Monthly Archives: September 2013

Visit to Germany – The Journey Home (Part 6)

My training ended by end of October. We bid “auf wiedersehen”, good bye to Bad Neustadt. We came to Nurnberg and stayed at the Siemens hostel. I made arrangements of our return journey to Mumbai through a travel agent recommended by the Siemens office. It was as follows:

  1. Nurnberg to Ostend – a small port in Belgium – by train.
  2. Ostend to London port by a ferry boat – (like ‘bhaucha dhakka” in Mumbai), across the English Channel.
  3. London port to city of London by train.
  4. 3 days stay in London.
  5. London to Mumbai by P & O steamer SS Stratheden, leaving on 7th Nov.
  6. Arrival Mumbai port 24th Nov. 1961. (Chandra’s birth date).

By this time my financial position was poor. When I purchased the car, it was known that there was good resale value. This reselling was a regular practice. I sold my car for 700 D.M. (I had purchased for 1100 D.M.). It was planned that this money would see us through, till we arrive in Bombay.

Nurnberg to London

On 2nd Nov. Thursday morning we said auf wiedersehen to Nurnberg. We passed Aachen, the last big city near Belgium – West Germany border, in the evening. We were to cross the border into Belgium. Here the border police officer came to check our travel papers. The officer did not find a visa for Belgium on our passports. So we were asked to get down from the train. The officer said that a valid transit visa was necessary for transit passengers also. My travel agent in Nurnberg had very clearly told me that a visa was not necessary for transit passengers. We were through passengers. The Belgian officer refused our entry. He advised/ordered us to get down and to go back to Aachen. There is an office for issuing transit visas. He gave us the address. He made us get down from the train at the next station. He then put us on a returning train to Aachen. By the time we reached Aachen it was night. All the offices were closed. We were given accommodation in the passenger waiting room. This was a small room with a good heating system.

All of a sudden Chandra started crying! I tried to calm her down. I asked her, what was the reason for crying? She took some time to calm down. She said that her golden ring with an oval green stone (emerald) was missing. She was combing her hair in the train, when the border officer came. She had removed the ring and had put it on the side-table near the seat. In hurry and nervousness, she forgot about the ring while getting out of the train. I said, we should report this to the station master. We went to his office. I gave him all the details of what happened. He contacted the train driver on the phone giving relevant details about the golden ring. After some time he got a reply from the train. A golden ring with a green stone was found. The ring would be deposited in the station office the next day, when the driver returns to Aachen. Next morning we could not wait for the ring. We hired a taxi and went to the visa office. Obtaining a visa was very fast. We immediately boarded the next train to Ostend. Perhaps that ring might be still there in the Aachen station master’s office!!

img072The ferry service from Ostend to London was round the clock. The sea in this part of the English Channel is rough. There were proper resting facilities and cafeteria on the board. We were advised to take light food only. We ordered tea, coffee and biscuits. We had just started our breakfast. A strong wind started blowing. The boat started rocking. The plates and cups slid from one side of table to the other side! Our food slid in front of some of the passengers! There were announcement that a light storm is expected. Passengers were advised to go to lower decks where arrangements were made for resting. Some seasickness medicines were distributed. Chandra was feeling seasick. She took the medicine and she went down to rest. After a few minutes of strong winds the storm was becoming weak. Ameet and I were not affected by the storm. We had no seasickness.  We went to the upper deck. We enjoyed walking there. There were very few passengers on the deck. There were three British Air Force officers and two other passengers. Slowly the storm died away. Other passengers also came on the deck. Ameet was noticed by many passengers, particularly the ladies! Soon we reached London port. The storm had died completely. The railway platform was within walking distance. We walked to the train. Many passengers came to meet Ameet. They congratulated Ameet for his bravery to be on the upper deck in the storm. Some ladies even offered him chocolates! Some wanted to sit near him in the train.

London

London always has been an expensive city. My father had a friend, Mr. Shethia in London. He was a well-settled businessman. My father had written to him to make arrangements for my stay in London. He had confirmed that the necessary arrangement was done. He had asked one of his (Rajasthani) employees to look after my needs. This was the most unfortunate thing to happen. Mr. Shethia’s man had arranged for our stay with some Patel family. It was a small, old, two-storey house. The heating system was not working properly. The doors and windows were loose. They could not be closed properly. The furniture was old. The bed was old. The bed covers, the bedsheets and the blankets were not clean. It started raining in the evening. It was a storm. The wind was blowing very strongly. The temperature went down very fast. It became very cold. It was a nightmare to pass the night under such conditions. I decided to change over to a comfortable place in the morning.

Chandra remembered that her father had given us the name, address and telephone number of an Englishman, a bank manager working with a London bank. My father-in-law had worked as a senior manager in an English Bank in Rangoon before the 2nd World War. He had taken premature retirement for health reasons. He had settled in Bhuj. He was very efficient and very popular in his bank. He had continued his friendship with his bank colleagues. He knew very well one of the bank managers in London. We contacted the bank manager by telephone. I introduced myself. He was very pleased. I described to him my problem. I requested him to arrange for a hotel room. He assured me that he would arrange for a comfortable but not expensive hotel. Within an hour we moved to a good comfortable but not expensive hotel in the same area. We could not meet the bank manager. He was busy with his engagements. I thanked him on the telephone.

img093The weather improved. We made plans to see London. Several tourist buses were available for “London Darshan”. We took certain buses and went around. London has a very elaborate local railway system. It is a little difficult to understand the whole system. But, once you understand, it is easy to go from any one suburb to another. Food was no problem. There were many restaurants serving good vegetarian food. We had a very busy four days. There are many museums in London. It takes hours and hours to see them. One has to walk through several lobbies, compounds, gardens, 2, 3, 4 or more floors. We enjoyed. We were tired.

