Archive | Irmgard Maria Rexroth-Kern RSS feed for this section

Irmgard Kern, H.G. Rexroth, and Thomas Wolfe

19 Nov

 

[Several months ago, Irmgard Kern’s son Vincent Rexroth, who is an architect in Heidelberg, sent me by email attachment a few items that he had found in boxes of his mother’s things.  One of the items was the first four weatherbeaten pages of a typescript that Fr. Kern had written in about 1952, recounting her memories of meeting and interviewing the American writer Thomas Wolfe. I was thrilled to see this previously unknown document. She had told me this story in bits and pieces when I knew her in Darmstadt in 1974.  Unfortunately, Herr Rexroth was not able to find the last page of the typescript; he promised to keep looking for it.  But what a find! I have now contacted the people at the University of North Carolina’s Wilson Library, where Wolfe’s papers are housed.  Meanwhile, I have translated the text of these pages. What a colorful depiction of a larger-than-life figure of American literature. This is the first time anyone other than three people have seen this description of a remarkable episode in the author’s life. ]

 

[The final page of Kern’s typescript has unfortunately been lost.]

 

It was late summer 1936. All of the cultural columns in the newspapers were reporting that the American writer Thomas Wolfe was in Berlin and could be reached through his German publisher Rowohlt. The DAZ (Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung) contracted me to request an interview with Wolfe and after the interview to write about his person, his plans, his working methods. I arranged with Heinz Ledig-Rowohlt–whose reminiscences about Wolfe had just appeared in the Berlin paper Der Monat–that Wolfe and Ledig should come to our house for tea at 4:30 on Tuesday.

We lived at that time in a small furnished apartment in the house of the elderly, vivacious Berlin painter Julie Wolfthorn and her sister, the sensitive and quiet Luise Wolf, well known then as a translator and lecturer. The little house sat hidden between tall stony apartment blocks, set far back in one of the forgotten gardens of Berlin West, between grassy lawns and grottoes, under old trees:  gardens that only natives behind the facades of the Kurfuerstenstrasse and Kurfuerstendamm and other old West End streets knew about.

My husband and I lived the life of so many other freelance literati of the time, with much unrest, lots of guests (very little money), intermittent work, tons of worries: bearing some vague hope for our personal future yet overshadowed  by the very definite hopelessness in relation to the overall future. What indefinite kind of confidence we harbored was probably nothing more than the private dream that we, like so many others in these years, had to dream in order to survive.

“Be sure to make it look nice, and remember that this Wolfe is already a famous man, used to the good life. One also says that he has an enormous appetite.” My husband H.G. Rexroth said something along these lines, and so I went to the shops on Nollendorfplatz and Woyrschstrasse and bought the very best cakes and confections that could be found. It was difficult to buy things, but the tea table looked unusually enticing and rich. At 4:30 Rexroth and I sat in anticipation of our guests. Then it was five; we continued to wait. Then it was 5:30–we drank the first cup of tea ourselves. At six the doorbell rang; it was the postman with a telegram. Unexpectedly Wolfe had been given a ticket to the Olympic Games, and he didn’t want to pass up the opportunity. We rescheduled the appointment for the next evening at 8:30. Greetings from Ledig, read the telegram.  Rex and I drank up all the tea after that.

The next evening I had to meet a Chinese friend who I had met while studying in the USA. She had unexpectedly appeared in Berlin. She was a professor of “hygiene”, come to study the athletic facilities at the Olympic games. “Be sure to come back home on time,” my husband warned. “You know that Thomas Wolfe is coming at 8:30.” When I returned at quarter to nine, no one had yet appeared. The food on the table, which we had with our limited means kept over from the day before, was cold. 9:15 came and went, then 9:30. The doorbell rang. Again it was the postman, this time with a message that a prepaid telephone call was waiting at the next post office. I made my way over there, to a building about 15 minutes away. I dialed the number on the message; after a few minutes I heard music, and then there was Ledig’s voice on the phone. “ We’re coming, we’re coming, I promise. But something terrible has happened: Thomas Wolfe is sitting here with me. He has had way too much wine. But here’s the terrible part: a beautiful young woman has appeared at the next table, and he has chatted her up. We will certainly have to entertain her for quite a while. We’ll be there in about 45 minutes.”

