The World War II story of Jews in the city of Berlin: 50,535 were deported to death camps, 1900 returned. Jewish conversation on a street was, “Where are Elsa and Hans? My God what happened to their child?”
Impossible in pre-war Germany for an 18 year old girl with a five star patch sewn on her dress to obtain a book keeping apprenticeship in any of Berlin’s top hotels. Nevertheless, Hilde Von Erhard was accepted by a man, solidly anti-Nazi, offered her employment and protection.
Hilde was plucky, patch removed, most evenings would join the young crowd at the Residenz Dance Hall. Its floor was large enough for 1,000 people, above them 100 mirrored globes encasing 86.000 electric lights. Four bars, private rooms and a circus carousel to ride, drink in hand.
The most talked about feature, 200 private telephones affixed to tables. Guests could contact other tables, flirt anonymously. And, if that wasn’t ingenious enough, patrons could choose from a menu of over 100 gifts to send to others by pneumatic tube, wild.
It was there that Hilde met Mansfred, a handsome young man. They became an item, sat close together and danced late into the nights.
Eventually, Hilde’s parents were last seen jammed into a box-car. The girl’s employer told her she must leave Berlin. He generously funded her and wrote a personal letter of recommendation. She and Mansfred hugged goodbye and the Jewish girl fled for her life to New York City before World War II exploded.
In time, Hilde became head book keeper for a 5 star Manhattan hotel. During that period, she tried twice through ads and inquiries to locate her boyfriend Mansfred, to no avail. She told her fellow employees, in her German accent, about the dance hall in Berlin, the Oskar Joost orchestra playing Cole Porter tunes, shoulders shimmering and shaking. Music in her blood, during work she could be heard humming, Ich liebe Dich, Wiederseh’n, Guanabara and others.
After work on the unoccupied hotel dance floor she taught staff how to tango playing three records, Ein spanischer, Mir scheint and the singer Zarah Leander belting out Zigeuner. She often told the story of how madly she loved a young man who danced only with her in a Berlin dance hall throughout the night. To this day thinks of him.
Years later, now assistant manager, was approached by her boss. “Hilde, our new hotel in Berlin is almost completed. We want you to be its Manager.”
A plane touched down at the Tempelhof Airport on an eerie night. The manager of the newest hotel in Berlin arrived and was driven along lush grounds near the most famous landmark of Berlin, the Brandenburg Gate. Before her a sumptuous hotel well over 300 bedrooms, four dining rooms, parlors, libraries, a music room and a salon, all graced with 17th century wallpaper. Hilde Von Erhard’s new home.
The woman found Berlin divided into four sectors, American, British, French, referred to as the West, the Soviet, the East. Yet, once a book keeper, had returned home to the ‘Motherland of Jazz’ and dance halls. Most of her youthful haunts vanished, replaced by many more.
To her delight the Residenz, destroyed, had been reinvented on a smaller scale. The dance floor accommodated 500 people and there were 100 phones on tables. The woman and her friends attended often.
One evening a phone rang, the woman answered. A deep voice asked, “Is this Hilde Von Erhard who once danced the nights away?”
“Yes, who is this?”
“Thirty one years ago in 1939, I kissed you goodbye as you boarded a train leaving Germany. We were devastated. I’m your boyfriend Mansfred, will you dance with me?”