Chapter 3: "European Paths: Fall, 1960"

Part 3


Night Flight

My family took me to a passenger gate at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Sunday, Sept. 18, 1960. In the late afternoon my dad shook my hand and wished me a good trip. Jerry, my brother, followed suit. Surprisingly, Mom shed tears as she watched me leave the passenger lounge, cross the tarmac, and climb up the stairway from the runway to the airliner’s door. Once on board, Bill and I assumed our assigned seats, side by side, in the blue-themed interior of the Pan American airliner. Attendants welcomed us aboard, demonstrated how to buckle up, the airplane lifted off and we were bound for Heathrow airport.

Bill and the Jetliner at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport

This was my first experience in an airplane of any sort. The first Pan Am commercial flight using a Boeing 707 jet was logged in October 1958, so the nonstop flight to London from Seattle would have been a novelty for almost everyone. On take-off, I marveled at the powerful lift of the jet engines. Out of the window, I saw Puget Sound and the Olympic mountains. They soon receded and I was looking down upon the familiar green forests of the Cascade mountain range. The mountain greenery quickly gave way to some familiar sights in Central Washington such as the Columbia River, far below. I even picked out the Grand Coulee Dam, the final landmark I recognized. Flying was exciting! I could understand why many young people were entering airline jobs as flight attendants, engineers and pilots.

Breakfast Break in Paris

After takeoff, groups formed. Passengers unbuckled their seat belts, moved around the cabin and formed conversation groups in the aisles or over seat-backs. Multilingual ability was the ticket to admission to any huddle. Monolinguals were barred admission, informally, to a group other than one’s own. I was determined to overcome destiny tried a few German phrases on a group of German-speakers. I learned quite quickly that the Germans wanted to engage in conversation with each other and not to give language coaching to a novice German speaker. I slunk back to my seat.
Gradually the hubbub died down and I slept for a few hours.

Fog over Heathrow: not that unusual, and it worked well for us

There were no incidents—none, that is, until we approached Heathrow Airport in the morning light. Then, during the rough descent through clouds, the pilot announced that thick fog covering the airport would prevent him from landing in London. We’d be forced to detour to Paris. The powerful engines accelerated once again. We were soon above the clouds and bound for France.

“Forced!” Bill echoed. “Unfortunate us!”

“Yes, this will be tough,” I agreed, pretending great disappointment. For us, it was actually a bonus of more miles of travel than we’d paid for. We had no fixed schedules to meet. Why not spend the morning in France?

We watched as the plane approach Charles DeGaulle airport. Villages and farms slipped past and then we landed smoothly on French tarmac. When the pilot had us parked at a terminal, the airline crew brought a French breakfast on board: steaming hot chocolate, buttery croissants, fruits and some sliced meats. The classic French petit déjeuner prompted me to ask, “What delicacies will we have for breakfast in London tomorrow?”

I was on this trip for experience and an accident of weather delivered a French breakfast to my seat well ahead of schedule. The flight delay was probably the cause of agony for some with a business schedule to meet but a blessing for others. I felt blessed.

Two Frontier Hicks in the Big City

Once off the plane in London we collected our luggage. Then, taking deep breaths, we plunged into the crowds. Immediately we were blown away by the cosmopolitan mix: turbans, Chinese women in decorative dress, and mixed race couples everywhere. Personally I was amazed to glimpse a white-gowned Arab whiz past in a chauffeured limousine.

To Bill I confessed, “Suddenly I feel like a hick from the frontier.”

Bill, never one for self-deprecation, corrected me: “You may be from the frontier, but you’re not a hick.”

I agreed. I was from a frontier. But I continued to suppose that my intrigue with the ethnic variety of London confirmed that I was, in fact, a hick also. And I hoped that Londoners could and would understand this hick’s excitement at having been whisked overnight from the frontier to the very center of civilization. The magic carpet effect was real.

Though beholding the sights was our great desire, our first practical imperative in the British capital city was to find a night’s lodging. We found that our first choice, the YMCA, had no room for us. But we had a backup to which we turned: Peace Haven, a hostel-like establishment with a lovely name.

I accepted the challenge of making the telephone call to Peace Haven. I found a phone booth easily enough. Painted bright red, it was difficult not to see. But organizing the English coinage required to make a pay phone call, coupled with the catching of my coat in the red-painted wooden door of the wooden telephone booth, created some complications and really flustered me.

I was wearing a wool overcoat; so was Bill. Over the next few weeks, each week colder than the previous one in the series, the warmth of these coats made us grateful to have them. The coats were true friends, even though they made us look old-fashioned.
Once I’d freed the coat from the door, I picked up the receiver and an operator answered. That required no change. But then she said, “Please enter 4 pence.”

“I can’t. I have no pence!” I whined. She took the whine as a plea for help. She was right.

After a pause, she said, “Then I can wait while you get four pence.” Clearly my whimper worked.

I left the received dangling and went across the way to a nearby bank to get pence. When I returned minutes later with the correct change in hand, the patient operator was still on the line. I entered the four pence and she connected me with the receptionist at Peace Haven.
I should’ve been prepared to press “button A” the moment I heard the receptionist. A voice prompted me, “Press button A please,” but there were several buttons and I didn’t know which one was “A.” So when the receptionist answered, I could hear her but she couldn’t hear me. 

Panicked by something as innocuous as a British telephone booth, I relied solely on instinct and rapidly pressed a series of unlabeled buttons. Lucky again! I feared that I’d press a disconnect button and be cut off, but that didn’t happen. Soon I could hear the receptionist and she committed to hold a room for Bill and me. Success! Now the next challenge: getting to the Haven, located about eight miles away in Acton.

We traveled in a westerly direction on public transit: first by bus, then the Tube, and finally we switched to a second bus. This was my first experience at riding the Tube, and I adapted quickly. By mistake, we dropped from the second bus a few stops early and had to walk several blocks, toting our heavy travel bags. Fatigued from lack of sleep and by the weight of our bags, we took a break, sitting on a curb. Passersby smiled upon us angelically but didn’t offer to carry our luggage.

Bill asked me, “Where is this place, again?”

“Very good question! I wish I knew,” was all I could offer. “I just hope we’re going in the right direction.” We picked up our loads and started out again.

So far, our experience in London showed that we were raw, uninitiated, and largely unprepared, despite all of the handholding at the AAA office back in Portland. But it also showed that we were determined. We did not give up.

An Affordable Peace

Finally, really exhausted now, we arrived at Peace Haven, an older three-storied brick building on a street paved with similar bricks. We soon were stunned that our Haven was starkly furnished, with no carpeting, naked light bulbs, waxed toilet paper, one single bathroom for men one floor up from our room, and surplus army bunk beds with sags. But, we admitted, it was cheap! Four English pounds for four days, including both bed and breakfast for two persons. I should add to the list of features the smell of coal smoke throughout the building. It was late afternoon by the time we arrived. We hit the hay for the remainder of the day.

Some Serious Sights

Next morning: bacon, eggs, tomatoes, and tea for breakfast. Remembering the elegant petit déjeuner in Paris the previous morning I began thinking that we should move on to Paris early. As soon as we were finished with the meal we traveled into central London by bus and Tube, emerging from under-ground at Piccadilly Circus. We marched past Lord Nelson’s column on Trafalgar Square, watched the impressive but archaic changing of the guard at Admiralty Arch, then walked on to Big Ben, Westminster Cathedral, and past the houses of Parliament. Finally, at 2 p.m. we stopped for lunch in a sandwich shop. (Sandwiches and coffee only 12 pence! No problem!)

“What monuments!” I exclaimed to Bill over lunch. My exhaustion was gone, and now my mood had flipped to euphoric. In addition, in consideration of the great sights of London yet to behold, I withdrew my earlier thought of rushing off to Paris. Fed and watered, we had energy to go on to several other renowned sights.

Photo: Saint Paul’s Cathedral amid World War II Ruins

My expansive mood passed all bounds when I walked up to St. Paul’s Cathedral and entered through a great door to explore the interior. I’d studied John Donne (“Ask not for whom the bell tolls”) with great admiration back at Seattle Pacific. Now I was standing in person before John Donne’s monument in the very building of the congregation which he’d served as Dean of the Cathedral. I encountered a second surprise as I walked around a big pillar and unexpectedly came face to face with Holman Hunt’s “Christ Knocking at the Door,” an art piece that was familiar to me from Sunday school literature. Lifted by such treasures I totally put aside all disappointments about Peace Haven.

Photo: In St. Paul's, suddenly face to face with "Christ Knocking"

A Diplomatic Boost

Later that afternoon we made our way to the office of the High Commissioner of Sierra Leone to seek passports for possible travel to Sierra Leone, West Africa, at the onset of winter.
We stepped from a sidewalk into a stone-walled building. The office was located conveniently at street-level. As we entered, we introduced ourselves to the receptionist of course. “We’re American students, headed to Sierra Leone to get acquainted with the country,” we said.
The High Commissioner overheard the conversation and emerged from his inner office when he heard “American students.”

The receptionist introduced the High Commissioner to us very simply, with the words: “This is Dr. Richard Kelfa-Caulker.”

Dr. Kelfa-Caulker surprised us. He stepped around the desk and welcomed us with warm words, a handshake, and a broad smile. His black hair was mixed with grey and his gray suit coat covered a matching vest. Motioning us into his private office, he asked us to be seated. I was amazed at the courtesy offered to us by Sierra Leone’s highest representative in London, who was dressed as if to meet the Queen.

Photo:Sierra Leone’s High Commissioner to the U.K., Ambassador Dr. Richard E. Kelfa-Caulker

Relaxed but animated conversation ensued. He seemed fascinated that we college graduates might be heading to his native land. He also discovered that he had a church connection with us. Bill and I were members of the Evangelical United Brethren (EUB) Church and so was Dr. Kelfa-Caulker. That came to light when he told us that he’d previously served as the Principal of Albert Academy. Albert Academy had a reputation as the prominent EUB secondary school for boys in Freetown. We recognized that connection and it gave us a common bond. And, he continued, he was the first African principal of Albert Academy. The long line of his predecessors as principal were American missionaries.

Seated in a deeply cushioned leather arm chair and surveying the office walls and furniture I thought, “What a contrast to Peace Haven!” A dark-stained wooden desk, wooden wall paneling, beautiful artifacts and paintings of Sierra Leone adorned the room. Maybe this space was our “peace haven” in fact.

And what a friendly man Kelfa-Caulker turned out to be. He assured us that we’d be welcome in his country, gave us a brief history of the drive toward independence, and shared a few laughs with us. He also shared a few family matters: that he’d left his wife and two children in Freetown, where he would rejoin them when his appointment to London ended. He also remarked on a recent, sad family tragedy: the death of his brother-in-law in Dakar in the crash of a French Constellation airplane.

After about an hour of friendly and educational conversation, he stated that we were in the wrong office to obtain visas. He’d have to send us to the British Passport Office. Reason: Sierra Leone was not yet independent from England and wouldn’t be handling its own visa affairs until April, 1961.

“We’ve made a mistake, but a fortunate one for us. We got to meet you,” I said. “Sorry to take your time, Sir. You’ve given us a lot of time and inspiration.”

“No problem,” Kelfa-Caulker said. “But let me help you get to the Passport Office.”

To make sure we’d cross the city without getting lost and before the Passport Office closing time, he buzzed his chauffeur and gave him instructions to drive us in the Hummer limousine. The chauffeur was very adept at outpacing other traffic and dodging pedestrians, providing thrills well beyond the roller coaster ride at the Western Washington State fair. I could imagine onlookers saying something like, “Look! Two American chaps chauffeured in a limo, just like sheiks. This is really a cosmopolitan city!”

We arrived on time and received our visas for travel in Sierra Leone.
Our second day on English soil was great. The highlight was that Dr. Kelfa-Caulker gave me confidence that I’d have one very great experience in Sierra Leone, if we actually got there. In this one hour he defined the African independence movement for me and whetted my interest in visiting his small nation.

As a churchman he also eased my feelings about the EUBs east of the Rockies. In fact, he’d been educated at Otterbein College in Ohio, one of the centers of the “liberal” Eastern EUB influence according to many back in Oregon and Washington State. Here in London I met an “Eastern” EUB with whom I instantly bonded, spiritually as well as educationally.

Stones of the Ages

During a week of many high points in London, we visited a particular pilgrimage site: Wesley’s Chapel. It was built in 1778 under the leadership of the primary founder of Methodism, John Wesley.

Photo Wesley’s Chapel, “The Cathedral of Methodism,” London

Since the EUB Church dated back to the Wesleyan revival and descended from Methodist-style preaching among German immigrants in America, a stop at Wesley’s Chapel was an important priority for Bill and me. Although it was known informally as the “Cathedral of Methodism,” the Chapel’s proportions were modest compared to those of the other cathedral, St. Paul’s. Nevertheless, Mr. Wesley’s Chapel, with its formal décor and dark woodwork, was exactly what I needed to see in order to cement my religious heritage into my heart and mind...

Across City Road, the street on which the chapel fronted, lay a cemetery that Bill and I also visited. Known as the dissenter’s cemetery, it sheltered the remains of a glittering array of English literary and historical personalities: John Bunyan, William Blake, George Fox, William Wilberforce and many others. John Wesley himself, though, was buried back across City Road, behind the Chapel.

The Chapel and its furnishings were of interest, but more striking to me was the Museum of Methodism, housed in an attached building. There, an informational piece on Wesley’s life stated that he made a fortune during his lifetime but vowed to die penniless. He accomplished his vow by giving his very last financial assets to a children’s hospital while on his deathbed. Talk about careful lifetime financial planning! Wesley followed his own teaching: “Do all the good you can, as long as you can.” And one could add, “Do good while you can.”