Return Voyage

stratheden2IMG_0421On 2nd Nov. 1961 morning we boarded the P & O steamer SS Stratheden. It was a big air-conditioned steamer. There were several decks and several halls for different activities. There were two swimming pools, a restaurant and a bar. This was a bigger, much more comfortable and luxurious steamer compared to the Conte Grande. There were four decks and two cabin floors. Our cabin was very cozy and comfortable. Every morning, menu cards for breakfast, lunch and dinner were printed and were distributed to passengers on the breakfast table. IMG_0430Daily there were separate and different veg. and non-veg. menus. The food was good. They had good Indian cooks on board. Varieties of snacks were served with the afternoon tea. Dry fruits were distributed after dinner. Children had early dinner. They were compelled to go to bed at 7 pm. They were given many toys to play with. But they were unhappy about early dinner. Daily, there were varieties of entertainment programs and games for adults and children. Every evening after dinner the passengers went to the ballroom for recreation. This was open up to midnight.

img055There were other activities. Chandra found herself lucky in the horse race, frog race and dog race. We liked walking around all the decks. We explored all the way up to the top deck. Here all life boats were kept ready for any emergency. Ameet liked to count them. In one of the children’s quiz program a question was asked, “how many life boats are there on the steamer?”. Only Ameet could give the correct answer. He won a prize. Once there was a fancy dress competition. People could borrow a variety of dresses from the steamer wardrobe kept in the ballroom. I dressed like a Mexican cowboy. Chandra dressed like a village woman from Gujarat.

fancy-dress-combinedThis was a real vacation. The whole experience was of happiness and joy. All things were arranged. There was no planning to be done. There were no problems, no anxiety – just enjoyment.

Our sea route was as follows. We left London and sailed due south into the English Channel. We passed by the coast of France and entered the Bay of Biscay. Further down south we entered the Atlantic Ocean. We passed by Spain and Portugal. The southern most point was Gibraltar. Here the Atlantic Ocean meets Mediterranean Sea. We turned eastward almost at a right angle leaving the Atlantic Ocean and entered the Mediterranean Sea through the Strait of Gibraltar. We sailed due east.

Our first port of call was Athens, the capital of Greece. We were informed that bus trips were arranged by the steamer company. We went around the modern city of Athens. Then we went to see the ruins of the old Greek civilization – the old city of Acropolis which contains the temple of Parthenon. We had a comfortable bus sightseeing tour. The ancient structures are huge, majestic, very beautiful and a symbol of art. The old Greek civilization was one of the most advanced ancient civilizations.

img097aDuring this one eventful year I visited the ruins of three ancient civilizations:

  1. Pyramids – Egyptian
  2. Remains of Vesuvius – Roman
  3. Acropolis and Parthenon – Greek

Our next port of call was Port Said. Here the steamer went through the “lock” system of Suez Canal. After passing through the canal, we entered the Red Sea.

img106aNext and the last port of call was Aden on the Arabian peninsula. The steamer had to anchor in the deeper sea. There were ferry boat services to go to the port. In those days, Aden was a flourishing duty-free business center. Many Indian merchants had established business in Aden. It was announced on the public announcement system, that the stopover would be for six hours. Ferry boat services were organized for passengers. Hearing this, we joined the queue for a ferry boat. Here we heard one more announcement. “Special ferry boat service is arranged by Mr. Shah, the manager of the Bank of … for Mr. Zaveri and family. Please contact Purser’s office”. We found to our surprise that we were given royal treatment. This was done by my father-in-law. He had a very close friend as a general manager in a very reputed bank in Aden. My father-in-law had informed him about all the details of our journey. We were given VIP treatment in the purser’s office. We boarded a special exclusive ferry boat to reach the shore. There a car took us to the residence of the bank manager. We were guests of honor in the roles of a daughter, a son-in-law and a grandson. We had a typical grand Gujarati lunch. Ameet was very happy to get Gujarati food after several months. He requested his mother if we could stay there a few days more! The food was very much to his liking. We rested for a while. Then we went for shopping. We were treated well. We purchased many things such as gifts, etc. for all family members.

BOMBAY – MUMBAI

We had entered the Arabian Sea. Our next and the last port of call was BOMBAY. On the morning of 24th Nov. 1961 an announcement was made on the public system, that we would reach the port of Bombay in the afternoon. After lunch passengers should keep their baggage open to be checked by the customs officers. 24th Nov. was Chandra’s 25th birthday. On our lunch table there was a birthday greeting card sent from the captain’s office. Also, there was a birthday cake. The two old ladies on our lunch table along with the other passengers joined to greet Chandra.

Customs and other formalities were completed fast. The whole family had come to welcome and greet us. Ameet was the happiest person.

return-voyage-map

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3Part 4 | Part 5

Visit to Germany – Family Reunited (part 5)

It was decided that they would fly to Nurnberg via Frankfurt. There was a lot of excitement in the Zaveri family. Regular Boeing 707 flights to various European destinations were advertised by international airlines.  “Going by Boeing” was a popular catch-word. For Chandra this was an occasion of celebrations, excitement, and to be proud of. She was to be the first lady in our family to travel to a foreign country. Ameet was 4 years old. He was also very excited. He was from the third generation of our Zaveri family to go for a historical journey. Their flight plan was to fly by the international flight to Frankfurt by Boeing and change over to a Frankfurt-Nurnberg domestic flight. At Bombay airport special instructions were conveyed through the travel agency to take care of this mother and son during the journey and particularly in the change over. The flight was reaching Frankfurt in the morning. They were to have about two hours stopover at Frankfurt. That flight was a short distance flight for about one hour.