So my husband and I went for a walk under the trees of the Kurfuerstenstrasse. The light from the street lamps fell onto the leaves that were already turning yellow; a few of them fell onto the pavement, as we spoke about the perils that the lives of famous men seemed to involve. Olympic tickets, wine, and strange beautiful women. Then Rexroth went home, and I wandered for a while back and forth on our street. It began to rain.  A little before 11 a taxi came up the empty street, stopped on the wet asphalt. I was standing on the other side of the street, when the following picture presented itself:

Small, nimble, yet a bit wobbly on his feet, the figure of Heinz Ledig climbed out of the left side of the car. He mumbled something to the driver then paid him with deliberate drunken care. While this was going on, from the other side of the car a formless shadow appeared to extricate itself, a shadow that grew and grew and then took a few mincing steps. The two of them joined up in front of the car and, still carefully trying to maintain their balance, tried to make their way to our house door, while I, chuckling under my breath, followed.  An unforgettable scene now unfolded before me: these two happy-go-lucky brothers, attempting to coordinate their staggering steps by holding on to each other’s arms while their unequal upper bodies darted left and right, as if a wedge were trying to balance on its point.

I caught up with the two of them just inside the enormous archway that led through the apartment block and into the idyllic garden. With an obsequiousness meant to make up for their extreme lateness, Ledig now introduced the gigantic shadow, who from his lofty height smiled down at me. Then all three of us walked across the rainy pathway through the garden.

The condition of the two started to affect me with its unbelievable mirth. Wolfe’s soulful helplessness, which he stammeringly tried to explain, seemed something like an ironic plea addressed to the whole, great, vast inexhaustible world not to take it so seriously. There was nothing better in the world than wine, lots of wine, and then serendipitously to discover a lovely girl! Who cared about work or an appointment for an interview? While he kept stammering trying to make these points, his dark eyes kept making side glances toward me. But I kept thinking as we climbed up the stairs, “Oh, how Rexroth will be pleased, he’s really going to like these two!”

As I opened the door to our living room, something nearly imperceptible happened which I nonetheless will never forget:  my husband had sat down on the sofa on the furthest wall of the room across from the door. Upon hearing the commotion in the vestibule, he had expectantly turned his strikingly flashing eyes toward the entrance, and at the height at which one would expect to catch the eye of someone of normal height. The door opened–and his glance met Wolfe’s vest button! It was for me an unforgettable moment, as Rexroth’s astonished eyes climbed higher and higher, wandering ever higher, until finally, shortly before the top of the door frame, he reached the face of this extremely tall poet. Only then did Rex understand and stood up.

We had a joyful, wide-ranging discussion that evening (although not a word about literature or even about his own work!). In the glow of the lamplight, Thomas Wolfe, with his heavy head and disheveled hair falling in all directions, and now after drinking tea almost completely sobered up, spoke very little.   I had the impression that he was under some kind of internal urgency which forced him to observe everything very quickly. Nothing escaped him. It was as if his eyes were lurking behind a visor. Without one noticing, he took in with extreme acuity the small things in his purview, the tiniest gesture around him.  His ears seemed to pick up the smallest sound…Nonetheless he was not completely there. That took a while. Then suddenly with a start he came alive to the uttermost expanse of his vision. His eyes–a deep brown color with bits of amber colored sparks–widened, and he began to speak. Sometimes in English, sometimes in German, he stumbled along, then his speech resolved itself, lost the contours of the words and became mere sounds. Then he would start again, expand an impression, come up with a particularly witty word. We also had some wine, and began drinking some. We felt uplifted and comradly.  The discussion of literature was postponed until the next afternoon at a restaurant.

There was another surprise on this evening: I showed Wolfe a book that a friend had sent me, certainly the only copy available in Germany of “Cabins in the Laurel”. It was a collective study from the University of North Carolina about the poor inhabitants of the so-called highlands of this state. Wolfe grabbed the book from me with a shout. He held it against his enormous chest, stroked it, twirled around with it a few times, then finally sat down. He pounded on it with his powerful flat hand and cried “There it is inside, there is her name! See it?” And indeed, there it was:  The Pentlands. His mother’s family’s name. He was overwhelmingly excited about it, as if only this study, and not the books he had written, had made his family well known. He borrowed this book, and later I was told that for the next three days he carried it under his arm everywhere he went in Berlin.

At noon the following day I sat with Wolfe in a restaurant on Nollendorfplatz, and he conjured up many enlightening [illegible–ed.] and distressing details about his ideas and the efforts as well as the myths about his work. A few days later my husband didn’t show up for lunch as he had planned. He didn’t show up in the afternoon, either, nor in the evening. Just as I was getting worried that something had happened to him, about 11 at night, he finally appeared. “Guess who I met today?” he said. I rattled off several names. “Nope, not any of those people!” he cried, as if they were totally insignificant. “I met Thomas Wolfe! We talked about literature…..”

