Letters from Sonja: The Wedding
Sonja finally meets Hubert and is introduced to the continent of Africa.
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First published: April 28, 2005
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It was September 28th, 1953 and we had arrived in Mombasa.
Since boarding the train to Venice and also on board the ship, I think I had been asked a thousand times about my destination. In those days it was not usual for a young girl to travel all by herself. On the train I first answered that I am going to East Africa. Then came the next question: “Are you a missionary?” I had to decline that. I had to tell the truth, that I was going to East Africa to meet my fiancé to get married there. I never told anybody, however, that I had never seen my fiancé before. Together with the 48 letters, Hubert had sent me very nice pictures of East Africa and pictures of himself. Very proudly, I showed these pictures to a little group of people who were often around me on the boat.
We were all standing together on deck. My stomach all of a sudden felt very funny. I think after having been so brave all the time, I now began to panic. I excused myself and said that I was going downstairs to get my disembarkation papers. I also went to have a really big breakfast. Most people in my situation would have starved, but I, whenever I have a “nervous” stomach, I always have to eat.
Hubert leaving Nairobi for Mombasa. That's how he met me!
Suddenly one from the little group came looking for me and said, “Come up. Your fiancé is waiting for you.” The Swiss lady had recognized Hubert from the pictures I had shown her and she pointed Hubert out to me. I started waving to Hubert and he was waving to me.
Waving to Hubert
Soon I left the boat and at last we met.
We fell in each other’s arms and it was as if we had known each other all our lives. I felt so comfortable, secure and protected from the first moment.
Hubert then told me that he had come to Mombasa together with Karl Hohnholt who I knew from Hubert’s letters. Actually Mr. Hohnholt’s bride should have been travelling together with me, but she had fallen sick and had to follow by plane. She was not yet in East Africa by the time of my arrival. Apparently Hubert was not that brave and had wanted to still bring Mr. Hohnholt along to meet me at the port but they had had an accident that morning. They were staying at the beach house of someone from Nairobi who had left it to Hubert to stay there after my arrival. That morning a kerosene lamp had caught fire. Mr. Hohnholdt had to extinguish the fire while Hubert left to meet me. I was quite glad that this accident had happened that morning and Hubert had come alone.
We drove to the house at Shanzu Beach, where I then met Mr. Hohnholt too. It was all like a dream to me. We came into the house and were greeted by a very exotic fragrance. The servant in the house, who was informed of my coming, had decorated the sitting room with beautiful frangipani flowers, arranged in various bowls, blossom next to blossom without any stems. It was infatuating! Then there was the ocean right in front of the door. What a sight! The first time I had ever seen the ocean in my life was on this voyage and the beach in Mombasa was completely beyond my imagination.
We had lunch in a nearby little English hotel where I got my first negative impression. The table was laid out perfect at first sight, but when I opened the starched napkin it was full of holes. Later we went sightseeing to Mombasa where we had coffee there at another hotel. On the veranda were big leather armchairs that looked very comfortable. When I sat down, I almost landed on the floor, as the springs were broken. These things were strange to me, but I did not care too much, because everything else was so exciting.
At the beach in Mombasa before mass tourism.
We went swimming in the ocean and Hubert and I went for walks along the beach. We discussed very serious topics about our future life. This was a very good idea of Hubert, because that way, by the time we got married, we really knew each other inside out. Hubert had already asked me in one of his early letters, whether I liked children. Later came the question, if I would like to have a family with children. I could not even think of a family without children. Now he asked what would happen if for some reason or other we could not have children. We agreed that we would adopt children. When you are young you don’t really think that such a problem could arise. One takes everything for granted. Hubert was eleven years older than myself and more mature. I was grateful that Hubert discussed that problem with me and that we had discussed a solution.
The next day Mr. Hohnholt told us that he had invited two of his business partners for dinner. He expected me to fix the dinner. I could not really cook yet and the cookery book I brought with me was in one of the two wooden boxes that were on their way to Nairobi by rail. Anyway, Hubert took me shopping. I only knew school English, which in those days was not very practical, as we mainly read English history texts that where not very useful when you wanted to buy something to eat. But Hubert could help me. Back at the beach I found out that I was expected to cook on a kerosene stove. I had never seen such a thing before. I did not even know, that something like this existed.
The two Gentlemen came. They were Muslims, which drove me to bombard them with all kinds of questions (speaking with hands and feet and with Hubert’s help). The fact that Muslims could have four wives, for instance, bothered me since my school days, although at that time I did not even know what that really meant. They very patiently answered my questions very slowly, so that I could somehow follow them. The food was ready to be eaten and luckily nobody complained. I thought they were extremely polite. When they had left I considered it a nice and very interesting evening. But only until some other “visitors” arrived.