Unfortunately the flight to Frankfurt got delayed. Chandra and Ameet missed their connecting flight. The travel agent “Trade Wings” had given special instructions to look after these passengers. So at the airport they became sort of VIP passengers.

Another bad thing happened. Ameet vomited while coming out of the plane. Chandra’s sari got spoiled. She did not have any extra sari in her hand baggage. So Chandra requested the staff person to let her open her baggage. The baggage was booked for Nurnberg. So this can be opened only by custom officer at Nurnberg only. Chandra tried to explain that she must change. But he would not understand. Then Chandra made him smell the sari. Now he understood. He allowed her to open her baggage in his presence. She got a sari from the bag. While doing so she noticed a bottle of “supari”. She could not resist the temptation of eating “supari”. The officer was watching her. He suspected that she was eating some drug. So he shouted at her. Chandra explained that it was simply betel nut. Then he let go. Then they were asked to wait in the lounge. While waiting in there, Ameet noticed an escalator. He had not seen any escalator before. He was so excited. He forced Chandra to go with him. Going up and down was fun. They spent some time there enjoying free rides up and down.

But now at Nurnberg airport, Arun and I did not find our passengers in the incoming flight from Frankfurt. So we were nervous. We made enquiries about our passengers. The airport authority made enquiries at Frankfurt. At Frankfurt they took some time to locate them. They (mother and son) were enjoying rides on escalators. We were told that the flight from Bombay was delayed. We were given information that a mother with a very young son, from Bombay, missed their flight. Now they are scheduled on the next flight. Our passengers were taken care of at Frankfurt airport. They would board the next flight to Nurnberg. After about another hour they arrived. It was a very emotional meeting. Each one wanted to say many things and wanted to ask and know many things!!.

Hostel Life in Nurnberg

Now that my wife joined me, I was transferred to the married couples’ hostel. There was another problem. Children were not allowed to stay in this hostel. They could visit but not stay overnight. They had to go away before 9. pm. We made a plan. We declared that my son Ameet was staying with Dr. Schmidt family. Every night he would leave hostel declaring that he would be away for the night. But after about 10 minutes we would smuggle him back into the hostel. The security personnel never made any issue.

Several trainees from India were always there. There was one couple in our hostel – Mr. and Mrs. Venugopal. Venugopal was working with a huge public sector aluminum plant. There were two others, Anil Shrivastava and Madhav Bhanoo. Both were from the Siemens Bombay office. They were in the bachelors’ hostel. We soon became a close group of friends. Mrs. Venugopal was a medical doctor. She did not know cooking. So Chandra was in great demand for food. All the friends would request her for cooked meals in the evening. In bargain they would do all the preparatory work, cleaning all utensils and help doing any work she wanted to be done.

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Dr. Wulfo Schmidt’s residence was at a walking distance. That whole family – Dr. and Mrs. Schmidt and their three daughters Heidi, Marie and Susie – was awaiting the arrival of Chandra and Ameet. There was so much of excitement in the first meeting. Each person wanted to play, to talk, and to hug Ameet exclusively. Each wanted to patronize him. It was decided that each family member would get a certain limited time. They would get their turn age-wise. The youngest Susie would get the first turn and the maximum time, and so on. Even today Susie remembers those days very vividly.

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Chandra’s first misadventure happened on the second day in Nuremberg. It was decided that the eldest sister Heidi would take Chandra and Ameet for shopping. They went in the morning after breakfast. The shopping area was not very far, on the same street. So they walked down the street. There was a tramway also along the street. They had purchased all the needs of the kitchen. After shopping, they decided to return by tram. They had a lot of bags to carry.  Heidi had some different plan in her mind. She explained to Chandra that she had to go for some urgent work in that area and that they should get down at the third stop. Heidi put them into a tram and went away. Both Ameet and Chandra were enjoying the ride, not knowing what was written in their fate.

Chandra was counting the stops. They got down at the third stop. Unfortunately Heidi did not tell her that there was a traffic signal between the first and the second stop. Chandra counted the traffic signal stop as one of the tram stops!! So they got down one stop earlier. Not seeing the Siemens hostel building at the street corner, she got nervous. With all the bags and Ameet holding her hand very tightly, she started walking along the street. Now she was very frightened. She asked some people about Siemens hostel. But she could not pronounce properly. People could not understand. They could not guide her. Some children were very curious seeing Ameet with dark black eyes and hair. They also started walking along with them. Now it became a group of people. Some dogs started barking. A gentleman who knew about some tourist accommodations guided Chandra there. This was a YMCA hostel. There were some tourists who could converse in English. They understood that Chandra was from India and was searching for Siemens hostel. One of them found out the exact address of the hostel over the phone. He helped Chandra to reach the exact destination. In the evening when I returned home from work I found Chandra in a very depressed mood. When I enquired the reason for the depression, she did not speak for a few minutes. Then she started crying. She was very much frightened. She was also very upset with that girl Heidi. Heidi was a teenage girl and still a bit childish. But the youngest Susie was very helpful and responsible. She became a very regular visitor to our hostel and a good friend of Ameet.

Mrs. Schmidt was a very learned lady. She could easily converse in English. She would often invite Chandra with Ameet for afternoon tea. She also invited us for lunch and dinner several times. They would take us for long drives, shopping, picnic, and sightseeing in the neighboring cities.

I came to know that many trainees and students were selling their cars at low disposal prices. I started enquiring and found one such car. I purchased a secondhand car for 1100 D.M. This was a Volkswagen Beetle.

img096We enjoyed our stay in the hostel. We went for picnics. We visited many neighboring towns.  We did some shopping. We did a lot of sightseeing. One of the towns named Bamberg is famous for beer breweries. There are 70 Churches and 71 breweries in that town!!  Schmidt family was the most adorable blessing for us. Every weekend Arun came to stay with us. One long weekend we decided to go to Munich by car to stay with Arun. The road to Munich was passing by a town called Ingolstadt.

