Adolf Hain, born 25 July 1888, and the ‘Verein Seglerhaus am Wannsee’ ‘VSaW’

Suddenly over an early morning cup of tea in bed, in the summer of 2007, I had this yen to celebrate my 85th in Berlin, lunch on the terrace of my parents’ sailing club in Wannsee, which had played such a significant role in their lives. It was not only my father’s sporting passion. There are photographs in the family albums of both my parents, then young, sailing together in a series of dinghies named Anita I to Anita V. There are later ones of my father and his friend and sailing partner Adolf Hain in the yacht they shared, a 22 Quadratmeter Schaerenkreuzer, then the fastest racing yachts built, participating in serious sailing regattas, winning silver prizes which littered our Berlin flat. The boat was christened ‘Elan’, a pun, as it was a combination of the first letters of the names of Adolf Hain’s wife Elisabeth and my mother Anita. The club was also the centre of my parents’ social lives. Here they met fellow Berliners like the dictionary family Langenscheidt, whose dictum was that they sold the good German, and spoke the bad German. I can hear Anita’s voice, impersonating them in their Berlinsh ‘cockney’. And here one day my mother saw two little girls sitting in the dicky seat of a cabriolet, in the car park of the club. And the older one, Gerda, Dada, became Pitt’s wife, and that’s how I inherited my best friend in Berlin. And he me!

The club were delighted when I approached them, and Herr Nowak arranged a most elegant meal, with typical down-to-earth Berlin food. Snippets of Matjes-Hering, Kohlrouladen, followed by Rote Gruetze mit Vanilliensauce, of course! Delicate floral arrangements on white table cloth; glasses and silver glistening in the sunlight – during a fortnight’s drizzle – and the white sails of a regatta, image of memory. We were twenty, from Ferrara, Brussels, Montpellier, Essex, Sussex, Hamburg, the Black Forest, Lugano, Brunswick, Berlin and London Soho.

Later that year Herr Nowak sent me an email inviting me to book a goose dinner at Christmas, and an entire crisp goose was wheeled along to our table for us. My birthday lunch was repeated last year, with a lighter diet by special request from my guests, and on a rather smaller scale. For our goose feast last Christmas we were given a table, not in the intimate modern dining room, but in the great hall. This made me very uneasy. This is where the Kaiser’s picture had hung in my father’s time. But this is also where Hitler’s portrait had hung during the short-lived Thousand Year Reich, and where the club at its conferences made those fateful decisions, about which I had just been reading. So while I forgot my unease in the company of my lovely Berlin friends, and with that wondrous view over the lake, with its scattering of winter yachts, my memory of that meal was overcast for some months by the dark, ugly shadows of the past. Studying their details, and writing them down here now, has helped me in dispelling them, or at least in lightening them.

When I was in Berlin last November for Gerhard’s 80th, I took the opportunity of going out to the club in Wannsee to buy the history book of the club, which Stephan had wanted to give me the previous Christmas, but had been unable to get in the shops: ‘Das Seglerhaus. 125 Jahre VSaW’, published by the Delius Klasig Verlag. ‘The Sailing Club. 125 years of the Verein Seglerhaus am Wansee’, that magic lake and the river Havel on the beautiful outskirts of Berlin. Until I got back to London I had time only to look at the pictures, and to read, on the inside of the cover, a certain Anita Freifrau von Hochstetter’s mentioning, first in a list of members she remembered from happy times long ago on the terrace of the club, and figuring in the book, the name of Adolf Hain, my father’s old sailing partner. The Hains’ son Peter was my age, and a friend of mine. I remember visits to, and stays at, their large villa in Schlachtensee, fashionable Berlin suburb, and us two boys going up to the attic where a whole electric train scene was laid out on top of the billiard table, with stations and tunnels, and points and signals, electrically controlled. With a bit of persuasion – or my going down to complain to the adults! – Peter even allowed me to control the network… On the landing below the attic was the flat of Adolf or Elisabeth Hain’s parents, but one didnt meet them, I never saw them downstairs, which I thought strange, even sinister. Going up to the attic one day I caught a glimpse of them, very shy simple folk… I had more of a relationship with Frau Hain than with him, and I remember her explaining to me that the green plant in her large conservatory, with those soft, velvety pointed leaves, was a Zimmerlinde… When there wasn’t a regatta there would be picnics of the Hain and Zander families on board the yacht, and the Hains had huge thermos flasks with wide necks, containing hot dinners, whereas my mother or our maid Wilma had prepared cold pork chops and coffee in a very ordinary-sized thermos flask for the Zanders. I was a little jealous… I have childhood memories till ’33, of weekends in Wannsee, driving in our Muckepicke mini Opel along the new Avus racetrack / Autobahn, being taught by my father to sail, to row, to look through the huge binoculars fitted on the balustrade of the terrace, to learn about knots! – and drinking Berliner Weisse mit, and being spoilt rotten by the staff in the kitchen.

