Saturday, January 2, 2016

Growing Up in America

Cultural assimilation in Cleveland

By Rolf Dumke

[Links to previously published installments appear at the bottom.]

Linwood Avenue was unusual for many reasons. It was a lengthy street, running east from busy East 55th Street to East 65th, where the street stopped and skipped horizontally up to continue on another traverse parallel to the old segment of Linwood, and then stopped and skipped again. Linwood seemed undecided about its destination, a perturbing idea, presaging an uncertain future for many of its residents.
    Linwood was the only “white” street in our part of the Hough District, which was predominantly “black.” The next streets north, up to Superior Avenue, on the way to St. Paul’s Lutheran School and Church, were leafy, tree-lined streets of single-family housing with nice, big yards. There, the residents were all black families.
    Somehow, I understood that those streets were taboo for whites, so I never dared stroll down them. Nor did black kids stroll down our stretch of Linwood from E. 55th to E. 65th.
    Across the street was a row of red brick apartment buildings, two stories high, which stretched back until they faced a fence to the houses on the next street. The apartment buildings took up all of the available space, leaving no back yards or any surface for grass, bushes, or trees. On our side of Linwood Avenue were single-family houses beneath big, old, messy sycamore trees – unfortunately, not linden trees – which lined the street, shading us in hot summers. Behind the houses of one-third of our side of the street, owners had built garages to rent to apartment residents across the street, paving the rest of the area. This was the case with our house, leaving only one thin slice of back yard, abandoned for weeds and a pile of old lumber and junk. This became a project for myself and my only friend, Gene S., the son of our German landlord and a classmate at St. Paul’s, to clear up during summers, planting grass and flowers and building our “fort” out of the lumber.

    We wound up an old Victrola record player with its shell-like horn and played thickly shellacked records of Caruso and old dance music. After a while we could imitate Caruso’s Italian songs and loudly sang along with the Victrola, initially in the space between the garages and the house, where a great echo enhanced the music. It must have been the highest possible torture for some residents seeking sleep in afternoons.
    Our neighbors directly behind our kitchen were a curious couple: a somewhat dim young man and a clinging older woman who got drunk every evening, quarrelling and throwing empty bottles at the thin wall separating our apartments. We could hear snatches of some of their disputes. The next day the young man usually appeared at our kitchen door with a few flowers for my mother to excuse their behavior the previous night. I wondered later whether this unemployed young man was the one who stole and destroyed our Victrola.
    On the second floor were an old Russian lady and her son, a chemistry student at Case Institute of Technology. On Russian holidays I was usually invited up to their apartment, whose floors were covered with oriental rugs. Light from the windows was perpetually dimmed by long, dark curtains. Many candles burned. We drank hot Russian tea from a samovar and heard this woman’s sad story. She had been the wife of the last stablemaster of the Czar before World War I in St. Petersburg. The family had lost its high civil servant position in the post-war Russian Revolution, and her husband was killed while they were being thrown onto Leon Trotsky’s “scrap heap of history.” Somehow they found their way to America, where her only way of climbing up the social ladder was through the success of her son’s progress in his studies. Unfortunately, he was a thin reed for his mother because he was about to lose his scholarship for bad grades. Rather than strengthening his will to succeed, the mother’s obsessive clinging destroyed it. Should he fail, his mother would probably commit suicide. I later understood that here was a terrible version of Tennessee Williams’s play, A Streetcar Named Desire. The story could be augmented to say that the son’s failure may have been the only way for him to finally get out of her emotionally draining clutches.
    The rest of our “back yard” was a hot asphalt piste, or playing field. The only enjoyable space outside our house was on the shady porch in front, where, from my first summer in Cleveland, I spent many hours reading library books. There was only a two-yard-wide strip of grass between the sycamore trees along the street and, between the sidewalk and the porch, a few-feet-wide strip of grass, which I assiduously mowed by hand with a lawn mower. The basketball courts and the public swimming pool near E. 65th were both treeless, without grass – hot venues in the summers.
    After the paradise in Chippewa Lake, this was the extent of nature in our new urban environment, living on the ground floor apartment in a house on Linwood. I was envious of the families on our side of Linwood who had grassy back yards with fruit trees, like our Polish neighbors with their cherry tree. Unfortunately, they invited only other Polish families to visit. We never got to know any neighbors on Linwood other than two large families from West Virginia on our left. I was sitting on the fence watching one of their boys’ rancorous softball games on their backyard asphalt. They were four each from two different families living in their house, but were so suspicious of each other that they needed an impartial umpire to call the fouls and strikes. One of the boys asked me to umpire their game and I said OK, but first I asked for the rules of baseball to be explained to me. Hence, I became their impartial umpire, without whom their games had disintegrated into fights and scurries. I was even accepted as umpire when playing for one or the other side of the two families. All went well for a few weeks until a freak foul ball smashed our bathroom window, at which point they all quickly disappeared, just like the waiter and owner of the restaurant in Venice many years later when a big piece of broken glass in my dessert of fruit compote cut my mouth and started me bleeding profusely. “Brutta figura!” is the appropriate Italian saying.
    Neither did we get to know any of the black families who lived on the next half-dozen leafy streets to Superior Avenue. We were almost as socially isolated as in Bavaria, not having any old residents as friends or even as nodding acquaintances. I felt this was not a normal situation.

