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Adriano & Rosa & Dennis Dornik Wash Dishes in Boom-Time Germany

In the Kitchen of Bsum's Hotel Nordsee-Halle, Summer 1966

By Dan W. Durning August 2011

The spats were frequent and loud, with dramatic gestures amplifying the points Adriano and Rosa were making to each other. The words were mostly incomprehensible because they were yelling in Italian. And because this was the first time I had encountered real Italians from Italy, most of their arm waving and hand posing was unfamiliar -- though I could usually guess at the meaning. Adriano was a slight and slim, with sensibly cut dark hair and a jutting chin. In his late 20s, he was curious and outgoing. Rosa, about the same age, was shorter, rounder, darker, and quieter than her husband. She was less outgoing, but always friendly. If I hadn't seen her energetic fussing with Adriano, I would have called her meek and shy. Fortunately these episodes were brief and seemed to have little lasting effect. Soon after the yelling and waving were done, the couple was again smiling and humming as they deftly loaded dirty plates and glasses into the industrial dishwashing machine and scrubbed the cooking pots. I witnessed these periodic eruptions of marital discord because I was their coworker in the kitchen of Hotel Nordsee-Halle in Bsum, Germany. It was 1966; the German economy was booming (the Wirtschaftswunder was in full bloom) and seasonal businesses, especially in tourism and agriculture, were bringing in guest workers to fill temporary positions. Adriano and Rosa came up from Italy for a job; I came from Arkansas for my first adventure in Europe. Adriano, Rosa, and I were hired to clean the pot, plates, glasses, and cutlery of the hotel's restaurant, bar, and nightclub, plus do other menial kitchen tasks that were beneath the dignity of the cooks and waiters. Fortunately, I had spent a couple of weeks washing dishes at a summer camp in Siloam Springs, so I had some experience. Unfortunately, I wasn't very good at the job. The Healing Waters of Bsum Hotel Nordsee-Halle is located in Bsum, a small North Sea coastal town whose beach and mineral baths (Heilbaden) attract German and English tourists in the summer. The hotel is located on a branch of the town's protected harbor, and its upper windows look directly out to the North Sea. The name of the city is not pronounced as Bosom (as in, "rock my soul in the bosom of Abraham"), but, with the umlaut, more like Bersum (rhyming with Hersome). That is not exactly correct, but was the best I could do. (Try buying a train ticket when you can't properly pronounce the name of the place you want to go.)

Bsum, 1966: Hotel Nordsee-Hall is the white building behind the lighthouse

In 1966, the city had only a couple thousand residents spread out on a flat plain, but its population swelled with tourists in the summer months. It offered tourists a picturesque harbor, complete with aging fishing boats, plus a graceful old church, an enticing bakery, and an ancient restaurant that served the best Bouillabaisse in the world. You could buy a nice currywurst at a stand along the main drag and wash it down with a Berliner (beer with a cherry syrup) while listening to a juke box in a nearby restaurant play, "Monday, Monday." The main attraction in Bsum is a sloping U-shaped beach that really is a dyke built high to protect the low-lying city from the North Sea. This beach/dyke starts at the harbor's entrance into Bsum and stretches miles to the north. At the top of the beach/dyke is a paved promenade. Another walking path is carved along its middle. The beach/dyke is fenced, so that visitors have to pay admission to access it. The mineral baths are inside the gate nearest to Hotel Nordsee-Halle. On the beach are dozens of scattered mobile cabanas -- about four feet by four feet -- that visitors rent to have a place to change into and out of bathing suits, to lounge, and to escape the sun.

Attractions of Bsum, 1966

Most of Bsum's beach area is covered with grass. It slopes to the tide line, where sea meets land. There, large rocks have been placed to hold back the sea. Entry to the cold water is by paths or steps going through the huge rocks. When the tide is out, tourists walk out on the tidelands, which stretch far into the distance. In 1966, a local band, heavy on tubas, would go out onto the tidelands to play music. When the tide was in, the bravest tourists would climb down rock stairs to plunge into the frigid water. The water was too cold for me. I could wade out in the cold water, but retreated after a short stay. I kept waiting for it to get warmer as summer advanced. Then, one day in late July, just what I wanted: the water had become warm enough for me to tolerate. I swam around the bay, looking forward to daily swims in the coming days. Unfortunately, that night a big storm blew in, creating a churning, black sea. Next day, the water was as cold as it had ever been, and while I was there, it never warmed up again. I should note that I made something of an impression on the Bsum beach. In preparation for my visit, knowing I would be in an ocean resort city, I had bought a groovy sixties bright orange swimsuit set: swimsuit to mid-calf with a matching short-sleeve jacket. Looking around me at hairy men in the briefest of swim thongs, I quickly sensed that my suave wear was attracting attention -- and more than a few snickers. 3