On this visit Bill and I were reminded of another of Wesley’s famous teachings, “The world is my parish.” Suddenly a light went on in each of our brains. We were Wesleyan. And here we were, half a world away from our birthplaces, exploring the meaning of ministry for our own lives. Our motives for travel to this spot and beyond were rooted in our Wesleyan religious tradition that knew no official limits or bounds. Perhaps the world would become Bill’s parish or mine too.

Still Older Stones

Still later that day, I stood outside the Tower of London, the old royal prison, and viewed stones set in a grassy embankment. An informational sign stated that the stones were remnants from the Roman occupational of England ages ago. 

I thought of some “old” structures in my experience back home in Tacoma. The oldest remaining building in the city was Job Carr’s cabin, built in 1865, rotting away but still on display at the beginning of Five Mile Drive in Point Defiance Park. The Hudson’s Bay log fort of 1844 had been reconstructed in the same park. Until just now, I’d thought the cabin and the fort were very old!

Photo: Replica of Job Carr’s cabin, Tacoma, WA (My frontierish idea of an old building)
Historic American Buildings Survey via Wikimedia. In the public domain.

I felt struck by the depth of time, like I’d been struck by the depth of the universe earlier in life when I looked at the Milky Way through a telescope for the first time. This time I looked into the depths of English and Roman history with the help of old stones—really old. 

Photo:The Tower: History seemed Endless

Once again, I felt like a hick from the frontier suddenly admitted to the center of civilization. But that’s why I was standing within St. Paul’s Cathedral, in Wesley’s Chapel, and in front of the Tower: to explore, to get out of my narrow niche, better to understand myself. Thanks to my supportive parents, my draft board and pickle dollars earned at Nalley’s during the summer, that very day I was experiencing, with greater intensity, almost more than I could take in. The effect on me was that my perception changed.

Photo: Big Ben; enjoying a late summer sun

Family Friends in Oxford

On Wednesday, September 28, while Bill remained in London, I traveled by train to Cambridge to meet the Emsden family—Mr., Mrs., and three kids. I’d arranged a contact with the family through Bob, an older friend at my church in Tacoma, who suggested—virtually insisted, in fact—that I meet the friends he’d made during his World War II military service in the U.S. Army. The Emsdens were his foster family while he was stationed in England, and fifteen years later they were still in close contact.

The dull red passenger cars of the train presented a low profile, with a rounded top. I had to duck to keep avoid colliding with the top of the doorframe as I entered my assigned car. The train left London on time and arrived in Cambridge on schedule. Getting out of London and riding through sixty miles of green countryside vividly displayed the beauty of rural England.
Walking from the train to the Emsdens’ house gave me a chance to poke around the university town. I found the family’s home easily. They lived right in town in a two-storied brick house accessible through a gate in a wooden fence. Their green yard space was entirely surrounded in a small compound.

Mrs. Emsden demonstrated something important about food in England. On my own in London, I’d found it difficult to obtain enough food at mealtimes to feel satisfied, and that held true at breakfast, lunch and dinner. But the she provided three extraordinarily large and tasty meals: a huge lunch (steak and kidney pie,) tea, and high tea.

I’d heard of high tea. I’d seen it on a menu in the Princess Hotel in Victoria, B.C. But I’d never had it presented to me until this day. For high tea, Mrs. Emsden offered a salad plus an eel dish. The North Sea eel looked a little weird to me but I enjoyed the chicken-like flavor. Overall, the three meals proved beyond doubt that it was possible to eat very well in England, at the hands of the right cook. At each of them I felt full and satisfied.

A blind university student from Zurich, Switzerland, Rosemarie by name, was boarding with the family. She invited me to visit her in Zurich. I told her that Bill and I would try to do just that when we got there later in the fall. I was surprised to have made contact with a continental European student in an English home and recognized how fortunate she was to study for a time in Cambridge University.

It struck me that the host family’s patterns of relating to each other were far more structured than those of my family. The Emsden children weren’t allowed to “fool around.” They were to respect the authority of Mother and Father and clearly did so. In return, the parents showed great consideration for the kids and helped them in many ways. When the boys complained that they weren’t being successful in sports, for example, their father consoled them. When the young daughter, Ingrid, set out for school, her mom walked there with her.

One of their family routines seemed very special. Each family member kissed all others whenever one of them went out of the house, even if only for an errand. Routinely kissing one another was never practiced in my childhood home. But here, I felt left out. None of the Emsdens approached me to kiss. I rubbed my chin. No, I’d definitely shaved before leaving London and stubble was not the reason I was excluded. But if I had been kissed, I’d have been embarrassed. Probably they knew that.

The Emsdens gave me some directions and encouraged me to walk about the town a bit. I was able to put all my wilderness mapping skills to good use in the winding old streets. (Even in much larger and more complex London, once I got my directions and a map I was able find my way through its oft-winding, convoluted streets with confidence.) I reacted to my walkabout with thanks. Cambridge and the campus exuded charm and character.

Photos: In Cambridge, the Emsden family and the university

As we parted, the Emsdens expressed gratitude for America’s role in saving England during Hitler’s campaigns in World War II. I realized that, in being entertained for a day by the Emsdens of Cambri

dge, I benefitted from an older American’s wartime sacrifice and ties. As my visit ended, I felt sadness at having to leave such friendly warmth and comfort to go back to London and then on to continental Europe.

At the very last moment together, Mr. Emsden, an ardent satirist, tagged me as the “flying American” because my travel schedule was arranged to cram a big agenda into so little time. We all had a good laugh. With that dubious goodbye ringing in my brain I flew to the station to catch the train.

Photo: At the Cambridge station, boarding for London

On the train ride into London I had about an hour to reflect on the experience of the day. Did the family think of me as a young adult from the periphery of civilization? Probably so, since I spoke a form of English but they had a devil of a time understanding my pronunciation. Through it all, I’d just beamed on, paving a path with my smile. The smile plus first-hand information I could provide about Bob, the Tacoma link between the Emsdens and me, was about all I gave—all I had to give, in reality—for their generous hospitality. My two simple gifts seemed to have been enough.

The Emsdens’ experience of war was another matter to ponder—and I found myself surprised with the strength of their vivid memories of World War II. To me, World War II seemed real enough but distant. The war in Vietnam seemed closer to me. Were the psychological scars left by the war harder to get beyond than the piles of bombed buildings in ruins still visible in places in London? Or perhaps the rubble whetted old memories. I had no real answers to my questions but the reality of their memories of WW II was a heads-up experience. Now I’d be alert to Europeans’ feelings about World War II.

I went away wondering how many other homes I might be a guest in on the trip ahead, and whether I’d be so unqualifiedly grateful upon departure.

London was just overwhelming. Cambridge, in contrast, was low-keyed and familial. I was preparing mentally to leave both behind as Bill and I would be moving on to Paris. I believe I’ve done justice in describing my visit in Cambridge. I cannot do justice to my experiences in just eight days in London. As I wrote in a letter home, “London is just the beginning [of my trip], and I am already thrilled. It makes me very history-conscious and I feel that my college education has taught me nothing. However, it [education] has done its job if it’s made me inquisitive and given me the tools to learn.”

Bill was waiting for me in the station in London, just as planned.

A Swiss Guide into Paris

After a layover and a shift to a different station we left on a train to connect with the boat on which we’d cross the English Channel. The final leg of the trip was by train again to Paris. Already I was counting the pennies, scrimping and calculating, though the trip had just begun. The round trip to Cambridge cost me about $1.74 U.S. If I traveled 160 miles, I paid about $0.01 per mile. That was value travel and therefore laudable in my opinion.

Before boarding the train for Dover, Bill said something like “I found a deal.”

“What deal,” I asked?

“We can pay to check our baggage through all the way to Paris.”

“Great. Let’s do it.” I surprised myself by paying out 10 precious shillings to check my baggage through to Paris. The train to Dover was cold, with hard, un-upholstered seating. At Dover we walked quite a distance from the train to the cross-Channel ferry. Checking the baggage was worth the expense.

Nightfall had arrived and I could hardly stay awake on board the ship. First, I lost track of Bill. Then I searched for a place to sleep but with no luck. I found a second-class bar and restaurant. Since I had a second-class ticket I was entitled to a spot there. But it was noisy and polluted from foul-smelling cigarette smoke. I kept searching and did find a sleeping room, but there was no space left for me. I tried a cup of continental coffee in the restaurant—another life-time first for me.

Finally I found a black-uniformed porter just lounging in a hallway. “Ah, here’s some help,” I thought, and asked him to find me a place to sleep.
He said, “Certainly, Sir. Follow me.” He led me down stairs into the hold and there he located a padded bench. Opening a closet, he pulled out a pillow and a blanket. I asked about the cost of renting the bedding. He said I could give anything I wanted. That seemed reasonable to me for a moment. Then the thought of obligatory tipping for service came to my mind. 
“Oh, just to clarify, is this to be a tip?” I asked.

He looked at me in such a paternal way and then laughed so ridiculously that I felt humiliated. I gave him an entire half-crown (34 cents, or the cost of traveling 34 miles on the Cambridge train) since I had no smaller change. If I’d been prepared with change I could have given far less for the service.

In this way I learned that to become seasoned as a traveler in Europe I needed to carry smaller amounts of change for tips! I vowed to become more prepared for the unexpected. I had little time to think it over, though, because I was so very tired. I fell asleep, ignoring the noisy crash of waves against the bow, directly below my sleeping spot.

But I was fortunate in that I met a Swiss fellow about my age down in the hold. When, at about 3:30 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 29, I first set foot on mainland European soil at Dunkerque, I cannily, I thought, volunteered to carry one of the bags of my new Swiss friend. I hoped that he’d feel indebted and would help Bill and me to find our way from ship to the next train. I felt that we probably needed a French-speaking friend to help us meet that challenge. I wondered, “Was I becoming more seasoned yet, or what?” At least, I was thinking ahead.

The Swiss guy led Bill and me from the ferry to a second-class rail car, which crawled at a snail’s pace through the yellow-lighted harbor area. This first conveyance stopped at another transfer point: the Dunkerque-Ville railroad station. All the while the Swiss fellow inquired in French for directions. I was right. Surely we English-speakers couldn’t have managed to find our way in French-speaking Dunkerque, even though Bill had shown himself to be a pretty canny guy.

We waited on the Dunkerque-Ville platform, shivering for 20 minutes in the cold night air, when another conveyance appeared quietly and without notice--a single self-propelled train car. Our group of three young men had expanded by this time. A beauty school operator from California, a Spanish woman, and a man from British Guiana joined us. We six young people boarded the car and sat up front with our backs against a window and a view straight ahead over the tracks. Our group’s mood grew lighter, then hilarious. The hilarity peaked with an argument between the Spanish woman and a seventh person who joined us: a Frenchman. The woman attempted to argue with him in English about her luggage. Neither party could speak English except for canned phrases. The hilarity plus exhaustion from lack of sleep made my sides hurt.

After daylight we changed to a third French train—a line of several cars pulled by a locomotive—which took us straight into a main Paris station, la Gare du Nord. I was so glad for the generous help of our Swiss friend. Throughout the night of travel he transformed what could have been hectic into something manageable. At the station the other four each went their own ways, but the Swiss guy volunteered to stick with Bill and me for a while. First, he led us to the baggage claim area. Then he arranged to get one of my French bills broken into smaller change. He personally guided us onto the metro and led us to the American Express office on the right bank in central Paris. There he said goodbye. The memory of his helpfulness was something he left behind.

French Waiter throws a Tantrum

Every single day I met people who were willing to help me as a traveler. And it seemed as though these occurrences happened just at the moment of greatest need. Just as the Swiss friend left us in the lobby of American Express we encountered a young English-speaker who gave us a great hotel tip. “Hotel des deux Continents at 64 Rue Jacob, Paris 75006, near the old church, St. Germain des Prés,” he said. “Go there. Walk, or take a bus, or use the Metro. It’s not too far away.”

Photo Tantrum neighborhood. Awning of Deux Maggots to left, San Germain center

We decided on the Metro because the system map was pretty easy to follow. Once we emerged from the Metro station we found the street, Rue Jacob, about a block away. Automobiles jammed the available parking spots on both sides of the very narrow street, leaving space in the middle of the street for one single lane. Little wonder that the street was marked for one-way traffic.

Before long we found the small hotel, one of the many four-to-five storied buildings that lined Rue Jacob, wall-to-wall as far as we could see. We peeked through the picture window into an appropriately small lobby. It was decorated with dark wall paneling and overstuffed furniture upholstered in brownish leather. Then we looked at each other. We shrugged our shoulders and Bill said, “Well, let’s give it a try.”

At the tiny front desk a clerk offered us a room with two beds complete with feather-stuffed comforters and a wash basin. We’d find a bathroom just down the hall, he said. The nightly bill will come to $3.00 for the room, he added. We checked in immediately.

Our designated room was up a couple of flights of stairs. Its ambience was dark, just like the lobby, except for the white comforters on the beds. It was a very big relief to drop our bags and just collapse on our beds for a rest. The room offered incredible comfort after the cold night in trains and a boat.

Later, when we’d rested enough, we went out to explore the neighborhood. It was fun to discover that our hotel was located right in the heart of the student quarter. In fact, our street, Rue Jacob, switched names just a few blocks away to la rue de l’Université. A cross street ran north to the Seine River and south to a major through street, Boulevard St. Germain. We were near transportation lines and many historic attractions including the medieval church, St. Germain des Prés, which the English-speaking source back at American Express had mentioned. Across the street from the church we discovered the famous literary place, Restaurant Les Deux Magots.

Practical Bill! His question was, “Where will I park the car when I pick it up?” His father had scheduled delivery of a new Volkswagen Kombi at a dealer in Paris. All Bill had to do was to walk in, identify himself and drive away. But where would he park in our crowded neighborhood?