They were an English couple with two small children. The owner of the house had promised them that they could spend their vacation in the same house. Someone must have made a mistake somewhere! We could not send the poor people away. As there were only two bedrooms in the house, we decided that I vacate my room and move in with Hubert and Mr. Hohnholt. Imagine in what a situation I found myself! There were three beds in the room. So I went to bed first and by the time the two men followed I was fast asleep. That was all a bit much for me and I certainly was very, very tired.
Due to the mix-up the arrival of the English family caused, we did not stay in Mombasa much longer, but went on our way to Nairobi via Tanganyika, the former German East Africa and now Tanzania.
On our way we spent the night at a hotel, I think in Namanga. When I had a shower, the water came out of the tap in the colour of black coffee, maybe not quite, but surely far from clear. Regardless, it was water, and I had my shower.Later in the dining room I got another surprise. They served a very delicious dessert in a hollowed out pineapple. Again something new.
We went to Lushoto, were the former German Kaiser at one time had a residence. The mountainous road there was a very good one and I was told that this road was still in the original condition as the Germans built it. We stayed in Soni with some people, Hubert knew. Hubert wanted to introduce me to some Germans, who already were there before the war. This was an interesting visit for me. In Soni even the Africans were speaking German. While travelling in this region we also heard German music from a gramophone in an African house: “Du, Du liegst mir am Herzen”.
At long last we were on our way to Nairobi, to my new home.
On the way home - I think it was still in Tanganyika, Hubert said, “Now we have to drive slow, as most of the time there are giraffes around here”. You won’t believe it, but as soon as we taken the next bend, there they were in the middle of the road. Hubert told me, that just recently a tragic accident had happened, when an Asian hit a giraffe. The whole family was killed.
In Nairobi Hubert had rented a very nice house and shared it with a young man from Germany, Gustl Hofmann. Hubert knew him from Munich and he was the first German mechanic to come to Hubert’s assistance. In the “guest house”, which was actually a mud and wattle hut with a thatched roof, lived a Swiss couple that were quite well known journalists in those days.
We did not stay in Nairobi very long, but went on to Kitale, where an elderly couple had a very nice farm. He was a German who had fought with General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, and she was from Denmark. Hubert wanted to show me something of the country and he also wanted to introduce me to these people.
The farmhouse had a beautiful thatched roof. The Klausners had actually built the farmhouse with their own hands. It was a simple structure but it had a great atmosphere. The house was kept very well. Mrs. Klausner was constantly painting inside and outside the house. Everything was so spick and span. I also saw some English farmhouses there, which were all very much run down. We had a wonderful stay with the Klausners before we finally returned to Nairobi.
In Nairobi we eventually were married on November 10th, 1953.
Pictures from the "Polterabend".
The evening before our wedding day we had a “Polterabend”. A “Polterabend” is a very happy event. It is the custom to break lots of pottery during the “Polterabend”, as broken pieces are supposed to bring good luck. Scherben bringen Glueck! We celebrated that evening together with the Hohnholts, the Leuenbergers (the Swiss journalists), Gustl Hofmann and my two helpers in the house and gardener, Juma, a Luo from Kisumu, and Mwinzi, a Kamba from Machakos. Quite a number of my collection of the little flower vases I had brought from Germany, were broken that evening, but it certainly did bring good luck!
Before entering the DC's office for the wedding.
The wedding at the District Commissioner’s office in Nairobi was very simple. It was a double wedding together with the Hohnholts. When we came out of the DC’s office we had to pass a group of Mau Mau, who had been taken prisoners. I certainly will never forget that. We have a saying in Germany: “Des einen Freud’ - des anderen Leid” That means: What is the joy for one person is the sorrow for another. It was the DC’s office that brought us joy, but it also brought sorrow for these men.
The wedding took place on a Tuesday and on the following Saturday the people, for whom I would have worked as a nanny, gave a wedding reception for us. There were not many people we could invite, as Hubert was only the 4th German who was allowed to enter Kenya after World War II, but the German Consul General and his wife, who came to Nairobi after Hubert, were amongst our guests. At that time there was only a German Consulate General in Nairobi, not an Embassy. We were the first two German couples to be married in Nairobi after the war. The reception was a very befitting occasion.
We could not have wished for anything better.
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First published: April 28, 2005