Letters from Sonja: Leaving Stuttgart for East Africa
In part two of "Letters from Sonja", Sonja 'meets' Hubert and breaks the news that she is leaving to meet her husband-to-be in Kenya.
more from author >>
First published: April 06, 2005
Click Here: Previously on "Letters from Sonja"
It was the year 1952 in Stuttgart, Germany.
My mother had died in January 1951.
My brother, Gerd, who is nine years younger than I am, was 11 years old, when our mother died. It was obvious that my father needed a wife again and my brother a stepmother. When my father found a new wife, I decided to move away from home and rented myself a furnished room. In those days one came of age at twenty-one.
I had a good job working as a secretary at the time. One day, a school friend, Inge, who was a year older than me, came and told me that she had quit her job. So I offered to ask my boss to employ her knowing that he needed the help. That worked out well and from then on Inge and I were working in the same office. Every day we had lunch at a certain restaurant. Many other people from nearby offices came there to have their lunch. We would sit at tables in an adjoining room to the main restaurant room. Inge and myself were soon known as the “book club”, as we used our lunch break for reading. There were two other ladies who tried to talk to us, but they only succeeded when Inge went on vacation. So when she came back I had to tell her that we now had contact to these two ladies.
Sonja Winklmaier in the 1950s.
One day one of them, Anne, told me that she had great news for me. I was most surprised and was wondering what kind of news this could be. Instead of telling me, she asked me if I had a boyfriend. I answered, “If you don’t mind, yes”. She did not want to tell me the news anymore, but the two of us squeezed her until she told us.
The fact was, that the best friend of her husband had been working in Nairobi since April 1952. He felt very lonely and had asked her husband to find him a wife. She had agreed to help and she thought that I would be the perfect match.
Well, young as we were, we giggled like teenagers. She wanted to invite me to her home and meet her husband. Anne had often talked about her very good-looking husband. Inge teased me and said that I better go there to have a look at this wonderful husband of Anne. It was probably around November when I gave in and met Albert. He certainly was a very good-looking man. When telling this story to my husband, I would say: “the stupid girl thought there would be a second edition of Albert in Nairobi”. In fact this couple were a very pleasant couple. I really began liking them, but there was no more talk about going to Kenya and marrying Albert’s friend.
For Christmas that year, and New Year’s, I went on a skiing vacation with my then boyfriend Eugen to the Little Walsertal in Austria. I must say, that in those days the word “boyfriend” was more a good friend than anything else, and the German language does not even know the word “boyfriend”, but just friend. When I returned home to my furnished room a letter from East Africa was waiting for me. This was the very first letter from my future husband Hubert. It was actually a short letter plus a photograph taken at Munich Airport in Germany before his departure for Africa. From this short letter I could see, that he was really a good letter writer.
In those days it was almost impossible for a German to come to East Africa. So he tried different things to make it possible for me to come to Africa. One was the idea, that I should come and work for a very rich young German couple, as a nanny for their baby. He was from Tanganyika and his wife was a converted polish Jew. The mother of the man insisted, that they get a German catholic girl to take care of their baby. At this point I told Eugen. He was not very happy, but was sure, that by Christmas I would be back home again. I told him that I did not think so, but he would not believe me. This idea of the nanny, however, did not work with the Immigration Office.
Very soon Hubert asked me to visit his parents in Munich. I also got an invitation from Munich. So I had to tell my father which turned out to be a real catastrophe! My father thought I had gone mad. He asked me, if I had ever heard of white slavery. When I told my father about the very nice letters Hubert was writing to me, he did not want to hear about it and just told me: “Paper is patient”. I, however, was very sure of myself after only a few letters, and I would not listen to my father.
So I went to Munich one Sunday. This was the most difficult thing for me to do. Imagine, I ring the doorbell and then tell this couple, that I am the one who wants to marry their son. Impossible! To my surprise things turned out to be easier than what I had imagined. My future in-laws received me in a very nice way. We talked for a while then my future father-in-law, who was the same age as I am now, took me by the hand and he took me sightseeing in Munich. This was my very first visit to Munich and it was so interesting. He left me the impression that he knew everything about Munich. When it was time for lunch, we went back home and I was really spoiled that day.
Hubert with his mother and father at Munich Airport before his departure.
They seemed to like me and I liked them. Only later they told me, that they had inquired about me and had for instance given a sample of my handwriting to a graphologist of the law-court for an analysis. Fortunately this turned out well for me! I could quite understand this, as they had the same problem my family was having. One wants to know who comes into one’s family!
One day there was a newspaper article with a photo that I read on the way to work. It said that the Mau Mau had shot at a car of a European a few miles outside of Nairobi. I asked Hubert about the incidence. He was annoyed about the article and told me, that the photo was a photo he had taken of the car that had just won the Cape-Cairo Rally. The driver of the car had asked if he could have the photo and Hubert had given it to him. A journalist, who was with the driver then, posted that article in the newspaper with Hubert’s photograph. Hubert said, that everybody who looks at the picture properly, could see, that the dents could not have come from a bullet, as the metal of the mudguard was dented from the inside outwards.
I was satisfied but, without my knowledge, Hubert wrote a letter to the owner of the car, who was a Goldsmith in Frankfurt. One evening when I came home there was a big brown envelope, without the name of the sender, waiting for me. I opened it, and as there was a breeze coming into the room, the contents of the envelope flew under my bed. When I got a broom to get at them, it showed, that it was many, many notes with the words “murder” or “criminal” etc. They were underlined in red. I did not know what to think about that. It frightened me. The following morning I took the envelope to the office and my boss immediately contacted the criminal police. They started an investigation. Some time later I received another letter, this time with the sender’s name. It was that rally driver, who got Hubert’s letter. He wanted to convince me, that more criminal actions take place in Germany than in Mau Mau Kenya. What a way of doing that!! So my boss called the police again.
We exchanged letter after letter. After I had received the 48th letter, dated September 8th, everything was clear with Immigration. I could travel to Kenya, but had to be married within a certain time, or I would have had to leave the British Crown Colony again.
Hubert also sent me a tape recording, so that I could hear his voice. He had also contacted my father on May 18th to congratulate him on his wedding. My father was married in May 1953. He made a very good choice. His wife was a good mother to my younger brother and later a very good grandmother to our children. I must be quite honest; I could not accept her straight away as a mother, as I used to be very close to my real mother. But during the years she became my mother too. We all loved her.
On June 23rd, Hubert officially asked my father for his consent to marry me. My father at long last agreed, although it was hard for him to let his only daughter go to a strange country to marry a strange man. I once saw the letter he wrote warning Hubert that I am a very independent person and that it would not be easy for him to handle me.
I had told my boss a while ago about my plans. He too, was not very happy. I think I never told him that I did not even know my future husband in person. He said that if there were the slightest reason that I did not like it in Africa, he would very quickly send me a ticket to come back home.
There was little time left. I worked until September 12th. This was a Saturday and my friend Eugen met me after work and we had lunch together. He gave me a very nice bracelet as a farewell present. He finally escorted me to the train that was to take me to Reichenbach were my family now lived. I don’t know if anybody can understand how hard this farewell was for me. Eugen was a very dear friend and I did not want to hurt him. It was just the way life played. I was crying in the train from Stuttgart to Reichenbach. (Eugen and I are still friends till this day.)
On September 13th I left Reichenbach together with my parents and my brother for Munich. At least they met my new family before I left for good. We all had a very nice day together in Munich and on Monday, September 14th I left Munich by train for Venice, Italy where I was going to embark the ship for Mombasa.
more from author >>
First published: April 06, 2005