20 Jan, 2010 | Posted by: photosource

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 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 me and my family came to living on a farm here in western Wisconsin -RE

My Story

mixed marriage
Wuerzburg, Germany 1956 Rohn Engh

cathedral door
Wuerzburg, Germany 1957 -Rohn Engh


The photographs you see
were developed and printed by my German friend, Hans Bartsch.
All through my journey across Europe and Africa I would send rolls of film from my Rollieflex back to him. I arranged for him to periodically send a batch of finished 8x10’s to my parent’s home, in Ocean City, Maryland.
Here’s how I met Hans Bartsch.
During my Army time in Wuerzburg, I continued my interest in painting. After several months I had accumulated 3 dozen pieces or so. They were in tempera color, sort of abstract with buildings and people. More about my artwork later. I arranged to have an exhibit in a small gallery called the “Turm” in the nearby village of Summerhausen along the river. After the opening, Hans approached me and said he would like to own two of them. I was honored that someone from a foreign country was interested in my work.

“I can’t pay for them,” he said, “but I’m a photographer and I’d be willing to come to your studio to make a portrait of you in trade for these two paintings.” He pointed out an 11x14 and a 14 x 28.

Hans was a rugged-looking man, about 5’10”, brown hair and could have easily been recruited for a German Army poster.

I took him up on his barter offer. I didn’t have a studio, so I arranged to accomplish the session at his place. Over the following months I got to know Hans pretty well. His English was not too bad and my fluency in German was improving. I hadn’t taken any courses in photography back at Maryland Institute. It sparked my interest in this art form. I asked if I could watch him in his darkroom.
“Sure,” He said. “I’m going to make a professional photographer out of you. Then you’ll always have money to support your artwork.”

I bought my first camera and began taking photos during off-duty time and eventually began paying him for the use of his darkroom to print and develop my pictures.
Another thing that sparked my interest in visiting Hans was his darkroom assistant, Maria, a freshman at a local college who worked for him after classes and weekends. She spoke few
English words. She was slim, and full-breasted. She had blue eyes but with the red light of the darkroom they appeared purple.
Working close together in the confines of a darkroom meant that eventually we would brush against one another, giggle at our mistake, and while reaching for the tongs, touch each other. It was a secret of ours. Outside the darkroom, she was a different person. Very business-like. If I asked her out for coffee later she would respond, “Nein, ich habe zu meinem classes an der Schule gehen.” I walked her to the street car.

Then one time I saw her downtown and invited her to coffee. I learned she wanted to become a photographer and be a correspondent for international newspapers. She was living with her mother in a nearby apartment. Her father had been killed near the end of the war. The two personalities she presented to me soon merged into one loving person when eventually our physical relationship was brought to fruition in the darkroom one weekend when Hans was away on assignment.

In the spring I had a two-week’s leave coming to me and I decided to spend it in France to practice the French I had learned back in Army Language School in California.
I asked Maria to come with me. She let me know she didn’t think her mother would approve.
“It’s time for me to meet your mother.”

Wuerzburg had been nearly demolished during the war. Across the street from her mother’s apartment was a half shelled-out building. Some vagrants were living in one of the downstairs room. In Maria’s building, the second-floor stairs creaked as I went up. An unlighted chandelier was hanging lopsided at the top of the hallway.

Maria’s mother was sitting in a rocking chair next to a pre-war kitchen stove. Her words came out in a stern fashion. She didn’t speak English. “My daughter cannot go to France. I will not allow it. The French hate us. We’ve had two wars with them. My husband’s father was killed in the first war with them. They are despicable. They will kill my daughter if they found out she is German. She didn’t mention her husband lost his life in the recent war. She spoke quietly, not in a vengeful way. Just matter of fact.

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