“Why can’t you pick it up on the day we leave town?” I said. “It’ll be safer parked in the dealer’s garage.”

“Let’s put that question aside for a couple of days,” Bill said. “I’m coming down with a terrible cold.” It was true. He had a terrible cold. I could tell from his symptoms, including a headache. Bill and I went back to the hotel and he was intent on staying right in the room until he recuperated. I went out into the neighborhood to search for a restaurant. He stayed behind.

What a story-book neighborhood! Along every street multi-story buildings were crammed tightly. All adjacent streets were pretty narrow but Rue Jacob was among the narrowest—about 25 feet curb to curb. The traffic moving slowly through the neighborhood consisted of pedestrians mainly, among whom bicycles and motorized bicyclettes threaded. Occasionally an automobile with a courageous driver would creep along, carefully avoiding pedestrians.


Photo: Men observing the action along the Seine

The automobiles of Paris were of great interest to me. In particular, I just couldn’t quit gazing at the aerodynamic Citroën sedans, which impressed me as just gliding about the narrow streets on air—yes, seemingly without touching the ground. Their tear-drop body shape, rising in an elongated manner from front bumper past the windshield, then sloping down again to the rear bumper, resembled that of a smaller cousin of my college car, a Nash Ambassador. I loved my crazy college car and instantly transferred that affection to the Citroën sedans as well.

Citroën 2cvs were my close second interest, but not a love at first sight. Consider the shape: a rugged, jeep-like form as if right out of the woods. But no Jeep sported curved front fenders hanging out from the hood and covering the front wheels. No Jeep hood sloped up from the front bumper to the windshield. Jeeps and 2cvs had fragile-looking passenger doors, but 2cv doors hinged to the frame at the rear and latched closed at the front. Jeeps were brown but most 2cvs were dull gray, some tinted with blue. Consider the 2cv grill: from left to right the bottom boundary sagged, geometrically, like the rounded lower lip of a cartoon clown. Viewed from the front the car looked like a glass and metal box smiling back at you. Most 2cvs were roofed with rubberized rollback, black canvas sheeting. 

Overall, I knew I could never afford a Citroën sedan. I thought I could afford a 2cv someday in the future but wondered if I could get up the courage to ride in one of the fragile-looking devices.

As darkness set in on the city, drivers crept along the narrower streets using only their parking lights. That seemed eerie to me. Pedestrians were walking in any and every direction, at intersections and between them, exercising a universal right-of-way whether by law or not. Amazingly to me I saw no hits or even near misses along the narrow streets.

Besides cars, food occupied much of my attention. Earlier in the day Bill and I ate our first meal at a French restaurant in a classy right bank district near the American Express office. I was blown away by the quality of the serving of potatoes, soaked in oil, and by the steak, grilled ever so carefully. After the meal I, still the novice traveler, made the huge mistake of paying for the meal at the cash register like I might back home. The table waiter flew into a rage right there in public—and I couldn’t cope well with a tantrum in French. I was dumbfounded, embarrassed, and wanted to get out of there. I had, however, provided a tip with my payment. The cashier gave the waiter the tip, the waiter walked off a flap of his towel, and Bill and I vamoosed. 

“I definitely won’t go back THERE!” I huffed.

Now, late in the day, while Bill remained in the hotel, recuperating, I found a smaller neighborhood restaurant for supper. Here I could start over, free from the taint of my earlier mistake. A waiter showed me to a table and provided a menu. I saw “escargot”, took a deep breath for courage, and ordered them (my first everI enjoyed them) for hor d’oeuvres. Then I veered back to more familiar foods: an egg omelet and green beans, followed by strawberry shortcake. Given the croissant breakfast at the airport nine days earlier, and now the marvelous lunch and supper, I wondered again why we had spent so many days delaying our entrance into diner’s paradise. But I never experienced a reprimand from a waiter in England. 

In Paris the menu gain was offset by the tantrum.

To soothe my psyche, I wandered to the north a couple of blocks and came to the Quai d’Orsay, the boulevard lining the left bank of the River Seine. It was a very clear Thursday evening now, and the larger buildings along the river were illuminated according to the passion of the City of Light. The entire exterior of the Cathedral of Notre Dame was illuminated.

The river Seine flowed by slowly and quietly within its stone-walled course twenty feet below the sidewalk. Occasionally, a tourist boat slipped by—low, long, and narrow, illuminated by strings of naked, white light bulbs and crowded from one end to the other with rows of tourists. Powerful spotlights shined from the boats onto impressive monuments and prominent buildings along the river banksAs I headed back to the hotel I thought that Paris and Portland, Oregon resembled each other a bit. Each was bisected by a large river channeled right through the center of town.

Photo Bill’s problem: “But where can I park the Kombi?”

On Friday, Bill was feeling better. He and I split to pursue our own interests. I toured central Paris by public transportation while Bill made his way to Auto-Europe, where he’d inquire in person about his dad’s Volkswagen van. 

I was beginning to realize that traipsing around to see sights was perhaps the least interesting aspect of travel. Meeting people (except for angry waiters) was rising to top place in my list; eating new foods was second. Still, I could not deny that seeing the city from the top of the Arc de Triomphe was exciting. I could see the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Champs-Élysées, and, to the north, the in-town small mountain, Montmartre, capped by the white-domed church, Sacré-coeur. I had to quit exploring to meet up with Bill for our first appointment with an American missionary.

“Paris Eats Evangelists”

Back with Bill again, we went for our first formal visit with a religious professional by Metro to a house owned by the Navigators, a well-known American evangelical Christian organization. 

We exited from the Metro in a wrong underground station. It was a good error, though, because we had to find our way back onto the correct train and off at the right station, using only French. Challenged but able, we found our way to the person we sought: George Clark, the Navigator representative in France. We all had something in common: George had attended Seattle Pacific and we were a trio of alums far from our college campus. After we gave him some recent news from home it was his turn to inform us about Christian mission work in France.

It might seem strange that we’d find an American missionary in Paris. After all, France had a Christian presence as early as the second century and famous French Christian leaders like Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin had world-wide followings. Yet, some American evangelical groups in our century felt that the French people needed Christ. So they funded a missionary presence in Paris. George was first of these missionaries that we’d meet.

George liked to proceed with questions that he himself would then answer. “Do you know what the biggest problem with American mission organizations is?” he asked. “It’s that we send missionaries out too young. Do you know what we need? We need people between 35 and 50 years, with plenty of experience.”

We talked for an hour or so along that vein. When we indicated that we needed to leave soon, George concluded dramatically: “Paris eats evangelists. You must look after your emotional stability.” Those two sentences immediately blew away my optimism. I felt like a sailor who finds suddenly that the wind switched and was blowing against the forward side of the sail.
On the way back to the Metro I said, “That was a pretty discouraging first visit with a missionary! We’ve come this far looking for a calling to serve, and what we learn right off is that there’d be no place for us to serve—not here in Paris at least—until we had 15 or more years of experience!”

Bill, perhaps more self-confident than I, just said something like, “Maybe. But let’s see what comes next.”

Settling In: a Home on Wheels

On Saturday, Oct. 1, Bill picked up a Volkswagen Kombi, a microbus, at the dealer in Paris. Bill’s father graciously had purchased the van and ordered delivery to Bill in Paris. The little bus was very plain: two doors on the passenger side, one door on the driver’s side, and only the one front bench seat mounted forward over the front axle. Behind the seat was a flat floor. Near the back door the floor rose a few inches to make room for the rear-mounted engine.

Some Americans thought of this model as a German station wagon, but I thought of it as a passenger van and, for Bill and me, a very small home away from home. Bill’s dad’s idea was that Bill could drive it for the duration of our tour, then ship it home. We were so fortunate to have Bill’s parental sponsorship in this way, I thought. No longer would we need to be lugging our baggage around; no more need to search for hotels.

The size and shape, though not the color, of Bill's Kombi van 

That very day, we outfitted the Kombi with sleeping bags and air mattresses. We were already well supplied with folded paper maps. Those visits to AAA back in Portland had been to get the maps we needed to find our way on unfamiliar routes and autobahns.

The next day I attended Sunday worship service in a French Reformed Church near the hotel. Bill didn’t want to be there. He felt he’d learn nothing because he’d not understand the French. I felt more adventurous with the language, though I had no idea of what to expect nor whether I’d understand the sermon. I found that the service was well attended by students, who made up a big percentage of the crowd of about 150 worshippers. Like my church back home the congregation sang three or four hymns and I recognized the tunes if not the words. It was my first experience in a continental worship service and I was inspired by it.

My experience that Sunday raised some questions for me. Why get so excited about American mission activity in Europe when the Europeans, at least in Paris, had their own native-born religious leadership and congregational activity? Of course, George Clark, “Paris eats missionaries,” was still stuck in my brain. The two bits of information converged and led to a conclusion, “Stay away, young man!”

That afternoon, Parisians were off work and out on the streets, providing Bill and me with a good opportunity to notice Paris clothing fashions. Cuff-less pants were in vogue for young men, along with three-button suit coats. Older men wore smartly colored vests with more suit coats. Even if Parisians had only one coat, as I’d heard, everyone looked quite tailored. The atmosphere of Paris caught me up. I was getting hooked on the city and hoped for an opportunity to see it again later in the trip. We had no plans to return to Paris after leaving it, but we really had few plans at all. I’d just have to see how things worked out.

In a French Suburb

With wheels at our disposal, our mobility increased tremendously. We hopped into the van for our first sashay and drove about 15 miles southwest to a suburban town, Orsay. Here we’d arranged for the second visit with American missionaries. Also, I’d get at least some glimpses of the town for which the boulevard on the left bank of the Seine was named.

I was impressed with Bill’s driving: calm, cool and collected, even though we had to decipher directional signs and traffic signals on the run. We had no mix-ups and soon we arrived at the home of a missionary couple. Their focus was on outreach to French students enrolled in a branch campus of the University of Paris located in Orsay.

We fell right into the conversation topic as soon as we’d been greeted and found that their thoughts reinforced those that George Clark had expressed:
·         France was a very challenging mission field.
·         Current missionaries such as themselves wanted experienced missionary recruits.

To this they added one more important thought: the Christian movement needed an evangelical theological seminary in France.

By now the consensus opinion of experienced missionaries toward us was pretty clear: you two aren’t needed here as missionaries unless and until you have experience. Their warning was: you’ll suffer greater discouragement if you come before you get a lot of experience in an easier environment. With these thoughts pounding in our minds, Bill drove us back to Paris.

In the hotel lounge that evening we had what was becoming a frequent experience: help from fellow travelers whom we met by accident, not by any design. This time the travelers were a middle-aged couple from California. They’d purchased a French car—a Peugeot 403—with the thought that they might drive it to the Middle East during the winter months. The Californians had done their research on driving to Lebanon and beyond. On a map they showed us roads they hoped to follow and talked about some of the challenges we might find along the way. 

When we parted from them we felt that the Middle East by Kombi microbus was a realistic option. Beirut, here we come, I thought. Or, we might come, at least.

Ditching a Belgian

On Monday morning, we packed all we had into the Kombi, left the hotel, and traveled north out of Paris. Much sooner than I expected, we reached the northern border of Belgium.
Driving further north through the countryside, we took enjoyable detours onto back roads lined with rows of mature trees, straight and tall. Not infrequently, we passed horse carts loaded with sugar beets. I spied a particular scene consisting of a sugar beet field with a chalet in the background.

Bill saw my excitement and said, “Let’s stop here for a photo.”

“Great,” I replied. “I’ll frame the view and snap a shot.”

As I opened the right door of the Kombi, I heard a muffled cry. Looking back, a bicyclist was approaching at high speed on the bicycle path which I’d just blocked, unknowingly, by opening the door. He swerved to avoid the open car door and plunged down an embankment, executed a complete somersault midair, and landed in a drainage ditch in 4 feet of water.

I looked on in shocked disbelief. What else could I do since I couldn’t speak Flemish at all? He got himself up, swished the water off of his racing suit and hauled the bicycle up the embankment. I did mumble “So sorry” in English and gestured my regret with a wave of my hand, but he just peddled off without a word of communication.

“Let’s get out of here right away,” I said to Bill. “We don’t want an overnight in a Belgian jail.”

Kombi Camping Protocols

Our travel and sleeping pattern developed quickly. As evening descended, Bill would pull over on a country road and look for a parking spot. Once he’d parked we’d occupy our sleeping bags, fall to sleep, hopefully to spend the night safely and legally.

On our first night in Holland, after crossing the border from Belgium, we searched in the gloom, found our parking spot, and slept overnight. When we woke up, it was to a completely different human scene than we’d experienced ever before. First, an old farmer bicycled past and on down the road, balancing a large milk can on a carrying rack. Then children wheeled by, going to school—up to four kids per bike.

Next, we saw a farmer out in a field milking cows. (We deduced that farmers go to the cow in Holland. Bill was puzzled. “That’s wrong! The cows should come to the barn for milking,” he said.) The pattern from his dairy farming background was better, Bill knew, because the cows’ udders could be cleaned before milking and the act of milking could be done mechanically.) 

The farmer was wearing wooden work shoes. A wagon, drawn by a horse, collecting milk cans deposited beside the road by farmers.

We reached Dordrecht, in the southwest of The Netherlands, later that morning and spent some time there. I went wild with the camera. The centuries-old houses had settled on their foundations and tipped at all crazy angles into the streets. 

The main canal was alive with long, low freight boats, a hull design that’d evolved, apparently, especially for plying narrow canals with low bridges. Ducks and geese paddled about and fed in smaller canals. The Dordrecht market place whirled with activity. In the shopping area I photographed a string of wooden shoes for sale. We saw an ancient 11th century cathedral and a windmill from the 1600s—ancient stones again, like in London. The old and traditional buildings were offset by a super-service ESSO station. Everywhere, the old and the new co-existed side by side.

