Letters from Sonja: Uganda in 1958
Testing the aluminium boat.

Letters from Sonja: Uganda in 1958

Sonja gives us a summary of events in her life in 1958.

By Sonja Winklmaier
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First published: August 23, 2005

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In l958 we went on a “Safari” for a couple of days to the “Mountains of the Moon”. Prince Akiiki Nyabongo of Toro had invited us. He was a brother of the Omukama of Toro. He lived in the USA for a number of years. He was a professor there and wrote several books that were also translated into German. Prince Nyabongo and his friend, who was the father of James Bwogi, a Uganda TV personality known as “Jesse James”, were the two first Ugandans to gain a Ph.D. As Prince Nyabongo was just building a house, he had arranged for us to stay with a German doctor in Fort Portal, Dr. Kohl. We took this opportunity to visit the Queen Elizabeth National Park We also went to see the Pygmies in Bundibugyo on the Congo boarder. On the way back we had to pass a very bad forest fire. This was quite scary!

Dr. Kohl (Mrs. Kohl was a doctor too) was working in a catholic mission station at Fort Portal. He had to work under quite simple conditions. For instance he was performing operations by the light of a kerosene lamp. The Kohls also had a little Michael, who was a year younger than Michy. They were very much looking forward to our visit, so that we could exchange the experience with our children.

Testing the aluminium boat.

Hubert now started another hobby. He spent many hard working hours building an aluminium boat. Almost every Sunday Michy and I stayed at home while Hubert was working on the boat. Hubert hoped that the boat would be ready by Easter. Then he would be working on the interior outfit and the engine. The boat had 8 sitting places. The engine, of course, was a VW engine that Hubert built from old surplus parts. After some time, we wanted to sell the boat in order to get some money for Michy’s further operation.

The cars of the 6th Coronation Safari were coming through Uganda. This was the 5th Coronation Safari, since I had arrived in East Africa. Every year this was quite an exciting time. I did not come with Hubert to the workshop anymore, as I used to during previous Coronation Safaris, but stayed at home with Michy. But I was still curious, what the results would be this year.

As my brother showed great interest in coming to Kampala for some years, Hubert talked to his directors about the possibility of employing him at Cooper Motors. First they wanted him to come straight away, but then this “project” dragged on for a very long time and Hubert told me, he would only let me know, once he had Gerd’s air ticket in his pocket. So we did not talk about it anymore.

Round about July of 1958 an article about a dangerous elephant herd in Uganda appeared in a German Magazine and my father asked us about this. The fact was that it was not a “herd” of elephants, but a single elephant that had made some attacks. For instance the VW beetle of a young German and his girlfriend from Nairobi was turned over by this elephant. Without thinking twice, this man had put some pineapple under the car, which the elephant smelled. He went into the car through an open window with his tusks and overturned this car, which was later brought to Cooper Motors Workshop. Fortunately nothing happened to the two, who were sleeping in the car. This elephant also damaged some other VWs.

The same young couple from Nairobi later had another accident. When their VW crossed the Athi River during the rainy season, their car was swept away, turned over and one of the two drowned in the Athi River.

We were already thinking about our next vacation in Germany, when Michy had to have his second operation. We were planning on being in Germany during the months May to July of 1959 and would have liked to travel both ways by sea. Unfortunately the passages were so well booked already, that we could not get one from Mombasa to Europe.

The Lake Victoria Hotel in Entebbe was quite an “institution” during these years. We sometimes went there on Sundays for lunch, which was 7.50 East African Shillings (about 4,00 DM) per person. Children were free. For that price you got:

Hors d’oeuvre (a choice of two)
Main course (also a choice of two)
Cold Buffet – Meats, Salads, Sauces. Etc.
Sweet Buffet – Puddings and Pies of various kinds, Fruit salad, Cake, Fresh Fruit
Coffee, which was served in an upstairs lounge.

One choice of the hors d’oeuvres always was some tilapia, which was my favourite. For the Main course one choice was always was a Madras Curry with lots of accompaniments. That too was my favourite. I have never ever again had a Curry served like at the Lake Vic. And I have never seen such a big buffet as at the Lake Vic although I have been to 5 Star hotels in the meantime.

Entebbe zoo.

After that we often went to the zoo at Entebbe. This was actually part of the Game Department and more a home for wounded or orphaned animals. They had monkeys, gazelles, buffaloes, jackals, crocodiles and whatever was brought to them.

Also a drive through the Botanical Garden was a must. The Entebbe Botanical Garden actually used to be quite famous. One of my cousins, who was a landscape architect, told me about the Entebbe Botanical Garden even before I came to East Africa.

Another treat on a Sunday was a drive through the beautiful Mabira Forest. One of our first German friends was Hermann Meyer, who came to Kampala around the beginning/middle of 1957 as a cotton classifier and worked for Baumann’s. He later got married to a South African girl. We often went to the Mabira forest together. Hermann Meyer had many hobbies and he was a perfectionist. At one point he started collecting orchids. He built himself an orchid shed in his yard and him and his wife Ria cultivated the orchids and became quite famous for their collection. I attach some photos of the orchids, which he took with his Leica camera. One of the orchids was even named after Ria. They invested a lot of time in their orchid collection. Hermann was the “scientist” and Ria did all the manual work.

Uganda Orchids

I got a beautiful leopard skin from Prince Nyabongo. It was uncured, but our friend “Bwana Simama” the taxidermist in Nairobi cured it for us. We had it hanging on the wall for many years. But I have it packed up now, as I am not very keen on dead animals. I much rather like them when they are alive. By the way, Prince Nyabongo wanted to establish contact again with a publishing house in Germany that published his books during the time before WWII. My dad tried to find the address, but was not successful. Many publishing houses disappeared after the war. This one, Paul Leitz, used to be in Munich and Berlin. The books they published for Prince Nyabongo were Children’s books.

Leopard skin from Prince Nyabongo.

In Kampala the cost of living was going up constantly and the value of the EAS decreased. In Germany the “Wirtschaftswunder” took place. We sometimes questioned if we should return to Germany. We however loved the freedom in East Africa and decided to stay.

Trying to make a little garden on Kololo.

I tried to grow a little garden in front of the block of flats. But whatever I planted, some other people living in the building dug up again and put it in their balcony boxes. I very much would have liked to move to a house with a garden.

Dr. Albert Schweitzer.

In November a German couple that had already been travelling in Africa for 15 month came to visit us. They were travelling in a VW and so came to meet Hubert. Dr. Braxmarer was a famous lawyer in Stuttgart. They had been to Lambarene, Gabon, and were married there by Dr. Albert Schweitzer. It was most interesting to listen to their stories. We later met again in Germany, where they had a big farm in the region of Lake Konstanz.

In December we visited the Hohnholt’s in Nairobi, who now had two daughters. On the way back we stopped at the Klausner’s in Kitale. Both these families were among the first people I met after arriving in East Africa.

Hubert had started a mobile VW service in form of a service van that visited outlying regions like for instance Gulu and so on.

Christmas 1958 was very nice. Michy now really enjoyed the festivities, specially the Christmas tree and his presents. To every package that was meant for Michy, I attached a balloon. He loved those balloons so much, that they actually would have been enough as presents for him.

Click here to continue to "Uganda's Independence is Near"

By Sonja Winklmaier
more from author >>
First published: August 23, 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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