Haldemans’ pilgrimage begins with digital discussion, ends with real-life travel
They visited three universities, spoke to a German university class, and met with university scholars, a university archivist, and a renowned artist.
For the Haldemans, who are both honorary alumni of Erskine College, their trip to Germany was not simply a vacation. Their journey centered around the work of novelist Charles Haldeman, Richard’s brother, who skipped his senior year at Pickens High School and spent his freshman year at Erskine College in 1948-49.
This account of the trip and its significance, written by Richard Haldeman, is also informed by his wife’s experience as the child of a U.S. Army Occupation officer in Germany just after World War II.
A Journey to the Past Leads to an Unforgettable Trip To Germany
When I responded to a website, “Neglected Books,” that discussed two novels by my late brother, Charles Haldeman, I could not realize this was to take me on a four-year internet and postal correspondence journey with German professor and author Dr. Martin Meyer or where this journey would lead us.
Our journey through correspondence became real in 2016 when my wife Janice (Professor Emerita of Biology at Erskine) accompanied me on a three-week summer trip to Germany. On this trip we would visit three universities, speak to a German university class, examine the centuries-old archives of Heidelberg University, and meet and enjoy the hospitality of university scholars, a university archivist, and a renowned sculptor/artist.
Our “journey” with Dr. Meyer began in 2012, when he read my entry on the “Neglected Books” website. Dr. Meyer’s 1994 book on post-war occupied Germany as mirrored in the American novel had included a section on Charles Haldeman’s first novel, The Sun’s Attendant, published in 1963. Dr. Meyer contacted me and enquired why this novel, set largely in post-war Germany, had never been translated into German. I proposed possible reasons indicated by Charles’s correspondence with the person to whom the book is dedicated.
My communications with Dr. Meyer did not end then, nor did their results. A German publisher, Peter Graf, shared Dr. Meyer’s interest in The Sun’s Attendant. He contacted me about securing publication rights from the original English publisher. After this was accomplished, the book was translated into German and published by Metrolit in Berlin in 2015, with an excellent “After Word” (Nachwort) by Martin Meyer. It received fine reviews and was also published in a Book Guild edition.
Dr. Meyer’s interest in Charles and his work did not end with The Sun’s Attendant. He learned I had preserved voluminous correspondence Charles had with his family from 1948, when he entered Erskine College as a freshman, until his death in 1983 in Greece, where he had made his home for 25 years. These years also included study at Antioch College, four years in the Navy, work at a famous bookstore in New York City, study at Heidelberg University (the setting for a section of The Sun’s Attendant) and the restoration of a Venetian villa on the island of Crete.
Dr. Meyer, a graduate of Heidelberg University, arranged with the University Archivist Dagmar Druell-Zimmerman that this correspondence and Charles’s unpublished manuscripts be stored in the university. Earlier this year, we boxed and mailed these materials to the university. At the same time we were preparing for our trip to Germany, one that would coincide with that of our daughter, Nancy Cochran, her husband, Dr. Jeff Cochran, and 13-year-old grandson, Erzhan. They would accompany us to Germany, be with us at the beginning and end of the trip, and spend two weeks with Erzhan in his birth country, Kazakhstan.
Dr. Meyer helped Janice and me to plan our time in Germany. He invited us to speak to his class at Martin Luther University in Halle, where he teaches American literature in the English and American Institute. The class was on Americans’ views of Germany, and we spoke on the post-World War II period, I on “The Legacy of Charles Haldeman,” and Janice on her memories of living in Germany from 1946-49 as the daughter of a U.S. Army Occupation officer.
Earlier Dr. Meyer and his wife Almuth, director of international programs at Goethe University in Frankfurt, had taken Janice and me on a tour of the Farben Building, now part of this university, in which Janice’s father worked as an Occupation officer and at which she ate lunch each weekday as an American school child 70 years ago. Dr. Meyer also took us to the famous Palm Gardens in Frankfurt and on a Rhine Country tour, including Eltville, the ”Rose City,” and Wartburg Castle, where Martin Luther translated the Bible into German.
Jan’s and my visit to Halle was our first into the former East Germany. After speaking to Dr. Meyer’s class at Martin Luther University, we enjoyed lunch with several of his colleagues and students and were taken on a city tour by two of the bright young students in his class, Tim and Felix. In the city square is a statue of Halle native George Handel, holding in his hand a scroll of Messiah.