Photo; The old and new co-mingled

Stopping Forbidden

We drove on and into the great city of Rotterdam. The downtown, we discovered, had been ruined in WW II, then beautifully rebuilt. We located a “dime store” lunch counter and ordered meat roll sandwiches and banana splits. The best memory of Rotterdam was the couple of hours spent in the Erasmus Room of city library. A guided tour gave us some appreciation of Erasmus’ life. During the reformation era, he stayed in the Roman Catholic Church but corresponded in a friendly manner with Martin Luther.

In The Hague and then in Amsterdam, we toured more marvelous museums. Then we headed out toward a fishing village, Volendaam. On the way, we came to a detour in the road. Not reading the Dutch signs too well, we followed a car just ahead of us, which drove up onto a dike road.

“It’s so beautiful up here. What a view,” Bill said, looking out at the farmland below, people fishing beside a canal, ducks swimming, and cows in the fields. Suddenly the sights included red: both our car and the car ahead were pulled over by a policeman.

Photo: From the dike road, two windmills of Holland

“Now I’m worried,” Bill sighed. “He’s got his ticket pad.”

In English the officer explained that cars were not allowed to drive on the dikes—bicycles only were permitted here. Then he asked, “Are you Americans?”

“Yes, sir,” Bill said deferentially.

“Okay. No ticket.”

Why he decided on “no ticket” I did not learn since he couldn’t explain his decision in our language, but “no ticket” were the best words we’d heard in English in Holland.

We met with a number of American religious workers in Holland, associated with groups like Child Evangelism Fellowship and the Navigators. One of them, Doug Sparks, commented to Bill about recent Billy Graham meetings held in Berlin. Doug said that each night there were at least 100 East Germans at the meeting that he knew about, and so did the police. The police took the East Germans back over the border by the bus load. 

The Billy Graham staff followed the course of prudence and exempted the East Germans from any request to sign a decision card, which would have required divulging their names and addresses. Sparks reported that there was a strong, but not large, church in East Germany. It was his judgment that Germany was crucial for the future of Christianity in Europe. He didn’t say why he held this view, but just emphasized that it was so. Even though I was left wondering, in this way our attention was directed by Sparks toward Germany, days before we arrived there.

I’d come to Europe with an image of the Dutch as rather simple people. Though some rural Belgians and Dutch might have been simple, it was not the case with the urbanized. The sophistication of the cities was the equal of London, I thought. The works of art (Rembrandt, Rubens and others) that we’d seen were stunning. And the young people began the worldly phase of carousing and smoking at a very early age, and if that was a sign of sophistication the Dutch had arrived. 

In contrast to the antics of the young, on Sunday morning church bells were pealing and crowds of people were walking to church. On Sunday afternoon we were guided through Aalkmaar, the cheese center of Holland, by two boys on bicycles. They’d noticed our confusion as we entered the beautiful city. Streets and canals were lined with trees; the leaves were turning color, somewhat ominously for a couple of young men who were planning on weeks of nights in a cold Kombi.

Seeking Warmth, Chilling Nights

We took about a week in Belgium and Holland and drove into Germany on Sunday evening, Oct. 9. Immediately, just past the border, we were caught up in a horrible traffic jam. An endless line of cars ahead was moving at about 20 miles per hour. We decided not to fight it and turned in early on a side road in thick woods at about 9 p.m. I arose the next morning about 6 a.m. to see the sunrise, which was beautiful, and jogged down the road a distance to warm up. Just as we’d anticipated, colder fall weather was already upon us, and it was hard to keep warm at night in the Kombi. Walking back to the car, I said a prayer for the day.

Then I called to Bill: “Hey, look see what I’ve just found on the road here.” I’d happened to spot some deer prints—the smallest deer tracks I’d even seen, on the unpaved road by the car. 

We’d had night visitors.

Back in the car, Bill continued driving us through farming country on toward Hamburg. As in Holland, farmers in Germany were collecting milk cans on tractor-drawn carts and youngsters were riding bicycles to school. Woodlots sheltering brick farmhouses[A1]  alternated with grassy fields. Several of the houses were unique in our experience as they adjoined barns. It was difficult, sometimes, to tell where the house ended and the barn began. It took all morning reach our destination city.

We had the name of an EUB pastor in Hamburg, Rev. Karpa, and looked him up. To him, he innocently answered a telephone call and realized that out of the blue two Americans were in town and hoping to meet him. What was he to do? We requested an interview, and he graciously invited us to join him and Mrs. Karpa for lunch at their home.

Billy Graham’s crusade in Germany obviously affected many people. Pastor Karpa said, “We all see that God has blessed Billy Graham. God can bless a man even if he has an old theology.” Karpa was planning on reporting his experiences with the Graham campaign to his own congregation next Sunday.

To make us feel more at home, Pastor Karpa invited a young man, Hartmunt Handt, to lunch with us. Hartmunt was a probationer in Karpa’s congregation, which meant that he was spending a required year as an assistant to the pastor before attending seminary. 

Hartmunt had attended a classical high school, a gymnasium in the German language, and I was stunned by his learning, so deep and wide. He’d studied Greek, Hebrew, Latin and English in the gymnasium, in addition to requirements in German language studies. He spoke excellent English, I thought, and he expressed the desire to study in America for a few months to polish his English further. Pastor Karpa knew how to inspire me by introducing us to such a motivated fellow ministerial student.

After giving us an orientation tour of the city by car, the Karpas invited us to spend the night in their house. Given the chilly outside temperature, it was an offer we couldn’t turn down. Cold had invaded even the guest room, but we stayed warm under thick quilts filled with feathers.
Next morning, we were treated to a scrumptious European breakfast of coffee, rolls, bread, lunch meat and jam made of lilac berries. 

By this time, the Karpas were less formal and more relaxed. I attempted to play with their little boy, and finally succeeded in getting his confidence. This was a chance to get up close to a youngster who seemed typical of those we’d seen along roadsides: long, curly hair, fat cheeks and a smallish mouth. I learned to know him well enough to be impressed that he was happy. It may take days of interaction to know whether an adult has a happy disposition. It takes only a few hours to know that a child is happy.

Karpa family

Over breakfast, Rev. Karpa wanted to explain his personal theology to us. He believed the basic Christian doctrines, he said, and in that sense he owned up to a conservative nature. But also, he was equally open to new doctrine and theology. He expressed admiration for the famous German theologian, Rudolph Bultmann, whose slogan, Karpa said, was “glauben und verstehen,” believe and understand. Basically, Pastor Karpa felt that old doctrines did not speak to people imbued or raised with modern technical knowledge.

To me, Karpa’s position seemed the result of disillusionment with the old beliefs on which I’d been raised. When I had time to write about this conversation, I reflected in my journal that Pastor Karpa offered one answer. The Intervarsity missionaries we’d met sensed a similar challenge but offered another answer. Instead of embracing new theology, they merely embraced the Bible itself. Both Rev. Karpa and Hartmunt Handt contributed greatly to my understanding the high standards of learning and thought that obtained in Germany.

Mr. Karpa also shed light on the sociology of religion that prevailed in Hamburg. He stated that 2% to 3% of residents of Hamburg attend church, whereas all free-church people attend. “Free-church” was a description of groups and movements that were not supported by state taxes. Still, even free churches, he said, were dwindling.

I didn’t necessarily understand everything Rev. Karpa said to us. What I did know is that dialogue with him was interesting and challenging.

After our short but intellectually orienting visit in Hamburg, it was on toward Berlin. The direct route would have been preferable because it would take less than three hours. However, the short route led, in part, through East German territory that was closed to Americans. The East German government required Americans travelling from West Germany to Berlin by auto to use only the Hannover-Berlin autobahn. The required route was longer and took over four hours of driving time. This inconvenience was our first brush with the heavy-handed East German regime and its rules.

 As Bill piloted us along on the one permissible autobahn route, I had ample opportunity to evaluate the highway and the standards by which it had been constructed. I found the autobahn well designed—at least as advanced as the new Interstate 5 between Portland, Oregon, and Olympia, Washington. But it was poorly maintained and very rough long stretches kept Bill busily avoiding potholes.

As a passenger, I was able to pay special attention to villages along the freeway. I noticed that no streets in the roadside villages were paved. That was woeful in my opinion. However, the natural scenery, particularly the fall colors of deciduous trees, was beautiful.

It seemed scary to both of us to be stopped at barriers at the border crossings to have our papers checked. However, nothing extraordinary occurred. We checked out of West Germany into East Germany and then back into Berlin without incident. Often, fears of the foreign thing are overcome by fact. It was true in this case.

Our first step in Berlin was to connect with our host family.

Generous Givers despite Difficult Circumstances

In Berlin, Bill and I were fortunate to be hosted by another fascinating German family consisting of Pastor  Heinrich Meinhardt, his spouse, their young son, also named Heinrich, and a still-younger daughter. Bill and I had contacted the Meinhardts in advance of our visit through our denominational connections. In his fifth decade of life, this pastor served in the Evangelische Gemeinschaft, as did Pastor Karpa. Evangelische Gemeinschaft was the German name for conferences of congregations affiliated with the American EUB Church. The Evangelische Gemeinschaft, classed as a free church in Germany, received no state support and was unrelated to the government.

Right off, the Meinhardt family welcomed us to their apartment and told us their story. They’d resided in central Berlin through the difficult years of World War II and survived. They had experienced both Hitler’s rule and Allied bombings. When we visited them they lived in the Western sector of Berlin, a formerly unified city divided after World War II between Russian and Western sectors.

During our trip, 15 full years after the end of World War II, so far I’d already seen many war ruins in London, France, and West Germany. World War II was an ever-present reality to people living in its wake. Now, Berlin—divided and still partly in ruins—caught my full attention. I was observant both of destruction left over from bombings and of reconstructed buildings and streets too.

Pastor Meinhardt’s son, Heinrich, Jr., was about four years younger than Bill and me. Father and sonone, the other or bothaccompanied us around Berlin whenever we set foot outside of their building. I felt gratefully secure in the company of men who knew the restrictions, safe routes and instructive sites.

They immediately helped us to understand and use the U-Bahn, the underground subway in Berlin. It was important to understand that the train ran right across the border into East Berlin. We needed to know, and they showed us, when and where to exit the train.
The Meinhardt men also showed us the features of a broad and splendid avenue, Unter dem Linden, running through West Berlin right up to the Brandenburg Gate. There we stopped. Beyond the Gate was the Eastern zone. It was easier to enter the Eastern zone by U-Bahn than by surface transportation.

Along the way, in London, Paris and enroute through Belgium, Holland, and Hamburg, we’d been given time by Christian leaders. Whether they were attached to the Navigators or the EUB Church, all had been generous with their time and information. The Meinhardts were cut of EUB cloth but were unique because they told especially gripping stories of Christian and civic life. There were plenty of stories for the Meinhardts to choose from; Berlin in 1960 was still at the center of Cold War conflict.

In the very first evening with the family, Pastor Meinhardt took us into East Berlin and then back to West Berlin on the U-bahn so that we could begin to see with own eyes the difference between the two halves of the city. The differences in the appearance of building quality, for example, were astounding. Later we made subsequent visits to East Berlin to meet pastors, older citizens and young people like ourselves.

I came back to West Berlin from my several visits to East Berlin with a generalization based on what I’d seen and heard: in East Germany, despite the official message of the state, Christians were persecuted. This applied to both East Germany and East Berlin. According to the first-hand reports I heard there, pressure ranged from social disapproval to physical beatings. Publicly professing Christian young people could neither become professionals nor gain an education without compromise. Communism, as understood by authorities in Berlin, could not mix with Christianity, just as many Christians concluded that their faith was incompatible with Communism.

In West Berlin, the fortune of Christians was different and better. The EUB Church maintained seven congregations, a youth home and a hospital. West Berliners did minister under difficult circumstances, particularly as they tried to aid East German church members and the needy in general who were in search of medicines. Those in West Berlin maintained a medicine “pool” for the needy in the East. 

Donors had to smuggle certain medicines to recipients, and this entailed risk to donor and recipient. Other meds could be transported without restriction. Either smuggled or not, the cost of the medicines was always a factor.

Pastor Meinhardt took us across the boundary to introduce us to a certain East German Frau Reich, a woman afflicted with a disease of the hands. Only one medicine could cure her condition, and that drug couldn’t be obtained in East Germany. She’d written a letter to Pastor Meinhardt with the prescription attached. He’d been able to purchase the medicine for $12 U.S. (the equivalent of 200 D.D.R. marks) but the widow couldn’t pay the cost. Per their practice, the group running the medicine pool in West Berlin donated it to her at no cost. Seeing evidence of the good the medicine pool program was doing was more powerful than merely hearing about the donation program.

In addition, in West Berlin the Evangelische Gemeinschaft congregations offered magnanimous assistance to refugees fleeing the Russian zone. For example, the Meinhardts recently had entertained four people in their home: a family of mother, father, young son and daughter. (Two older sons of the same family had previously fled to the West to seek education from which they’d been shut out in the eastern zone because they were in church too much.)
The father, a farmer, had to wait until after the harvest was over. He finally was able to attend a post-harvest farmer’s congress in East Berlin, accompanied by his family. It gave them the opportunity to flee to West Berlin, but with only the clothes on their persons.  After lodging with the Meinhardts for a few days, they transferred to a refugee camp.

Meinhardt introduced us to a teenaged student living in East Berlin—an athlete. At 6’5” and built like an American football lineman, he wanted to become a sports teacher. Because the need for teachers was great, he thought he could reach that goal.

