C4. Exploring northern Europe.Germany, Paris. Summer ’59

Germersheim. Germany 21 July 1959. 

Dear family,

This will be a hurried note before I collapse with fatigue, to bring you up to date with my present European position as promised. I finally got away Perugia on Friday night at 10.30, with quite a little gathering to see me off. I arrived in Florence at midnight. I had to wait a couple of hours for a train to Munich in. It was frustrating to be passing through a city that I have not yet been able to explore.

I then took a sleeper which was positioned right above the wheels of the carriage and dozed, accompanied by the sensation of being inside a cocktail shaker, till 7 AM, when the other occupants — a mother and two daughters from Rome woke me so that the little girls could allay their curiosity and find out all about me. They seemed to like what they discovered and promptly made me promise to visit them in Rome. We passed through some beautiful scenery as we travelled over the Alps into Austria.

On arrival in Munchen – Munich’s correct German name  I phoned Dori Votteler, – remember her from my skiing adventure – she encouraged me to come directly to Stuttgart instead of having a stopover so I did.

Luckily, I was able to fit in an hour’s tour of the city before catching the next train. It was in a very modern bus with a transparent roof overhead – it proved quite interesting. It has a reputation for being a friendly city — it is the main cultural centre of Germany full of galleries and museums and libraries, but it was obvious from the bus that quite a few of them had been bombed and still not yet restored since the war.

I arrived that night at Stuttgart at about nine and spent the next few hours exchanging news with Dori and seeing how their little toddler had grown, and luckily, also had the chance to see  her husband Arno when he arrived home from London on Sunday night.

On Monday morning I had a three-hour trip to Germersheim, taking three different trains!  On the third train, I was sitting next to a funny old toothless character who, on discovering my nationality and lack of knowledge of the German language, took it upon himself to teach me.  He insisted on making me repeat words after him, to the amusement of everyone else in the compartment.

On arriving at the station, I had a moment of panic when I could not see Patricia there, but was very relieved to hear an American voice say  ‘Miss Crennan’. It was a colleague of Pat’s — a professor at the language school for interpreters where Pat also lectures.

Germersheim is a rather out of the way town, its principal feature is having a College of language interpretation. It is not far from the French border – you will find it on the map near Karlsruhe on the river Rhine. Pat tells me it has a population of about 8000, and a thousand of these are students.

When we left the station we picked up Pat from a class and then went home to meet his wife and four delightful young redheaded children, and had lunch with them. They also encouraged us to return again in the evening to share a large family roast left over from the weekend. Believe me, that was quite a treat.

Pat and freind at the swimming pool

Patricia and a friend at the swimming pool, with the Speyer Cathedral in the background.

This morning Pat and I were offered a lift to Speyer, about 20 miles away on the River Rhine, where there was a very good swimming pool, so we spent the day there swimming and sun baking.

We had talked till all hours last night, catching up on old times, news of University friends, and where life had taken us both since then, so I came home ready for a good sleep.

Castle ruins in Heidelburg

Part of the Castle ruins in Heidelburg  seen from the old bridge

I will probably go to Heidelberg for the day on Friday and then press on up north next week, but I promise to keep you posted.

In the meantime, I will look forward to receiving your news via the bank in England. Have you been able to get those car- driving licence forms, daddy? I would be grateful if you could send them as soon as possible.

Love to all


The youth hostel, Frankfurt. First of August 1959 

Dear Mum and dad,

Well, you will never know where I will turn up next — and neither do I!

I sent a card from Paris a couple of days ago. I forgot to mark it Airmail, though I did put the right stamp on it,  -you never know when it will arrive so I thought it best to get the next bulletin off straight away, in case you were wondering yet again what I am up to.

the Old Bridge over the Necker River .Heidelberg

the Old Bridge over the Neckar River at Heidelberg and the wonderful fairy-tale palace in the background. It is partially in ruins but well worth exploring as many tourists have discovered..

After I last wrote, I went up to Heidelberg with Ben Collins, an American professor at the College who was happy to explore it with me.

It is such a beautiful place, with the old ruined castle nestling into the hillside looking over the Neckar  river. I’m sure you would remember it well if you saw the Student Prince musical.

We then went on to Mannheim where the Necker flows into the Rhine– a very new and prosperous looking city, almost completely built since the war.

 A beautiful place to dine in style beside the river at Neckergammund.

A beautiful place to dine in style beside the river
at Neckargemund.

