World War I Begins, as Seen by a Ten-Year-Old – Berlin, August 10, 1914

It was said in my family that my father, Johannes Höber, had a knack for being present at historic events.  I recently discovered such an incident that I had not known about before.  The story is told in a couple of postcards that were found recently among the papers of my sister, Susanne.  The postcards were written by my father as a child, in an old fashioned German script that even some German readers do not know today. As was usual at that time, a grownup drew lines on the card with a ruler and pencil to help the child write straight and evenly.

August 10, 1914, postcards from Johannes Höber, age 10, in Potsdam, to his father in Kiel.

August 10, 1914, postcards from Johannes Höber, age 10, in Potsdam, to his father in Kiel.

Johannes lived with his parents in the northern port city of Kiel, where his father was a professor and his mother a physician.  Johannes’s widowed grandmother, Großmama Mimi, lived in Berlin, a five hour train trip from Kiel. In Late July 1914, Johannes and his younger sister Grilli and their mother made the trip from Kiel to Berlin to stay for a couple of weeks with Großmama Mimi.  Perhaps the occasion for the trip was Johannes’s birthday:  he turned ten on August 7.  While the children were visiting friends in Potsdam, outside Berlin, World War I broke out with Germany’s declaration of war against Russia on August 1, followed promptly by the German invasion of Russia’s ally, France.

1914. At school, Johannes and his classmates played at being soldiers. Johannes is in the front row, third from the left, wearing a spike helmet [Pickelhaube]. Click on image to enlarge.

1914. At school, Johannes and his classmates played at being soldiers. Johannes is in the front row, third from the left, wearing a spiked helmet [Pickelhaube]. Click on image to enlarge.

In the postcards postmarked August 10, Johannes wrote home to his father in Kiel, thanking him for a birthday card and telling him the excitement he had seen in the city.  He probably started with a single card, but his enthusiasm carried the message to a second card.  Here is what he wrote:

Dear Papi,

Your card just arrived and I like it a lot.  Hopefully we will see each other again soon.  Yesterday there was an outdoor church service and a departure parade for the first infantry regiment.  We left here already at 10 and arrived at the Lustgarten [park in front of the Imperial palace] – that’s where the parade was – just as a group of the soldiers were marching in.  We then looked around and found a very nice place to watch the Kaiser arrive.  We had waited barely 5 minutes when we heard “Hurrah!” in the distance and suddenly the Kaiser’s car came around the corner and drove by directly in front of us.  It continued for a while that way and eventually we saw the Kaiser driving back.

It is wonderful here in Potsdam.  Grilli went to school with [her friend] Tutti today and tidied up and then sewed a gusset and a “Nog” [?] on a shirt for a soldier’s uniform.  I spent the whole morning today cutting up wood with a saw.

Your Jonny (now 10)

 

Kaiser Wilhelm II in an open car. This is probably what he looked like when Johannes saw him at the outbreak of World War I.

Kaiser Wilhelm II in an open car. This is probably what he looked like when Johannes saw him.

Thus Johannes was present to see some of the first troops to depart from Germany for the War, under the personal direction of Kaiser Wilhelm II.  Four years later, as the War came to an end, Johannes would also witness the mutiny of German Navy at the Kiel naval base.  He was walking home from school when he encountered sailors firing on their officers in the streets outside the warship facility. This was one of the events leading to Germany’s signing an armistice ending the War, and another in a string of historic events to which Johannes would be an eyewitness.

 

Johannes, summer of 1918 (age 14) near the end of World War I.

Johannes, summer of 1918 (age 14) near the end of World War I.

For more on the Hoeber family, click here

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