For a similar fellow, things worked out poorly. This young man, a preacher’s son, attended a special sports school at the university level in East Germany for several years. He passed the training requirements on schedule and was ready to begin his career. However, as a prospective teacher, he was required to go through an additional four weeks of special army training. At this stage, authorities tortured him to turn him to Communism. The treatment was rough, and in four weeks he’d almost broken down mentally and spiritually. He opted out of a career in his native town and fled to the West.

The athlete’s younger brother refused to join the “Young Pioneers,” a state-sponsored organization for youth. Because of this, he received bad marks from his teachers and beatings from his classmates. He, too, fled to the West. Some families had lost all of their children to the West. The parents stayed in the East alone, aging in place.

Having heard these narratives of hardships and oppression, I suddenly grew apprehensive about my own safety in East Berlin. I’d never really been face to face with top dogs dominating and exploiting the underdogs with force. For the first time in my life, in Europe or back in America, I found myself wondering: Am I really safe in this place?

I took a bus tour of East Berlin, saw many ruins of famous museums, cathedrals, and embassies and visited the Russian Memorial Cemetery, a shrine to 7,000 dead Russian soldiers. I passed by the bunker where Adolf Hitler committed suicide. The bus tour was limited by authorities to travel only on “good” streets. I took that to mean visually appealing for propaganda purposes.

More East West Contrasts

In the evening, Pastor Meinhardt took me on a walking tour of what he considered to be the “real” East Berlin. I saw new prefabricated apartment buildings.

“They’re looking very nice from out here,” I said.
“Yes,” he replied, “but you can hear every word spoken from a floor above or below.” Was that to make it easy to spy on fellow residents? I should have asked, I realized later. Instead, I just assumed so.

The lack of automobiles in the Eastern sector was a sign of poverty. Even in the center of town, no more than 10 cars would pass by in 15 minutes. Poverty also seemed to present its face in the standard wardrobe; people dressed in drab, grey tones. Oddly, in East Germany the workers claimed to own everything, but relatively they had little—scarce economic goods, little political power, and few freedoms.

I was beginning to confirm for myself that the reality of life in West Berlin contrasted starkly with that in the East. In the West, thoroughfares were wide, and traffic was heavy. People dressed gaily. Young men wore stylish continental trousers—no cuffs. I saw new buildings designed along modern lines throughout much of the city, though some neighborhoods had retained their pre-war garden-houses. West Berlin had been the recipient of generous American Marshall Plan funding for apartment buildings and stores. The design of the Marshall Plan buildings, in particular, was modern and appealing.

Realistically, though, West Berlin was no paradise compared to standards of living in the United States or West Germany, from what we’d seen. The Meinhardt apartment was sufficient in size for family living but too large to heat on a standard family budget. As a consequence,

Photo: The Meinhardts: the church they were serving in the background

they heated the living room and kitchen but not the bedrooms and bathroom. Between sleeping in the cold car in Belgium and Holland, and now in Meinhardts’ cold bedroom, I’d begun to feel as if I were spending every night in an ice cave.

I left Berlin very disquieted. I reflected a bit on my own North German plain ancestors, and concluded that they had emigrated from their homeland about the right time—in the 1870s—to Wisconsin, Minnesota, and even further to the American West. They’d avoided the horrors of two world wars and communist rule in the aftermath of WW II. I knew that I must have long-lost relatives living somewhere in East Germany. I would have liked to search for them, but there was no way to make contact.

The Unforgettables

 I felt I’d gained a new perspective and a new “family” after our days with the Meinhardts. Pastor Meinhardt was energetic, a bit jumpy, and very compassionate with a ready smile. He was radiant, too, and his tense joy captivated me. Mrs. Meinhardt embodied the calm of the family and, fortunately, she spoke English well. The children were friendly and had table manners besides. The entire family took Bill and me under their care and gave me a crash course in faithful living in the midst of real world politics. Over our several day visit with them, they introduced Bill and me to people and situations that would have been inaccessible without guidance like theirs. When we left, Pastor Meinhardt gave us names and contact information for additional meetings and information in West Germany. The Meinhardts had stolen my heart.

World Sauerkraut Capitol? Seriously

To leave Berlin we were required to retrace our path back over the autobahn to Hannover. At the border crossing leaving Berlin we submitted our passports for inspection and paid in German currency the equivalent of $1.25 for use of the freeway. Aside from being forbidden to take photos enroute, the trip back to West Germany was uneventful. That evening after arriving in Hannover, Bill said, “It’s cold and I’m staying in a hotel overnight.”

“I want to save some money. May I stay in the Kombi alone?”

Bill agreed to that, so I drove out of town find a place to park overnight. The interior of the Kombi was a mess! Clothes were lying everywhere, and washing hung from front to back on our improvised clothesline. It was a real sight. All of this was well before the Kombi became the informal symbol of Oregon kitsch. We pioneered the lifestyle without any intent to join the start a social movement. It was merely what we had to do in order to travel. “This mess just shows that we’re really at home in the Kombi now,” I told myself as I dug around to uncover my pad and sleeping bag.

At about 7 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 15[A3] , I was awakened by laughter. I look up and there, returning my gaze, were two men and a woman, apparently on their way to work, who laughed like crazy at the sight (could I blame them?) When I stared back, they really went into an uproar. I waved to them and went back to sleep. They’d received free American entertainment. 

Apparently they needed it. I needed to get dressed and to pick up Bill.

Once belted into the Kombi seat again we headed south until in Bernhausen we found a roadside gasthaus for lunch. In the dining area we chatted, mainly in English, with a German dressed in drab clothing, finishing up his lunch. Identifying himself as an East German refugee, he informed us that he’d been a member of the Folkspolitzei in East Germany. This generous former policeman offered beer and cigarettes. (This doesn’t add up, I thought. He’s a refugee, right? And plying us with gifts? Is he a clandestine spy, I wondered?)

We explained that we were Baptists and couldn’t drink or smoke. (We said “Baptists” because 
that’s what we thought he’d understand. We’d learned that only Baptists among all the religious groups do not drink or smoke in Germany. To call ourselves Baptists was a bit of a convenient lie.) He deftly substituted lemonade drinks. He’d been so generous with us, for no apparent reason other than goodwill.

We countered with a gift of our own, a German-language New Testament that we’d received from the Pocket Testament League in Berlin. He seemed to appreciate the gift of scriptures and my suspicions of him blew away like his cigarette smoke. He waved as we climbed into the Kombi.

This town, Bernhausen, because it was proclaimed to be the sauerkraut capital of the world, was an attraction of some sort for us—like seeing in person a candidate for entry in a believe-it-or-not book. As we drove into town we did, in fact, see some enormous fields of cabbage—an essential raw material for sauerkraut. My summer employer in Tacoma, Nalley’s, produced a lot of sauerkraut as well as pickles. Sauerkraut was a staple, along with meat and potatoes, in my family home. With this background, I felt fairly at home in Bernhausen.

At Blumenstrasse (English: “Flower Street”) 6 we found the house of Hermann Weller, an Evangelische Gemeinschaft pastor and a “must-visit” contact provided by the Meinhardts. Pastor Weller was a younger man, one we really should meet according to Rev. Meinhardt. So, to meet the Wellers, and not to see cabbage, was our reason for visiting Bernhausen.

We knocked and the Wellers, who’d been expecting us, welcomed us at the front door. Frau and Pastor Weller spent the rest of the day with us, conversing in English about family life and church life. They were justifiably proud of their house, which was recently built. Pastor Weller was angular-jawed, about 35 years old and blond. His hair was already thinning.

The children gave me a secret about language learning. Michael, Angelica, and Christiana (6, 7, and 9 years of age) provided the most honest criticism of my attempts at speaking German that I’d yet received or would receive in Germany. I learned that German-speaking adults simply had been overlooking my distorted pronunciations and feigned that they understood.

But the kids were totally frank. I said “mutter,” but it sounded too much like “mother.” The kids laughed and pointed a finger at me. That happened with many words and phrases. It was a big benefit of being in a home with children. I lost some self-confidence in speaking German, but gained a reality check. I listened harder more carefully and became more careful in my speech.

Other benefits followed. Christiana, the oldest of three kids, was celebrating her ninth birthday. Bill and I were invited to be special guests at her party. The party itself was a family gathering at which her parents and brother and sister gave her books, candy, and a briefcase for carrying things to school and back home again. Surprisingly, instead of immediately eating the candy she delved eagerly into the gift books. (As a psychology major, I thought she’d passed an equivalent of the marshmallow test.)

After Christiana opened her presents, the other two children also received some presents from the parents—specifically to keep them from crying, we were told. The parents understood. It’s good to give to one, and wise to give to all.

Bill and I received gifts of a different but very benevolent sort. Frau Weller did our laundry and gave us an invitation to stay overnight. Spending the night indoors and out of the cold was very good. The next morning brought more favors. She served hot chocolate, hearty bread and cheese for breakfast.

Later in the morning we had to leave Bernhausen with Hermann for a destination in a nearby city: Reutlingen. Since there was no third seat in the Kombi, Hermann drove his own car and we followed. He suggested that we drive to Reutlingen via Stuttgart since he wanted to show us a few things in that city. On our way out of Bernhausen we had one more overview of huge cabbage fields. In Stuttgart, Hermann took us to gorgeous sights around the city that we’d totally missed on our first visit.

Meeting our Student Counterparts

The key destination that day for Hermann, Bill and me was the theological seminary of our EUB Evangelische Gemeinschaft, sited in the small city of Reutlingen, about 20 miles directly south from Stuttgart. On arrival Herr Kūchlich, the Direktor of the seminary, greeted us. Immediately he appeared to fill the role of a fun-loving, hearty southern German. Short and plump, he continually pushed up his glasses that often slipped down to the end of his nose. If he’d also had a long watch chain across his vest, I’d have said that he gave the appearance of a railroad conductor.

Herr Kūchlich invited Bill, Hermann and me to an evening fellowship meal in the dining hall followed by a college-type bull session with several English speaking students. We discussed everything from politics to religion to scenery.

The seminary offered English as a course of instruction, and the next morning Bill and I were invited to meet, after a bread and coffee breakfast, with the language class. Our role was that of visiting native English speakers. We each gave a humorous talk on American table manners. 

I mentioned: “In the U.S. one must always ask for food to be passed, rather than merely reaching across the table for it as Germans do.” 

Well, the students informed me, Germans are supposed to ask for food to be passed also. In practice, however, they simply reach for whatever they want. (The students did well in understanding American-style English, but I decided to teach the word "impolite" in my next lesson.)

Everyone was having a good time making and admitting mistakes. Pastor Karpa said that once he’d introduced his wife in English as “my husband.” His English-speaking audience was like the Weller kids in that they responded with a good laugh.

Following a generous, large lunch, Bill and I hopped into the Kombi and departed from Reutlingen. As I waved goodbye to our new friends through the open passenger window, the president of the student body proudly shouted out, “See you later, alligator.” I guffawed. It felt friendly in Reutlingen, and a bit like watching a comedy show.

Photo: A couple of our German student colleagues with Bill in Reutlingen

Reflecting back on the experience, I felt that these students (all male) were my brothers in faith and vocation. We were like those whose mouths were filled with laughter, whose tongues sang (Psalm 126:1.) The Reutlingen experience was very different than the experience with missionaries in Paris (somber-to-negative). It was more like the experience in Berlin (very positive.)

Having once made that comparison, I recognized that I was advancing in my quest for self-definition. I wanted a Christian vocation that focused on joy and rang with fun. My primary reference points in coming to this conclusion had been German Christians: the Meinhardt family, the Wellers and the Reutlingen seminary faculty and students. Self-knowledge cannot be attained without knowing others.

It was raining but soon the sun peeked out. Bill and I set out to travel to Switzerland next.

Two Stuttgart Women

Out of Reutlingen we drove back to Stuttgart to gas up the Kombi for the trip south and to look for travel books. In one of the bookstores, Bill took note of an English-speaking book-seller. I could see why. She was thin, a bit tall like Bill with a dark complexion like his, including brown eyes. 

But I was totally surprised when spontaneously, right out of the blue, he asked, “By the way, would you like to spend some time together after work?” Bill did not seem the type to arbitrarily pick a woman out of a crowd in Stuttgart bookstore and ask her out. But maybe I was coming to know a new side of Bill. What will come of this? I wondered.

Bill’s question was apparently a total surprise to the young saleswoman, too. She reacted with a mixture of mystery and intrigue. She hesitated a moment and then replied that she already had promised to spend time that evening with a girl friend of hers. What a disappointment to Bill! He looked down, darkly, and reached for his marks to pay for his purchase and get out of there.
But then she careened around another swerve. Pointing at me, she asked, “Can your friend go along with us? That will make four of us. It would be better.”

“But do I want to double date with an unknown person I hadn’t even seen?” I wondered? 

Maybe so! Now I was intrigued.

“Where would we go?” I asked. “Does your friend speak English?”

Without answering these questions directly she merely said, “Stuttgart is just a village—really, it is.” She flashed big brown eyes and wiggled her French-style hair-do.

So Bill took over and agreed for both of us. “Sure. We can do that.” So, in a flash Bill had stitched together a double date in Stuttgart for him and me with two totally unknown young women. Ursula took Bill’s money and gave him a package of books along with a note on how to contact her later in the afternoon.

To kill time Bill and I in Stuttgart while we waited for Ursula to get off work, Bill and I stocked up on groceries at a very tiny “super-market” (interior dimensions: about 20 feet by 25 feet.) We bought two kinds of wurst, 10 slices of cheese, some salami, eight red delicious apples, a big bottle of Apfelsaft, butter, and a two-foot long loaf of bread. For all of that we paid out about $2.50 U.S. In Germany, food seemed cheap. Gasoline, however, was expensive; we paid $6 U.S. for the equivalent of 10 American gallons.

