A Fog Moves Into Berlin And I Gain A Stepmother

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By Cecil Hoge

In 1954 my father started advertising a product called Addiator. This was a small German adding and subtracting device that was operated with a stylus. When you wanted to add, you stuck the stylus into a slot in one of the top rows with a number that had a red or black tab and if it was black you pulled down, if it was red you pulled the stylus up and around. When you wanted to subtract you stuck the stylus into slot in one of the bottom rows with a number that had a red or black tab and pulled the stylus down if it was black and up and around if it was red. It was an early calculator before electronics and it worked quite well. It was not high-tech but it was the only game in town if you wanted a small device that added and subtracted and fit in your pocket.

I am not quite sure how it happened, but my father got the rights to advertise this product by mail order. This was not a new kind of endeavor for my father. He had an advertising agency at 699 Madison Avenue in New York City called Huber Hoge & Sons Advertising that he started with his brothers shortly after World War II. That agency at first just did advertising for outside clients, but over time it came to advertise its own mail order products that it had the sole rights to.

At the time of advertising the Addiator, my father was also advertising and selling RX15 fertilizer (for lawns and gardens), a number of William Wise How to Books (including a TV repair book), an art painting instruction kit, dress forms for ladies to make dresses, paint brushes to paint walls and tables, Jackson and Perkins roses, Doubleday Books and Arthur Murray Dance lessons. His advertising agency varied from 50 to 100 people, and had 2 or 3 floors of the 699 building, depending on the success or lack thereof of different mail order or advertising promotions.

In short, my father advertised everything and anything that could be sold by mail order. Along the way, my father came to advertise Addiator. At first this product was not very successful, but the first ad results were close enough for my father to keep trying. After several rewrites of a page ad, my father came up with the headline, “World’s Smallest Adding Machine” – see the ad below. That headline proved to be very successful and my father was soon selling far more Addiators than he had a stock of. By 1956, he had already sold over 15,000 units of this little pocket adding machine and found himself with orders, but no stock.

This is the ad that worked

This is the ad that worked

Having a backlog of orders without inventory of a product could be a harrowing thing. Imagine thousands of envelopes filled with orders and checks for $3.98 plus $.50 for shipping. In those days, if you did get more orders than you had inventory, you had 2 choices: refuse the orders and send back the checks or go rushing around to somehow get the inventory made fast enough so you could fill orders.

My father had some experience with this kind of situation and sending back orders with checks in them was not in his vocabulary, but getting stuff produced pronto was. There was a complicating factor. The pocket adding machines were imported from and made in Germany. So my father did the next most logical thing that was natural to him. He got on a plane and flew to Berlin.

There was another complicating factor and that was that the owner of the pocket adding machine company did not speak any English and my father did not speak any German. No problem, my father hired a translator from the German Chamber of Commerce and went to the offices of the pocket adding machine factory shortly after arriving at Templehof Airport, in Berlin. The factory was called quite logically Addiator Rechen Machinen Fabrik.

Portrait of the future Edelfried E. Hoge with their house in the background

Portrait of the future Edelfried E. Hoge with their house in the background

The lady my father hired as a translator was named Edelfried von Kalkreuth. “Edelfried” means noble peace in German. At the time Edelfried was 32. My father’s plan for this trip was to arrive with a Diner’s Card and some spare cash and a few days of clothes and check into a good hotel of the time and conduct his business in 3 or 4 days. That was the plan. It turned out that Mother Nature had other plans for my father.

It took some time for my father to explain to Edelfried what he was trying to do. It must have sounded quite strange to her, whose previous experience was mostly translating for traditional businessmen and women and for diplomats coming from the States. No matter, Edelfried soldiered on and did her best.

One of the hardest concepts for Edelfried to get, other than my father’s excited and rapid fire conversation on his business and the world as he saw it, was the idea that my father had started selling some German product in the U.S. and had run out of stock.