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Ingolstadt

I had one more German friend by the name of Karl Ludwig. I had planned to visit Karl Ludwig. He was staying in Ingolstadt, a small town. Karl was a civil engineer. He was working with a German firm on contract basis. He had come to Bombay about a year back. He had met my brother-in-law Dhirajbhai (my wife’s brother) in Bombay. Dhirajbhai had brought him to our home several times. He had invited me to come to his town Ingolstadt, whenever I could visit Germany.

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He was staying with his in-laws. He, being a civil engineer, was building his own house by himself. He had completed all the masonry work. Now he was doing plumbing work. Then he would do all the electrical work and so on. He was doing all the work by himself. Sometimes he would hire a helper. He had estimated to complete the job in the next two months. His father-in-law’s house was big. His wife was pregnant at that time and so they were staying with her parents. His parents were living in a smaller house, not far.

He had given me his tel. no. and address. I contacted him on telephone and gave him details of my program in Germany. I mentioned that I, with my family, would be traveling by car from Nuremberg to Munich. He was very thrilled and excited. He invited me with my family to stay with them for the weekend. He also informed me that he had become a proud father of a son, just ten days back.

We had started quite early in the morning. On the autobahn it took only one and a half hours to reach his place. Ingolstadt is a very small town. He and his wife welcomed us very warmly. Chandra had bought some gifts for them. Particularly she had purchased clothes for the baby. They were very happy to receive these gifts as a token of love and friendship. It was decided that Chandra would cook Indian food. So both the ladies went to the market to purchase vegetables, breads etc. We ate Indian style food and than rested. It was unbelievable to watch Frau Ludwig doing the entire household and kitchen work. She was just back from hospital.

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After a good rest we had tea/coffee. Then Ludwig took us to his flying club. They have a big open ground. They have a few gliders. These are small gliding planes without any engine. The glider is tied with a rope behind a jeep. The rope is a big long strong wire rope. The jeep runs very fast on the runway pulling the glider. With increasing speed the glider slowly takes off. There is an arrangement to release the rope from inside the cockpit. There are instruments in the cockpit to show speed, altitude, temperature of the air, speed and direction of the wind, etc. With these parameters the pilot flies and controls the glider. If the weather is favorable, he can remain flying for about half an hour. The sitting arrangement is just enough for two persons only, the pilot and a passenger one behind the other. Ludwig took each of us in turns. Each of us had more than 15 minutes of an extraordinary, mind-blowing, awesome flying experience. It was pure joy, thrill and excitement. Ameet enjoyed the most. He was not afraid of sitting alone in the passenger seat. He became popular among the club members. We went home after participating in an adventurous and thrilling sport. We had a light dinner of sandwiches biscuits, etc. Then we left for Munich.

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In Munich, Arun was staying with a German family as a paying guest. The family had gone out of station for the weekend. So we could use the flat freely. While talking about the flat owner family, Arun told us that the owners were not married. They had two children. But now, they were seriously planning to get married!!

We rested very well that Saturday night.  Next day we had planned for “Munich Darshan”. Having one’s own car was a boon. Munich is a very beautiful ancient city. It depicts the European culture and arts very beautifully. We enjoyed sightseeing for the whole day. Sunday night we returned to our Nuremberg hostel.

Bad Neustadt

After completing my training in Trafowerk, I was transferred to Elmowerk for training in the electric motor factory. These Siemens motor factories are built in this very small town. The town name is Bad Neustadt an der Saale. It is on the bank of the river Saale. The population of the town might have been about 2000. But the number of persons employed in these factories was about 1200. The workers were staying in the surrounding villages. Factory buses were collecting them from their residences. Siemens had some arrangement with local families to accommodate trainees and other visitors as paying guests.

I, with my wife and son, was given an accommodation with an old lady. She had a two level house. She also owned a small “kino” – a small cinema theater in the same compound. She was living there with her son (about 40 years old) and her daughter-in-law. They were not even on talking terms with her. The son was a drunkard. He used to drink too much beer and sleep. The old lady by herself alone managed the cinema. She would clean the whole theater, sell the tickets, and run the film. She would do all the tasks necessary to run the cinema house.

The residence house was on two levels. There were two bedrooms, a big living /drawing room with dining area, a kitchen and an underground cellar on the ground floor. There was a guest bedroom with bathroom on the floor above. There was a children’s bed big enough to accommodate Ameet. This was given to us. We had to share the kitchen cooking facilities and the dining area with her. The nights were very cold. The old lady had provided us with good blankets. Even then we had to keep the heaters on for the whole night. We were allowed to take full bath only once a week on Sunday.

One Sunday morning Chandra was alone in the cellar washing clothes. The son came there. He was drunk. He was searching for something. He mumbled something to Chandra. Chandra was very much frightened. She was about to scream. But that fellow went away. After that day Chandra never went to the cellar alone. She would ask the old lady or me to accompany her.

Every afternoon Chandra would make tea and offer to the old lady. She appreciated this gesture very much. She complained that her daughter-in law had never made or offered tea to her. The ladies, Chandra and the land lady liked to talk. Language was not a barrier or a problem at all! They learnt fast. They became good friends. The old lady used German, English and French. Chandra used English, German, Gujarati and Hindi. Of course the sign language was the best common language. They would talk, share jokes, become sympathetic to each other and converse about any subject under the sun.