Later, Bill called Ursula’s telephone number and got instructions on how to meet up. We met Ursula and she introduced us to Andrea: light red hair and a light complexion, a bit of eyelash pencil perhaps, and no lipstick. (No lipstick? Just like the religiously observant women back at Seattle Pacific? I wondered about that.) 

Andrea would definitely do for a date. We spent a couple of hours that late summer evening on a hilltop outside of Stuttgart and capped it off at sundown with an elevator trip to the top of the Stuttgart TV tower. The “Fernsehturm,” as Andrea taught me to think of it, was spectacular—an engineering marvel, I thought. Its white shaft of concrete was topped by a multi-storied, round glass and steel capsule and an antenna. The observation tower was about 500 feet above the hilltop. I just hoped that Seattle’s new Space Needle could stand up to such competition.

Bill’s boldness in arranging a date was good. The foursome was a wonderful break after five weeks of a twosome. Bill found a solution for a companionship problem that I had not recognized. The event prompted me to remember my Seattle girlfriend, Lucy, and to wonder how things were going for her.


Bill and I conferred about our schedule. He thought that we were making our way through Europe on a timely basis and I agreed. So we put aside, for the time being, the fact that our itinerary directed us to move toward Switzerland. Instead, we decided to stray. We wandered here and there along on a generally southern and western German route: Maulbronn (vineyards, historic Cistercian monastery,) Bretten (Library of Melanchthon, the renowned reformer,) Bruchsal (baroque church), and Heidelberg (old university town on the Neckar River.) We had the twin luxuries of time and mobility. Why not enjoy the fall in Germany?

Bill wanted to look up an Oregon friend, Joy. As a recent college graduate Joy was employed as a teacher on the American army post near Heidelberg. Bill contacted her and, when we met, she invited us to a restaurant on the post for conversation over an American steak dinner, completed with pie and ice cream. “Thank heaven Bill is coming up with some women contacts,” I thought to myself as I stuffed down my dessert.

After dinner, we drove to Heidelberg for some raucous fun at Zum Roter Ochsen, a stube (Red Ox Inn, a famous student hangout from centuries past.) It was fun just to see the exterior of the pub: a red brick front wall broken by a couple of tall stained glass windows, wooden window shutters, a wide wooden entry door two stone steps up from a cobblestone sidewalk. “Ah, the Germany I want to see,” I told Joy.

But the interior rocked. The dim lights just accented the dark wooden walls. The walls were lined with relics from the past: lots of old-time framed pictures and mounted words from songs including one song for the Red Ox Inn. As I read the song I found these lines:

Im roten Ochsen zu Heidelberg
Trinkt auch der Theolog

Sourced 9/24/2012 at

“Okay,” I thought, “the song sings to me. ‘In the Red Ox at Heidelberg, even the theologian drinks.’ I’m a theologian in the making. Why not taste a bier, right here, right now?”

I was, specifically, an EUB theologian in the making who had learned, recently, that my denomination in Germany was okay with drinking beer. In America, drinking any alcoholic beverage was forbidden by EUB church guidelines. Thus, as one of the faithful, I’d never had an alcoholic drink of any sort. Now I’d found a loophole in the church rules and put it into play at Zum Roter Ochsen.

“Well, I can get back on the wagon when I go home,” I told myself. I went way out on a limb and ordered a dark beer. Did I consult Bill or Joy? No, I just did the natural thing. Besides, it seemed away out of place to order an orange juice drink in the Red Ox. What a place to break my lifetime of teetotalism. The beer was wonderful, and I offended church discipline only lightly; I stopped with one. But it was a big one.

As the evening rolled on the three rooms-full of revelers sang raucously, accompanied and sometimes led by a happily well-oiled and yet nimble pianist. The songs were often pierced by loud yells. Red Ox is the setting for the operetta, “Student Prince,” so why not sing? We chose to sit in the Swiss corner, which was decorated with steins and mugs all around.

Visitors over the years had carved their initials into table tops; others had scribbled their names in chalk on the low ceiling of the three small, dark rooms. (I broke with this tradition and did not inscribe my initials or name.) There were hundreds of photographs of Heidelberg university student groups, and paintings of patrons dating back to the 1800s. 

I leaned over to Joy during a break in the noise and quipped, “This place is sure a lot more fun than any American drive-in I’ve ever seen.”

We dropped Joy at her apartment on base at 1:30 a.m. and drove ourselves back to Heidelberg to fall into bed. Bed, as usual, was in the Kombi, but that night we found an unusually highbrow parking spot. We parked the little rig on Philosopher’s Way, above the north bank of the Neckar and just across from the university on the south bank. At 7 a.m., two German police knocked on a window to wake us up. They were certainly in a good mood—whistling and joking—and let us sleep an extra hour until 8 a.m. Promptly on the hour, they insisted that we scoot out of there. They said that Philosopher’s Way was for walking, not motoring. Obviously the police were used to clearing out revelers.

For us, it was time to roll onward.

At Worms, a few miles north on the Rhine, we spent good quality time—first in the Martin Luther Memorial and later as members of the audience of a traveling circus. The circus unpacked and put up their tents in the town’s Festplatz. The largest tent had a ring in the center and bleachers encircling the ring. We bought the lowest class (fifth) of tickets, which put us in the second row to the last. 

The acts were typical: a man on a tight rope; a girl with nine trained ponies; a colorfully suited little boy stunt-man on a pony; a baby elephant that balanced on its rear legs while standing on a stool; an organ grinder who simultaneously beat a drum with his foot pedal; audience participants riding bucking horses; an act featuring two camels, an elephant, a brahma bull, two llamas, and a Shetland pony. Clowns, trained seals, and men on the high trapezes  completed the cast. I was getting to feel at home and enjoying mixing with German society.

Frankfurt Friends

The week wound down and on Sunday, Oct. 23, we found ourselves in Frankfurt at worship in the Church of the Nazarene. My Aunt Alma, my Spokane, Washington patroness who’d given me the Nash Ambassador while I was in college gave me a Frankfurt contact. Her good friends, Pastor Gary and his spouse Eunice, were ministering at the Frankfurt Church of the Nazarene. Aunt Alma, a Nazarene church member herself in Spokane, made the initial contact on our behalf.

Rev. Gary invited us to visit in his home. He led the conversation with many observations on German life. Morals, Gary thought, were at level zero in Germany. “My, that’s a very low level,” I thought. I guessed that his own personal morality was informing his judgment. Gary went on, “Specifically, engagement is considered a license to sleep together. It‘s socially acceptable for a divorced girl to become pregnant.” Those two particulars led to his sweeping generalization that Germans were confused religiously and socially. To me, when Gary got on this theme he sounded like he was fulminating.

Just as I was about to start defending the Germans, a young man named Herr Danker, age 26, son of a Hannover exporter, came by. Danker was a friend of Gary. The youthful Danker was raised in the Hitler youth organization, where he was taught that there was no God. “Now Hitler’s gone, God is back, and they say we should go to church. What will the next guy say?” he mused.

His tipping point came the day he’d been arrested for drunk driving—a very serious offense in Germany. His solution was to get out of Hannover and go to the big city. In Frankfurt, he visited the Nazarene church and was completely surprised. He said, “I never knew church was like this!” Further participation with the congregation led to his conversion experience.
Rev. Gary saw the Danker “ah-ha!” experience as the solution to the ills of Germany’s personal morality problem. “If only thousands could become aware in this way,” he mused.

The Thompson family lived in a fine German house. Gary Jr., the oldest boy, was quiet, with a fringe of dark hair hanging over his forehead. Donny was the opposite—unquiet and tending toward foolishness and attention seeking. The youngest child, Karl, was about 13 months old. His greatest joy and skill was in throwing things out of his crib.

Gary was realistic, straightforward, and fun-filled.  He admitted that his church was viewed by Germans as an American import. Despite that reputation, he was drawing people of an educated class. I could see why he’d have appeal for my Aunt Alma as well. Alma (I surmised) supported the Thompson with generous financial donations and plenty of prayer.

Morals Rant, Round Two

While still in Frankfurt, we then contacted the Evangelische Gemeinschaft Pastor, Herr Zimmerman, and his spouse. This overworked minister preached in four small to medium-sized congregations every Sunday. Frau Zimmerman supported him in practical ways.

Mrs. Zimmerman spoke a fluent English. She chattered on and on about American servicemen in Germany and their desperately low morals. She reported that one particular colonel was being sent home because his son was drunk all the time.

“Hanau has 10,000 U.S. troops and only five Protestant chaplains,” she said. The result? 

“German girls in and around the town are having four to five kids by as many different fathers.”

She informed us that GI’s invaded “off limit” areas on pay day and stayed off base for several days until they were broke. Some 500 licensed and 600 unlicensed prostitutes worked in Hannau. Local girls were also available. Summarizing, she called for God’s judgment of American servicemen in Germany and their activities.

Next, she shifted to Catholics. “In the final week of Fasching, before Ash Wednesday, all is free of moral responsibility. Wives and husbands cheat on one another, or even leave the marriage without informing the other. The street is lined with swaying dancers. It’s a time of indulgence. Parents and children--all are drunk.”

Was she confused? Or is Fasching actually that depraved? I asked myself. I had no way to check. Unfortunately, I’d almost certainly be on another continent by Fasching, 1961. Further, I wondered, what she might think of Mardi Gras in New Orleans?

Actually, I was compelled by her depiction of the huge list of social and religious problems. If I stayed on and obtained a German education, could I help transform this so-called sea of sin in some way? Perhaps.

Later, I saw Gary Thompson again, who brought me back to earth. I shared the information that Frau Zimmerman had voiced. Gary was a thinking person, who could let others hold their own opinions without being swayed greatly, and who could discuss a variety of subjects intelligently. It helped that he could “goof off” and enjoy a good time, too. He seemed to be a rock of stability. He advised me from making any rash vocational decision based on what I’d heard from Frau Zimmerman.

Nevertheless, it was interesting that both Frau Zimmerman and Rev. Thompson held that morals in the population had collapsed. The difference between them came down to whom to blame. The American blamed Germans, and the German blamed American G.I.s. “What sort of national prejudices are at work here?” I had to ask myself. At best, both of them were focused on the same problem and were trying to fix it.

Golden Grape Harvest

Bill and I decided to deviate even further from our pre-planned itinerary. Our new wrinkle was to drive along the Rhine and the Mosel (Moselle in French) Rivers. As Bill had learned from the AAA in Portland, the Mosel region enjoyed an international reputation for the production of great white wines. Driving west, or upstream, we saw many vineyards carpeting entire hillsides. The slate hills rose at a nearly uniform grade of 30% from the riverside to long ridges, some capped by ruined castles. The grape leaves, turning color seasonally, glowed a golden yellow in the fall sunshine.

Photo: Bill and other grape harvesters along the Mosel

The grape harvest, then in full swing, added a lot of human interest to the sightseeing. All picking was accomplished by hand. Laborers, male and female, picked entire clusters of white grapes and tossed them into tapered green conical bins with wide mouths at the top. These bins they carried on their backs, like packs, to crude presses mounted on rubber-tired trailers at roadside locations. 

When we stopped to visit with them, the workers provided us with photo opportunities, but conversation was impossible. We and the workers were in two very different language communities, and none of us could bridge the gap effectively. These people were in a very different stratum of society than Germans we’d been with to date. In parting, we said thank you, or “danke schön”, frequently. 

With wide, toothy grins, they replied “bitte schön.” Limited communication can be effective communication.

Photo: Along the Mosel, October 1960—vineyards, golden days 

On this southwesterly swing of our travel we ventured as far as Trier, a very old German town on the Mosel near the border of Luxembourg. We viewed ruins dating to the time of Charlemagne, who had resided here, but had our greatest pleasure enjoying a trout dinner at a waterside café.

More Hospitality: Swiss Style

We left Germany early in November, traveling south, and finally, after detours and delays, reached Basel, Switzerland, on November 6th. We were back on track with our original itinerary, but a couple of weeks behind schedule due to our wanderings in Germany after the Berlin and Reutlingen visits.

A highlight in Basel was to hear a classroom lecture at the university by Prof. Karl Barth. Gaining admission to the lecture was not a problem. We simply walked into the crowded lecture hall and sat with the students. There was no attempt at all either to record or to limit attendance. Barth simply read his lecture for 45 minutes, and then ended the session by disappearing through a door behind the podium. Though his lecture was a bit dry, probably because I couldn’t begin to follow the German and because Barth rarely looked up to gain eye contact, it was a privilege to hear one of the world’s leading intellectuals. But I’ve jumped ahead a couple of days. I’ll back up to the day of our arrival.

Earlier, upon arriving in the city on a Saturday evening, we simply dialed the telephone number of the EUB pastor. The pastor’s wife answered and, taking our word about who we were and what we were about, gave us the name and telephone number of a German-Swiss couple who spoke English well. The pastor’s wife said we’d be speaking to a guide, and we could meet him in person the next morning after church.

The next day being Sunday, we found the Tabor EUB (referred to as Evangelische Gemeinschaft in Switzerland, just as in Germany) church. As we walked up the front walk we were met by a gentleman who introduced himself as Mr. Oskar Schneider-Jaggi, the appointed guide. He said the pastor had called him the previous evening and asked him to give us some help, and promptly introduced us to his wife, Heidi. After we conversed, they invited us to their home for a meal.

Photo Heidi Schneider-Jaggi and the kids, our hostess in Basel

Inside the church building, the large, square sanctuary was dominated by a high, central pulpit. In front of the pulpit sat a small altar, decorated with yellow geraniums. The whole altar ensemble was framed by a large, stone Norman arch.