“Warum” – why – was Edelfried’s question. Running out of stock in business was simply something that no self-respecting German businessman would do. No, a German businessman made a plan to sell 5,000 of something, ordered the 5,000 of something, waited for the 5,000 to come in and then made plans to sell it. And long before that 5,000 ran out the German businessman would place another order for more goods, if he thought he could sell more goods. So, the whole thing sounded kind of strange to Edelfried.

But that was not all that sounded kind of strange and crazy. Coming to Germany without much cash and some strange plastic card also seemed very weird. She was very surprised to find that restaurants and hotels in Germany actually accepted this strange piece of plastic. Most of all, my father’s explanation of how he sold the pocket adding machines was particularly weird. My father explained that he ran advertisements in newspapers and magazines and people read those newspapers and magazines and then people wrote out checks or put in actual cash in envelopes and sent their orders to him.

“Verruckt” – a word that means crazy, was all that Edelfried could think. No one in Germany would do such a crazy thing. Yet, here was this tall, excited American telling her that was exactly what he did. Worst than that, when Edelfried heard that my father had started advertising with only few hundred pocket adding machines in stock, had run ads, sold out in days, flown in thousands more and had sold over 15,000 Addiators in less than a year. That really sounded “verruckt”.

I am sure the first day must have been a crazy rush from the airport to the hotel to the German Chamber of Commerce to pick up Edelfried to the Additator factory and offices. I am sure all this rushing around and exciting business conversation must have been exciting. Edelfried was particularly amazed that the German Addiator businessman not only believed every word my father was saying, but was actually anxious to help him get immediately more Addiators. At the end of the first day my father must have been very tired and Edelfried must have thought she had a crazy, but exciting American for a client.

I would guess that my father and Edelfried extended the day to have dinner with the German factory owner and his wife, Herr and Frau Schaffhirt. You could be sure that my father, after a 14 to 16 hour flight to Germany (these were the days of prop planes to Europe), only a few hours sleep on the plane, hasty trips to the hotel, the German Chamber of Commerce, the offices and factory of Addiator and a quick dinner, no doubt with heavy German food and some beers, was one very tired guy.

The next day with 7 or 8 hours sleep, my father must have seemed to Edelfried to be a little less strange and a little less crazy. And by the next day, perhaps, she had become a little more adept at understanding my father’s rapid fire conversation. My father was the kind of guy who could infect people with enthusiasm and no doubt, by the second day, some of his exciting enthusiasm was beginning to infect Edelfried.

So on the second day, my father met Edelfried and Herr and Frau Schaffhirt at the Addiator offices and you can be sure there was lots of exciting conversation about flying goods from Germany to the United States in a great rush.

“Wie viel?” – “how many?” Herr Schaffhirts would have asked.

“10,000” my father would have said. Edelfried would have translated and the number would have immediately seemed strange and impossible to both Edelfried and Herr Schaffhirt and Frau Schaffhirt. So they probably would have repeated the number in both German and English a few times and you could be sure Herr Schaffhirt would question it because my father had only gotten the last 10,000 three weeks ago and now, somehow, he seemed to be completely out stock. Das war ganz verruckt. That was completely crazy. 10,000 was a big number in 1958 and you could be sure Herr Schaffhirt questioned it again and again. At the time he was only selling about 60,000 Addiators per year in Germany after 10 years of trying to sell them.

No doubt Herr and Frau Schaffhirt would confer on how it would be possible to produce such a quantity in such a short time. Sure they had some stock, but to produce 10,000 in a week when their yearly production was 60,000 units must have seemed really strange and in some ways terrifying to the Schaffhirts.

So I imagine it took some time in both German and English to get across the idea and think of how to produce 10,000 units in a very short time. Then another question would come up. What is the plan for the future? In Germany, everyone had a plan for the future so Edelfried and the Schaffhirts would have asked my father, what do you plan to do for the next year.

“I will take 5,000 a week thereafter for four weeks and then 10,000 a week after that and then we will see what happens.”

This statement probably would have been another blow to my father’s credibility. Suddenly, everything sounded totally crazy again. And no doubt, Herr Schaffhirt, Frau Schaffhirt and Edelfried would have interrogated my father multiple times more to determine if he had somehow ingested some hidden drugs during the conversation.