[last page missing–ed.]

The word from everyone is that this sounds a lot like Wolfe!  I am now incorporating his writing about his time in Berlin in 1936 into my chapter on Fr. Kern. This turned out to be his last visit to the city he loved. He died of tuberculosis in 1938.

Frau Kern, part II: Germany and the War

25 Jun
book burning 1933

Book burning, Berlin, 1933.

berlin_antinazirally_1932_aNbjDwP

Anti-Nazi rally, Berlin, 1932.

potsdamer-platz-berlin-1932

Potsdamer Platz, Berlin, 1933.

(While I am still acquiring more information about this period of Fr. Kern’s life, and hoping for photos to arrive from her son, I wanted to get all of this down before I travelled to Europe, where I might be able to carry out more research on all of my German women. So there will be updates!)

When I knew Frau Kern in Darmstadt in 1974, she was living in modest circumstances with her beloved Airedale (whose name I have forgotten–he was a lovely friendly dog). But she was still active on several fronts, writing essays and organizing the Erbach English Language Club ( Erbach is a town in the Odenwald not far from Darmstadt). I remember giving a talk there for the group, and enjoying watching her speak and moderate the discussion with great gusto. Many times she told me stories about her past, and especially the fraught years after she returned from Wellesley, and met her husband. Now as I try to retrieve some of the threads of our conversation, I am finding some information, but there are lots of gaps in what I can reconstruct and remember. I hope this writing might prompt others who remember her to write with information, corrections, and additions.

Irmgard Kern returned to Berlin in in the summer of 1930, but at some point ended up in Frankfurt, where she finally received her Ph.D. in philosophy from the university there in 1935. The topic of her thesis was Shaftesbury’s vision of man (it was published by Quakenbrück during the war, in 1943).  No doubt it was at the University of Frankfurt that she met her husband, Hermann-Georg Rexroth (1907-1944). Rexroth was born in Frankfurt and also studied at, but did not graduate from, the University; his surname has strong links to Erbach and the Odenwald, where Irmgard later established the English Language Club. When searching for her “Autobiografie eines jungen Mädchens” in the Frankfurter Zeitung, I found an article by Rexroth published there in 1932, so perhaps they were already working together as writers by this time.  In any case, by 1936 they were married, and living in Berlin.

rexroth_3_stundenglas

Irmgard told me great stories about him and their time together: he was a promising writer who published several well-received books, chiefly with H. Goverts Verlag. (Eugen Claassen, one of the founders of the press, later described Rexroth as “wirr, aber nett”:  confused, but nice.) The two of them, Irmgard and “H.G.” Rexroth, as he was known in his writings, were enjoying active writers’ lives in Berlin, and knew many of the major literary figures in Germany during this tumultuous time. In Darmstadt in 1974, she recounted to me how they had together met the American author Thomas Wolfe, along with his German publisher Ernst Rowohlt, when he visited Berlin.

1-thomas-wolfe-1900-1938-granger

Thomas Wolfe in Berlin, 1935.

rowohlt&others_image004

Ernst Rowohlt (middle) with FZ editors, 1941.

Wolfe was very tall and Rowohlt was very short, and the two of them came to the Rexroth house at some time (probably 1935 when Wolfe was known to be in Berlin); Irmgard had an amusing photo of the two of these “Mutt and Jeff”  characters together. Irmgard’s son remembers that she told him she interviewed Wolfe at that time.

But these were anxious, horrible years in Germany, as Hitler’s forces began their campaigns of aggression, disenfranchisement and censorship. It was not a good time to be an aspiring, apolitical writer or artist of any kind.  I say “apolitical” to stress that many artists and writers of the time, including Rexroth, were neither Nazis nor radicals, but ordinary people who had wanted to live an ordinary life filled with culture and art. In 1940, H.G.’s first novel, Das Stundenglas, appeared in 1940 (its second edition was renamed Junge und alte Liebe). The publication year was inauspicious: very soon after this happy event, their life together effectively came to an end, as Rexroth was called up to military service. Irmgard still remembered waving goodbye to him, she told me, as he went off to the front as a war correspondent with his comrades. In the field, H.G. wrote his best and most bleakly realistic book, recounting the horrors of war on the Eastern Front, Der Wermutstrauch (The Wormwood Bush). He had completed the text by 1943, and sent it to the publisher–or, most likely,had been able to come back to Berlin briefly from the Front. In any case, because of the wartime shortages in paper and the pressures of wartime censorship, the publisher Goverts was unable to publish the book until later in that year.