The congregation in attendance that day consisted entirely of adults. I learned that the pastor had taken the younger people on retreat. The music, both the choir anthem and the hymns, dated from the 1600s or before and half seemed cast in a minor key.  The church service didn’t seem somber, other than the music. People smiled and laughed at some remarks made by the pastor.

But the real fun began after the benediction. Most of the congregation exited the building and gathered on a stone plaza for conversation. They displayed a keen fellowship, and we had the opportunity of speaking with some who spoke English. It appeared to me that the fellowship, and not the music, must be the main draw of the congregation, but that was merely my judgment and I could have been completely wrong.

In the Schneider-Jaggi home for Sunday dinner and table conversation, we shared our life stories and they told us of theirs. As they became more knowledgeable about us they invited us to stay in their home during our Basel visit.

Mr. Schneider-Jaggi told us that he was a Basel policeman. He worked in a unit that seemed similar to the American F.B.I. He caught our attention with a few spy stories. 

The setting for one was the existence of many Swiss citizens living in Russia as workers. The Basel police intelligence organization recently learned of a Russian spy living in Switzerland using forged papers of a Swiss resident of Russia. In Switzerland, the spy took up work, did his service in the Swiss civilian army, and was posing in all respects as a legal subject under the identity of a Swiss citizen. Swiss Intelligence learned that the man planned to move to the U.S. to live and to spy there. This information was relayed to the Swiss police by U.S. counterparts, who received the clue from an American agent in Russia. The international policing plan was for the Swiss to observe the spy. The American F.B.I. would arrest him upon arrival in the U.S. Schneider-Jaggi told us this tale not to entertain us but to illustrate the reason for his concern about Russian Communism in its worldwide activities. I noted that, though it was about 1,600 miles from Basel to Moscow, it must have seemed much closer psychologically for the Swiss.

We were of interest immediately to our “guide” when Bill said, “Darrell and I have been considering African travel along with the Middle East. We still need to decide.” 

In turn, our host revealed that his Swiss relatives were living in Nigeria as EUB missionaries. For them, he had modified a V-W Kombi to accommodate dual rear wheels and improved interior ventilation. He was planning to travel by Kombi overland to Nigeria in 1962 to drive his relatives home through the Sudan, Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Spain, and into Switzerland.
Fully engaged now, we said, “Do you think we could drive to West Africa via Algeria? We don’t have dual rear wheels, of course.” 

I expressed some doubt that we would be capable of driving across the Sahara in a factory model Kombi.

Herr Schneider-Jaggi, a decisive man, voluntarily checked with the French consul in Basel on our behalf during work hours on Monday. The consul stated that car travel to West Africa wasn’t advised and that travel by sea would be safer, cheaper, and faster.  

With that information in hand, Schneider-Jaggi went to work to help us create an altered travel plan for sea passage to Africa. He came home from work on Tuesday and stated that we were scheduled to depart on the Nov. 23 sailing of a vessel of the Compagnie Maritime Chargeurs Réunis from Bordeaux, France, to West Africa. Being French-owned, the ship would call exclusively at ports in French-speaking countries. According to the plan, we’d disembark at Conakry, Guinea, about 60 miles north of our destination of Freetown, Sierra Leone. Upon arrival in Conakry, we'd find transportation from Conakry to Freetown.

What a relief! It sounded very affordable, simple and workable. We bought the plan. Finally, we’d brought our winter travel plans into focus! We were back on track and I’d have no need for that visa for Lebanon, stamped into my passport, for which I’d paid $5 in Portland, Oregon, back on Aug. 31, 1960.

How did we reach these important decisions, and why? First, a why: we were pushed by a forthcoming change in weather: winter was almost upon us. Second, the how: in consultation with Mr. Schneider-Jaggi we axed the least viable options, such as car travel to the Middle East. And third, another why: we considered where we had contacts who might be helpful. The EUB contacts in Europe had proved enormously helpful, and we had additional EUB contacts in Sierra Leone. With high hopes, on Tuesday evening we set our sights on Bordeaux, enroute to Africa by ship.

On Wednesday, bidding goodbye to our wonderful Basel host family was puzzling. How could we thank the Schneider-Jaggi family for their spur-of-the-moment help in deciding our winter plans? There was no way to repay them for their knowledge, contacts, and help. Nor did they seek payment for food and lodging. On Wednesday, November 9, we bought and presented a lovely bouquet of flowers as an expression of thanks and started across Switzerland toward Geneva, where we hoped to arrive about Nov. 12. Then we’d head across France for Bordeaux. We had two weeks to make arrangements for Africa before our departure by boat.

Comfort of Familiar Voices

Once out of Basel and rolling down the road again, I was feeling under pressure for lack of travel time before the ship boarding. Bill was too, I was sure. We rushed through Zurich itself and opted not take the time to look up Rosemarie, the student I’d met earlier in Cambridge. We did visit Bill’s grandfather’s town, Wald, located southeast of Zurich. Unfortunately, even if Bill’s kinfolk still lived in the town, we had no time to investigate. But we did get a sense of the beauty of the place—an old, stone church surrounded by a few houses that were positioned like sentinels in pasture land, the carpet floor of a very green valley in the foothills. From Wald, we had our first good glimpse of the Alps, and what a sight were the great white peaks in the distance to the south, projecting skyward.

Photo: Friendly elders flashed their smiles all along the way

All along the way, from Belgium through Germany, I’d enjoyed glimpses of rural life. Food production in Europe, evidently, was a tradition-bound process. Old ways endured in Switzerland too. I was comfortable with the sight of manure piles steaming in the cold air. That was nothing new to me, since my dad followed the same practice for the family gardening back home. But old men hand-fertilizing sloping hillside hay fields was different than anything I’d seen before. Chickens wandering in the streets of small towns made for vivid photos and good memories.
                                                                                      Field fertilizing old style in an alpine valley

The sight of children playing in the age-old public fountain of a small town spoke to a way of life that I’d never enjoyed. In Switzerland, the quaint was often positioned back to back with the modern. High-voltage lines hung above the tracks of passenger trains just a few steps away from kids splashing in the fountain.

Swiss kids played near the railroad tracks

Modern technology abounded in Switzerland, too, and I benefitted from it personally when I telephoned my clan in Tacoma from Lucerne on Nov. 10. I felt warmth, interest, and love as I heard the voices of Dad, Mom, and my brother, Jerry for the first time in three months. They spoke of their support for my travel, and Dad, especially, of his excitement about what I was experiencing in Germany and Switzerland. I knew of their support from the time I started speaking about this trip months earlier, of course, but was gratified to hear them reaffirm it once again. Foreign voices are often quite challenging; home voices are comforting.

I’d been spending lots of time hand-writing letters to various family members and friends. Mom knew this, and in October she’d volunteered to take on the task of re-typing and duplicating summaries of my handwritten letters. This would mean that I’d send only one letter to her, and she’d copy and resend them from home. She typed her summaries on mimeograph stencils, made copies, and mailed them to 20 or 30 persons at a rate of about one letter a week. I was grateful to her for this form of support.

As she put it in her first duplicated letter, dated Oct. 28, 1960, “This way, perhaps, we will all hear more and oftener, as it has been difficult for him to keep up the correspondence he had wanted to.” She certainly got it right about the difficulties. It was one thing to write, but my penmanship declined when I wrote in the Kombi moving through the countryside.

In her letter of Nov. 9, she wrote of her conversation with me by telephone, “He sounded as though he were close by, and it was nice to talk with him.”  

That was typically Orleen: cool tones, practical, and right to the point. Once she’d identified one practical thing she could do to support her traveling son, she stepped up to the plate and did it. For me, that stable and dependable support spoke out more than the brief voice contact over a long-distance phone line. I was sure that she was keeping the office duplicator pretty busy at work. She gave me time to explore—the most important item on my agenda during my months of meandering.

Gotthard Pass at Gunpoint

Before leaving Zurich, Bill and I had mapped out a route over St. Gotthard Pass from Lucerne to Interlaken. Our objective was to cross the famous high pass. It wasn’t the most direct route! The Kombi would take us south over a chain of the Alps, then west along the southern flank of a cluster of mountains, and finally north over St. Gotthard, then, by backtracking, on to Interlaken. The road out of Andermatt, the final major village before the pass itself, should have been closed for winter according to a notice on the map. But when we arrived at Andermatt the road was not marked as closed so we drove on through a valley enclosed on three sides by mountains—a huge box canyon with sides thousands of feet high.

The paved road led to a dirt road right up the final wall of the canyon. This one-way dirt track was covered in places by snow and ice, and the snow level beside the road grew deeper as we gained altitude. Since the road appeared to be plowed and passable, we continued past a “road closed” sign, gaining altitude at each switchback.

Finally we arrived at a point where a no-nonsense Swiss soldier, armed with a rifle and standing beside his brown jeep, motioned us to stop. We were at the top of the wall of switchbacks. The closure we’d read about on the map and the sign became a blunt reality when the soldier required us to turn back and find another route to our destination. But at this elevation we momentarily enjoyed a tremendous panoramic view of the nearby Alps, and a mountain high. The price was that we slipped a day in our travel plan.

Dwarfed (and awed) by the Alps at Gotthard Pass

 On the route to Interlaken I passed close to the town of Brienz, located on the north shore of Lake Brienz. I knew that my great grandmother, Anna Michel, and her 10 children---including Elisabeth, my grandmother—had all emigrated from Switzerland to Wisconsin in the late 1870s and early 1880s. Unfortunately, I learned of their exact home town only after arriving back in the United States. Then I felt I’d cheated myself unwittingly by driving past my grandmother’s village. But I felt good that Bill had seen his grandfather’s village, Wald. Vicarious joy is still joy.

The Dogma Chateau

We halted in our journey to Geneva to spend the second weekend of November in an institute self-managed by an American theologian, Francis Schaeffer. Rev. Schaeffer’s delightful chalet was located at Huemoz, high above the Rhone River on a rugged Alpine mountain above the town of Ollon, Switzerland. We were then about 40 miles from Geneva, and appropriately since the city of Geneva was the home base of a branch of the Reformation led by John Calvin in the 16th century. Francis Schaeffer didn’t claim, exactly, to be the 20th century Calvin, but he did aggressively present and argue a theological position in opposition to secular and liberal 20th century theological thought. Schaeffer appealed especially to young people, intellectuals in particular. He drew a following from all over Europe and North America. 

Meeting Schaeffer had been a major goal of the trip for Bill, and for me as well. I’d read about him in “Time Magazine” and read his material in “Christianity Today.”

Schaeffer cut a rugged appearance with his long, dark hair swept back from balding temples. His face was wrinkled, and he sported a white goatee, like that of many a Swiss farmer.

“My ministry,” as he explained it to us, ”is to provide tailored tutoring for young professional people who want a strong reformed Christian view.” He was precise in his understanding of his calling. That appealed to me.

Specifically, what sorts of young people came to Schaeffer for education and enlightenment? 

Those who were there that weekend included a former agnostic-atheistic student from Holland who’d recently converted to Christianity, a young Jewish woman, a formerly Communist-atheist, a well-known opera singer who’d converted to Christianity at the Chalet, and a South-African honors graduate in law from Cambridge who’d subsequently taken up theology and had reacted against theological liberalism. Others were three American students enrolled in the Swiss university at Lausanne, a ballet dancer, and a student from Oberlin whose father and mother were Christian Scientists. They were an eclectic and stimulating group.

As Schaeffer put it, he was targeting young people headed for influential career positions. The presence of several such persons at the Chalet confirmed that he was succeeding in his goal. I found it exciting to participate in conversations with people of these wide-ranging backgrounds and especially with Schaeffer himself.

With regard to conversing with Bill and me, Schaeffer was generous. He spent much of a beautiful morning on a veranda with us, just casually conversing. The setting was stunning. A bright sun was shining on us from the south. Schaeffer pointed out the Rhone, running toward Lake Geneva through the valley below, and talked of the vast cultural difference between Reformed Swiss culture on the right bank and Catholic culture on the left bank of the river.
Almost immediately, I felt myself recoil as Schaeffer’s remarks took on the tenor of a call to arms. Yet, the range and breadth of his thought was staggering, seemingly, and his confidence would be attractive to university students. He constantly contrasted his conservative Reformed Protestant Christian thought with modern thought. No wonder he chose a base in proximity to Geneva. 

The dividing lines he drew were stark and startling. He argued against Karl Barth, Rudolph Bultmann, Sigmund Freud, Pablo Picasso and other intellectual and artistic leaders. Schaeffer’s own foundational thought appeared to be the objective reality of God.

“Some modern thought might appreciate the therapeutic value of faith, but this is secondary,” he said. Also, in referring to modernity, he said: “The damnation of mankind is that we cannot live by our own principles.” This insight did not cause him to abhor principles. He seemed to cherish them.

I was assigned a small bedroom of my own in the chalet. Unable to fall asleep after the stimulating conversation, I contemplated my own Christian faith. I framed it, and probably oversimplified it, as a choice between Meinhardt and Schaeffer. I found myself thinking that it was better to actually do Christianity than to sharpen Christianity into such an attack weapon.

I also considered which choice my dad would recommend. I recalled that Dad had given me what he called the most important book on faith he’d ever read: Thomas Merton’s Seeds of Contemplation. I had read the book and agreed: it was one of the most important I’d read also. In giving me that volume, Dad encouraged me onto a course that valued contemplative Christianity and openness to other faiths. Remembering Merton helped to answer my question. 

For me, it would be Merton, not Schaeffer.

All of this was in my mind as I considered, which type of Christianity would give me the most integrity: a Meinhardt serving style or a Schaeffer doctrinal defending style? Rev. and Mrs. Meinhardt pursued a practical Christianity of open boundaries, and of finding and meeting needs in the name of Jesus. Schaeffer was pursuing a Christianity of dogmatic combat with the world. Given this choice, I knew that I’d stay with the practical Christianity of the Meinhardts. I shrank back from the hard-core rationalist Christianity creeping out of every chink in Chalet Huemoz.