From there we drove along the Neckar for quite a long way. It is a beautiful river, very still and mirror like, reflecting the green hillsides and the little villages along the way.

We ate in the evening on the terrace of an old inn at Neckargemund, built on the riverside, while watching the barges go up and down the river, then returned home to Pat’s place.

On Tuesday morning I heard of an opportunity to go to Paris that afternoon with a student friend of Pat’s called Rudiger. Here, already is a chance to keep my promise to the grand old lady at the cocktail party in Hampshire to ‘spend a weekend in Paris’!  – though it wont be quite the romantic one she  would have approved of.

Pat tells me that Rudiger is secretly married, but has to keep it quiet in order to remain at the college, so he does casual work delivering cars for a car hire firm to support his studies. He had been sent to collect a hire car which had been dropped off in Paris, and then drive it back to Mannheim.

It was too good an opportunity to pass up, so we set off,  first for Mannheim, and then Saarbrucken near the French border, and there caught the train for Paris, arriving about midnight.

We had been given the address of an inexpensive pub in the Latin Quarter to stay at. When we found it, we deposited our luggage and then set off on a walk in search of Paris night-life.

We did glimpse some beautiful buildings as we strolled along  – but as for night life – There didn’t seem to be any nearby, so I soon retreated to the hotel and opted for a good night’s sleep.  I couldn’t wait to catch my first glimpse of the fabled Paris by daylight!

We began to explore the sights straight after a quick continental breakfast.  We were so lucky to have found accommodation in the fabled Latin Quarter on the left bank of the Seine. Everything is so accessible, and made even easier with a map and a guidebook. These are always my trusted friends.

There are two very long tree-lined streets, parallel to one another, Boulevard St Michele and the Boulevard St. Germaine.  These are bisected by other narrower streets which are worth exploring. One well-known one to tourists is the rue de Herchette where you can find a great variety of delicious food to sample from many different countries. That took care of lunch!

Another one that my little book mentions claims to be the narrowest street in Paris — little more than a metre or more wide, and goes by the wonderful name of the Rue du Chat-qui-peche, which translates as the street of the cat who fishes!  We discovered that the name comes from a very old painting in the window of a shop along the way.

The Church of the Madeleine at the centre

The Church of the Madeleine is at the centre between two long identical buildings.  you can just see the Luxor Obelisk to the left of it in the middle of the huge and very busy Place de la Concorde. The Seine runs along the very front of the photo, the Arc de Triomphe is just out of sight to the left and  the Louvre further over to the right .  Montmartre is spreading along the hillside in the background with the Sacre Coeur Cathedral on the horizon! All this in one area.

The Church of the Madeleine that we passed last night was one of our first stops,- it is a fine neoclassical Greek style building dedicated to Napoleon’s grand Army in the 1800s.

It stands in a busy plaza between to large buildings ringed by a very fine food shops so             It was tempting to linger there — you should see the pastries! They are something to die for!  – something  that Paris is famous for. The great variety of cheeses are just as tempting, leaving poor old Kraft cheese well behind.

We pressed on past the Sorbonne University. It is a huge complex, –  begun in the 13th century. It claims to be the first university in the world, though maybe the French might be boasting a little!

The Pantheon was quite nearby in the Luxembourg gardens. It is a very striking temple-like building, a mausoleum with a facade of handsome Greek columns, and which was rather strange and empty inside.  it had been used as a church, and way back was a Roman vault.

Now it is just dedicated to ‘ “The great men of France”  which may explain the huge collection of spooky crypts and tombs underneath.   Many famous people are buried there including Madame Curie!  – important enough to be buried among ‘the great men’!

Next we strolled down to the Seine and over the bridge to the Isle de la Cite to the great Cathedral of Notre Dame. What an awe-inspiring building, especially its exterior.

Ile de la Cite on the Seine & Notre Dame Cathedral

Ile de la Cite on the Seine & Notre Dame Cathedral.

We then wandered a little further along the riverbank amidst the booksellers till we reached the Louvre, but as we were aware of being restricted by time,

I was forced to wait for another opportunity to explore inside. That wasn’t easy, given my love of galleries, and being in sight of one of the best in the  world.

Even walking the length of the building outside is a marathon effort. It has one wing after another built in a U shape, with the famous Tuileries Gardens at the top end, finally reaching the huge Place de la Concord. The spot where the guillotine used to stand is now in a beautiful square.

