17 Mar, 2010 | Posted by: photosource

My Story



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Who is this guy? What was driving him?
I could imagine him in some Prussian shoe factory as an assistant manager with his eye on the manager’s job. Yikes! I wasn’t ever able to get along with those bossy kind of people. He probably saw me as malleable and exquisitely controllable. I also had some money. Would I soon part with it?

Were his ambitions anything like mine? Who cares? I needed help. I was outta my league when it came to traveling the world. I would just as soon stay at home and have the world come to me than have to go out to it. There must be all levels of worldly people. This was a guy at the gut level. Not at the slick, fast lane, material level of high rollers. I had seen enough of that shallow level in all the schools I had gone to, in my U.S. Army job and back at the beach in Ocean City, Maryland.
This guy was a new level for me. I had never associated with this level in my earlier life, now I was thrown in with him by necessity. There was a hole in this trip that I was making. Was he going to be my rescuer?
I would find out. I would ask a bunch of questions.
“Why did you start on this jaunt around the world?” I asked.

“That’s what everyone asks me,” He laughed. “Sometimes I’d say I’m out collecting folks songs. It depends on who’s asking. “When I had that camera that was stolen from me in Calcutta, I used to say I was a photographer and out to write a book. Other times I’d say I was curious and wanted to know what was happening on the other side of the hill.

I told some guys at the Altenhoffen Bar back in my hometown that I was going to build a special bike and go traveling like Hans Helfin. He’s a German guy that traveled all over the world. He was always my hero, ever since I was a kid. He wrote a couple books. Now he’s a millionaire.

“My friends at Wusterheide asked me when I was going to set off and I told them in a year or so, once I got the bike finished.
“They all laughed. In fact, this one guy, Friedrich, got the guys at the bar all to chip in to a kitty and they bet me a thousand marks I’d never circle the globe. My brother in Bremen is holding the money.”

“You’re saying you’re touring the world, just on a bet?” I said.
“Well, that’s not the real reason,” Rudi said, “But is was a good reason to tell the people in Wusterheide, that’s the town where my parents live. It’s a little town near Bremerhaven. No one’s ever heard of Wusterheide. Those people back there never would have understood why I would set out on a bike like that.”

“And you just started out alone?”

“Another guy was going to go along with me but he backed out. His mother didn’t think he should do it.”

I asked, “How ‘bout your parents? What’d they think of all this?”

“They pretty much didn’t care. I’d been working most of the time in the coalmines down near Duesseldorf. And I really didn’t get to be with them much. I’ve got one brother. He’s married. He keeps my parents happy.”
“You worked in the coal mines?”
“Yeah, it was the only way I could make any money. It was really good money. I didn’t get much schooling during the war years. I couldn’t get a decent job around where I lived. ”
“That was the first time he mentioned anything about the war. After all, why would he? Nothing good came out it for him. His country lost. He didn’t have anything to do with it. Why would he talk about it? There was no resentment from him about it, one way or the other.
He changed the subject. “I didn’t feel like going back to grade school. I know a lot of my friends did, but I didn’t feel like sitting in a schoolroom with a lot of 10-year-olds. So I took the job in the mines. I got good pay. Twice as much as anything around Wusterheide. I was an assistant foreman when I left. It worked out O.K. I’d get up at 4 a.m. in the morning and take a two-hour train ride before I got to work.“

“Wow!! That’s 4 hours a day on the train. Did you sleep on the train?”
“Naw, I’m not the type that can sleep on a train or car. I just spent my time thinking about going on this trip.”
And he continued.

“I spent the whole day in the mines. When I came out again it was nighttime. I was so beat. I couldn’t do any more than eat my evening meal and go to bed.
“And by the end of the month I wasn’t getting much ahead what with the cost of the train ride and the room and board that I had to pay my parents. Sundays was my only day off. That’s when I’d spend my time working on my special bicycle. If I ever made it around the world, maybe I’d be able to get a better job than assistant foreman in a coalmine.

