WHEN my telephone rang it was not a local call. I was pleased to hear the voice say, "Here is Fritz in Stuttgart!"
Fritz, a dear friend since 1953, is general manager of the Stuttgarter Zeitung, a prestigious Swabian newspaper. I said, "What an amazing change since the Fernsprecher became the Telephon!"
Here was Fritz warbling his native Black Forest woodnotes wild just as if he were across the street, whereas in 1966 when I tried to call home to Maine from Freudenstadt, we had a bit of a fizzle.
In 1966, some of the sidewalk phone booths in Germany said Telephon and some still said Fernsprecher. The insistence of Hitler for a German vocabulary had worn thin.
We were touring Europe in 1966, and came on our wedding anniversary to the Hotel Post in Freudenstadt. After I registered, I told the young lady on the desk that I would like to make a phone call to America, so she checked her hysterical laughter and asked what that was that I just said.
I can explain. After the war the hotels all used a registration form that was passed on to the police. It had a line for the number of a travel-paper or a passport, and the next line asked for Beruf. That means occupation, profession, calling.
I had been told that this form was no longer required, although most hotels still used it, so in fun I would set down my profession as "Torfbauer." A Bauer is a farmer, and a Torfbauer is a peat farmer. Under the circumstances that prevailed, it would be most unlikely to find a German farmer in a hotel.
A Torfbauer, so far down the scale that he produces only peat, thus gradually diminishing his assets, would certainly not be at the Hotel Post asking about a telephone call to America.
So the young lady put down my registration form, caught her breath, wiped her eyes, and gave me her amazed attention. I said we were having our wedding anniversary in Freudenstadt and hoped to telephone home to speak to our children. The young lady said she would find out from Stuttgart how to arrange this, and would get back to us. (This was before one could direct-dial.)
So we put on our dining duds, had the chef's choice for supper, and found a note on our night stand that Stuttgart would call us at three hours.
Stuttgart had already alerted our youngsters back in Maine that a call would be coming at 21 hours - six hours difference. We retired. At a quarter to three our little travel alarm clock tinkled and we rose to await Stuttgart. Three hours arrived. Three-thirty, also, which in Germany is half-four. No call.
About a quarter to four a tap came to our chamber door and a voice said, "Herr Torfbauer?"
It was the night watchman, who made elaborate polites and then asked if we were expecting a telephone call. He said the switchboard in the lobby had been ringing for almost an hour, but nobody had told him what to do. It was the first after-hours call since the new switchboard had been installed. He had asked all the other guests in the Hotel Post, but only as a last chance had he supposed a Torfbauer would be concerned - after all ...
I went down to the lobby with him, and found the Stuttgart operator a bit miffed. How to connect to our room mystified me, so my happy bride descended and we talked from the lobby to Maine. Our youngsters were scratchy and faint, and fuzzy.
The night watchman stood near, fascinated by our glib English.
"Happy Anniversary!" the youngsters shouted, and we told them what a wonderful visit we were having to the storied beauty of the enchanted Black Forest.
So it was good to hear the voice of Fritz so loud and clear after so many years. All he did was push his Stuttgart buttons, and here we were!
He said, after some personal chat, that the United States presidential campaign seemed baffling at times, and was always difficult to explain to the readers.
I said I hoped that Perot would do something about the Red Sox. Fritz said a German jest of the moment is about the presidential debates. In the crowded auditorium a gentleman in the rear shouts, "I can't hear!" So a gentleman down front rises and shouts back, "I can. Let's change seats!"
I remembered to say, "Auf wiederhoren!"