The Hotel Northsee-Halle The trip to Bsum began by flying from Fayetteville to New York; then, after my first visit there, I flew Air France to Frankfurt. After a day in Frankfurt, I took a train to Hamburg and another train to Heide, where I collapsed into a mercifully soft bed at a local inn next to the train station. I fell asleep wrapped in a thick comforter listening to Germans singing drinking songs downstairs. The last leg of the journey was on a small train across flat, treeless agricultural land to the end of the line: I was in Bsum.

At Hotel Nordsee-Halle, I was welcomed and fed lunch, then promptly fell asleep at the table where I was served (my first experience with jet lag). After a few hours of sleep, I was shown my accommodations for the summer. Though I was paid little for my work, I got free lodging and meals. My new home was a two-story house a couple of blocks away from the hotel. I shared the house with others who had come to Bsum for the summer to work for the hotel. The house was comfortable, but lacked hot water, so I went most of the summer without a bath or shower (making visits to the frigid North Sea imperative). I did get a huge immersion heater and large pot in which I could heat water to wash whatever parts of me I thought needed attention. I shared a bedroom with four members of an Austrian dance band the hotel had hired for its night club. They sang mostly English and American hit songs, plus German tunes that stirred the locals. I heard them often during my first two weeks in Bsum because I was assigned to stand behind the bar at the night club facing a small sink. There I would wash out the dirty beer and wine glasses as they were returned, and try to dry them. The two flimsy towels they gave me to dry the glasses were quickly wet and inadequate for the job, so my drying efforts were mostly symbolic.

The Austrian band was pretty good. The night club patrons seemed to liked it, and they often filled the dance floor, doing the most uncool dances imaginable. The patrons especially seemed to like several rousing German tunes that brought broad smiles and rhythmic clapping. I was surprised to find out that the band members, though they sang numerous songs in English, could not speak the language. We did not communicate too much in my first weeks there. Later I found out they spoke decent English, but the owners of the hotel had told them to speak only German with me to encourage me to learn the language faster. Good luck with that.

Nordsee-Halle and Bsum Harbor, early 1960s

The husband-wife owners of the hotel oversaw its operation, but left most of the managing to an experienced hotel manager and his assistant. The owners drove a big Mercedes and were all business, enjoying ordering people around. The woman owner, whom I met soon after I arrived, got into her head that my name was "Dennis." I never found the right time to correct her, so that summer I was known to most folks at the hotel as "Dennis Dornink." When I did not understand something the owner or manager told me in German, I usually would smile and nod my head for several seconds. I expected I would figure out later what they had told me -- and usually did. The technique served me well, except a few years later when I was having a conversation with my Hausfrau in Vienna. She was intently telling me something that I did not quite understand, and I was grinning like an idiot and bobbing my head up and down, showing my

agreement. Finally, seeing a strange look in her eye, I figured out that she was telling me about the recent sudden death of one of her friends. Aside from the owners (who, without any good evidence, I suspected of having Nazi sympathies), I liked the my coworkers at the hotel. The general manager was a plump, genial, patient man in his 50s; he was good-natured and well suited to dealing with the most demanding guests of the hotel. He was assisted by a young woman in her early 30s; quiet and pleasant, she was competent without flair. In addition to these two, the hotel had assembled a quirky group of workers for the summer. They included Luigi, the suave and handsome Italian waiter, about 30, with curly black hair, a prototypical smooth-talking multi-lingual Romeo from Italy. Luigi stole the heart of many restaurant guests. I am sure it was a shock for all when he had to stop working for a couple of weeks in the middle of summer to receive treatment for gonorrhea.

Depiction of The Old Bastard

Another of the characters at the hotel was the guy I called "The Old Bastard." He found out about his nickname and was immensely pleased. TOB was a stout, weathered old guy with the look of someone who had spent decades at sea. He wore a perpetual scowl with a rosy nose in the middle. Best I could tell, he responsible for maintaining the hotel, and he ran a small bar that was open long after the night club had closed. Attendance at the bar was waning, so The Old Bastard brought in an "exotic dancer" for the after-midnight hours. I really wanted to find out how exotic she danced, but TOB always chased me out of the bar before the entertainment started. At 19, old enough to drink German beer, but not old enough to enjoy the esthetics of dance. Meeting Fay Franklin, California Girl For the first couple of weeks I was in Bsum, I was the only American working at Hotel Nordsee-Halle, but one day I stumbled upon a young woman from La Jolla, California, who was making beds and cleaning rooms at another hotel in town. She felt mistreated there (way too many work hours for much too little pay), and seeing how comely she was, I took on the mission to help her. So, I introduced her to the