 The next day, it was time to tackle the Eiffel Tower. We had to pay about 10 shillings for the lift, but it proved to be worth it to reach the top. It provides a magnificent overview of the whole city.

Unfortunately it was raining every now and then, and was cold as well, so we couldn’t see as far as I wished until the sun appeared again, just after I had taken the last photograph!

View of Paris from the tower with the Seine flowing through in the distance

View of Paris from the the Eiffel tower with the Seine flowing through in the distance.

Next I visited the Hotel des invalides, which houses Napoleon’s tomb. Architecturally, it was all very magnificent and impressive, but there did seem to be much more emphasis on the glory of Napoleon than on the glory of God!

L'Opera - such a magnifient building!

L’Opera – such a magnifient building!

We had just begun to plan a little nightlife yet again, when word arrived from Mannheim that they would like the car back the next morning, so instead, we had to return to the hotel again and pack our bags.

We then drove around for a while having a quick look at a few more notable sights including the Church of the Madeleine, the Paris Opera house, and then up to the famous Montmartre district.

It has a prominent position sitting on a hill, while the rest of Paris is quite flat.

The artists quarters of Montmatre with the Sacre Coeur Basilica in the background

The artists quarters of Montmatre with the Sacre Coeur Basilica in the background

On the top is Sacre Coeur, one of the landmarks of Paris. It is a very large white Basilica which looks wonderful from a distance — particularly from the Eiffel Tower, but it seemed to me to be a bit of a mess architecturally.

One explanation I heard for this is that the French built it after the revolution, when they were feeling a bit bad about things generally. (Though I wouldn’t care to vouch for that!)

The Famous Moulin Rouge Nightclub that we missed out on visiting

The Famous Moulin Rouge Nightclub that we missed out on visiting

Around the base of it nestle a lot of hot little nightclubs, and the Moulin Rouge, the most famous of all the nightclubs, is not very far away.

We finally set off at about 11 PM, driving through Verdun, Luxembourg and on up to Frankfurt.

We gave a lift to a couple of G.I.s.  They also needed to go to Frankfurt. I was hoping that they would turn out to be the right company for quite a long journey. One was a Marine, a young boy of German descent, who immediately got on very well with Rudiger — neither of them had the slightest sense of humour! — the other was an Air force Sergeant who insisted on regaling me with his stories from World War II.  He began every sentence with ‘Like I said… and ended it with.. .if yer get what I mean!’

I slept most of what was left of the night, and unfortunately, that meant missing seeing anything of Luxembourg. The same thing had happened when I went by train through Switzerland!

By the morning we were gradually coming closer to Frankfurt, travelling through some quite beautiful scenery. We followed the Moselle for quite a long way. It is a lovely quiet River with hundreds of vineyards up on the hillsides on either side.

For some of the way I shared some of the driving to allow Rudiger to get a little sleep. That was quite an experience, especially as it turned out to be a van instead of a sedan. It was my first time driving on the right side of the road, so I had to go very carefully, and all we quite well.

One of the last towns that we went through was Trier on the Moselle, about 120 miles south west of Frankfurt. I wished that we had had time to stop and explore it. It looked very different from anything I had seen so far in Germany. Centuries back it had been a large Roman capital, as early as the time of the Emperor Claudius, with its imperial palace, amphitheatre, the public baths called thermae — all the trappings of  ancient Roman civilisation. Later on in the third century, apparently the emperor Constantine had also operated from there as Christianity began to take root.

Never mind — there may be another time!

When we finally arrived at Frankfurt in the afternoon, I was able to be dropped off at a good youth hostel. What a relief to get there! I booked in straight away, found a comfy bunk, and slept for the rest of the afternoon.

I shall continue the next episode in a day or two. -After I arrive at Copenhagen.

By the way dad, news about the driving licence! On the advice of my American friend in Germesheim, who had already managed to do the same thing, I took my expired licence to the little police station where I was sure that no one read English, and within five minutes I had an international driver’s licence in my pocket. I’m sure I could never have got away with it anywhere else.

This means that you will no longer have to go chasing forms for me. What I would like you to do  if you don’t mind, is to make enquiries to determine if I still have to maintain my Australian licence, or if I may exchange it for the international one on returning to Australia. You will now understand why I felt okay about driving a vehicle here.

I shall be able to collect mail at Malmo, so I am very much looking forward to news from home waiting for me there.

Much love to all


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