In the end my father won out, as he almost always did, by simply repeating again and again and again the numbers he wanted to buy each week for the next ten weeks. No doubt my father would then bring out a long list of advertisements he planned to schedule and run, all written out in my father’s almost illegible writing on long yellow pad sheets with a whole bunch of other yellow pads sheets covered in more illegible writing, going over estimates of sales, week by week, ad by ad, for the next twenty weeks.

“Unmoglich” – “Impossible”, Herr Schaffhirt would have said and perhaps, the Schaffhirts and Edelfried would have gone out into another room to discuss whether this man was a lunatic and whether what they heard was really what he meant. But as time and conversation passed, no doubt certain facts would be remembered and recounted. Two years before my father had started with the purchase of just 300 units and then had sold over the course of a year, 5,000 units. Four weeks ago my father ordered and paid for 10,000 more Addiators. The goods had been sent by airplane even though the Schaffhirts thought this was insanely crazy. Now my father was in their offices saying he had no more inventory and that he desperately needed more.

Not only that, now this strange, tall American with the fast and excitable English was saying he wanted  5,000 a week thereafter for the next 4 weeks after that and 10,000 a week for the next 4 weeks after that. No doubt there was much use of the German words verruckt and unmoglich.

The day must have passed quickly and my father was probably coming to the realization that this business trip was going a little slower than planned. I am guessing that my father made a hurried call to the hotel to extend his stay and Edelfried also made a hurried call to the German Chamber of Commerce to tell them she was going to be occupied for a couple of more days with this lunatic American.

So no doubt, Herr Schaffhirt invited both my father and Edelfried to go out to dinner with him and Frau Schaffhirt. He needed an interpreter to explain what this crazy American was trying to tell him. And probably on the second night, the restaurant of choice was moving up in the world and Herr Schaffhirt was feeling pretty good about the new order for 10,000 which he was thinking now, just maybe, he would be able to make in the next two weeks. So I am guessing my father’s and Edelfried’s eating experiences were getting pretty convivial as the days passed and maybe by this time, just maybe, my father might have noticed that young German lady doing the translation was quite pretty.

I will take this moment to interject that my father at this time was fully divorced from my mother, so he was so to speak, a free man in Berlin. I would also guess that my father was beginning to have some vague understanding of the city he was in. No doubt these impressions were aided with some beers at lunch and some more beers and some wine at dinner. My father was not a drinker, but if business trip called for him to have a few drinks with his business associates, you can bet that was what he did. And from later personal experience with Herr and Frau Schaffhirt, I can tell you they liked their beer and wine. So, no doubt, Herr Schaffhirt would have been pressing drinks on my father until late in the evening.

And no doubt, as conversations with my father continued, they would have drifted into conversations about Berlin, about the experiences of World War II, about why the Germans were on the wrong side of right (my father was also quite a forthright speaker, so he would have minced no words), about the state of the economy, about life in the city, about life in America, about his hopes and dreams. Because that was the kind guy my father was, he could talk a lot about business, but in seconds he could segway into conversations about the world, about history, about hopes and dreams.

All of this I am sure charmed and amazed Edelfried and the Schaffhirts. Sure, they would have thought he was truly crazy, but they would have recognized him as crazy intelligent and they would have loved him for that.

So, by the third day, they all would be quite friendly and quite charmed by father and no doubt Edelfried was feeling a strange attraction to this tall and weird American. By that time it was probably dawning all of them that this trip was coming to its natural conclusion. The Schaffhirts had worked hard figuring out how to produce the crazy schedule that my father had outlined and while they doubted they could meet the numbers that my father had outlined, they figured that they could come close, by producing maybe half the numbers, week by week. My father, being a realist at the heart of the matter, would have agreed to the somewhat less aggressive schedule.

So, by the end of the third day, they would have had another fine German meal that could not be beat and they would have taken my father back to the hotel with the simple plan to pick him up and take him to the airport in the morning. Edelfried would be picked up by Herr Schaffhirt and then transported to my father’s hotel and they would drive my father to the Templehof Airport and say goodbye to him. And by that time, Edelfried would have imagined that as interesting and strange as this tall American was (he was 6′ 4″, so people almost always had the sensation of looking up to him), this was probably the last time she would ever see him.