“I didn’t go further than the eighth grade in school, and in Germany you can’t get a decent job unless you’ve got the papers to show you’ve been trained in some school. When I return to Wusterheide, I’ll show them a lot of things I’ve learned. Then they’ll listen to me. When I get back, I’ll write a few books about my experiences, like Hans Hilfen, and become a millionaire like Hans Hilfen,” he smiled to himself. “What would the people of Wusterheide think of me then? “

This was helpful to me. On this trip I had been struggling with my problem of being “the outsider”. Of being the ‘intruder’ in people’s lives. With Rudi, it seemed no problem at all. I think it was a case of he saw other people much differently than I did. People could have been a series of paper dolls for all he cared. His main interest in people was he could entertain them and earn a meal. His real drive to see the world was to be able to say one day he had seen it. I could be a part of that for him. He could see there was something about me that could help him accomplish that. He knew if he stuck with me and put up with me, it would lead to his goal. And I felt the same about him.
< br /> Back in Wusterheide, he told all his friends at the Gasthaus he would be back in four years. Nine months had passed already. Even though he had his bike stolen, he wasn’t going to quit now.

It excited me to think we were teaming together. At last I would have a companion. I might not agree with his European way of looking at things, and visa versa. I saw this would be part of the learning process for each of us. The combination would make my observing things much sharper. At least that’s how I saw it.

If he were really able to get into homes as he said he had, my problem of being unable to approach people would be solved. With a companion, I would have to lose some of the freedom I was having before, but I would never experience as much loneliness.

Besides our talents in music, the only sameness I could see in Rudi was we both had a desire to become someone; he to achieve public recognition; I to achieve self-recognition. This was a strange combination of personalities to be seated on a motor scooter headed off to see the world. I wondered how we would fare.

When it came to material things like big cars and big houses and nice clothes and jewelry and things like that, Rudi was really my opposite. I didn’t much care for those things. He was traveling the world to eventually get those things that I was in the process of giving up. I wondered how I would deal with that.

Herr Van Dohlen saw us packing the Vespa. “
“You guys want something to eat before you take off?”
“Thank you!” We answered.
“By the way,” I said. “Where’s a place in Rotterdam I could buy a camera?”
He stopped a moment and said, “Say, I just decided to sell my Rolleicord. It’s practically like new. I can give you a good price.”

The Rolleicord was the poor sister of the Rolleiflex, the camera I lost. But it was better that no camera.
I took a look. It had a leather casing that looked like it had come right out of the store window. For all I know it might have been the trophy from a card game in the tavern. He said he’d give it to me for $25. I didn’t know much about cameras at that time, but it was shiny and new so I took a gamble and bought it.

I still had my unused rolls of film.
Back in Wuerzburg, I wondered if Hans Bartsch would see the difference when he was printing my negs. Maybe I wouldn’t have to tell him how dumb I was to lose my camera. I figured I’d wait to see what Hans thought of the quality of the photos from Holland from this point on.

We headed west. The country of Belgium was our aim. The Vespa drove oddly at first with the weight of another person on the back. But I soon got used to it. It was a new pleasure to be able to chat with someone and to point out interesting things on the landscape. I soon learned Rudi was not much interested in scenery. He saw it as a backdrop. His interest was mileage and road signs. Getting somewhere new each day. He saw that as success. Like back in the coalmines, more tonnage, to him, was accomplishment.

But it didn’t bother me.
We sped along the flat Dutch highway lined with tall, stately white birch trees. The neatly trimmed countryside rolled endlessly until it reached the distant earthline where Holland faded into the horizon.

It made me feel good to have Rudi coming along with me, or should I say, me with him. Our chance meeting had saved me from inquiring about passage home to Maryland on a freighter. His outright optimism gave me inspiration. I felt the strange notion that a ‘guide’ had been sent to me, a conductor one who was to deliver me from the frustration of not being able to rise above my inability to escape the depths of loneliness. But I didn’t dare show any signs of any kind of weakness that I couldn’t keep up or do my share of the job. I knew I could d o it. As the afternoon wore on, I caught myself happily smiling.

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