My first library card, the Count of Monte Cristo, and robbery. Mother took my brother and me up E. 65th to Superior, where a local branch of the Cleveland Public Library was situated. There I proudly received my first library card. I became enamored of a series of paperback children’s books on Black Beauty, or on The Black Stallion, in which a disadvantaged child, either physically abnormal or socially isolated, becomes healed of his or her infirmity by training an abused but wonderful horse. In retrospect, it became clear that I enjoyed these modern fairy tales for girls because they provided an indirect view of how life was lived in a normal American family, with its own cultural codes of behavior, where goals in life were proper to aspire to, and how life was spent on a normal day-by-day basis. On my long and hot summer afternoons, reading into the early evenings until it became too dark in Linwood Avenue, I was employing a sort of cultural anthropology to help speed my own cultural assimilation.
“Louis Français-Dantès sur son rocher”
by Paul Gavarni
Bibliothèque nationale de France
Lic. under Public Domain via Commons
    One such evening, the West Virginian boys came by while I was reading Alexandre Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo, which the lady librarian had urged me to read as more appropriate for young boys. Instead of searching the increasingly boring horse books to understand middle-class life in America, I should read about the count’s turbulent life and how he coped with and overcame big trials. The evening became rather dramatic for me. The boys had come by like a group of conspirators to invite me to join them in the robbery of the local mom-and-pop grocery store after it closed for the night. Wow! I had been invited to become a bona fide member of their gang, which was planning to do something very dangerous and illegal. But I double-crossed this invitation, thanking them politely for the honor but qualifying it. The robbery of a small local store did not seem to match up to the great drama of the life of the count of Monte Cristo, and I wanted to finish reading the book before it became due the next week. The boys were nonplussed and presumably did not understand my arguments. However, a week later our apartment was broken into and my father’s good camera, a Konica, was stolen. They had understood my dismissing their invitation and this was their revenge.

