Newspapers After 'Sour Pickle Time'
AFTER the end of World War II, our "occupation" experts in West Germany were extremely careful that none of the onetime Nazi newspaper editors was able to pick up where he left off. There hadn't been, of course, anything but onetime Nazi editors, and some of them were unhappy to be included in a generalization about something over which they had no choice. Our experts came to realize our hasty postwar decisions might have faults, and it was my happy lot to be asked to "survey" the West German press and r ender some advice. I shook hands with over 400 "oldtime" hometown editors and enjoyed every minute - although I think my "advice" had little to do with much of anything. My mission was not so much to change anything as it was to assure the journalists of West Germany that Uncle Sam wasn't altogether a rascal and wanted to be friends.
One consequence of this three-month visit is my ability to meet a German somewhere and tell him the name of his hometown paper and (as of 1953) who publishes it. This happened lately with Maria Louisa Mineau, who told me she was born at Starnberg. I am not likely to forget Starnberg and its "Bote" right away. A good part of my State Department stint was routine, and diplomatically arranged, but here and there something happened to give a town special meaning.
Take Bremen, for instance. The State Department boy there told me he had not made an appointment for me to meet the publisher "because he's anti-American." Knowing nothing about the amenities of the diplomatic program, this interested me, and I felt that might indeed be a top reason for talking with the gentleman. The State Department boy said a couple of GI's had broken into a freight car on a siding, had stolen foodstuffs, and had worked them off on the black market to their shameful profit. This edito r had been asked not to print a story about it, but had done so anyway - and was accordingly "anti-American." I conceded to the boy that he might, indeed, be antagonistic, but that his instincts appealed to me, and I felt he should be called upon.
The morning he received me in his office, he had the lord-mayor of Bremen there as well so we could talk. I assured the editor his attitude about suppressing news would please any Yankee slotman, and I told the mayor we were in favor of his policies whatever they might be. It turned out the mayor was running Bremen without any help from our consulate and was delighted to greet me.
As to Starnberg: Starnberg is maybe 15 kilometers from Munich, a charming village perched on Lake Wurms, which is otherwise called the Starnberger See. The newspaper there is named The Starnberger Land und See Bote. It was at that time one of four such newspapers in West Germany published by a woman. All had been inherited, and the lady-owners deferred completely to the gentlemen who made up their staffs. The German word Bote means messenger. But this lady owner had whimsically accepted our English word boat. There was a prominent cartoon-logo showing a boat leaping from Lake Starnberg up onto the sandy beach with wheels to suit.
It wasn't much of a funny, but in 1953 there wasn't anything that humorous in German journalism. The land-and-sea messenger might be a land-and-sea boat. The lovely lady who had inherited this paper presided at our supper, which was served at a window table so we looked off across the lake. Meals in Germany are never devoted to business, so we bantered pleasantly with Madame - I, her editor, her business manager, her technical superintendent, and the erudite Herr Doktor who composed for her front page th e obligatory and profound "lead article" whose omission would instantly improve every German newspaper. When supper was over, milady arose with outthrust hand, bade us all goodnight, and left with the chauffeur who had come with the status Mercedes to fetch her home. The business manager said, "Now!" and we took our chairs to spend two hours in shop talk. Being a lady, the owner of the paper left such things to her workmen.
It was at that meeting, after she left, that I heard for the first time the German saying, "sour pickle time." When things aren't going well, it's sour pickle time. The editor of the Starnberger Land und See Bote assured me the newspaper had its sour pickle time behind it.