After a very boring journey through Belgium, the majority of us were too tired to stand in the corridor to look at the Rhine, and we were all very thankful when we arrived in Frankfurt.
We were very warmly greeted by our hosts-to-be and their friends, and then whisked off to tea, a hot bath, and bed.
The following day we were officially received at the Romer, or Town Hall, by the Deputy Mayor, after which we were allowed; nay, requested to write our names in the Golden Book, a signal honour for us. Then we were taken for a walk around the city, finishing in a wine tavern, where we made our first acquaintance with the famous Apfelwein.
The next few days were spent in exploring the city, risking our lives on unexpected cycle tracks, tram crossings, and one way streets This old but ever youthful city, seat of the old Emperors, and birthplace of Goethe, is a wonderful example of the mingling of old and new, with, on the one side, its Town Hall, cathedral, museums, and churches, and on the other the building of the Chemical Trust I.G., the Zeppelin station, and the marvellous sports stadium.
A drama festival is held here every year, and we went to see one of the plays, Faust, performed in front of the Romer, with its great doors and its lofty Gothic balcony silhouetted against the stars, with a soft breeze blowing over the Square, and the gnats dancing in the light of the arc lamps, and all within a stone's throw of Goethe's house. It is as unique an experience as Hamlet at Stratford or Tristan at Bayreuth.
We were greatly impressed by the hospitality shown to us by the Germans on our tours around the city, especially on the occasion of a farewell evening in a building built for foreign students m Germany. In the country this hospitality is even more noticeable. At Rudersheim, the famed Rhine wine town, we visited a wine-tavern. The whole street, of which taverns formed the main feature, resounded with laughter and singing. Everybody was in garrulous mood and through the evening mists came the songs of the people on the gay little Rhine steamers. Returning home in an open car, the lofty black heights of the hills on one side, the Rhine on the other, we were hailed. merrily by all and sundry, to whom we replied. We conversed with an S:S. guard once, and then on every possible occasion he saluted us. We went into shops and were shown a motley collection of wares, one person going so far as to demonstrate for our benefit how a canoe could be packed and unpacked in half an hour.
There is great respect in this, the third Reich, for the British, and a general desire for a strong Anglo-Germanic peace movement.
We have no space to enlarge on the monster multi-flavour ice-creams, the Apfelwein, the steps, to the top of the Cathedral, the super open-air swimming bathsin the parks, and the friendliness and kindness of our hosts, so, now we say to you, as we said to Frankfurt: Auf Wiederschen!
As 1933 recedes farther into the past, it becomes increasingly difficult to impress upon English visitors to Germany that they are looking upon an imposing edifice whose doors are locked and barred.
The Monoux School party in Frankfort was treated with kindness and consideration everything was done towards their complete satisfaction, but anyone who expected an informative account of modern Germany from a member of the party would be sadly disappointed.We looked upon a bright surface-good food, comfort, smiling faces, and the Reichsautobahn. There seemed to be a degree of material prosperity and general well-being far above that known in Germany at any time since the War. But four weeks of holiday-making give no opportunity for more than surface observation.
Frankfort was shown to us in all its glory as the Goethestadt and as one of the historically important towns of Germany. The Musterschule opened doors and hearts. Several Monovians were highly commended by boys of the School on the standard of their German. In school routine, likeness was more frequent than difference. English schoolboys, however, are not obliged to manifest their political persuasions a dozen times a day. It was discovered that despite their great enthusiasm, German boys are not brilliant footballers, judged, that is, by English rules and standards.
Sight-seeing expeditions had varying success. A walk in the Taurus mountains afforded excellent opportunities of mixing with other German boys, and of admiring typical German scenery. A subsequent and smaller expedition by steam-launch to the Rhine Valley was marred only by rain and the unrestrained use of Rheinwein by passengers other than Monovians.
The whole party, save Mr. Hammer and two boys who had "been there before," greeted everything with the approved wide-eyed admiration or blank scepticism of the Englishman abroad.
We did our best to strengthen the link of friendship between our School and the Musterschule. The irony of history came near to ruining it. I should like to quote from a letter received during the crisis : " Here there is complete confidence, and no appreciable fear of war. I cannot believe that war should come, and certainly not between our two countries which have always been bound by such strong bonds."
The Germanophil is not now in high favour. But is it too much ~to hope that by maintenance of goodwill and of personal links such as these with Germany, over and above the official protestations of Governments, the growth of this awful barrier of racial pride may be effectively checked ? The future, it is said, rests with youth. It is still not too late to keep the head of the German ostrich out of the sands of isolation.