“Cleveland Indians logo” by Source
Lic. under Fair use via Wikipedia
Cleveland Indians baseball team. A real American cultural event could be experienced every Saturday afternoon when one of our West Virginian neighbors regularly washed his Chevy in the driveway in front of their house, listening to the car radio’s sports program featuring the Cleveland Indians baseball team during the team’s “glorious years” of the 1940s to the end of the 1950s. In 1948 the Indians had won the World Series. In 1953 they placed second behind the New York Yankees and in 1954 won the American League pennant.
    The third baseman, Al Rosen, was the League’s MVP; he had almost won the Triple Crown in 1953. The Indians were an excellent baseball team and had fine players during the five years of my residence in Linwood Avenue. This will explain the great hush in the neighborhood when their games were broadcast on radio. Cleveland residents were awed by their sports idols.
    Nevertheless, for me, the game was interminably long and slow moving, broken up by few sparkling cracks of bats hitting balls and the distant crowd cheering the runners around the bases. Mr. B. thoroughly washed his car with a sponge, brushed the white-walled tires with foamy soap water, sprayed everything off with a hose, waited for the car to dry, applied wax, and then buffed the car thoroughly. He had produced a spanking-clean, new-looking car. All of his actions occurred in almost slow motion during these hot and humid afternoons. The neighborhood was quiet; everyone was either asleep or sitting on a shaded porch, or on the steps leading up to it, drinking iced tea or eating slices of cold watermelon, spitting seeds as far as possible. The radio announcer droned on with his unending American mantra, inning after inning on this dusty afternoon. It was a mesmerizing and soporific trance, enjoyed by all Americans on many hot summer afternoons.
    A couple of weeks later Mr. B. took me along with his boys to the Cleveland Municipal Stadium, downtown on the edge of Lake Erie, to watch a game of the Cleveland Indians. The stadium was almost sold out, full with a warm and grateful crowd of supporters who were decked out in colorful, light, short-sleeved shirts and baseball caps with long brims to shade them against the glaring sun. The afternoon drifted along slowly, punctuated with the smacking sounds made by hard-pitched balls caught by the catcher or the short cracking sound of bat hitting ball, or the umpire calling strike or foul and the subsequent friendly clapping by the fans. That day there was no home run, nor any delirium of fans celebrating it. The innings passed with fans drinking cold soft drinks or buying hot dogs in a bun with catsup from vendors moving up the stadium’s steps and cruising left to right and then right to left, methodically, row after row. The many thousands of fans chatted, jostled, and called friends, which created a big, friendly humming murmur, like that of a busy bee hive in the summer, that enveloped the whole stadium, a public testimony to enjoying a pleasant sunny afternoon together.
Cleveland Municipal Stadium, modern postcard view
    One actually sat much too far away to be able to see the great finesse of the game – of the pitcher with his outstanding variety of pitches to bewitch the batter, and of the batter, able to hit any ball at all. I was initially puzzled by what was happening on the field and could only take in the macro picture of sights and sounds. Optimally, the best view would be that of the umpire. If one has never played baseball, most of what one can see from the stands would be a mystery. The athletes’ movements could only be surmised by an active, playing audience, to whom they became real through remembering how it was to throw or hit or miss the ball, to run to a base and be called safe or out. The fans’ own physical memories make a baseball game come alive with drama. One thing was clear, the stadium was an American Temple in which we were watching the celebration of a national ritual.

