1956 my grandmother said she’d give me twenty Schillinge for an A (actually 1 on a 1-5 scale). I got all A’s, and on the way home calculated that I could buy either five freight cars or one locomotive; but my grandmother meant I’d get twenty Schillinge for any A, not each. I don’t remember much about my classmates. I recall we had a costume ball once, and my mother converted an old, green and flowery dress into a supposed pirate jacket, and inflicted me with make-up; I got some very weird stares on the Stadtbahn. One of the girls came as a cave woman, wearing only underwear and a fur jacket. We also had a talent show, and one of my classmates, Lisa Forster, played the violin. I sang in a choir, and we went to number of places around town to sing.

As an aftermath of the Hungarian revolution we got refugees as students. One puerile joke circulating at the time was about some young boys spying on a girl in the shower, and remarking that she didn’t have a penis, to which another boy replied that they were refugees who had lost everything. One of my classmates had bushy, dark hair, and I started admiring her from afar. I never got up the nerve to talk to her, and I can’t even recall her name. About this time the press reported a spike in deaths; as it turned out, some Hungarian refugees were collecting mushrooms in the woods. One particular kind (red conic cap with white spots) is edible in Hungary, but poisonous in Austria.

My mother sometimes took me to the movie house on Alserbach strasse. I remember seeing Bambi, and might have seen some other Disney cartoons. When I got older and had some money to spend, I went by myself. One movie that impressed me was the translated version of This Island Earth, especially the horrifying mutants. Another I liked was Das Doppelte Lottchen (Erich Kaestner’s film adaptation of his novel that became The Parent Trap in the U.S.), and the von Trapp family. When I moved in with my grandmother, she established a weekly ritual — in early afternoon I would go to the box office of the movie house around the corner of Schoenbrunner strasse and buy two tickets. After dinner my grandmother would buy some Bon Bons (assorted chocolate candies, slightly smaller than Whitman’s), and we’d watch the movie. I recall the Sissi movie, and something about a man who has to travel to Hungary and winds up in a town named Hoetmeschoevasarhelikutaschipuszta. My grandmother purchased “dime” novels regularly, mostly mystery, but an occasional romance, as well as puzzle books. She did the crossword puzzles, and I did the others, things like crosswords without numbers or clues, just the words.

My last winter in Austria my grandmother got me skies, and I went to a hill in Huetteldorf. I never managed to learn to ski standing up, but found I could go downhill in a crouch, as though ski jumping. The other thing that happened that winter was an exchange of snowballs. Peter and I walked to his home from school, on opposite sides of the street, throwing snowballs back and forth. When I threw the last one, he ducked, and it glanced off his back and through a police station window. I was kept there until my grandmother picked me up and paid for the window.

On May 26, 1957 I packed a small suitcase with a stack of Science Fiction magazines, all my trains in the original boxes, and a few non-essentials like clothing. My grandmother purchased a Science Fiction novel (Alarm in Atomville, by Dolezal) to read on the planes, and I got my first taxi ride. She gave me a 20 Schilling note with instructions to tip the stewardesss, and sent me off on a British European Airways (now folded into British Air) propeller plane to New York via London. [The passenger manifest shows the flight into the US was an El Al flight. —edp]

[Dad sent this note separately:] … we left Heathrow on May 26, 1957, stopped in Reykjavik to refuel, then stopped in Gander for a hot breakfast, and arrived at Idlewild around noon. I do remember the customs inspector getting a bit impatient — he had to open boxes of my model railroad cars, unwrap each one, and then put everything back. It would have been trivial to stuff the tank and box cars with contraband. <G>