We lived on the fifth floor. The short widow of a civil servant lived on the fourth floor with two musical daughters and a boarder. At that time, when apartments were fairly large and wages rather small, many families had a boarder whose rent supplemented their income.
On the third floor – i.e., already on the fancier floors – lived the Hamburger family. Mrs. Hamburger occasionally gave me homemade matzah. Even though I have not eaten any since then, I still know to this day how it tastes and looks.
The first floor was home to the Geissler family. They had a metal shop in the building at the rear. Mrs. Geissler often took me along to her garden at the Ludwig Canal. She grew carnations whose scent remains with me after eighty years. She put carnations in all my buttonholes and on my Tyrolean hat, and thus adorned I proudly marched home. As you can see, I was spoiled by all the women of the house. It was a peaceful, friendly time.
My father steered me early on toward technology. At age five-and-a-half I owned a small steam engine and a train set, which was pulled by a real engine powered by ethyl alcohol.
The great dream for boys, small and adolescent boys, around 1910 was airplane building. Many were thinking of constructing an airplane, just as we did in the rear courtyard of Schweinauer Straße. Models were provided by the picture series that came with Liebig’s Meat Extract. These were eagerly studied. You had to decide which type of airplane [to build], the Blériot or the Farman biplane. In the meantime, we built the cabin seat from half a barrel lid and various planks of wood that were lying about the yard. It was important that the cabin piece be nicely painted, now blue, then red again. We got the paint from the barrels of a paint store located in the courtyard.
The practical basis for this enthusiasm about flight was the aviation week held that summer on the parade-ground next to the Schweinau barracks. The light flying machines barely flew higher than the rooftops as they came in over our heads for landing. One name has stuck firmly in my memory: that of the pilot Hirth, who performed the long-distance flight from Munich to Berlin a year later.
The memory of that time is hidden as though in patches of fog. It is only here and there that fragments of recollection appear in my mind, often unconnected to a fixed time. It must have also been in the summer of 1910 that I was at the great fair on Ludwigsfeld with my father.