Part I: 1961 – 1971
Civil Rights Movement, Demonstrations, Space Travel and Exploration
[As the beginning of my research at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia had been scheduled for the middle of March 1961, I started my journey to the United States early in March. First I traveled by train on the Arlberg-Express from Innsbruck to Paris where I spent a few days. From there the regular boat train brought me from the Gare St-Lazare to Le Havre. I crossed the Atlantic on board the still fairly new 55,000 BRT passenger ship United States .]
[Transl: The United States was built in 1952. She was at the time the fastest passenger ship on the North Atlantic route. Crossing the Atlantic from Le Havre to New York took five days.]
New York, March 12, 1961
Coming back to New York, the city is more impressive than I remembered. After ten years, the aspects by which one sees the city have changed considerably. Today, New York gives the impression of being a world metropolis more than Paris. What comes to my special attention is the shift in the color line. Here whites and non-whites, Asians, Europeans, South Americans, and Africans meet in a matter of fact manner that is astonishing. Also the local colored population seems to mingle inconspicuously with whites. Anyway, demonstrations against segregation at the lunch-table that took place yesterday afternoon on Fifth Avenue did not make an impression either on colored people or whites.
New York, March 13, 1961
Trinity Church [On Broadway and Wall Street]
Trinity Church in Lower Manhattan (built ca. 1760) gives an idea of how the Financial District looked at the outset of its growth. Until late in the 19th century, houses there were not more than one or two stories high, whereas the skyline of Lower Manhattan now rises to dizzying heights. The Woolworth Building with its odd pseudo-gothic stucco exterior is an outstanding example of the old type of skyscrapers, while the new buildings on East 42nd Street set the pace for the modern line of architecture. The United Nations Building on the East River is the most impressive example of this new architectural design.
To understand Walt Whitman and Thomas Wolfe one has to stand on the Brooklyn Bridge looking at the skyline to the right and watch the unceasing flow of traffic below.
Comment on the Brooklyn Bridge
[When the construction of the suspension bridge over the East River that connects Brooklyn with Manhattan was completed in 1883, it was regarded as a technological wonder. The Brooklyn Bridge as well as the Statue of Liberty, which was unveiled in 1886 on an island off Manhattan, is a symbol of America as the country of immigration. While the Statue of Liberty is more seen through the eyes of the world outside of America as a hopeful sign of the New World, the Brooklyn Bridge has been used in American literature as a manifold theme of historical significance. Already Walt Whitman in the second edition of Leaves of Grass (1856) had with “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” sung of Manhattan and the stream of people who had crossed the East River before the Bridge was built. Hart Crane wrote the epic poem The Bridge (1930), in which he tried to find a synthesis of the American historical experience since Columbus. Thomas Wolfe who had lived in Brooklyn from 1931-35 treated his experience of the Bridge in his great novel Of Time and the River (1935). Finally, Arthur Miller wrote with A View from the Bridge (1955) an immigrant tragedy that is timelessly overarched by the Bridge. Significantly, Kafka began his novel Amerika (1912/1927) at the entrance to the harbor of New York with the Statue of Liberty – “die Statue der Freiheitsgöttin,” around whose figure “die freien Lüfte wehten.”]
Comment on the Street Gridiron of Manhattan
[The gridiron or rectangular network of streets of Manhattan makes it, as is well known, easy to find one’s way in New York. This goes back to the New York city planning of 1811 whereby avenues were laid out running lengthwise and the streets in ascending numbers in rectangular position to them. Only Broadway meanders diagonally through the Peninsular. This rectangular design of the streets stands in sharp contrast to the maze of alleys of the historically grown cities in Europe.
But this gridiron has gained national significance beyond Manhattan and New York. The rectangular grid has virtually become the pattern for organizing space in America. Most cities have been laid out this way; county lines follow this pattern just as well. Also the border lines of states beyond the Mississippi are for the most part rectangular, a glance at a map will show. This rectilinear geometric pattern was practical, efficient, easily grasped, and it suited the American need for surveying and organizing space very well.]
[During my brief stay in New York I met at the Institute of International Education with the advisor who administered my grant from the Tona Shepherd Trust Fund. Immediately thereafter I went on to Philadelphia.]
Philadelphia, March 14, 1961
The natural friendliness and frankness in this country tend to relieve many of the mental frustrations and tensions that underlie official and unofficial encounters at home.
At a luncheon in the Franklin Inn Club I was reminded of the fact that, already at the time of the American Revolution, Philadelphia was the second largest city in the English speaking world. Only London was larger.
[When I arrived at the University of Pennsylvania, I was received with great friendliness by Professor Robert Spiller. Robert E. Spiller (1896-1988), Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania, was one of the leading scholars in the area of American literature. He admitted me to his seminar and gave me helpful advice in carrying out my research project on the epic in the American novel. Immediately after my arrival, Professor Spiller introduced me into the Faculty Club, which was for me a new facility on the grounds of a university. The Faculty Club offered a reasonably-priced lunch; there was also a lounge with comfortable sitting and reading materials. In a relaxed atmosphere, it was possible to immediately strike up a conversation with colleagues. I saw a new world of an academic community that was common in America but at that time hardly existed in Europe. Professor Spiller also invited me to a luncheon in the Franklin Inn Club. The Franklin Inn Club, one of the oldest literary societies in America, met at that time in Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia. It was for me an informative introduction to a refined urbane civilization that, since colonial times, had been cultivated in the cities along the East coast from Boston to Charleston.]
Philadelphia, March 20, 1961
This country has an incredible amount of old junk and debris just lying around; it is everywhere, on the streets, on sidewalks, in backyards. The country is overloaded with cars that usually end up in a junk yard
Philadelphia, March 21, 1961
Unemployment causes serious problems. Although economists are inclined to see it as a natural fluctuation of the business cycle and thus regard it to some extent as a healthy cleansing of the economic process, it should be avoided for moral and human reasons. It is not so much hunger and want that confront the unemployed in this country but rather a sense of complete hopelessness and futility. They lose their self-respect and sense of personal integrity. The human values that are destroyed by putting someone out of work are the worst loss of all.
Migration to Northern Cities
It is interesting to note how the percentage of the colored population in Northern cities has increased in the last ten years. New York, Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore show an increase of almost 3 to 5%, while the rate in the South decreased. In these Northern cities the general impression is that of a completely mixed white and black population.
Philadelphia, March 27, 1961
There is something curious about Philadelphia that puzzles me: Every hour or so, one hears either a siren of a police car or a fire engine rushing through the streets. At this very moment a house is burning down next to where I live. Most houses here are too old and not properly maintained.