But as I mentioned Mother Nature had other plans for my father and Edelfried.

Here is what happened. The next day Herr Schaffhirt and Edelfried showed up at the hotel to take my father to Templehof Airport. They probably should have guessed there might be some problem with the flight because it was incredibly foggy on the way to the airport. When they got to the airport, they accompanied my father to the PanAm flight desk to be sure his flight was on time. Perhaps, not surprisingly, they were told that not only was the flight delayed, it was cancelled because the airplane that was to take my father back to America had not been able to land. The people at the PanAm desk suggested he call the next morning to be sure the next day’s flight would be leaving on time.

So my father, Edelfried and Herr Schaffhirt went back to the hotel and my father checked back in again. No doubt my father adjusted to the situation quickly and went back to reviewing his needs for inventory and how to get more Addiators. And when they ran out of business to talk about no doubt they had some more nice German meals and maybe checked out some of the local sights in Berlin.

The next day Herr Schaffhirt checked in with my father to find out that my father’s flight had again been cancelled. In the meantime, my father began to take his fate into his own hands and so he called Edelfried and suggested that she take him around Berlin to see some more sights. Well, something must have happened between my father and Edelfried.

But that was not all that was happening. Mother Nature was again getting into the act in order to prove she can influence the fate of people and businesses. The fog, which had been pretty heavy to begin with, got even heavier and covered Berlin for the next five days and for those five days, nothing flew in and nothing flew out of Berlin. This had the unintended consequence of keeping my father and Edelfried together for five days and in that short space of time, my father fell in love with Edelfried and Edelfred fell in love with my father.

My father and Fritzi doing some modeling work for our inflatable kayak business in the 1970s

My father and Fritzi doing some modeling work for our inflatable kayak business in the 1970s

So when my father returned to America five days later, he came to me and told me he planned to marry Edelfried and that he wanted me to fly back with him to Berlin in two weeks and meet my new step mother and my new German family and that is what I did.

When I got to Berlin in 1956, I entered a strange, new world. Europe. I could hardly believe that I was there. And I must say I had a blast. Even the flight over was a gas. We took one of the very first jet planes run by Pan Am, the Boeing 707. At the time the plane had only been in service for three weeks and it’s big claim to fame was the fact that the flight to Berlin now took only 9 hours, instead of the normal 14 to 16 hours. And because it was one of the first jets to fly on regular airline basis to Europe, you can be assured that the flight was also super comfortable and stewardesses could not wait on you enough.This was before planes moved seats as close together as possible and at that time seating and service was elaborate and super comfortable.

Once in Berlin, I got to meet my new German family. It turned out that Edelfried (now nick-named Fritzi) came from a very old long line of counts, countesses and generals. Like everything and everybody else in Germany the world changed with the advent of the two world wars. Before World War I, the Von Kalkreuth family owned large estates and houses and family homes. After the World War I, many of the family properties were lost. Fritzi’s father decided to move the family to Tanganyika and start a new life on a coffee plantation in the early 1930s. Edelfried and her family grew up in Tanganyika. That endeavor was prospering when World War II began. Almost immediately, the family had to move back to Germany because war was raging in Africa.

Back in Germany things went from bad to worse. Most of the male members of the von Kalkreuth family became soldiers, went to the Western or Eastern front and ending up getting killed. The female members of the family stayed in Berlin. One of the lucky things for the family was that Fritzi’s father, Gottfried, was already too old to be inducted in the army when the war broke out. So Gottfried, his wife, Edelgard, Edelfried, Ketty (Fritzi’s sister) and Jacky (Fritzi’s brother) were all lucky enough to survive the war.

