Saturday, July 14, 2012

Little Gerhard In New York

As a rule I don't like to publish the backs of postcards, but my German is just too week to try and translate this message myself.  Limited to one term in college, almost forty years ago, I can make out Dear Mother and Dear Father, something left behind in Hamburg(?), the Zeppelin seen flying over New York.  If any actual German speakers would like to leave a reliable translation in the comments section, have at it.

I was able to find Gerhard Hansen's obituary in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.  He was born September 30, 1921 in Flensburg, Germany.  His parents were Hans and Frieda Hansen.  He arrived in the United States when he was five years old, so 1926 or 1927.   He would have been fourteen when he sent this postcard to his parents in Wickliffe, Ohio.  After his military service, presumably in World War 2, he became a math teacher, married and fathered several children.  He died on May 10, 2011.

Scant information on a life that lasted 89 years.  I'd love to know why Hans and Frieda took their young son to the United States in the mid twenties.  After World War 1, Germany went through a period of economic disruption, including a period of hyper-inflation.  And of course,  that led to the rise of a number of fringe political parties including the Nazi party.  Were Hans and Frieda just looking for a better life, or were they political and saw the hand writing on the wall, and got out while it was still possible?  Perhaps they were right wingers who flirted with the German American Bund.  I'd love to know.  And what about Gerhard himself?  Had he made a visit back to Germany? Was he returning through New York?  If so, was he happy to be back in the USA, or did he long for the Germany of his early childhood?  And what about his military service? As a German speaker, he could have been in military intelligence, translating documents and interrogating prisoners, or he could have been just another grunt.  I'd love to know.

The RMS Queen Mary made her first voyage in 1936, the year this post card was mailed.  She was built at the John Brown & Company ship yard in Clydebank, Scotland.  Her first captain was Edgar Britten, seen on the  card.  Her owners were The Cunard White Star Line.  In 1940, The Queen Mary was requisitioned by the British government for use as a troop transport.  She was returned to her owners in 1946, and resumed the north Atlantic run in 1947.  By the late 1950s, few people were using ocean liners to cross the Atlantic. Jet airliners had become the favored means of travel between the United States and Europe.  The Queen Mary's last voyage was in 1967.  Put up for sale, the city of Long Beach, California outbid a scrap yard.  The ship has been used as a floating hotel and tourist attraction ever since.  In her final few years of service, the crew would often out number the passengers.

Interesting story about how the Queen Mary got it's name.  The ship's owners wanted to name it the Victoria.  As a courtesy, they approached King George V to ask his permission.  "Your majesty, we'd like your permission to name our newest liner after England's greatest queen."  "My wife," he replied, "would be delighted."   I have no idea whether the story is true or not, but it's a good one.

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