On the morning of August 22nd, 1939, I got up at 6.30 and after the inevitable coffee and rolls, left the little town of Immenstadt with its towering mountains and cool green lakes behind me. The three hour journey to Munich was not very interesting, corn fields, a few woods, an occasional village, and only the fast disappearing peaks of the Allgau were evidence of that last happy fortnight. On my arrival in the Bavarian capital a tram took me to my lodgings where, after a wash and a short chat with my landlady, a buxom Frau with the plebeian name of Schmidt, I unpacked my bags. And then it happened! I had already seen the announcement in that morning's Volkischer Beobachter that a Non-Aggression Pact had been signed between the Reich and the U.S.S.R. but had not stopped to consider its international significance. But when, just after 11 o'clock, Frau Schmidt came to me with the words, " Ein Telegramm fur Sie, Herr Thompson," I knew instinctively that my holiday was over. My fears were justified. "Return immediately" the telegram read.
When, after lunch, I returned to the station I found that my train left at 5.10 p.m., which gave me just four hours in which to see as much as possible of one of the largest towns in Germany. After buying some photos and other souvenirs I jumped into a taxi and told the cabby to show me the chief sights. I believe he thought I was mad. As the taxi crawled through the sun-drenched streets the driver pointed out, among other things, the Isar with its bridges and terraces, the cathedral, the famous Brown House, and the new House of German Art with its Grecian columns and glaring white concrete. He was a confiding soul, that taxi-driver, and in the intervals from one building to the nest, he told me he was learning English. I remember smiling at the thought of the typical London cabby struggling with German Adjective Declensions or with French irregular verbs! By mutual consent we stopped at the renowned Hofbrauhaus and, over tankards of beer we discussed subjects varying from the Bavarian dialect to National Socialism. The latter he found rather irksome and wished that it were he and not I travelling to England that afternoon.
When we arrived back at the station there was only time to find a seat and buy a few magazines before the train steamed out to Ostend. Until then it had seemed like a dream, but, as mile after mile of German countryside was left behind, I realized at last that I was going home.
The hours went by slowly. I glanced through my magazines, went into the Restaurant Car for dinner, returned to the magazines. When it grew dark I stretched myself out on the seat and tried to get some sleep, no easy matter, for third class passengers on the German State Railways must be satisfied with wooden seats. When I woke up the train was in darkness, every blind had been pulled down, and the only light in the corridor outside was given by two small blue lamps.
Rather mystified I raised the blind in the compartment and peered out. The whole countryside seemed dead. Not a light anywhere except for an occasional signal and the scarlet glare from the engine firebox. There was no moon. Only a few stars were mirrored in the swift-flowing waters of the Rhine and the vine-terraced hills were barely visible against the night sky. Fascinated by this strange scene I remained standing by the open window while the train thundered through the Rhineland towns and villages, through Koblenz, Godesberg, and Bonn, towards the frontier.
The next I can remember is the train stopping in a station. The platforms were in darkness and were completely deserted except for two or three officials and a wheel-tapper doing his work with the light of a screened hurricane lamp. It was Cologne.
After that the time soon passed. Dawn was breaking as we passed through The Ruhr, and at five we reached Aachen, the frontier station where there was a long delay while the frontier police examined passports, luggage and money. At last the train began to move again, it steamed out of Aachen, out of Germany, into Belgium. On through the monotonous Belgian countryside to Liege, Brussels,
Ostend, and the end of a train journey lasting almost twenty hours. Then followed a four-hour journey on a crowded boat, another hour and a half in an equally crowded train, Liverpool Street in the rush
hour. At 6.30 p.m. on the 23rd 1 was in Leyton. Home once more.
H. A. Thompson (Late VI Sc.).
It was somewhat with a feeling of apprehension that the twenty of us boarded the train for Dover that afternoon in April, 1958. We had been perfect strangers until the previous evening when we all met together at the German Institute for tea with the Educational Interchange Council. We were informed that we were being used as guinea pigs, for although Germans had for some time been coming to England to study for a term in an English school, we were the first to work the idea in reverse.
Hessen was the state chosen for us to stay in, and we were to be concentrated around Frankfurt-on-Main. Actually the word "concentrated" proved a slight exaggeration, for twenty-two people attended schools as far apart as Konigstein and Darmstadt, and not more than four in fact attended the same school. I went with another boy to the Immanuel-Kant-Gymnasium in Russelsheim.