When I arrived the whole family was living in a large, but not very comfortable apartment in Berlin in the area Victoria-Luise-Platz. The arrival of my father and myself into Berlin was something of a surprise for the family. We had much to learn about each other. Remember, my father had only met Edelfried a few weeks before and had proposed to her only 7 days after he had met her. Talk about love at first sight. It did take longer than just one glance, but things proceeded pretty fast. So when I got to Berlin, we were as new to them as they were as new to us.

This comes to the point of explaining how old I was, how naive I was and how little I knew about Germany. Now it happens that my father always read history books and as a kind of natural course, I also read some history books. And as soon as I learned that I was coming to Germany, I began to read stories and history books about World War II. I was 14 years old at the time and 100% American and very surprised to learn about the truly awful history of the war. My father being far older (46 at the time) had read many books about the war and had also lived through the two wars, so all the history that had passed in that terrible period must have been especially real to him.

For me the history was all new. Even though I was born in the first year of America coming into World War II, many things seemed incomprehensible. The fact that the Germans had tried to exterminate millions of Jews was one of the big and horrifying questions that I had. How could this have happened? How could anybody living in Germany at the time have allowed it to happen? How could anyone follow Hitler? Being just 14, drinking Coca Cola, being an American kid and not knowing much, I repeatedly asked my new family these questions.

The answers my new family gave were also kind of hard to understand. They were living in Berlin, they did not know the terrible things that were happening to Jews, they did not realize the extent of it. And on the subject of Hitler they were even more vague and hard to understand. Hitler had brought order to their country after World War I. In the beginning he was very reasonable. Only as World War II began did they begin to realize he was truly crazy and, by that time, it was simply too late.

A very interesting and unique person was Edelfried’s brother, Ernst von Kalkreuth (aka Jackie). He was almost as young as me and he was an artistic and bohemian type who guided me through German history, took me around the city and tried to make me understand how this terrible calamity had befallen Germany. You must understand in 1958 World War II was still a fresh memory and a terrible stigma in minds of many Germans at that time. The people in Germany were defeated and the whole horror of what Germany had done had been exposed to the German people. And by that time, the German people really had a true sense that not only were they on the losing side, but also that their elders had been on the wrong side and had done terrible things.

Another thing about Berlin at that time was that the city was still rebuilding. Literally, every third or fourth building was simply an empty space of rubble where a building had been. And yet, Berlin at the time, was brand new because all of the existing buildings before World War II had either been fully or partially destroyed and there were only new buildings to replace them. So at the time I visited Berlin, 20 to 30 percent of the city was still gone and the remainder was brand new.

My new family lived in a drafty, high ceiling apartment in Berlin, one of the few buildings that had survived the onslaught of the war. I do not remember much about the apartment, but I do remember that it had a living room, a small square dining leading off other  bedrooms and bathrooms. Living in the apartment were Fritzi’ father and mother, Fritzi, Ketty and Jackie. Since Fritzi, Ketty and Jackie all had jobs, their collective incomes must have gone a long way to pay for the apartment. I would imagine that Fritzi parents also had some small income from the government.

As I mentioned, Edelfried’s Prussian family had lost everything. Estates, apartments, plantations, all of it was obliterated by World War I and by World War II. The von Kalkreuths could trace their family heritage back 800 years and in truth it was a long line of impressive and austere looking Prussian generals and their aristocratic looking wives. How did I know it? They had the paintings prove it. In that apartment were these paintings of various generals and ladies of the family going back an easy 300 years. And when you looked at the paintings their ancestors and the living faces of the present generation, you could see the actual real resemblances.

Edelfried’s father, Gottfried, was the man who bore the clearest resemblance of the portrait paintings. Not only did he have the same sharp facial features of his ancestors, he also sported a dueling scar, something that was very important to acquire if you were a member of an aristocratic Prussian family. And Fritzi’s father indeed had the requisite scar and it was clearly visible and a good 2″ long. Other than the scar, her father’s personality was the exact opposite of what you might expect. He was a short, thin old guy who was always jumping up and down, full of good cheer and, as far as I could tell, full of German jokes. And, he was bouncing, laughing and smiling, asking me questions in German that I did not understand, patting me on the back and then asking more questions in German that I did not understand and then patting me again on the back when I said something in English that he did not understand. Of course, my new step-mother was there to translate all the goings on, back and forth.