I also asked myself this question: Where would Jesus situate himself on this continuum between doing Gospel deeds (Meinhardt) and precipitating intellectual, dogmatic conflict with the world (Schaeffer)? Jesus healed the sick and fed the hungry. He told parables but didn’t develop dissertations. If Jesus were the model, seemingly he legitimated the Meinhardt model.

I’d decided. I chose to locate myself on the Meinhardt/Merton end of the continuum and would hope to attain the high goal of service in the name of Jesus.

But wait! Should I not be considering other models of Christianity? Probably yes, and perhaps I’d be encountering compelling options in Africa. I was looking forward to that possibility, especially now that I’d committed to traveling there very soon.

I opened my window a crack to the cold night air and slept soundly under the feather-stuffed comforter. 

When I awakened the next morning, I felt refreshed, not so much that I slept well but that I’d clarified my own identity against Schaeffer’s thought, just as he’d clarified his identity against Freud and Bultmann. The weekend with Schaeffer had done wonders for me. He successfully pushed me and succeeded in helping me to clarify my commitments. It was time to check out of Chalet Huemoz and the mental zone for which it stood. I was glad to hop into the Kombi and drop down the switchbacks from the mountainside, finally levelling out on the valley floor below.  

Our Travel Plans Unravel

Bill and I left Huemoz above Ollon for Geneva on the lakeshore. Both Ollon and Geneva enjoyed lovely situations. I looked at the old churches along the route and was glad to remember that Calvin’s autocratic rule of Geneva had ended four centuries earlier. If Calvin were in control, I’d be denied entrance at the city gates, given the decisions I’d just made.

Unexpectedly, Geneva proved to be very expensive for two young travelers who needed to scrimp. To save funds, we ate several meals in the YMCA “soup line” over our week’s stay.
Bill and I were dazzled by the beauty of Swiss lakes and mountains, but snow was about to fly in the Alps. It was time to head south for the winter months. But we still had to find solutions for some travel problems looming, threatening to hem us in and turn us around, like the closure of Gotthard Pass had done a few days earlier.

One problem was easy to solve: right in Geneva we found a Consulate of Liberia and obtained visas for travel in Liberia, valid for two months from Dec. 31, 1960.

An enigma remained: how to obtain visas for the Republic of Guinea. We’d already purchased tickets from Bordeaux to Conakry, with the help of Schneider-Jaggi in Basel, but had no visas for Guinea, the country in which we planned to disembark. We’d counted on finding a representative of the Republic of Guinea in Geneva but learned that Guinea maintained no embassy or consulate there. It seemed reasonable to assume that we’d find a consulate in Bordeaux, so we shelved this matter until later.

More urgent and necessary: Bill had to locate funds his family had sent recently from the United States. He was certain that the money was sent care of a bank in Geneva. However, after checking with all the banks in town, he couldn’t locate the funds. Another problem was to find a garage in which to store his father’s Kombi, but the search would have to wait until we arrived in Bordeaux.

As the clock ticked and the days of the week slide by, Bill still couldn’t locate his funds. I patched together some alternate plans for myself that would get me to Guinea and on to Freetown, Sierra Leone. I ran my ideas past Bill. By Saturday, we’d agreed that I would proceed to Bordeaux alone. Bill would wait in Geneva for his funds. Then he’d drive to Bordeaux, where we would meet up again before departure by ship at mid-week. In Bordeaux I would locate car storage for Bill and check in with the Compagnie Maritime de Chargeurs Réunis, on whose vessel we’d soon depart. I’d also find out how to obtain visas for entry into Guinea.

I left Geneva for Bordeaux by train that very evening, Nov. 19, 1960. The ship was to leave on Wednesday afternoon, Nov. 23. Bill had three and one-half days to get to Bordeaux, or he’d miss the boat. He’d have to scoot after he located his funds, but it would be possible.

Crunch Time

It was Sunday morning, Nov. 20, when I dropped from the overnight train from Geneva onto the concrete concourse in the Bordeaux train station. I searched throughout the vast, dark-toned building for directions to a hotel. Also, I tried to find information about the locations of the Compagnie Maritime des Chargeurs Réunis—its office or even its dock—and the Guinean Consulate. I knew the offices would be closed on a Sunday, but I wanted to get my bearings. Surprisingly, I could find no map of the town in the train station. Also surprisingly, I could locate no one who could give guidance in English to any of my destinations.

For a while, I walked about, still looking for help and more and more amazed at the building itself. The more I saw of the train station, the more I realized that it was very grand. Passengers, walking to and from trains, were protected from the weather by an upwardly curving, high ceiling aligned over the parallel rows of tracks. Out in front, the exterior wall consisted of many doors, each located below a tall, arched window. The entire façade was crowned by a very large clock.  

Even after all of my searching, no map and no guidance came to light. I then decided that I’d just walk around town searching for a hotel, the consulate, the docks, and the Compagnie Maritime. I hoped they’d all be located in a single zone within walking distance of each other.
Through my exploring—and, I believed, in combination with God’s care—I found a small, clean walkup hotel with a room at a minimal price. The innkeeper assured me that the location was within walking distance of the offices I’d need to visit on Monday. He could not, however, locate the Guinean consulate—the sole source of the visas Bill and I absolutely needed to make the travel plan work.

On Monday, I set out again and, with some additional helpful guidance from the hotel owner, located an affordable parking garage. That fortunate discovery solved Bill’s car storage problem. I visited the American Consulate where I collected mail from home. I then walked into big trouble at the office of the Compagnie Maritime des Chargeurs Réunis, just to check in and confirm our reservations. The agents at the passenger desk let me know very emphatically three things. First, he confirmed our reservations. Second, we would be prevented from boarding the ship without a visa for Guinea. Third, we could obtain visas only at the Guinean embassy in Paris.

Compagnie Maritime des Chargeurs Réunis, Bordeaux

Immediately, I tried to telephone Bill in Geneva with this news. I spoke with the clerk at the front desk of the hotel where Bill had been staying, only to learn that he’d checked out and left no instructions on further contact. Now I was truly alarmed. I realized that I had absolutely no choice but to do my best to get a visa for myself, independent of Bill. I headed for the train station.
Lifted my Spirits

Moving quickly, I bought a train ticket to Paris and departed on the night train at 10:30 p.m. on Monday, sea bag over my shoulder. I arrived at the Embassy of Guinea at 8 a.m. on Tuesday, only to be told that the visa section wouldn’t open until 3 p.m.! More delay. A staff person did furnish visa application forms, however. I checked in at Hotel des deux Continents, with which I was familiar from my initial stay in Paris eight weeks earlier, and spent time completing the visa application form. I enjoyed some interesting conversations with people I met in the hotel. Also, I left a message for Bill at the American Consulate in Bordeaux, just in case he called there for information. Time was running very short. The crisis was worse for Bill than for me.

At 3 p.m. on Tuesday, I returned to the Guinean Embassy. The secretary of the visa official was at her desk now. When she heard my sob story, she told me that a four-day waiting period was usually required.

“But I have a ticket for tomorrow’s departure from Bordeaux!” I pled. “I’ll miss the boat!”

She said, “Well, I’ll try for you. No promises.”

While I was still waiting at the desk, the phone rang. The secretary answered. In a moment, she covered the phone with her hand and reported to me that it was Bill, telephoning from Bordeaux to see whether there was any way of his obtaining a visa for Guinea.

Back on the line, the secretary was forced to reply, “No, impossible without your passport!” 

Since he could not come to Paris in time to present his passport and then get back to Bordeaux by the scheduled departure time, the crisis hit full force. Bill could get no visa and would miss the sailing.

For me, though, events turned in my favor. The secretary took my case to her boss and returned promptly with my passport and a broad smile. The coveted visa was stamped in my book, signed and approved. I was on my way again, but it was clear that I would have to split with Bill. He’d have to find alternative transportation to Africa.

On the way back to the hotel late Tuesday afternoon, I ducked into aux Printemps. This grand old department store was festooned with copious Christmas decorations. Shoppers were gazing at displays of gift items and stocking up on purchases for the holidays. Since I had no spare cash, I could buy nothing but sheer necessities. I would love to have ordered a meal in the restaurant of the department store but couldn’t afford the luxury.

But I did recall my grandmother’s words when she was recalling her childhood in Switzerland and said to me: “When we went to town, we went to Paris.” I could understand her better now. Paris was metropolitan. Swiss towns and cities, even, were rustic by comparison. The festive atmosphere in aux Printemps, even though I couldn’t buy a thing, raised my spirits. The visa I’d just obtained would be my souvenir of Paris—and a good one, too.

Unfortunately, I truly needed to scrounge. In fact, I ate only two restaurant suppers and no lunches between Sunday and Wednesday. With utter frugality in mind I survived primarily on bread, cheese, and apple snacks, waiting to board the ship when, I thought, I’d dine abundantly, like a dolphin amidst a school of herring.
I redefined my dilemma. The question boiled down to travelling to Africa on the boat without Bill, or staying on in Europe with Bill while he searched for his funds. The former I could afford; the latter would cost me a lot because I’d have to purchase an airplane ticket to Sierra Leone. Neither was a good alternative.
On Wednesday morning, the maid awakened me at 6 a.m. I arrived at the Paris train station with very few minutes to spare before the 8 a.m. departure for Bordeaux. This train was very fast compared to the night train. It roared through an industrial town, passed a slower passenger train, and flew on through villages, farms, and past old chateaux.

At about 11 a.m. I ate my bag lunch of cheese, bread, apples, and, as a luxury, drank a soda. Quality bread and cheese—pure flavors, deep, intense, varied! Frugal eating in France, at least, was good. I enjoyed my 35-cent lunch as much as if I were eating steak in the dining car. The garlic I got from fellow passengers’ breath was sufficient seasoning. At 1:45 p.m., I debarked in Bordeaux; the train rushed on to Madrid and Lisbon.

Bill Splitting with Me

In Bordeaux, Bill met me at the train as it arrived! How great to see him again after the confusion of the past hectic days. He reported that he’d located his funds but hadn’t pocketed them yet. “So where are the funds, Bill?” I asked?

“In Madrid,” he said. He’d already cancelled his plans to depart by boat in favor of driving to Madrid where he’d collect the money wired from the States and would store the car. From there, he planned to fly direct to Sierra Leone. He’d have no need for a visa for Guinea.
“Good plan,” I thought. Personally, though, I’d decided to continue my plans to travel by ship. 

I promised Bill that I’d meet up with him again when I arrived in Freetown.

Time was very short. The ship would push off at 4:15 p.m., and meantime I had to arrange for storage of my winter clothing and check at the American Consulate once more for mail. There was no time for idle chatting. I had to move fast to get everything done.

I tried to kill two birds with one stone. At the U.S. Consulate, I asked the consul whether I could leave my bag of winter clothing in the office since I wouldn’t need an overcoat and heavy jacket in Africa.

“Absolutely not!" he said, “But I’ll make inquiries for you.” Time flew by as I hung tight, waiting for replies to his calls.

While cooling my heels in the outer office, I wondered: what do these people do for Americans if they can’t keep my clothes for a few months? When the clock demanded that I act, he had received no replies at all. I decided to leave the consulate in order to check with the good innkeeper at the hotel. Would he keep my bag?

Pas de probleme!” He’d do it, no problem. He’d become such a helpful friend in just one day!
I had $80 American left in my billfold. I calculated that I’d need $100 for the stay in Conakry plus transportation on to Sierra Leone. I’d have to continue to save funds on board the ship and hope that my tiny fortune would last until I reached Freetown. Otherwise I’d be stranded.

Then, at 4 p.m., while we were standing on the dock by the gangplank expressing our goodbyes, Bill told me his full story. He’d called the Swiss National Bank in Geneva, finally, and found that his funds had been waiting there for him for a week! He’d never thought that his funds would have been sent to that particular bank. He’d checked with all the other banks in Geneva but not the SNB. When he finally made that connection, he had asked that his funds be forwarded in their entirety to a bank in Madrid, not to Bordeaux. I then knew that he’d made his decision to go his own way days earlier.

Now he brought up the main issue: He had no cash at all, not even for gasoline to get to 
Madrid. He could sleep in the Kombi, but how would he get food and gasoline?

We quickly brainstormed all options, such as getting a refund on either his airline ticket to Africa or on his boat ticket. He reported that he’d be able to get a refund of the price of the boat ticket but not until the next day—Thursday.

Crunch time came five minutes before castoff when Bill asked me at the bottom of the gangplank to loan him $20 of my remaining $80. There was no time to quibble, and hardly time to think. The absolute deadline for boarding the ship had arrived.

I quickly considered my view of Bill’s and my options and risks. Bill knew he’d get a refund in Bordeaux the next morning. That would definitely buy him enough gasoline to drive on to Madrid as well as food and lodging along the way. He could stay in the Kombi tonight with nothing worse than a bit of discomfort and perhaps an overnight fast. For my part, I had only the $80, which was sufficient only in the best case, with no way of obtaining more money if I needed it en route to Sierra Leone. I was willing to share my money in most situations. 

However, under the circumstances, I knew I must keep my small kitty intact. My situation could become very grim if I were stranded without funds on the way to Sierra Leone. I’d found that the American consul in Bordeaux had a fund available to aid Americans in really bad situations. I suggested to Bill that he check at the U.S. Consulate for an overnight loan. That was the best, and all, that I could do for him.

Sadly, so sadly, I had to refuse my friend the request he’d made. On Nov. 23, Bill and I bid each other adieu, and he left dockside quickly to check with the Consulate for aid before office closing time.

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