And now the story takes that tragic turn that the times made nearly inevitable:  first their apartment was destroyed by a bomb in November 1943. By this time Irmgard and H.G. had, according to a letter she wrote to a publisher, suffered a “seriously demoralizing crisis in their marriage” (to translate from Horst Denkler’s Werkruinen, Lebenstrümmer: Untersuchungen zur deutschen Literaturgeschichte, DeGruyter 2006). On September 8, 1944, Hermann-Georg Rexroth fell on the front somewhere between La Spezia and Genoa in Italy, leaving his pregnant wife behind. In the chaos of wartime Berlin, already being bombed, Irmgard evacuated to the countryside, to Sangerhausen in Thüringen, where her son Vincent was born. According to the American feminist and labor activist Alice H. Cook, who met Irmgard after the war at women’s conferences,  she found work in Thüringen with the Americans stationed there. The American forces then took her to Frankfurt, where, having a young son to care for, she began her work as a journalist in earnest (see A Lifetime of Labor: The Autobiography of Alice H. Cook by Alice H. Cook and Arlene Kaplan Daniels, Feminist Press at CUNY, 2000).

Here I want to translate a paragraph from Denkler’s book about this “lost generation” of writers, in which he quotes from Frau Kern’s letters to Claassen:

” ‘Thrown on to the abominable trash-heap of this horrendous time,’ the ‘poor guy’ left behind–aside from his pregnant wife, who had been demoralized by their marital strife and already evacuated–the ‘torso’ of his literary work. Despite the enormous efforts of his widow after 1945 his work found no ‘resurrection.’ So H.G. Rexroth must be described as the poster child for that ‘unfortunate generation’ that, as Hans Georg Brenner complained when he received his death notice in 1944, had the misfortune to be ‘ground up’ by the “European tragedy that was World War II.” (From the German, in Denkler, Werkruinen, p. 206.)

By many accounts and evidence in the archive, Frau Rexroth-Kern did make every attempt to see her husband’s work rediscovered, but to no avail. The archives contain numerous letters that she wrote to Claassen and other publishers, as well as documents in many libraries demonstrating her efforts to see his literary career saved from obscurity. Not until the end of the century, when scholars began reassessing this period in German history, was there any acknowledgment of H.G. Rexroth’s writings.

The archives are also filled with all kinds of letters to famous people from Frau Kern, who worked as a freelance journalist throughout the 1950s and 60s in Frankfurt. (At some time she also lived in Erbach, according to her son.) She seemed to write many articles based on interviews with literary figures, ranging from the critic Eugène Jolas to the writer Malcolm Cowley. When I knew her in Darmstadt, she showed me some of her work, but not many pieces. When I was getting ready to leave after the end of my Fulbright year, she gave me a book of Novalis’s poems, which I still have, and a coffee-table book about Darmstadt for which she wrote a poetic essay.  When George came to join me at the end of my German stay, she often had us over for tea and we had lovely chats. She was for some reason a bit ashamed of her circumstances, although she had a perfectly nice small apartment; she didn’t want any photos taken of her or her place. She was very proud of her son, who at that time was in England, beginning his studies in architecture.  In the last few weeks of my time in Darmstadt, she fell ill, and was in the hospital–a fact I only learned about from my host family, whose husband was a doctor.  I did get reports about her occasionally, but never received any letters, I don’t know why.  Despite all the travails of her life, she remained engaged and interested in the world, and I loved talking to her.  I only wished I had begun this memoir before she died, in 1983. But at that time I was caught up in my own young life, and never thought about such ideas, until the invention of the internet and the convenience of the blog.

Frau Kern, lebe wohl, träume schön! It was an honor to know you!

Irmgard Maria Rexroth-Kern (1907-1983)

8 Jun

(First, I must thank Fr. Kern’s son, Vincent Rexroth, Heidelberg, for his gracious assistance in providing information about his mother. I would not have found most of the sites that provided me with details of his mother’s life without his help. Vielen Dank!)