general manager of Hotel Nordsee-Halle. Soon she was working at the same hotel, sharing the upstairs in the communal house with the other female employees. Fay was not a blond southern California girl, but had the good looks and intelligence native to northern California. She was a bit more sophisticated and worldly than most young women her age. I was smitten. She even had relatives in Hamburg, Arkansas, so we were likely made for each other. When she told me she had just completed her sophomore year at a college in California, I lied, telling her I had also just completed my sophomore year. Would she be interested in a guy who just completed his freshman year -- so much younger than her? She said she had a boy friend back in California, but romance was briefly in the air. That quickly ended after we made a brief, disastrous weekend trip to Copenhagen. It was early July. We took a train from Bsum to another city (I think it was Rendsburg) where we changed trains to get an express to Copenhagen. After a nice visit there, staying at the local youth hostel, we planned to return by the same route, and disembarked the express train at the same city to catch the local train to Bsum. Waiting on the station platform, we added up all the money we had and decided we could afford (and had time for) a nice meal at a restaurant near the station. We ate heartily, having a jolly time, and went back to the station with empty pockets for the final leg of the journey. But the train to Bsum didn't come on time. It never came! When we finally found the train station manager, he explained that the train to Bsum was unavailable because (1) the route had been cancelled or (2) the train did not run on weekends. I am not sure which of these two reasons he gave. I remember it as the first one, but the second one make more sense. So, we were a 100 miles from Bsum, it was early evening, and we had no way to get there. And we had no money whatsoever. How we got back is painful to remember. As an inexperienced traveler, I had no idea what to do. We (Fay) decided to take the next train to Hamburg. There, we (Fay) found someone (an American college guy) to loan us money for train tickets. My contribution was to become catatonic during the overnight stay in the dark, cavernous, nearly deserted Hamburg train station. I will concede that my performance that trip was not impressive; some would say it was truly wimpy. Fay took note, and said something like, "I feel sorry for whoever marries you." As you might imagine, the romance didn't blossom, though Fay and I were friends for the rest of the summer. Hey, she was ancient -- a year older than me -- so it was probably for the best.

Mia Buoni Amici: Adriano e Rosa, Italani Working in the kitchen with Adriano and Rosa was a highlight of the summer. It was an instructional experience for me. They were everything you would expect after watching Italian characters in the movies: noisy, emotional, demonstrative. But they were also so much more than the stereotype. They were proud, dignified, hard-working people making the best with what they had. Our conversations were mostly rudimentary because of language barriers. But we did have some good exchanges. As I recall, Adriano told me that he was from Naples. He was born shortly before World War II, was an infant during the war, and grew up in the grim conditions of post-World War II Italy. I think we viewed each other as curiosities -- I was the first American with whom they had spend any time, and they were the first genuine Italians I had met. We got along well together, largely through their tolerance of my ineptness in the kitchen, and laughed often. The work was hard and hot, and unfulfilling is so many ways. Nevertheless, they carried it out with gusto. I marveled at their energetic spats and was thrilled for them when they told me one day that they had just learned that Rosa was pregnant. The arguments came less frequent after that. Adriano and Rosa were happy to get some Kennedy half-dollars from me as gifts. The late president was still immensely popular in Catholic Italy. In turn, I was touched when, as I was departing from Bsum in the middle of August, Adriano gave me a picture of himself, inscribed on the back: 14/8/66 a deni che un Caro Amico, adriano e Rosa Italiani translated August 8, 1966 To Danny, who is a close friend. Adriano and Rosa, Italians

Adriano e Rosa, Italiani

(Noting my lack of dish washing aptitude, the general manager moved me out of the kitchen after about a month. I was put in charge of a tiny harbor front shop that sold Swedish ice cream dispensed from a machine created for that purpose. At last I had no choice, I had to speak as much German as I was able to. I didn't miss the kitchen, but I missed working with my Italian friends.)

View from my Ice Cream Shop, Bsum, 1966

I have often wondered what became of my 1966 kitchen mates and the bambino who was on the way. Whatever did happen, I am sure it was accompanied by lots of shouting, arm waving, and warm reconciliations. And no doubt they always had the cleanest dishes in town, even if I wasn't there to help.