When I was 26, and living in Maryland, USA, I made a wanderlust trip through Europe, Africa, USA, Mexico and Central America that lasted over 35 months, almost three years. That was in 1957-60. When I returned home I began writing a memoir during 1960 and ’61. When I finished, I put it away in a closet and forgot it. I really didn’t forget it, I just didn’t think I should publish it back then because there were so many episodes and descriptions in there that would be awkward to people like my relatives and my friends along the way. So I left it all alone. It’s now 2010, almost 40 years later. . I’ll dust off the manuscript and publish it here for the first time. I thought you would like to know how a photographer and his family came to living on a farm here in western Wisconsin –RE
As I lay there, I thought about what the future had in store for me. Had the predictions been right? Was losing my camera only a beginning of the catastrophes that were awaiting me? It was true that my financial situation wasn’t holding out as I had expected. The thought of contacting my parents and asking them to send me money passed my mind. No, I would be humiliated. I couldn’t do that. It would be a “We told you so!” situation .
Loneliness had crept into my trip and was playing an important role. I yearned for companionship but the thought of finding a partner for a venture like this was out of the question. My guitar had gotten me as far as I had hoped. So much for hope. Alone, by myself, I wasn’t able to strike up the courage to sing to the public as Rick and I had done back in Wuerzburg.
I had heard about Rotterdam and how it was a large seaport with ships going everywhere, even to the USA. The thought crossed my mind that when I reached Rotterdam, I could hitch a ride on a freighter back to the USA.
But really, as I think back now, I really think my problem that night was waking up in the morning to the unwelcome thought of being the outsider. As if ‘the world’ was zipping up my tent and saying “Don’t come out. You don’t belong here. Go back to your own kind. We don’t want intruders.”
Here I was, going to enter a country new to me, Holland, sometime today where I didn’t even speak the language.
I fell asleep leaving all my decisions to the following day.
I awoke at dawn and peeked
out of my tent at the long morning mist stretching out over the still-frosted
countryside. Like the man taking his final walk at the penitentiary, I
packed up my Vespa, shivering from the cool morning or the thought of
the day’s decision that lay ahead of me.
On my way to the Dutch border, I found myself in a new predicament. My highway led on up the Rhine through countryside of picture postcard villages, the kind you see on travel brochures.
I stopped to make a sketch of a farmstead along the way. Hey! Wait! Where’s my camera bag ? I kept it tied with a bungee cord between my feet on the Vespa so to have it at the ready for pictures. It wasn’t there. My Rollieflex was gone!
I rummaged through my suitcase. Maybe I had packed it away there. It wasn’t there.
Then I thought of an idea. I remember that I heard a thumping sound on the cobblestone road in the village I had just passed through. It could have been the sound of my camera. I rushed back, and asked townspeople if they had seen my camera.
No one had any news for me.
I went to the police, the Burgermeister, the firehouse. No one had seen
it. At the fire department, the chief said that articles were often turned
in to him. He said I could wait around if I wanted to. But it might be
a month before someone turned my camera in. –Or never. It was a
losing battle. My camera was gone.
I looked in my wallet. I had $168.00 to last for my world tour. Could I afford a new camera? It would cut my resources in half. How could I continue my journey on $84? No, I couldn’t, I decided.
So, if you’re going to take a journey like this, Rule number One, keep your camera in a safe place. And while I think about it, Rule number Two is “Keep your passport in a safe place.” Like don’t even let a police officer take it from you. That was told to me even before I left Wuerzburg. They didn’t tell me about the camera. They probably figured, at least, I was smart enough to know that.
A little further up the road I came upon the German-Holland border. The Customs officers at the Dutch border were amused by my sign on the side of the Vespa, “WORLD TOUR”.
They crowded around with interest.
They had seen many a traveler come through on all kinds of vehicles -bicycle, motorcycle, on foot, motorbike, with aspirations of touring the country, or Europe, or the world. But most hadn’t lasted more than a tankful of gas. I wondered if that might happen to me. They stood alert and saluted me with a smile as I passed into their country.
Maybe because I had been living in West Germany for almost two years, I had grown used to the German scenery and customs. Across the border now, I noticed a big difference. A lumbering, creaking windmill, a farmwife crossing the farm yard with a yoke across her shoulders carrying a couple buckets of milk. Even the clothing was different, little boys on bicycles, wearing baggy pants and “Hans Brinker” caps. The farmyards were all neat and orderly.
Around each bend in the road I would come across an entire field of tulips in bloom. In other fields I saw hundreds, thousands of tulips about to go into blossom. Some villages had canals running through them with boats and small barges carrying large balls of cheese or boxes of produce. Sea gulls flew above them looking for crumbs.