Our trip also provided us the opportunity to visit with three of Charles’s and my cousins, Joerg Heuss and his wife Wiltrud in Karlsruhe, Elke Langendoerfer and her husband Herbert in Horn on the Bodensee (Lake Constance), and Heide Lemp and her husband Gerrit in Schutterwald (near Offenburg). It was Janice’s and my first opportunity in 16 years to visit these cousins, during which time they and we have all become grandparents (some of our grandchildren are now teenagers). While we were in Germany, our other grandson William, 16, was an exchange student there, and we spent an afternoon with him and his host family, the Ecks, in Weinheim. These days enjoying hospitality, good conversation, and delicious food in German homes were a highlight of the trip and worth a separate story.
Our home base in Frankfurt gave us the opportunity for a bus tour and visit to the Goethe House. We discovered a sidewalk café and shopping area within walking distance of our hotel. From Frankfurt we traveled to Bingen on Rhine, home of the famous Hildegard, twelfth-century theologian, nurse, botanist, artist, and visionary. We enjoyed the museum there, featuring Roman as well as medieval artifacts. Janice, a botanist, particularly enjoyed Hildegard’s garden of medicinal plants. She also had the opportunity to view again the Bingen Castle in which she and her brother spent many childhood days in the 1940s. With Nancy, Jeff, and Erzhan we visited Pirmasens, a beautiful town near the French border where Jeff’s late parents had spent the early years of their marriage while Jeff’s father served in the Army in the mid-1950s.
As our trip neared its end, the best was yet to come. Nancy, Jeff and Erzhan returned from Kazakhstan with descriptions of their experiences—deserving still another separate story! Our family traveled together to Heidelberg, where we spent two days. The first day Janice and I met Dr. Druell-Zimmermann in the Heidelberg University Archives, where we examined Charles Haldeman’s records and papers stored there and saw student records dating back to 1432. In addition to her work as archivist, Dr. Druell-Zimmerman is biographer of the chancellors of Heidelberg University, second oldest university in continental Europe.
That night all five members of our family were privileged to enjoy delicious food and stimulating conversation as dinner guests of Dr. Druell-Zimmermann and her husband, Dr. Manfred Zimmerman, at their beautiful hilltop home near Heidelberg. Dr. Manfred Zimmermann, Emeritus Professor of Physiology at Heidelberg University, is a renowned expert on pain research.
The following day was a fitting close to our journey, a visit with one of Charles’s closest friends. In preparation for the trip I had been engrossed in my brother’s letters, living again in the world of 60 years ago. Many of these letters described Charles’s friendship with a young German art student, Pieter Sohl. They describe how Charles, an aspiring author, and Pieter, an aspiring sculptor and painter, had met in Greece in 1955. They traveled together back to Heidelberg, where Pieter and his family helped Charles become established as a student at Heidelberg University from 1955-57.
Pieter Sohl has since become one of Germany’s most renowned artists, honored in a 2013 book featuring his art works and in a 2015 biography. In 2015 he spoke about Charles Haldeman at the Heidelberg Book Fair introducing the German translation of The Sun’s Attendant. When we informed him of our trip to Heidelberg, he invited us to his beautiful home in the ”Kohlhof” art community near Heidelberg. Along with our daughter Nancy, Janice and I enjoyed a wonderful lunch and afternoon conversation with Pieter and his wife Birgit. I brought copies of Charles’s letters describing his friendship with Pieter, and he shared memories of my brother. In Charles’s memory, he gave us a copy of the book of his art works, beautifully edited and designed by Birgit.
Back in Frankfurt for our final day in Germany, our family enjoyed a farewell supper with Martin Meyer and reviewed our experiences in Germany and Kazakhstan with him. We cannot express enough our gratitude to Martin. With no personal reward, he brought about a renewal of interest in my brother’s work and placement of his papers in the Heidelberg Archives, while laying plans for our trip. We are also grateful to Dagmar Druell-Zimmermann, Pieter Sohl, the Eck family, our cousins, and all the others we met whose hospitality made this trip a rich and flawless experience.
We hope we will be able to continue the relationships we have formed. Our only regret is that Charles Haldeman did not live to share in this experience.