Fritzi’s mother, Edelgard, was also a very cheerful and happy person, not grim like the portraits of their family. Frankly, if you just looked at the portraits of their family, you would think the family had given up talking to one another for about 300 years. But that definitely was not the case, they were all chattering along like crazy. This was the first time for me to be immersed in a room where a foreign language was being spoken at the same time as you were trying to speak your own language. It gave me a real case of insecurity because I could not speak their language and I could not understand what they were saying. No matter, I survived the experience and soon learned that my new family were just like other people and after that I just stumbled along and had a great time.

On that trip, I remember we stayed at the Hilton Hotel. At 14 years of age, this was big excitement for me. I had my own room and at the time, the Hilton was the newest and most expensive hotel in Berlin. As a gift upon my arrival, Herr Schaffhirt, who picked us up at the airport, gave me a small 35mm camera. This was the first time I ever had a camera of my own other than a Brownie and I remember being excited to learn how it worked. I looked inside to see the shutter and the lens and the rollers that accepted the film. It was all very mysterious and magical to me.

I remember coming back up to my room after dinner and taking pictures from the window in my hotel room. Below, I could see the lights of Berlin with cars driving on the streets. I would take pictures by propping my camera up on the windowsill and depress the camera shutter button and wait for it to click. It would not be until I returned to the U.S. and developed the film that I found out that instead of capturing the lights frozen in motion, I had capturing the lights of cars moving through the streets as white erratic zigzag streaks. So what I ended up with was pictures of streets lights which were blurry blobs and pictures of car lights which were blurry zigzag lines over the streets. I still loved the pictures even though they were blurry.

Jackie's Messerschmidt took all over

Jackie’s Messerschmidt took us all over

I took that little camera everywhere I went in Berlin and I ended up going a lot of places, thanks to Jackie. As I said, Jackie was the bohemian artist of the family and all the other members of the family were worried about him. At the time, he had something called a Messerschmidt car. This really was not a car. It looked more like a torpedo on 3 wheels because that is exactly what is was. It had two seats – one in the front for the driver and one in the back for the passenger. Normally, the back seat was reserved for one of Jackie’s many girlfriends, but since I was a new member of the family, Jackie took me under his wing and decided to show me the sights of Berlin.

So we zipped around in Jackie’s little torpedo car seeing the sights of Berlin. We stopped in cafes where Jackie sipped beers and I sipped Coca Colas. We went to what seemed like every museum in Berlin and we stopped by the broken down church which still stands in Berlin, still broken down, as a reminder of World War II. Jackie and I had many discussions about World War II. Me, being the brash American kid, could not help asking questions on why people followed Hitler, why they let Hitler lead a campaign to murder Jews, why they followed Hitler into a war they were doomed to lose.

Of course, Jackie was the bohemian of the family so he was happy to admit that Hitler was wrong and Germany was wrong. Sometimes, we would be in these outside cafes, Jackie and his friends, male and female, drinking beers, me soaking up Coca Colas. And those discussion would become pretty heated. But, almost universally the younger generation were ashamed and depressed by what happened during the war. They all usually agreed that Hitler should never have happened, that the war should never have happened and that the extermination of the Jews should never have happened. It was a terrible, crazy time, their parents were caught up in the politics of the day and their parents believed they had to support their country right or wrong. They also made a great point to say that the general population did not realize what was really going on with the Jews. Of course, they were being taken away, but they did not know that those being taken away were being systematically murdered.

Jackie’s own personal history is interesting to recount here. He had been in something called the Reich Arbeit Dienst – Imperial Labor Service. He was just 16 years old. By that time, everybody in Germany knew the war was about to end and that Germany had lost. Bombs were falling everyday on Berlin and stories of daily defeats were becoming known by the German population. Weeks before the end of the war, Jackie was sent to the Western front. It seems that even then Jackie was a bohemian. So the first thing Jackie did as they were being taken to the front, was run away. And the second thing he did was even smarter, he headed for the American front. For three weeks, Jackie wandered through the war-torn fronts of Europe, trying to make his way to the American front. It must have been a terrifying and horrible time for him. He starved most of the time, twisted his ankle and eventually limped, starving, to the American lines. There he was made a prisoner and fed. Within 3 weeks, the war was over.