German Central Farm. On one of our first Sundays in Summer 1953 my parents took us on two long bus rides from E. 55th and Payne to Public Square and then over one of Cuyahoga’s bridges westward to the end station at the city’s edge. There we walked along a country road with a string of other families towards the “German Farm,” a couple of miles away in Parma, Ohio, and were usually picked up by other German-Americans who were on the way with their own cars. At the farm the cars were parked orderly on a gently rising grass hill in rows with hundreds of others. Traffic usher collected admission to the park and we received temporary membership cards for the German Central Farm. This allowed the organizers to run a restaurant with sale of alcoholic beverages, a dancing hall, and numerous sports areas in its large forested park. Soon the delicious smell of grilled sausages and the brassy sound of an oompah-band reached us at the top of the hill. There, a Bavarian beer garden presented itself, with young men and women dancing on a wooden stage with Bavarian country costumes, the men with leather short pants, long woolen stockings, and green felt hats, the women with “Dirndls” – tight-bodiced dresses. Big chestnut trees shaded the long tables and benches, which were grounded by tradition on a gravel-faced surface.
    Numerous playing fields were available. I recall a couple of soccer fields, a field to pitch horse shoes, a couple of tennis courts, a couple of volleyball courts. In the evenings formal dinners could be eaten in the concert hall, which was enlivened by a dance band’s waltzes, polkas, and fox-trots for after-dinner dancing. This engagement of young immigrants often led to subsequent marriages. Young children were simply moved to the back of the dance hall, where they wearily snoozed on a row of chairs, supervised by a few mothers who switched with others to dance. In short, the Central Farm provided sports, beer, music, dinner, and dance, a mixed variety of activities for all ages, similar to American country clubs, of which I then had no inkling. Above all, it allowed a re-immersion into the German language, with which one could again clearly express oneself and exploit finer linguistic possibilities like irony, sarcasm, or more direct and coarse put-downs, language skills that had not yet been attained by the immigrants who usually spoke a simple English.
    It was curious to hear that most of the attending German-Americans at the Central Farm actually spoke no Bavarian dialect at all. They came from other parts of Germany or from German-speaking enclaves in Eastern Europe, from which they had been “ethnically cleansed” by an agreement between Stalin, Prime Minister Attlee, and President Harry Truman at Potsdam in August 1945.
Attlee, Truman, and Stalin in Potsdam, August 1945
“Potsdam big three” by US Government
Lic. under Public Domain via Commons
    There were no Bavarians in this excellent copy of a Bavarian beer hall – a camouflage against the gathering’s being called a hated Prussian assembly? My parents felt it strange to have emigrated from the Bavarian hinterlands to America and then to find themselves in a copy of the same place they had left. But it was good to be able to speak one’s language again. One could easily sort out the cultural, educational background and regional affiliation of the persons one spoke with after the first few sentences, something which is difficult to do in America. This sorting helped my parents to contact interesting persons and invite them to our house in Linwood Avenue.
    My parents subsequently invited Jutta and Horst L., a tall, handsome couple who had been stars in German cabarets, whose scene had collapsed after the war. But here they were in Linwood Avenue, singing and dancing their sexy, elegant, and humorous routine for an enthusiastic audience of four. They had found a vocation as housekeeper and cook for rich families in America. When their employers were absent on long trips, Jutta and Horst invited us to see how American millionaires lived on the outskirts of Cleveland. I recall swimming in a cool interior swimming pool housed in a brick-faced structure covered with ivy. Muted light came in through a series of floor-to-ceiling windows on which the unruly ivy had encroached. I felt like I was in a cave or grove in some natural wonderland. Actually, I saw the original gardener’s design later with my wife and children on a hot Italian summer day: the groves with springs and waterways in the Pope’s private gardens at Castel Gandolfo.
    The simultaneous experience of living in the Hough District and seeing how wealthy families lived was mind-boggling, and we felt jealous. However, Jutta and Horst said that most of their newly rich employers were penny-pinchers, using Horst as a simultaneous chauffeur for many evening trips as well as plumber and gardener. He put in extremely long working hours, which separated him from his wife, upon whom more house and kitchen work would be heaped, to keep her busy. As a result, they finally found employment by a family of old wealth on Long Island who treated them decently, because they also employed a chauffeur and a gardener or two.
    Much later, when I first visited England, I discovered that the English language is characterized by extreme regional and class differences. While a graduate economics student in Madison, Wisconsin, I took a summer course on statistics from a young British visiting professor. Joined by his wife and mine, we drove up to Devil’s Lake for an afternoon hike and came back to stop at a beer hall to play pool and drink beer, Susan (my wife) driving. We found out from his ironically praising wife, who liked to take him down a notch or two, that Tony’s posh Oxford accent was pure imposture. He was the son of an East London owner of a boarding house and had assiduously brushed off his East London accent to acquire Oxford English in graduate school. This helped to get a full professorship at a provincial British university. Tony even awed the mid-west professors of economics in Madison. Oxford English is great capital – it takes you far.
    Yet later, during one of our wine-tasting tours of German wine regions with my friend Wolfgang from the Teacher’s College in Münster, Germany, we had a memorable evening at Juliusspital in Würzburg, in Franken in northern Bavaria. The Juliusspital is a venerable regional Catholic welfare organization that owns fine vineyards in the Franken area – e.g., the Würzburger Stein, or others in Randersacker – and makes excellent Silvaners and Rieslings. Sales revenues had supported a hospital for the poor for hundreds of years. Their traditional restaurant was crowded. We sat at the edge of a table with two older couples, who had been testing six or more wines in small glasses with dinner, and soon we were doing the same.
    Then an interesting contest took place as one of the women analyzed Wolfgang’s dialect and placed him as growing up in Hamburg but more recently working in more central northern Germany. The other wife piped up and said she was flummoxed by my German: it had an American rolling r but good German vowels, along with a more recent exposure to classical German of the northern Hannover-to-Münster area, but also a faint, round Bavarian attempt to shorten long German words. Perfect! It was amazing. Then Wolfgang started to place the other four persons, where they were born and grew up, where they had worked, and where they were now residing as pensioners. He was almost right in all his guesses! Of course, Wolfgang was also a specialist in German regional dialects. An American would be completely puzzled by this skill, which is par for the course in English or German conversations.