Pani-puri

Chandra being a good cook had brought many ingredients for making pani-puri, bhel-puri, and such food. One afternoon she decided to make pani-puri. She invited the old lady to watch! She arranged all the ingredients on the table. The old lady was looking at all the items on the table. The whole concept of making, preparing, serving and eating pani-puri has no parallel concept in the whole world! Chandra demonstrated by preparing one pani-puri and eating it.  Then she asked the old lady to taste one. She warned the lady that it was very hot. She selected one of the smallest puri. She filled it with masala made of moong, chana, crushed boiled potato. She filled it with “teekha pani”. She offered this to the old lady. She warned her again that it could be very hot.

The old lady put that one in her mouth! And … all hell broke loose. She shouted Feuer! Feuer! (Fire!) She jumped on the floor and touched the ceiling! Chandra had kept ice cubes ready for this. She put the ice in the mouth. She calmed down after a couple of minutes. The old lady kept on watching us eating pani-puri.

Zugspitze

One of the trips we made was to Zugspitze, the highest mountain in Germany. We passed through the Bavarian town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen on the border of Germany and Austria.

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Photographer

Every Saturday afternoon we used to go to market. The market was at the end of the main street. The street ended near a small garden by the river Saale. There were several shops on the main street.  We three would walk down the main street, do some shopping and go to the garden. Ameet played in the garden in the river sand with his toys. One such afternoon, we were walking along the main street. There were very few people on the street. We three were walking and talking. Amongst the shops, there was a photo studio. I heard some one running behind us and shouting “bitte bitte” (please, please). I turned around and saw a young lady who was shouting to us to wait. When she came near, I could see that she was very excited and nervous. She again said “bitte, bitte”. So we stopped there. She explained that she was a trainee in the photo studio on the street. She has to submit a photograph as a test. She used to watch us, particularly Chandra for the last few days. She thought that a portrait of an Indian lady would be an ideal subject for her test photo. She had been thinking over this idea for several days. She was hesitant to ask. She wanted to photograph Chandra. She wanted my permission to do so. I replied in affirmative. I said, “I would be very happy if you take my wife’s photo. But if charges are very high I cannot pay.” She replied that there would be no charges.

So we all four started walking in a small procession and entered the studio. She guided us to the mezzanine floor. Here was a fully equipped real studio. It was equipped with several big and small lights, reflectors, cameras fixed on stands and many such things. She made Chandra sit on a stool. She became very busy doing her work very professionally. She checked Chandra’s face from several angles. She checked lights and reflectors from different angles. She had decided to take a portrait photo.  Finally she decided on a certain combination of angle, lights, reflectors, camera, lens, etc. She invited me to have a look through the camera; and give my opinion. I said it looked good. Then, finally she clicked the camera. She told us that photo would be ready next morning.

We left the studio and started walking towards the garden. Just only after a few minutes, I again heard running footsteps. Someone was shouting at us from behind – “bitte, bitte”. Turning back we saw the same girl. We stopped. She came near to us. She was very nervous. We wondered, what could have gone wrong? She almost started crying. I told her to calm down and tell me what had happened. She said we would have to go back to the studio. I was a little irritated. I asked “Why?  What happened?” She explained that she had forgotten to load the film in the camera!! Chandra and I laughed like anything. We consoled her. We said it could happen. We would come to the studio again. So we went to the studio again. She did her job properly. Next day we went to the studio to see the result. We met the trainee. She had done a marvelous job. The portrait photograph was beautiful. She gave us one copy of the photo, with her best wishes written on the back. This is the best ever photo of Chandra. She, the trainee scored the highest marks. She also won a prize for the photo.

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Visit to Berlin

One Sunday morning, we found guests at the breakfast table. The old lady introduced us to each other. They were a family of four; Mr. and Mrs. Braun and two daughters about the age of 14 and 11. They were some relatives of the old lady. They were residents of Berlin. They had gone to Switzerland. On the return journey they took a night stopover in Bad Neustadt. They were very friendly people. Mr. Braun was in the perfumery business. He had his shop and residence in the same building on Kurfürstendamm – one of the most famous streets in the posh area of Berlin. We started talking about Berlin. Mr. Braun explained to me that it was necessary to know and very necessary to understand the position and situation of Berlin.

After the Second World War was over, Germany was divided into West Germany and East Germany. East Germany was under the political and military control of Russia. West Germany was under joint political and military control of UK, USA and France. The city of Berlin was 150 miles deep inside East Germany. The city was divided by a wall across the city into East Berlin and West Berlin. Mr. Braun took out his roadmap. He showed me at which point we should enter / crossover into East Germany. At this border point it was like entering a new country. There was checking of all necessary papers viz. passport, driving license, etc. Here they give Entry Permit papers (permit to enter East Germany). One has to declare destination, purpose of visit, etc. They check the vehicle also. One has to be very vigilant about this Entry Permit. About 100 km. from this entry point into East Germany, there is a cross over road. Here there is entry and exit to the Berliner Ring Road. From here the city of Berlin is less than 20 km.

Mr. Braun was very much excited about our visit. He invited us (four of us) to stay with him in his house. He said staying in a hotel would be very expensive. He took a promise from us. We would visit Berlin before returning to India. He expressed very clearly that he would feel insulted, if we did not! I contacted Arun and told him everything. He was also very much excited to make such a trip. He told me that he would let me know suitable dates considering his classes and lectures, etc. Next day he telephoned and finalized the program for the “trip to Berlin”. Arun came to Bad Neustadt on 12th Oct. Friday. We departed on 13th early morning after taking a very heavy breakfast.  Chandra made several food items. Some cooked and some half cooked items that would last for a week. We were informed that there were several vegetarian restaurants in Berlin.