Since Jackie was then in another part of Germany and there were no cell phones or even regular telephones at the time, he had no way to contact his mother and father, Edelfried or Ketty, to tell them he was all right. They assumed that Jackie had been killed at the front, like many other members of the Hitler youth. It was not for another 8 weeks that Jackie was able to make his way back to Berlin that he was able to inform his parents in the best way possible, in person, that he had indeed survived the war.

It would seem that the worrying about Jackie did not stop because even when he enrolled in art school, his family thought that art school was a frivolous kind of education. It would never pay. And they did not like the bohemian friends he hung out with who had taken a fancy to American jazz, German beer and even Frank Sinatra. All of that would come to no good, his parents thought.

Well, it turned out that they had no reason to worry. Eventually, Jackie came to America, married a fine German girl, had two kids, got a job as an illustrator and designer and did quite well for himself, thank you very much. Among other things Jackie went on to design the packaging for many well-known American consumer products, including among other things, the can for Coca Cola. After his wife died and after many years in the United States, he moved back to Europe. He now lives in France, where he developed a fondness for tennis, and is in his late 80s as of the writing of this blog story (2015).

Anyway, back to my new step-mother and my first adventures in Europe, we did many things in the short two weeks we were there, including going back and forth through Checkpoint Charley and listening to a Bach organ concert in East Berlin to going again back and forth through Checkpoint Charley in Jackie’s Messerschmidt car torpedo to visit a Soviet museum see a Soviet film on how Olga (not my great-aunt, but some worker lady) had invented a new wrench to improve factory production in some Russian town somewhere in Russia. This museum was right on Stalin Alley, which was a row of very impressive buildings in East Berlin.

I remember coming out of the film and walking around the museum where I came to learn that Ivanovich someone had invented the automobile and Igor somebody else had invented electricity and a whole lot of other Russian guys had invented or designed just about everything useful in the modern world. Who knew? I also remember coming out of the museum afterwards and walking around the corner to the other side of Stalin Alley. There, stretching out before me was a truly strange sight. A vast sea of rubble and rocks was spread out for a mile or two.

In the distance I could see a large metal fence with barbed wire and on that fence was a big sign in German. Beyond the fence and sign was an even stranger sight. The new buildings of West Berlin jutting up in the sky in the distance. I must remind you that the year was 1958. It was still several years before the Berlin Wall would be erected and many years afterwards that the same Berlin Wall would be torn down. But even before the Berlin Wall, it occurred to me that people in East Berlin could not long ignore what was going on in West Berlin. In the distance beyond the fence and the sign, the buildings of West Berlin stood impressive and new, a sharp dividing wall itself between the East and West. From that vantage point, I could see the brand new Hilton Hotel, the tallest and the newest building jutting up into the sky, a pronouncement of Western prowess unto itself.

The strangest part of all this was that the sign in front of this sea of rubble and rock. It was pronouncing to the East Germans what a great future they could look forward to. And beyond the sign you could see visual proof of a great future, the only problem being that the great future was on the other side of the fence. The Berlin Wall was erected in 1961 and was to be taken down only in 1989. So much for the history of the last century.

To sum up, I came to Berlin in 1958 to meet a whole new family and to visit Europe. Although I did not know it, this was to be the first of many visits to Europe. In that trip I came to meet and understand something about my family. It was both a strange and a great experience.

One last point, the Addiator became a great mail order success for my father. At one point in 1959 he got up to selling 50,000 Addiators a week, a really incredible number for the time and even at just $3.98 a pop, it added up to some real dollars, maybe not the billions we hear today, but certainly millions of dollars per year. In time, my father sold several million units of the Addiator and, oh yeah, he was married happily ever after.

About Cecil Hoge

Paddler/Scribbler
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