The journey took us along the Rhine, between Bonn and Mainz, and though the night withheld much of the beauty of this area, the gay lights of Rhenish towns and the sunrise over the Taunus hills more than made up for the lost pleasure.
We were told that representatives of the Lehrer-Schizler Austauch, the German organisation responsible for our trip, and German Customs people, would meet us at Mainz. This sounded like "V.I.P. treatment," but any illusions were soon shattered when the customs officers demanded that all our cases should be opened.
Anyone who has gone on a sea-trip when the ship has rolled continuously for three hours and who has experienced that horrible sensation of imagining that the solid earth is rolling, can realise my feelings when presented with my "last English breakfast for three months" by a beaming waiter at one of the most exclusive Wiesbaden hotels. This was certainly V.I.P. treatment, but with seventeen hours of sea and train journey behind me, I was hardly in the mood for the German idea of a typical English breakfast: porridge, two eggs, two rashers of bacon, tomatoes, toast and marmalade, biscuits and coffee.
After a short coach tour of Wiesbaden, we were finally driven to the towns and houses where we were to spend the next three months. Russelsheim struck me first as a new town, which it most definitely was, completely dominated by the enormous "Opel" car factory. No matter where you went in Russelsheim something would remind you that this was Opelstadt. A stroll along the river Main? wonderful if you don't go too near the Opel car-jetty; a walk around the park?-yes., but you must see one of the three monuments to William Opel; a ride on a bus?-but do read what it written on the side: "Opelstadt-Russelsheim"; a trip in a police car?-an Opel of course. Everybody worked in "der Opel'"; everybody owned an Opel ; everybody revered the name Opel ; and why not? Since the war American investments have brought the Opel factory back to its maximum production. Prosperity reigns. New flats, new housing estates, new civic departments, new theatres, new cinemas, all indicate that prosperity has returned. If Opel slackens, Russelsheim suffers. A good maxim sums up the situation: "Russelsheim is the town that works to a factory."
Family life, I soon discovered, was very different from that in England. The house-proud hausfrau, helped by her daughters, does all the housework. Father never thinks of washing up and indeed would not be allowed to do so. The English joke about the henpecked husband has found its way into German magazines and newspapers, but from what I saw, has no foundation whatsoever in German life. There the husband is lord of the manor whose sole job is to bring home a wage packet so that the rest of the family can eat. The woman's job is to cook and keep the house clean, with the daughters helping. When there are girls in a family, the boys must not even sew a button on a jacket or boil an egg and wouldn't dream of washing up. Of course, it is easy to criticise, but one expects to find different customs abroad.
Education is a subject widely debated in Germany. In the Gymnasium I attended, much of the work was done orally. Notes were neither given nor taken, and if necessary they had to be made up at home. Such a teaching system requires continual repetition, creating boredom, which in turn causes a buzz of conversation to be found in each and every classroom. To reach the necessary high level of education, under the present system, far more repetition to ensure a real grasp of the subjects is needed.
But this is impossible with the strict curriculum now given to the teachers by the authorities. Specialisation in education is not so extensive in Germany as it is here. Little emphasis is put on the particular school to which one belongs and no uniform is worn. Inside the school no "Quintaner" (second-former) knows what an "Unter-Schunder" (fifth former) is doing. The unit in the school is a class, hardly a form for one group of boys and girls makes up a class of Sextaner and that group stays together into the "Ober-Schunder" or even higher. It is not surprising that these classes several times during the summer term should go together on outings which can be most enjoyable and relaxing.
Russelsheim is well situated for such excursions, and since the term from Easter to summer begins the school year it is not surprising that during the fine summers children go on "Klassenausfluge" seemingly each fortnight. I was lucky enough to go on three. The first was soon after I had arrived, when we caught a steamer from Frankfurt which made a routine stop at Russelsheim (on the Main) and went down the river to where it flows into the Rhine near Mainz; from there to those two famous wine towns, Aszmanshausen and Rudesheim, familiar names to those who have been to Weilburg. The second trip was into the Rhineland, from Pfalz to the very beautiful spa of Bad-Munster am Stein. The third outing took us south into the Odenwald and the strangely English-looking Michelstadt, with its fourteenth-century Rathaus and church.
I found the general temper of the whole country one of relaxation and prosperity. There is great pride in the past-war recovery economically, their "Wirtschaftswunder." Friendship is never lacking, especially among young people; one glass of beer drunk in "Bruderschaft" and you have made yourself a life-time friend. Never have I been more grateful for friendship, so readily given, in those first few weeks alone in a foreign land with only the rudiments of the language at my disposal. Yet the experience was exhilarating, and I would recommend such a visit to anyone, to understand particularly the German people and their way of life.