In 1974, I had a Fulbright scholarship to Germany. The topic that I was to study was “the artist’s ambivalent relationship to the machine.” The Fulbright Commission, determining that I should study at the Bauhaus-Archiv, sent me to Darmstadt–where the Bauhaus-Archiv had been housed in the Ernst-Ludwig Haus on the city’s famous Mathildenhöhe for many years until that year, when it had, apparently unbeknownst to the Fulbright Committee, been moved to Berlin! No matter: the Werkbund-Archiv was still there and also in the Ernst-Ludwig Haus. I spent many hours walking to and from that delightful hill, with its many Jugendstil buildings by architects who would become well-known figures in the history of modern German architecture.

Walking up the Mathildenhöhe path one day after I had been in town for a few months, I smiled at and said “Guten Morgen” to an elderly woman who was coming toward me, leading on a leash an Airedale terrier. She was so surprised that a stranger would greet her that she stopped, turned around, and asked me, in German, if I was an American.  When I said yes, she immediately switched to perfect English, and we began a conversation which led to coffee and a continuation of conversations throughout the rest of my year in Germany.

Kernasgirl_ptgbyOppenheimer_GEM-72-15

Joseph Oppenheimer, Irmgard Kern, 1916, Berlin Museum (now Märkisches Museum).

Her name was Irmgard Rexroth-Kern, her married name being Rexroth, her maiden name Kern. She had led an extraordinarily eventful life, determined in large part by the tumultuous circumstances of 20th-century Germany. She was born in Berlin on November 11, 1907, the daughter of a prominent art historian and artist, Guido Joseph Kern (1878-1953). She had two younger brothers. (On Guido Kern, see http://www.deutsche-biographie.de/sfz40604.html#ndbcontent) She grew up in comfortable circumstances as part of a family connected to the most vibrant artistic and intellectual circles in Berlin. Her first memory, at 4 years old, was of being in Florence when her father was working at the Deutsches Kunsthistorischen Institut there.  Guido Kern was until 1911 assistant to the renowned director of the Berliner Nationalgalerie, Hugo von Tschudi, with whom he worked on the first catalog of the Berlin painter Adolph Menzel; later, he published many books on other German artists as well as continuing his own artistic practice. In these active, prosperous years, while Irmgard’s mother was still alive, her father commissioned a portrait of his only daughter from Joseph Oppenheimer (1876-1966), at that time the leading society portraitist in Berlin.  She was 9 when she sat for the artist. (On Oppenheimer, see http://www.josephoppenheimer.com/index.html) This is so far the only portrait I have of her.The family was prosperous enough that Irmgard was privately tutored as a small child, and then was sent to the most progressive schools in Berlin. She also described spending many happy days at  her father’s family’s estate near Aachen.

Here is one of her father’s early drawings:

kern_guido_port_80-5560-1

And a later beach scene, from 1932:

Kern_Die Kunst für alle; Malerei, Plastik, Graphik, Architektur (48.1932-1933), S. 314-1

While Fr. Kern did share some of these stories with me when I knew her in Darmstadt, I gleaned most of this information about her early life from the charmingly insightful series of reminiscences that she published anonymously in 1934 in the Frankfurter Zeitung under the title “Neue Wege-Autobiographie einer jungen Frau” (New Paths-Autobiography of a Young Woman). In 13 segments in June of that year, the newspaper presented on its first page her memories of coming of age in Berlin right before and during World War I; they end with her going off to university in Heidelberg, newly independent from her family. Her memory was phenomenal: she wrote of their time in Florence when she saw a poster of the Titanic on a kiosk across from their house; she remembered her stuffed animal named Füffi and her first governess when she was a very little girl, as well as her first communion and travelling in an automobile for the first time.  Her most fascinating insights are of the hardships of the war and its aftermath. She recounted how everyone had to stand in line for hours for bread rations and her mother’s family’s loss of their brewery and grand property, “Falkenrode”, in Westphalia during the inflationary period.  The most traumatic event of her young life was the death of her mother during the Spanish flu epidemic in 1918, a terrible blow that caused her father to send her to the countryside to stay with her mother’s family for many months; her small brothers, who had also been ill with the flu, survived. She recounts how her grandmother cried on seeing photos of Irmgard’s mother: “Von ihren Kindern hatte sie meine Mutter am meissten geliebt”–“of all her children, she had loved my mother the most”.