“The Dutch are a very industrious people,” I remember my seventh grade teacher back in Ocean City, Maryland telling our geography class. “They’re always working. It’s their nature. Fishing for herring in their little sail boats on the North Sea to cutting diamonds in big industrial centers.”
And one thing, for some reason I’ve always remembered her saying, “And they are a very tidy people. They will sweep the sidewalks clean in front of their house, and even scrub the trees out front of their home with soap and brush.”
I didn’t see anyone one doing that but it’s funny how sentences like that always stick in your mind.
As I motored toward
the Dutch seaport of Rotterdam, I knew by sundown I would have
to make my decision, “Should I continue to bugger on, or should
I drop it all and find a way to get back to the USA?”
And then it popped up. Rotterdam 5 kilometers.
It was on the late afternoon
of May 25th, I remember that well, in a small village tavern on the outskirts
of Rotterdam, that I met Rudi.
I gazed inside. Standing
room only. There was no order to the cavorting mass of Dutch
humanity that pounded feet and fist to the singing and dancing. A bartender
with double beer mugs in each hand weaving through the people. It looked
like a Pieter Bruegle painting.
Young bucks were bellowing out the song and beating time on thick wooden table tops to the fast-paced music or pounding their boots on the oaken floorboards that ran the length of the stone walled tavern with smoked-black ceiling rafters.
The low early evening sunset light still shone through the heavy glass windowpanes that had probably seen many a fracas like this in the past century or two. No one seemed to care when the party had started or when it would end. My guess, it must be a Saturday night, which made me realize I hadn’t been keeping track of time these days. That was a new experience for me, having just come from a profession in the Army where time of day was exact and day of week was even more important. What a contrast!
The only thing in the tavern that represented any semblance of unity was the robust bartender bullying his way through the rabble with large orders of beer and wine.
I stood half ways in the open doorway of the Tavern von Dohlen – the only safe spot for an outsider – taking in the orgy with awe. A couple of field hands brushed by me and entered. I could tell by the scent that followed them that they worked with cow manure.
As the troubadour was wheeling atop his podium bench above the center of this carnival, dancing a precarious jog as he played his guitar weaving and bowing, he spotted me in the doorway and suddenly halted his song.
“Another guitar!” he shouted, pointing to the guitar strapped on my back. Without hesitation, I was ushered with forceful shove into the arena. Half-drunk men folded over pretty girls at small square tables, and fat-cheeked farm women who tried to throw their chubby arms around me and kiss me as I struggled through the horde that swayed like a rocking river boat.
When I reached the young guitar guy, he thrust out his hand , “Rudi
Thurau’s my name !,” he bent down to me resting one hand on
my shoulder, shouting in a northern German accent from his high perch.
“Pleased to meet you. Rohn Engh”. I replied. He could tell by my Army-learned German I was probably from the USA. Now that was interesting,
Out in the drunken audience no doubt were men who had fought in the war as Dutch resistance fighters, women had who cooperated with the occupying Nazi Army, and young people who cared little or nothing about what happened back when they were toddlers in a country that had been run over by an aggressor only a decade earlier. They were all being entertained by German fellow.
I actually didn’t even think about that thought until now.
My grand entrance had stopped the music and the people started clapping in a unison beat, “Meer muziek, meer muziek!” (More music!)
The big bartender came weaving in through the crowd with another table bench raised above his head.
Take this!” he shouted,
and I climbed a top to see a mass of crazed eyeballs, sweating heads,
hunched shoulders, waving five-fingered hands, and faces insane with laughter,
whirling around in a mad mass of hypnotic rhythm. A wild party! And I
was now part of it!
“Perfect! “ He shouted.
After a few more songs, he threw up his hands in exclamation, “Halt 5 minuten! “He yelled and the bartender seconded the idea with two large steins of Dutch beer. “Boys! Take these, you’re working hard!”
We got down from our table benches and found a couple of unoccupied chairs in the corner. He reached over to a neighboring table and pulled the tablecloth off and wiped the sweat from his face – a face that was rugged with a slight broken nose, dim blue eyes and pronounced cheek bones. Here was a resourceful guy, I thought, who would never go hungry. His pale blue eyes seemed to search everywhere, and every one, -including me.
Between interruptions of congratulations
and song requests, I learned that Rudi was from Hamburg,
West Germany, and had just arrived in Rotterdam. I hadn’t explained
much of my trip or drunk much of my beer when the crowd began stomping
their feet in rhythm and roaring “Meer muziek, meer muziek!”.
We retuned with our sleeping
bags and wobbled up the wooden ladder , singing silly ditties as the bartender
returned to his closing-up chores.
‘The straw’s thick
enough to hold me,” I shouted over to him confidently. Only seconds
later, a rumbling noise of falling barn boards resounded throughout the
ON TO BELGIUM
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