Letters from Sonja: The Adventure Begins
This actually shows the M/V Africa,
but the Africa is identical with the Europa, on which I travelled.

Letters from Sonja: The Adventure Begins


Part three of "Letters from Sonja", starts in Venice where Sonja begins her journey through the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea, through the Gulf of Aden and into the Indian Ocean. She is on her way to meet Hubert for the first time in Mombasa, Kenya.

By Sonja Winklmaier
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First published: April 15, 2005


Click Here: Previously on "Letters from Sonja"


On September 15th, 1953 I arrived in Venice and went to the hotel I was booked in.

In the hotel, I found out that there was neither a bathtub nor shower. That was nothing unusual in those days, even in a good hotel, as this one was. Instead, apart from a washbasin, there was, however, a wrought iron stand with a tiny bathtub on it in the shape of a foot. Just one foot fitted in for washing. I had never seen something like that before and not afterwards.

Later I did a bit of sightseeing and went to St. Mark’s Square, where I watched the famous pigeons, until one of them dropped something on my head. I was remembering my after World War II schooldays. We had to write an essay about the theme: “What I wish for most”. Erika, a girl sitting next to me, wrote that her greatest wish is to one day have a honeymoon in Venice. I did not dream of such great things, but now I was in Venice. Just so that you get a picture of the times I grew up in, I will also tell you what my friend Inge wished for. She wished that she would one day own an umbrella. I gave her my umbrella before I left for Africa. Funny enough I cannot remember what I wished for, but probably that I one day would have enough to eat or that I don’t have to live through another war in my life. Maybe I did not get a good mark for my essay and my brain just blended out the whole thing, as normally bad memories disappear and the good ones stay. I don’t know - I just cannot remember.


Venice Basilica S. Marco with the pigeons
Postcard from Venice:
Ediz. Ardo Venezia - Rip. Vietata - Vera Fotografia - Fotocelere - Torino

No need to say that Venice is a very worthwhile city to visit.

At the dinner table in the hotel I was seated together with an elderly German gentleman, who was an art historian. He offered to show me Venice the next day. Unfortunately I had to decline that very interesting offer, as next morning I had to proceed to the shipping company, Lloyd Triestino, and get ready for embarkation. In order to get there I had to use a gondola, which also was a new experience for me. It was not as romantic as always told. For me it was simply a means of transportation.

Everything went well. I boarded the M/V Europa that had a length of 518 feet, a speed of 20 knots and accommodation for 446 passengers in two classes, First and Tourist. In those days this was a very modern and luxurious liner. From the details I have just mentioned, you can see that these days, far bigger ships are in use.

I remember there was this young man boarding. He was “extremely clever” and had put his passport in a suitcase, which was now in the hold. So things did not go too well for him. They had to find the suitcase.

I wrote home my first letter on September 17th, 1953 between Venice and Brindisi, which lies in the very south, at the heel of Italy, and was our last stop in Europe:

On board the Europa everything is just wonderful. The water, the blue sky, the unbelievable nice weather, the many different languages and people are overwhelming. I feel splendid! I get so many new impressions. It is difficult to digest this all by myself.

I am sharing my cabin with two young English girls (about my age) and one of German origin. All three of them are from South Africa. They have been in London for the Coronation of the Queen.

I wrote my second letter on September 18th along the coast of Greece:

Brindisi is a small seaport. We did not see much there, but what did see is the South of Europe: Palm trees, houses falling to pieces, beggars, coach men who try very hard to convince you that you absolutely have to take a ride in their horse drawn carriage, pure sunshine and blue sky and the ocean.

We now pass the coast of Greece. It will be September 19th, when we can go ashore in Port Said.

Today the Germans are considered the “world champions” as far as traveling is concerned. This certainly was not the case back in 1953. Only after the DM (Deutche Mark or German Mark) came into use on June 20th, 1948, could people in Germany get enough to eat again. Before the "Waehrungsreform", which was the change from the Reichsmark to the DM, the shops were all completely empty. You could not get anything to buy, even if you had a ration ticket. And then the next morning the shops were all filled with everything, even luxury goods. All these goods had been kept back before and the prices went up straight away. The problem was, that every person in Germany only got 40,00 DM to start with. This could barely pay a month's cheap rent. After all those years of starvation etc. there was a need for so many things, that were far more important than traveling. In fact I was the only person holding a German passport on board the ship. There were, however, quite a number of German speaking people.

I was seated in the dining room at a table together with a variety of people. Amongst these was a young man from Zurich (about 19 to 20 years of age), who was going to South Africa to take up work there. He was a specialist making wooden shapes for hats. There was another young man from Zurich, who was going to S.A. to work for an English company as a mechanic. Both of these young men where well educated and pleasant. I mention this, because in later years a very different kind of people went to live and work in South Africa. Also at the table was a friendly lady from Zurich, about 40 to 45 years of age who was going to S.A. to visit her girlfriend and wanted to stay there for 6 months. Then there were two German-speaking ladies from South Africa. They were both born in S.A. and had just been to Germany for the first time. They were about 30 to 35 years old. One was a teacher and the daughter of a missionary. The other one was the daughter of a farmer. Both came from Natal. I liked them and they were good company and told me a lot about their life in S.A.


Port Said, Egypt.
Photo and Copyright by Lehnert & Landrock Succ., Cairo

My letter of September 20th, 1953 written between Port Said and Aden:

Splendid, splendid, splendid, that’s all I can say. We were in Port Said during the night until 1 o’clock in the morning. I really loved it there. Everything was lit up. It looked like the Arabian Nights to me. The Arabs (Egyptians) realized very quickly, from my appearance only, that I am a German. Already when I got my passport stamped, the two Arabs there said: “Oh, Sie Germanin! Deutsche! Hallo, wie geht’s. We love Germany.” I could hear such comments the whole evening and was very surprised at how many of them had a rather good idea of the German language.

Suddenly some Arabs in their long white “nightgowns” called, “Hallo Sonja! Stop!” I wondered what had happened. I turned around and saw the two English girls from my cabin following me and waving. The two girls had asked them to call my name and make me stop, as there were so many people and there was still quite a distance between us.

“Sonja, you have got roses, many roses, we put them into water for you,” one of the girls said

To welcome me in the first African port Hubert has sent me those roses. They completely filled our washbasin. This was such a surprise! It made me so happy.

After that we passed through the Suez Canal, the Red Sea, came to Aden, through the Gulf of Aden and eventually into the Indian Ocean, along the coast of Somalia and then to Mombasa.


Aden (This is a very historic photo. Aden is now South Yemen. We once had two young probationers from the Yemen in our office. They told me, that there is now a bar. What a shame!)

Steamer Point Aden.
Photo and Copyright by Lehnert & Landrock Succ., Cairo

In Aden, like before in Port Said, many Arab traders came on board the ship and in no time transformed the deck into an oriental bazaar. Their way of bargaining was so interesting to watch. The whole atmosphere was so different from what I so far knew.

Everything was so full of live!

I also saw a tiny boat on which an Arab rolled out a carpet and knelt down for his prayers. An impression I never forgot.

The whole voyage was one great and pleasant excitement.

Click here to continue to "The Wedding"

By Sonja Winklmaier
more from author >>
First published: April 15, 2005
Sonja Winklmaier moved to Uganda in the 1950s to follow her husband, Hubert Winklmaier, as the German Volkswagen Factory sent him to work with their agent, Cooper Motor Corporation.

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