13th Oct. 1961 was the most adventurous day of my life. It was like “Where Eagles Dare”. We left home early morning. It was the beginning of winter. The days were getting shorter and nights were getting longer. The sunrise was after 9 a.m. The sunset was before 5 p.m. It was dark and cold. We were well equipped to fight the cold. We had borrowed heavy woollen clothes from the Schmidt family. It was raining in short showers. It was cold and windy. We had to drive slowly. We were in a good mood. Ameet was behaving quite mature. Inside the car it was cozy. We started the journey with reciting some prayers. This is our family tradition. As a family we are travelers. My father liked to travel. He had traveled all over the world. He had traveled through six continents viz. Asia, Europe, Africa, Australia, North America and South America.

We reached the first border-post in the afternoon. The first checking of going out of West Germany was quick and simple. The East German border office was on the opposite side of the road. Here, we got the first shock! They checked our papers. Passport and other papers were in order. They asked for our vaccination certificate. We had forgotten our certificates in Bad Neustadt. We were under the impression that these medical certificates were necessary only while entering into another country. It never occurred to us that we would need them while going into East Germany. So, we were refused entry. We were very disappointed, and with swollen faces got into the car to drive back. There, one of the officers on duty asked why we were returning back instead of proceeding ahead? We explained to him our story of misfortune. He was very cooperative. He advised us that there was a medical center in the nearest village (5 miles away). We could go there, get vaccinated and also get a certificate. We immediately drove to that village. Here we found that the medical officer had gone to a town hospital. The hospital was not far. So, we drove there. There we contacted the medical officer and explained our predicament. He immediately arranged for vaccinating us and gave us the proper certificates. We were happy.

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We returned to the East German border post. They knew we would do this. This was a regular happening for them. They were asking many questions about Chandra’s dress (sari), her bindi on the forehead. They also liked Ameet’s dark black eyes and hair. They very happily gave the permit. They had marked our departure time on the permit papers. We were advised to drive not more than 50 miles per hour. We were also advised not to drive very slow, if we took more time, then they would charge us for espionage. If we reach there earlier they would charge us for speeding.

We stopped twice for food and rest before reaching the border. It was cloudy. There was no rain. It was getting darker and colder. There was no traffic. As time passed we were worried and tense. We were looking for the road sign for Berliner Ring Road. We had our full lights on; so that we could see the road sign. In a few minutes we heard some vehicle coming behind us at full speed. He overtook us. He signaled us to stop. He was a German military officer on a motorbike. We stopped the car. Our breathing stopped! Our heats stopped! He was shouting at us. He was ordering us to do something. We could not understand. He came near the car and shouted “ablehnen”. We did not respond. Arun and I were frozen with fear (not by cold). The military officer came very near our car. He again shouted “ablehnen”. He opened my car door and he put off the bright full light. Then he realized that we were a family. He calmed down. He explained that we should not keep full bright lights on. In a few minutes a German military convoy would pass through this road. We should drive slowly. We should drive on one side of the road. We should keep only the dim lights on. We should drive only on one side of the road. Giving these instructions he drove away.

In a couple of minutes we saw lights and sound of the military convoy reaching nearer to us. We slowed down and were driving on the edge of the road. In the convoy there were big trucks, several tanks. There were some trucks with big guns fixed on them. There were some carriers with very big cannons. There were trucks loaded with all kinds of ammunition. In about 10-12 minutes the convoy passed away. We were scared out of our wits. We experienced a fear which cannot be described. Those German military personnel in their military uniforms looked like messengers of death. Slowly we were getting back to our senses.

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We took an account of all that had happened and assured ourselves that, things were not as bad as we felt. One thing was clear that by now we had missed the turn for the Berliner Ring Road. This could be resolved by taking a U-turn. But a U-turn on the highways was strictly not permitted. Also there was a 2 to 3 feet thick and about 3 feet high hedge in the center of the road, separating the up and down traffic. At this moment Arun spotted a light of some vehicle coming in our direction. We were getting nervous. To our surprise, it was an old private truck. As the vehicle came nearer, the truck driver, an old man slowed down his truck and waved at us. We found this to be a friendly signal. We shouted at him to stop his truck. Both the vehicles stopped. We explained to him our situation. We asked him for his advice.

He was an old farmer. He explained that there were gaps in the hedge. Some part of the hedge dried creating such gaps. He said, he would put on his bright lights and lead the way. We should follow him. When he would see a gap big enough for our Volkswagen (a very small car) to pass through, he would signal us. He would park his truck at an angle. We would see the gap clearly. There we should take a U turn passing through the gap and drive in the opposite direction. He wished us best of luck and mercy of Lord Jesus. He very strongly told us not to mention about this incident to anybody. So as planned, we followed him. In a very short time we could see there were gaps in the hedge. The truck driver noticed one gap large enough. He signaled us to stop. He focused his bright light. We followed his instructions. We crossed over to the other side of the road through the gap. The truck driver, without waiting for even a second drove away very fast. He seemed like an angel in disguise. In another 20 minutes we reached the road crossing with the sign of “Berliner Ring Road”. Here we took the correct Berlin Road. In less than 30 mins, we saw lights. We reached the East Germany and West Berlin check-posts.

We entered the East German check-post. We were very much worried about reaching so late to this exit post. How would we explain, reaching there so late. But to our surprise, we found the personnel became very friendly seeing an Indian family. They asked many questions about Chandra’s saree, bindi on the forehead, etc. They admired Ameet’s dark black hair and eyes. They stamped our papers without asking any questions. In a few minutes we were through the procedure and out. We were out of East Germany. On the opposite side of the road there was the West German Berlin check-post. Here we were welcomed with smiles and greetings. They stamped our papers. They even asked if we need any help. The time was nearing midnight. We requested if we can make a phone call to our host. They most willingly called our host. Our host was anxiously waiting for our news. We informed him that we would reach his residence within half an hour. As it was late in the night the road traffic was not much. We finally reached there with the help of the road map.