“West Side Market Pearl Entrance (02 )”
by Scott David - Own work
Lic. under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons
The West Side Market. For my mother, an equally important cultural center was the West Side Market, a big Central-European type of market hall to be found in Barcelona and Budapest today, where individual market stalls by quality suppliers are grouped according to type of produce: bakery goods, vegetables, meats, fish, poultry, spices, etc. They are actually copies of Arabian bazaars. (Neighbors of ours visited one of the best Arabian bazaars fifteen years ago in Damascus.) Almost all hyphen-Americans showed up at the West Side Market on Saturdays to stock up for the following week, especially on good German rye bread and butter without salt, in my memory. Cafés, restaurants, and other services, like that of hairdressers and tailor shops, ringed the market. After a few weeks, my mother had gotten to know other German-American women who shopped with their families.
    The market had been designed and built in 1912, a bit later than the European originals, but with similar design, like the imposing structures in Budapest and Barcelona, where some of the best, reasonably priced restaurants can be found behind or beside the market. The West Side Market has been renovated, and it celebrated its 100th anniversary a few years ago. It is still a very attractive and well-frequented shopping area close to downtown Cleveland, just over the Cuyahoga River on West 25th Street.

“Cleveland Public Library 2”
by Spamguy at English Wikipedia
Lic. under CC BY 2.5 via Commons
The Cleveland Public Library, the Cleveland Arcade, Stouffer’s Restaurant. On Saturdays the whole family took the bus to Public Square to visit the Cleveland Library, a beautiful palace financed by Andrew Carnegie, the iron-and-steel industrialist in Pittsburgh who spent his wealth on public buildings in America. My father found it informative to read the few German newspapers in the library’s newspaper reading room to find out what was going on in Germany and in Europe about a half-month after events happened. For the rest of us, the library was initially intimidating, but I found a few children’s books in English to take home, and my mother read women’s picture-journals for knitting and other household tasks. My father was enamored of Popular Mechanics for which he later bought a regular subscription, which I also read. It was astonishing to me how little my parents were reading about America. They seemed to accept an in-between status as German-Americans, or, rather, as Germans in America, rather than wanting to integrate and become a hundred percent American, as I wanted.
    After the library, we walked through the Cleveland Arcade, a wonderful, street-long glass-covered structure with many tiers of balconies and shops rising on both sides, also built at the beginning of the century after fine European examples, like the great Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Torino. In North America’s Arctic winter, the European idea of shopping in a covered mall has taken root, especially in Yorkville, Toronto, and Montreal, where a complete underground network of shopping streets is available for warm shoppers. It beats being muffled in coats, shawls, and hats.
“Cleveland Arcade, 1966” by Martin Linsey, HABS photographer
Historic American Building Survey;
Library of Congress HABS OHIO,18-CLEV,6-1
Lic. under Public Domain via Commons
    Unfortunately, the idea was not popular in Cleveland, and most of the arcade remained unlit because it was not inhabited by merchants. Instead, professional people, lawyers, architects, and others, could be found in the upper tiers. They left in late afternoon and turned off lights, leaving much of the huge space dark. Much later I took violin lessons from Jerry Forestieri in his violin shop up on the second tier of balconies. He was the first violin teacher to demand that I produce an unashamed big and vibrant tone. Other teachers at the Cleveland School of Music had been violinists in the second violin section of the Cleveland Orchestra. Jerry was absolutely right in his critique. When he first heard my timid sound one evening, he shook his head and took me out on the balcony of the arcade, which was emptying after 7 p.m., and demanded, “Fill this space with sound!” Then he played one of his own fine violins to show what wonders this instrument was capable of. But I remained timid, even after he had loaded my right, bowing hand with lead weights to strengthen my arm. Old habits die hard.
