“Something had to be done. It was not to be stood any longer. There was no thrill in our work. Murder, reports of mental hospitals, Miss Leg, Miss Stocking, Miss Universe, and so on. It just couldn’t be borne any longer.
“That’s the reason for the wish to get out of it. There is more beauty than badness on this earth, in spite of sensational news, conferences, fears, atomic bombs!”
Not the snappiest of titles but an accurate summary of the book! Now this is another little bit of a cheat because I actually haven’t got very far into this one yet – it’s my Christmas present to myself because it’s quite rare and so was quite a lot of money, and our intrepid travellers have only made it to Persia at the point of writing (though I did skip ahead a bit for review purposes!)
It’s another time-travel special – Eitel and Rolf Lange set out from Germany in 1953, just eight years after the end of World War 2, on their “Green Elephant” – a 600cc Zundapp and sidecar.
Eitel was a press photographer before the war and though with peace came a return to his profession – “Rebuilding, Siamese twins, weddings of princes, jails and so on” – he had a long-held dream to make a world trip once in his life, and announced one morning to his son and his wife that it was time to make it reality, to go and see the world for themselves.
Eitel has a dry sense of humour and a deadpan writing style. He doesn’t shy away from the possible challenge faced by two Germans travelling through post-war Europe – on the need to hurry through Italy and Greece, he writes “for Germans [these countries] meant a memory of the travelling agency ‘Adolf Hitler’ which had forced thousands to die here.”
The trip takes Eitel and Rolf to Japan where they visit Hiroshima and talk to survivors of the atomic bomb. That part of the book is truly extraordinary and very moving. Eitel describes their meeting with the mayor of Hiroshima who tells them: “World politics should be made from here. From a big hall with a big window, so all the big people could see what our age of science can bring upon us, if we do not understand how to live together.”
For me this book is a glimpse at a time that is glossed over in our histories. We like to celebrate the end of the war, and maybe we’ll think of the Japanese civilians who were killed in a new and horrible way, and we nod to agree with the argument that this was necessary to prevent further bloodshed. Rolf and Eitel are travelling through a world trying to rebuild itself and trying to find better ways of living together. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the book and I know it will give me lots to think about.