What is daily life like?
Today’s Germany is not incredibly different from the United States. However, 81-year-old Eberhard Hatt’s experiences show many versions of Daily Life, from Germany’s tragic past through today.
I was introduced to Mr. Hatt one-and-a-half years ago. He is my boyfriend’s grandfather and an inspiring person. Since we met he has told me many stories about his experiences in WWII and the German Democratic Republic (the former East Germany). When I asked him if he would be interviewed for this special “Daily Life” field note, he was happy to oblige. I have translated his answers to this interview to the best of my ability, and hope you will all find his life as interesting and inspiring as I do!
What is your full name?
My name is Eberhard Hatt and I am 81 years old.
Where do you live? What is your house like?
I live with my beloved wife, Regina, on the edge of Berlin in Woltersdorf. We moved here twelve years ago from Leipzig to be closer to our son and grandchildren. We built a multi-family house so that we could have three generations under one roof. It was great to live with my grandchildren. After they returned home from school we ate lunch together and they played in the yard. It was an ideal situation. Today it’s a bit quieter, but our grandchildren can still visit.
What was it like for you growing up?
My childhood was very difficult. I started with nothing and had to work my way up. I was born in 1932 in Dresden to an unwed mother. In this time, having a child outside of marriage was not culturally accepted. My mother could not afford to take care of me alone. Therefore, I was brought up in a Catholic Home for single mothers and their children. However, this was during the rise of the Nazi regime. In 1939-40 all Catholic orphanages and convents were closed by the Nazis. My mother was forced to give me up to foster care, since the church had provided her a home until then. I was eight years old. My foster family was not a kind family and after a few months I ran away to the pharmacy where mother worked. She was then allowed a small apartment since I couldn’t be taken back into foster care.
We lived there together until February 1945, when the Anglo-American Bombing of Dresden occurred. It was a terrible thing to experience. Our apartment was half-destroyed and we could no longer live there. After this, we fled to live with some friends on the edge of Dresden
In June of 1945, the war was over and Dresden was under Soviet control. We were commanded by the Soviet Army to move back into Dresden to register. We were supposed to move back into our old apartment, but the stairs leading up to it were destroyed. We built some temporary stairs to get back in and lived there without electricity and running water. The housing was quite primitive, but there was almost nothing left in Dresden since the bombing. Eventually, we were given electricity and continued to live there.
Around this time, my mother married and I got a step-father. Unfortunately, he was not friendly to children. Because of this I found refuge in sports. I went twice a week to weight-lifting training, and after four years I developed so much strength that I was invited to participate in a full-time training program. In the meantime, I graduated from an apprenticeship that I held from 1947-1950 as roofer and builder. I worked for two years in this position.
Suddenly, I was given an opportunity from the Army Sportclub Leipzig to continue my sports training in a more formal manner. I began with the Army Sportclub in May of 1953. After one month, I took part in first National Championship in the German Democratic Republic. There I lifted three new records in the lightweight class.
After that, from ’53-’61, I belonged to the central Weightlifting Team in the Army Sportclub Leipzig. During this time I was seven-time champion in the individual arena, and seven-time team Gold medal winner! I was named the Master of my sport during these years and given awards from many officials. I even shook the hand of Government Head Walther Ulbricht.. In 1961 I left professional weightlifting and went back in my original job as roofer in order to keep my body healthy. When I think of where I came from, I feel very lucky to have had so much success.
To what do you attribute your success?
The turning point in my life was when I could do weightlifting and sport as a career. I believe what I learned through doing sports I could carry through the rest of my life, even now as I am 81 years old. . I was and still am very lucky in my life. I have also had an amazing mentor who pushed me to make sports my goal and take the opportunity in Leipzig. Also, my wife Regina has always been beside me since we met. I attribute so much to my wife. Without her I would never have been as happy or successful as I am.
What is your family like?
During the sports days, I got to know Regina and we got married in 1958. Regina was also an active swimmer. I am very satisfied with what we have accomplished together. In 1959 we had our son, Claus-Dieter. I have two grandchildren who were born in 1990. My grandkids have kept me fit.
How do you get around?
I have a car, so I drive that around. f\For example, I go to the grocery store each day.
What types of clothing do you like to wear?
I try to wear athletic clothes, since I still keep in shape and work out daily. I am fit for my age.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I am retired, so I have a lot of time. I follow my grandchildren’s studies as close as I can. I live for my family. When I see what my grandchildren are accomplishing, I am satisfied.
What language(s) do you speak?
Aside from my native German, I am currently learning Hebrew. If I go could back in time, I would have learned a second language, but with my job it was hard to find time for that. I was always so tired when I went to bed at night.I barely had time to read!
Do you have pets?
We have a cat named Hannibal. He walked up to our house one day. Our grandchildren wanted him to stay, so we kept feeding him.
Have you traveled? Where have you traveled to?
My greatest travel experience was in 1957 when I went to China with my German National Team. It was also the highlight of my sports career. China was so amazing in that time period. One time, my roommate and I were looking out the window of our hotel room in Beijing. There were so many stories down to the ground level, and we had a bird’s eye view of what was going on down below. We noticed some workers starting on a project, even though we couldn’t make out what it was.
During that day, we decided to do some sight-seeing in the nearby Forbidden City and were gone for about ten hours. When we came back, we looked out the window again. We look at the same place where the workers had begun something that morning. Now, a completed park and recreation area was there! We thought we were in the wrong hotel room! I am still amazed at what those workers completed in a mere span of ten hours!
What did you do for work?
After my weightlifting days, I went back to my old job. After a few years, I was called to train youth apprentices in the basic concepts of roofing. From 1972 to 1989, I worked in that job.
It’s important to note that in those days, moving out of East Germany to anywhere that was not a Communist country was almost impossible. For example, in 1987 I wanted to visit a dying mentor of mine in West Berlin. However, I wasn’t able to get a pass to travel out of East Germany. My wife was also prevented from attending her mother’s funeral in West Germany. Because of this, I officially left the Communist Party in protest. They called us immoral, but they wouldn’t even allow my wife to attend her mother’s funeral.
The Communist Party almost kicked me out of my job until my colleagues threatened to quit the Party as well. Because of that, my job was saved. But I couldn’t teach anymore since they were worried I would try to indoctrinate my students with opposing political ideas.
East and West Germany became one country again in 1990. Since I had left the Party, I was told I would be one of the first people to get a job in the reunited country. Yet, I was jobless for a year after ’89.
One night in 1991, some apprentices came to our house and told me about problems in our industry . There were many uneducated managers teaching the apprentices. They heard that I was jobless at the moment, and hoped to get me back into the roofing trade. I became a technical manager of two factories until I was 68 years old. Now I am retired.
Is there anything else you would like to say to students in the United States?
When you have free time, go do sports, play music, or do another hobby. Being involved in sports was a life-changing event for me. Don’t spend your free time doing nothing!
If you have any questions for Mr. Hatt, please send them to me. He would be glad to answer them!