D. J. HOLM.
Four Sixth Formers of our School parted from their parents at Victoria Station, London, in August, 1950, to go to live with a family in Alfeld, Hessen, Germany, for some weeks. They did not know they were pioneers and would be followed by many others. It was five years after the end of the war. "We were rather surprised at the kindness of the Germans", they said on their return. It was a venture for them to go to a foreign country. It was a venture, too, for their parents to receive a young guest with a foreign tongue in their family. Nor, to be fair, was it a matter of course for the guest. Exchange visits were a novelty at that time. But for at least two of these boys in the first batch, that venture has shaped their lives.
We had thought of building up the exchange visits with Alfeld. But in the next year, a group of our Dramatic Society under Mr. Brobyn, went to an international drama festival of youth groups in Weilburg (not far from Frankfurt), and the contacts made there turned our obligations in that direction. We have never regretted it. The Weilburg families and the masters of the Gymnasium Philippinum (a Grammar School like ours) responsible for the exchange of their pupils with ours, have been a decisive help.
Without their understanding and patience, we could not have established the co-operation which for years has given our boys, and theirs, a new experience and in many cases new friends. Weilburg, a small country town, by a small river, the Lahn, and surrounded by a pleasant countryside, is the right sort of place for a Londoner to visit; while the Weilburg boys are keen on getting to know London, one of the centres of international life. The German people had been living in a fortress for years, deprived of contact with the outside world. So many from the Weilburg Grammar School wanted to go on exchange that several schools in North East London joined to meet the demand. It was at this point that Mrs. Moore came in and set up a kind of clearing place and an all round organisation for transport between London and Weilburg, and who added to the enjoyment of the exchange itself by organising excursions and social events.
At our School the number of exchanges has been steadily rising in the past years. To some extent this has been due to the fact that bays are not content with one exchange only, but go again. There are now veterans who are able to record three or four exchange visits, and their enthusiasm has been infectious. We need that kind of infection. The exchange, by its nature, is restricted to those who are interested in Germany and in German. But another limitation is inadequate housing; many boys who would like to go an exchange cannot accommodate a guest. Some parents do not feel easy about accepting a guest from abroad and therefore do not take part. But most are only too willing to undertake the venture. And I think the decisive and courageous part which parents play in this event should not be taken for granted. There are parents who sacrifice their holidays and stay at home in order to make the exchange possible; fathers who take the guest sightseeing; and mothers who have sleepless nights at the thought that their German guest might not like their cooking. This hospitality has made the exchange the success it has become. Of course, the same must be said of the German parents. Praise to all of them whatever language they speak.
The crux of the matter is, of course, to find, and make possible, the right "match". The range of "exchanges" in age, ability, and interest offered to us is very wide, and often not the exact counterpart of ours. Naturally, this has to be sorted out. It needs a good deal of correspondence, of deliberation, of questions, alternatives and alterations before the lists are closed. Yet I have experienced only a few cases where misunderstandings had to be cleared up and frictions smoothed out. If here and there one cannot say with certainty that everything was perfect, one can confidently rely on the sociability and common sense of our boys. And the development of the exchanges does appear to speak for itself.
Times have changed since our boys went to Germany far the first time. During the last four or five years, the Germans have found it progressively easier to go abroad during their holidays; they organise parties to other countries, too. This affects the numbers of the Weilburg party, though they are still high, and the selection is not as easy as it was in the early years. On our side, too, holiday travel abroad has become far more widespread for adults and young people alike, so that our boys tend to choose the easier way of going on group or coach or cycle tours, rather than the more difficult one of a proper exchange between families. It is not realised that these exchanges can give them close contacts with the people abroad, and far more than the knowledge of roads, youth hostels, hotels and the countryside, contacts which often survive the actual holidays and lead to a more lasting connection. We are always sorry, therefore, when boys do not seize the opportunity of getting an experience, which will not be offered to them in later life. Admittedly, these exchanges demand some devotion from all concerned. To look upon them as nothing but cheap holidays would not do justice to the importance of the event and to the needs of those who take part in it. All human contacts require ability to adjust to others, and enthusiasm. Of course, there must be fun; but then, there always is, on these visits, as everybody who has taken part will confirm. And perhaps it is right to say that exchange visits are fun, though of a deeper and more lasting kind. Let us look forward to the next ten years of it.