They had a small house. They had allotted their bedroom for Chandra and me. Their two daughters’ bedroom was given to Arun and Ameet. They treated us like, we say in India, “Atithi devo bhav” (guests are divine). We spent 5 nights in that “palace”. The heating system was very good. It was very cozy. It was luxurious!

We rested very well. The next morning, on the breakfast table, we made our plans to see the city of Berlin. We found that there was a Siemens hostel. There were some Indians there. We met them. They took us for lunch to one of the vegetarian restaurants. There were several vegetarian eating places. After the war, USA and Britain decided to make Berlin their stronghold in the midst of East Germany. They wanted to make it a rich capitalist city. They brought in plane loads of domestic goods. A cargo plane landed every ten minutes bringing in clothes, furniture, cars, TVs, air conditioners and white goods. They built new residential colonies. They built new office buildings, luxury hotels, cinema halls, schools, colleges, etc. with all modern amenities. This was all only in West Berlin. We visited the famous Berlin zoo. We spent almost a whole day there. Ameet enjoyed it the most. I still remember the gorilla statue in the entrance. It was so lifelike, that we felt it would walk or speak.

The East was in total contrast. There was not even enough food for the people. Bread, milk, eggs, etc. were given on ration cards! East Berlin was a show of poverty. The Russians wanted to make East Berlin their stronghold. But the economical conditions were very poor. People had to wait in queue for buying their daily ration.

We found that visitors were given entry in certain parts of East Berlin. We arranged to get a visitors permit for going into East Berlin. We went around in our car. We saw big lines of people with children to purchase their daily necessities from Government shops. The total atmosphere was of gloom and poverty. Most of the vehicles were military vehicles. There were very few private cars on the road. The war destruction was not yet cleared. There were debris everywhere. Very few historical monuments had survived the war.

We planned our return on 18th Oct. We enjoyed our five days stay in Berlin. The whole journey was wonderful, simply wonderful. Very few people could be blessed with such unforgettable experiences with so many people from different fields of life:

1) Facing the most feared communist military convoy in total darkness.
2) Making friendship and becoming guests of a perfumery merchant of the famous Kurfürstendamm.
3) Seeing /observing poor people, citizens of Europe awaiting their turn for food.
4) Making friends with stern border police including the one who guides you to a village doctor for vaccination.
5) The doctor who very happily vaccinates and gives certificate.

We experienced many faces of life and humanity in very short time. We reached home (Bad Neustadt) by evening without any problems.

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Visit to Germany – Beyond Kochel (Part 4)

To explore more of space and people, I left Kochel. 27th April was my last day at Kochel. On 28th early morning, we all said good-bye to each other. In German they say, “auf wiedersehen”. This means “till we meet / see again”. Arun and I packed up my things and left by train to Munich. My brother Arun was staying there as a paying guest with a family.

Bad Kreuznach

We had an invitation from Dr. Peter Gaeffke, a friend of my father. He is a great scholar of Indian philosophy and culture. He had done his Ph. D. in Hindi language as his subject, from Benaras Hindu University. He could speak and write very fluently in Hindi. His wife’s name is Rosemarie and son’s name is Guido. The invitation was to stay with them for a long week-end in their house in Bad Kreuznach.

img021It was a long journey. Train travel was very costly. We came to Munich by train. From the station to the entry of the autobahn we came by bus. City bus service is very cheap. There we stood on the road going to Frankfurt. There were 2/3 other persons also there. They got the lift in 5 -10 minutes. Then after 10 minutes, or so, Arun raised his hand to stop a fast-going car. The car did stop, but a little further up as he was driving fast.  So we ran up to the car. There reaching near the car, we found that he was not alone. There was a big dog on the rear seat!! We asked him if he could take us to Bad Kreuznach or up to Stuttgart (that is half way)? He said he could take us up to Frankfurt. We agreed. It was about 11:00 a.m. By about five in the evening we entered the outskirts of Frankfurt. The road was very good. We passed by/through many towns. We could see old German architecture in many churches and houses. The dog was very quiet throughout the journey.

Frankfurt is a very big important commercial city. There are many big and small industries in this area. It has a big railway station and also a big international airport. We wanted to go to the railway station. This is in the center of the city. It was closing time for offices. So there was very heavy traffic. This city is much more modern, rich and fashionable compared to Munich. Munich and the surrounding parts of Bavaria are agricultural and simple. After observing the people of Frankfurt, the people of Bavaria seemed to be looking like “villagers”. Here we found people were well-dressed, in modern, fashionable style and design. There was a swagger in their personality. We took some refreshment at the station and caught a train. It was only a 40 mile journey. The whole journey from Kochel to Bad Kreuznach was about 400 miles. We traveled by train the first 50 miles and the last 40 miles. We spent only 12 D.M. instead of 50 D.M. for 400 miles!! We reached our host’s house by 8:30 p.m.

img008Dr. Peter Gaeffke, a very scholarly young man, was a senior professor in the University. He was an expert in Hindi language. He was doing research in Hindi grammar. He was writing his comments on Hindi grammar in German language. He and his wife were very very happy that we could visit them. Two years earlier my father had visited them and had stayed with them for a few days. He told us that he was very impressed with my father. He said that Mr. Zaveri was a very knowledgeable person. His knowledge of Indian Philosophy and Indian religions was very exhaustive. He expressed his respect for my father in many ways. He and his wife were very loving and gentle persons. (We recently found out that he passed away in 2005.)