    After our family walked through the imposing arcade to Euclid Avenue, we usually ate a late lunch at Stouffer’s Restaurant, a cafeteria with good regional products from a northern Ohio producer of dairy products. Many other Stouffer’s were franchised in the States. The cafeteria was attended by many American families, before or after shopping, or before going to theatres down Euclid Avenue.
    For my brother and me, being taken to a restaurant once a week by our father was something special. I felt at home with all the regular, normal looking American families. They were not to be found in the Hough District, which was peopled by many outsiders, by people out of luck, or skills, or endeavor, or simply too poor to live elsewhere.
    Occasionally my father took us to the International Cinema, which was located across the street from the Cleveland Library, for European movies with the original sound and English subtitles. Depending on the country where the film was made, the audience was usually made up of immigrants from that country. One obtained a view of the differences between European countries, and I got to like Italian films a lot. Usually deeply felt emotions are engraved in memory with the language of one’s upbringing. Thus, my parents thought it strange that couples would say, “I love you,” instead of “Ich liebe Dich.” Therefore, American or English films could not play well on the continental Europeans’ claviature of memories, being less able to arouse the imagination of their hearers.
    We saw a wonderful performance of, Jacques Offenbach’s operetta Tales of Hoffmann, a disturbing, modern story of a young man falling in love with an enchanting dancing girl who turns out to be a simple wind-up doll, a mechanical and heartless mirage. All that glitters is not gold, was the sad message for me about future girl friends. Does this presage the infatuation of today’s youth with Facebook’s digital “friends”?
“Public square postcard” [before WWI] by Unknown - Bernadetteann at Flickr
Lic. under Public Domain via Commons
Cleveland Library on left, May’s Department Store on right,
Sailors and Soldiers Monument in center
    Our initial trip to Public Square impressed me – the square’s large classical design, with its large sculpture, the Sailors and Soldiers Monument, commemorating nine-thousand Ohio Civil War deaths. Particularly imposing was the Terminal Tower of 1931, the second largest skyscraper in America and the world for almost two decades, behind New York’s Empire State Building. Construction of the Terminal Tower started in 1929. The Terminal Tower project signified a failed bet that the “roaring twenties” would continue, destroyed by the long Great Depression of the 1930s and the postwar decline of the heavily industrial Northeast into America’s “rust belt.” The 1940s World War II boom and the Korean War boom in the early 1950s were optimistic economic interludes in a century of decline until the 1990s, when huge new totems to finance were built in Cleveland, putting the Terminal Tower in their shade.
    We were part of this short optimism of the early 1950s, when downtown Cleveland was full of shopping families on weekends. I saw my first American Christmas decorations in the long front windows of May’s Department Store, where the Christmas story and the holy scene of Christ’s birth in a Bethlehem stable were shown in vivid American colors. At the entrance of May’s, Salvation Army bands and singers collected coins or cash for the poor and unfortunate, a cute American subsidiary of a grim international organization that has headquarters in cold Aberdeen. Before Christmas 1953, I sat on my first American St. Nicholas’s lap at May’s, hearing his ho-ho-ho, asking if I had been a good boy, after waiting a long time in a long chain of children, accompanied by a double chain of waving parents with cameras.
    How different from my Bavarian experience in the provincial town of Windshausen! There St. Nikolaus came to the farmers’ houses on December 6, accompanied by Grampus, an intimidating, growling, dark man. Instead of St. Nick, who had a red bag full of presents, the Grampus had a large jute bag into which he threatened to stuff bad children who had not behaved during the past year, and throw them down a hole in the forest that went straight to hell! The howling of the Grampus and the clang of his chains were the counterpoint to the greeting and presents of St. Nikolaus. The older children knew that both St. Nick and Grampus were local teenagers in disguise, but their acting skills and costumes accorded them great authority in congruence with traditional values of the village. Thus, we were terrified by Grampus and I was eternally thankful to mother when she said I was a good boy and saved me from going to hell. In the States and in England, Grampus was left out when Prince Albert introduced Christmas trees and the modern idea of Christmas customs to England and, indirectly, to America.

