August 23, 2014

Obersturmführer Michael Wittmann

Obersturmführer Michael Wittmann

Gstaad—In this freewheeling Swiss village of the 1950s, the unconventional was the norm, monumental drinking commonplace, but the manners of the players were always impeccable. Yes, there were ladies of lower-class parentage and of a dubious past, but they covered it up with a grand manner and an affected aristocratic confidence they had learned through experience. That’s how things were back then; the slags that pass for celebrities today would not have lasted a minute. Some might think it was snobby, but it was nothing of the kind. One just had to act in a certain manner and that is all. Everyone knew where everyone else came from, so it wasn’t even a pretense. It was just a disciplined way of living that had nothing to do with whether one lived within or outside the rules. Men remained married whether they had mistresses or not, as did women even if they took lovers. Divorce was as much of a no-no as swearing in public or calling a lady of easy virtue a tart.

“Some might think it was snobby, but it was nothing of the kind. One just had to act in a certain manner and that is all.”

Am I being too idealistic about a period that was so long ago? Of course I am, but then one always remembers the good and tends to forget the bad. Aged twenty-two or even younger I hung out at the Palace Hotel’s grill every night. That’s where it all took place. There was a bar and a tiny dance area, and a large dining room and that was that. There was no nightclub, and the music was soft and only for dancing, and dancing up close, that is. Which means the Palace grill was the perfect place to pick up women. One such lady and I hooked up back in 1958 for a very brief and innocent romance. And now I’ll come to the present.

Maya Schoenburg, ex-Flick, has the same birthday as Napoleon, August 15, so we all gathered at Mick Flick’s chalet for a party. Mick and Maya have remained close because they have three children together and because both are extremely nice and civilized. The party was all Flicks and Schoenburgs with some very young members of the latter family. Alexander (Maya’s brother) Schoenburg’s children are straight out of the 1950s, or even 1920s, with high collars, perfect manners, and the sort of Elvis haircuts that made them look of a far better period than today. I drank wonderful wine, and heard mostly German from some very nice looking young kids, and I was in my element. We talked about the two world wars and of the great tank ace Obersturmführer Michael Wittmann, who with his dreaded Tiger tank spread fear and death until he was killed toward the end of the Normandy campaign. (Wittmann was a legend among his enemies on both the Eastern and Western fronts, and I think that Rundstedt should have retired him, but then I don’t think that Wittmann would have obeyed the order.)

So, some of you Germanophiles must get the picture: A civilized evening with great food and wine among a new German generation that looked like a past one, blond, blue-eyed, and Nordic. The looks alone would get one arrested in any modern city nowadays, if you know what I mean.


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