Next morning after breakfast, Mrs. Gaeffke took us to a marketplace for shopping. We purchased rice, vegetables like green peas, cabbage, potatoes and such other things. Then Arun helped her to cook vegetable soup, rice and salad. And there were varieties of breads. We all enjoyed the food very much.

After lunch, Dr. Gaeffke took us in his car for sightseeing. We took a road running parallel to the river Rhine. The river Rhine is Germany’s biggest river. It is a very important means of transportation. The surrounding area is full of industries. The river was full of all sizes of motorboats and steamers. There are autobahns on both sides running parallel to the river. At many points there are facilities to cross over the river by loading the cars on special big flat boats. The whole surrounding area is very beautiful. There are rows of small and big hills on both the sides. There are many castles built upon these hills. Each castle has its own story of small and big kings of Germany. We went up to see one of the castles. That reminded me of the castles I had seen in Maharashtra and Rajasthan. The castles have certain similar basic features. But each one has its different special features.

Thus after a very enjoyable and informative weekend, we returned to Nurnberg. From next day I started my training in “trafowerk”. This transformer factory manufactures large and very large power transformers. These are very huge machines. Therefore the factory buildings are also very big and are equipped with heavy-duty cranes. I was particularly trained in material planning.

Nurnberg

Siemens have hostels for trainees from overseas. There are two separate buildings. One was for single trainees and another for trainees with wives. They were opposite each other across the road. These were near (walking distance) Dr. Schmidt’s residence. There was a facility for breakfast in the main building. But the facility for cooking food was only in the other building. I managed some food for my lunch in the factory canteen. I had to go to some vegetarian restaurant for my evening dinner. At that time there were only two restaurants serving vegetarian food. There were very restricted choices. This problem was discussed in the family before I left Mumbai. The option of Chandra coming to Germany, with or without Ameet, was left open, to be decided later.

From next day my training started. The training schedule was particularly in the area of material accounting, controls over material consumption, and quality control. In spite of my language course at Goethe institute the technical language was a problem. But the people were very co-operative. They would explain every problem with the help of drawings, sketches, flow-charts etc.

Hanover Fair

11I came to know about Hanover Fair in Siemens office. Every year a very big international industrial fair is organized in Hanover, Germany. All big industrial giants take part in this fair. That year it was organized in the month of May. People from all over the world visit this fair. Thousands of visitors come to Hanover. The fair authority and the city authority make excellent arrangements for the visitors. They arrange information and help desks all over the city. All the residents of the city have all the information about lodging and boarding to help visitors. Almost every household offers one or more “bed and breakfast” facility (pension) to visitors at very reasonable rates. Special buses to the fair grounds are put into service.

I stayed there for three days, 5-6-7th May. The climate was very comfortable. I traveled by a night train reaching there early morning. I had made my reservation for a paying guest facility. From the railway station I went to the “pension”. This is not a hotel, but a place with bed and breakfast facility. I took my breakfast and changed into formal clothes. I reached the fair by a bus. First I went to the information office. I noted places of my interest and chalked out my plan.

I suddenly noted that an Indian gentleman was coming towards me. To my utter surprise he was Sharabatmal Bhandari of Jodhpur. This Bhandari family was very well known to our family. Sharabatmal studied in VJTI College in Matunga. This is very near my residence in Matunga. So he used to visit us many times during his stay in VJTI hostel. He was in Germany for his special training in textile machines. We were both very happily surprised to meet, after a few years, in a totally unexpected place!!. I noticed he was carrying a carry-bag besides his briefcase. I was curious to find what he was carrying. But I overruled my curiosity.

In another 15 minutes or so we saw a very tall young Indian. I immediately identified him as Anil Shrivastva. He was also a trainee in Siemens Germany from Siemens India. He was staying in the same hostel in Nuremberg. We knew each other well. He joined us. We three had a great time seeing the fair. At lunch time we entered a small vegetarian café. Here the surprise of the “carry bag “ got disclosed. There were the most beautiful fruits in the world – MANGOES! Sharbatmal had received these mangoes the previous day. We were very lucky to have this surprise.

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Sharbatmal, Anil, Kiran

Sharbatmal left Hanover on Sunday afternoon. Monday afternoon I took a sightseeing tour. I saw some very beautiful palaces, royal gardens, royal opera house and a museum of sculptures. There were many white marble statues in the garden.

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Interlaken

I got news that my father was coming to Europe as the head of a delegation of electrical engineers, representing ISI (Indian Standard Institute) to attend an international conference. He was chairman of ETDC (ELECTRO TECHNICAL DEVELOPMENT COMMITTEE of ISI). The venue of their conference was Interlaken, a beautiful city in the Alps, in Switzerland.  I was so very happy to know this. I planned a weekend program to go to Interlaken. I left on Friday late night reaching there Saturday early morning. I reached the hotel in good time for breakfast. My father introduced me to the members of the delegation. They all welcomed me very happily.

01I got to visit Jungfrau. This is one of the highest peak of Alps mountains. The peak and the surrounding area are permanently covered by snow. They have carved a beautiful ice palace. It was very cold. But luckily there was no wind. This being a favorite tourist place, there were many tourists. The conference management had made arrangement for buses. We went for sightseeing. The surrounding, the scenery, the beauty of the Alps were awesome. I returned Sunday evening. This was a wonderful trip.

It was here in Interlaken that the fate of Chandra and Ameet was decided. I explained to my father as to why it was necessary to have my family with me in Germany. We reexamined the financial angle also.  The decision was made that Chandra would come to Germany with Ameet! My father sent instructions to BBL office to arrange for passport, visa, ticketing and other formalities. The arrival date was 21 July1961. This was a memorable day for me and my family.

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