Cleveland Museum of Art and Wade Park. Dr. N. and his family, our friends from Lithuania, who lived nearby in the University Circle, told my father that our family should get to know the cultural center of Cleveland at University Circle around Euclid Avenue and East 105th Street. Here were located two university campuses, Case Institute of Technology and Western Reserve University, as well as Severance Hall, the home of the Cleveland Orchestra, and, most important, the Cleveland Museum of Art, which was a Greek temple situated at the end of a submerged small lake with its handsome Wade Park.
    The Museum was reached by gleaming white steps, passing Rodin’s bronze sculpture, The Thinker, on the way. After our first visit in the summer of 1953, the walk around Wade Park and the ascent to the Museum were our steady journey every Sunday. In the late fall and winter the University Circle was our usual destination after attending St. Paul’s Lutheran Church.
    Before its unhappy massive new extension, the Museum was a beautiful building, placed perfectly on a hill at the end of a lake. One first walked up the gentle slope from the lake to the bottom of the Museum’s magnificent staircase, and then climbed up next to the brooding Thinker to the entrance into a fine, big hall. To the left was an atrium, a kind of orangerie with flowers, bushes, and small trees reaching up to its huge glass sky window. Amongst this charming interior garden were a number of benches and metal seats where one could relax and enjoy the greenery after an extensive visit of the Museum’s fine collection of Modern European Art, where my father spent hours analyzing pictures by Monet, Degas, and other French impressionists – his favorites. My father had been a prolific painter and drawer since early childhood. He was well known amongst neighbors and his mother’s co-workers in Berlin because he had portrayed many of them. Father loved the French painters, and my brother and I appreciated the Museum’s extensive collection of knights’ armor. After the recent new extension, the knights’ armor collection is now shown in the former orangerie, destroying its original magic.
    On late Sunday afternoons we ate at Stouffer’s on University Circle with many other families who had enjoyed a fine afternoon experiencing European art and culture. It was not unimportant that entry to the Museum was free.
    Dr. N. had informed my mother of the availability of a scholarship to the Cleveland Music School on University Circle, where I could get good violin lessons. Every second Wednesday afternoon I took the crowded bus from E. 55th up to E. 105th Street. The bus driver was always very attentive. He saved me once from a drunk white man who pushed me around to make a spectacle for the mostly bored crowd of black women returning from work. Some of them were spectacularly fat, taking up two seats. I feared getting squeezed and trapped at a window seat. As a result, I always stood up in the bus, thereby getting in the way of drunk white men.
    For me and my family, Cleveland’s culture was a perplexing mixture of failing lives in the Hough District and spectacular high culture derived from Europe’s best. We all took pleasure from the beauty of the civilization offered, while relying on friendship and advice from other immigrants.

Links to previous installments in chronological order of contents:
Copyright © 2016 by Rolf Dumke

No comments:

Post a Comment