When she returned to a shattered post-war Berlin–only 11, motherless and with a mean new housekeeper–she got caught up for a while in the proto-fascist youth groups that so many of her fellow students were joining. In her recounting, she gives an amusing picture of their home-made clothing and their penchant for nude sunbathing. She soon tired of their purist dogmas, and so became lonelier and more isolated, and began, as so many other young German women would, to read the romantic stories of Hedwig Courths-Mahler, and to pour out  in her diary all her sadnesses and frustrations. She loved spending time with her father, who took her to museums, talked to her about art, and even arranged a trip for the two of them to the Eifel region. He praised her artistic efforts and encouraged her activities at school in student government. From her descriptions, she must have accompanied her father to some of the Expressionists’ exhibitions–and even the famous Dada show in Berlin–which she found “verrückt”, crazy.  Her father explained that they were indeed crazy, but not in the way she thought; they were just intended to be doing something else than she thought art was supposed to be doing.(Or perhaps he didn’t introduce her to modernity: according to a recent article, Guido Kern was a vehement anti-modernist who actively participated with the Nazi regime to remove “degenerate” artworks from German museums. See Kai Artinger: Bilder “ohne Herkunft”. Der Kunsthistoriker Prof. Dr. Guido Joseph Kern und die Bilder von Carl Blechen in den Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz.  In: Kunstgeschichte. Open Peer Reviewed Journal, 2014 [urn:nbn:de:bvb:355-kuge-403-9]: http://www.kunstgeschichte-ejournal.net/403/).   Through her father’s circles, at 14, she met her first professional woman–a female who had a career! From then on, she knew it was possible and determined that she would go on to university and have a professional life.

Within that year (in 1922), her father remarried. Her new mother was Franziska Müller, one of those educated, professional women, who became a sympathetic and important figure in Irmgard’s life. But her angst-ridden teenage years coincided with the disastrous events of 1920s Berlin, all of which Irmgard described in terms of her own experience.  The assassination of Rathenau in 1922 affected them all deeply, so much so that school was cancelled. During the worst of the inflation, she embroidered hankies that she could sell abroad for real money, which was the only way she could afford to buy a book that she wanted. A teacher at her school was sacked because he allowed the older students to read the newspapers and discuss politics in class. She suffered all the usual longings of a sensitive intelligent girl of the era:  she pined after boys, she found nature transcendent while on a school outing, she continued to draw animals at the zoo, and she struggled to understand why there is suffering in the world. She passed her school exams, and was still uncertain what she wanted to study or do, but determined she would go to art school. As a reward for succeeding in her Abitur, her parents sent her with two other girls to England for 4 months–the beginning of Irmgard’s lifelong love of all things English, and the source of her fluency in the language.

Still uncertain of her path, but longing to break free from home and family, she gave up the idea of art school and started studies in history and philology at the University of Berlin.  She was beginning to savor all the exciting newness of Berlin during the Weimar era, and was present for some of its monumental events. About some of these she told me stories when I knew her in Darmstadt. When she learned how fascinated I was with Brecht and Weill and The Threepenny Opera, she remembered how she had seen one of the first performances in 1928. When other young people walked down the Kurfurstendamm, she said, they would start humming the “Moritatenlied”–Mack the Knife–and everyone would smile knowingly at each other.

Dreigroschenoper

kern_shipmanifest_1929_record-image

The ship’s manifest, showing Irmgard Kern arriving in the U.S. as a student in 1929.

Irmgard still longed for independence:  according to her autobiography, at this stage, when about 21, she rebelled, insisting on leaving for another university. Her parents would not support this move financially, and so she was now on her own.  To make ends meet, she babysat, tutored in English, did secretarial work–and from the sound of things, had a ball. She gained a circle of friends, and felt that her independent life was beginning. From stories she told me in Darmstadt, she took classes from the likes of Paul Tillich (with whom, she told me, she had an affair–as he seemed to have with many of his students) and began to  write for newspapers and magazines. And in 1929, at 22, she began another great independent adventure, as the first German exchange student at Wellesley College. She especially loved to talk about this time , telling me how she was known as “Kernel” by the other students, and spending Christmas with one of her roommates’ families in Connecticut. She studied Psychology and Government, and by the time she returned to Germany, she had decided that she wanted to be a journalist more than anything.  Being at an American woman’s college in 1929 and 1930 must have been a liberating experience for a proper Catholic girl from good Berlin family.

(Wellesley students in 1928:)

wellesley students_1928_wca00318

Cazenove Hall, Wellesley College

Cazenove Hall, Wellesley College

But what a time to return to Germany:  the beginnings of the worldwide Depression, and the catastrophic rise of Nazism in her country.  Tragedies and joys and hardship were in her future.  Irmgard Maria Kern’s young life of privilege and culture ended with this chapter of her life.  Much, much more would follow, but that will wait for the next chapter.