Back in London I studied the book and wondered how the author, Alexander Rost, sailor and journalist, would be dealing with the Nazi period. Would he gloss over it?

Alexander Rost writes: (pp 105-107)

„1933: The Seglerhaus tradition was based on patriotism, irrespective of origin or profession, whether one’s views were conservative or tended to the liberal, the subject didn’t arise; sentiment was devoted until 1918 to the Kaiser. This was no different from pretty well the entire German bourgeoisie. Despite all skepticism vis-a-vis Hitler and his party one welcomed the ’national renewal’. And Rost quotes the ‘Yacht’ magazine, Nr. 16/1933, which reported, with the headline: ‘Significant Decisions at the Seglerhaus’: The Governing Council, as well as the Reception and Membership Committee of the Seglerhaus am Wannsee, met on 13 April 1933 for a joint session in the venerable halls of the Seglerhaus, pervaded as they were with the breezes of the highest sailing traditions. The President of the club (Adolf Hain – PZ) and the President of the Reception/Membership Committee raised the question of the ‘Gleichschaltung’ of the club, that is to say the alignment of the club and its aims with those of the totality of the desires and aims of the national government for the German people. (i e brought into line with Government policy – PZ) It needed only a brief probe of the views and attitudes of the gentlemen participating in the session to agree to the unanimous confirmation of the fact that the VSaW had since its foundation in 1867, kept faith with the national spirit of its fathers, in inviolable loyalty, and from honest conviction, and stood with utter firmness behind the new Germany. With its work devoted to the high ideals of the German sailing sport, and to the vigorously firm training of the young, the Verein Seglerhaus am Wannsee can restore its continuity, where it had emotionally stood aside in 1918, inspired as it has been by the new German ideals.“

„In similarly convoluted language, in comparison with which the pathos in Otto Prozens day (an earlier historian of the sailing scene – P Z) is positively heartwarming, the President of the club, Adolf Hain, welcomed the ‘Umbruch’, the ‘revolutionary change’, in Germany. When the club year 1933 began, heavy storms loured over Germany. The spring 1933 victoriously tore away these dark clouds, and in the rays of the sun the new Germany was born. The club, together with its members, came marching with joy; the glorious old flag, Black White and Red, emblem of freedom, was flying once more over German lands.“

And the new-type president of the VSaW was my father’s old friend and sailing partner Adolf Hain… and I learn that 76 years later!

Alexander Rost continues: (p113)

„At an Extraordinary General Meeting on 6 June 1940, the Leader of the club Hain defined the particularity of the sport of sailing as being a fighting sport. Members had to accept a change of rule, which robbed them of the last vestige of a voice in the club’s affairs. The alternative was the threat that the club would lose its rights to the use of its property, and if it was closed, the entire proceeds, including those of the clubhouse, would pass to the Nazi party.“

Adolf Hain made his money in the wholesale silk trade, which was largely in Jewish hands, so that he not only had a Jewish sailing partner, but also worked closely with Jews in his business. Conveniently the state he supported so diligently removed all his competitors! His rise therefore in the Nazi hierarchy is psychologically, socially, politically and morally utterly fascinating – and sick-making. Perhaps he had to be an even better Nazi to cover his tracks, having had such close contact with Jews in both his business and his private life. It is a very typical example of what happened in Germany. It is a very typical example of how, what happened in Germany, could happen. It is a classic case. But it does come so very close to my family’s life, to my own life, and that is pretty shattering. It is also immeasurably sad.

It has been a great relief for me to find all this out; to know now exactly what exalted a role Adolf Hain played during the 12 years the murderers were in charge; to know now exactly what happened at the Seglerhaus; to know now exactly what took place in that great hall in which I gave my goose lunch party last Christmas, and in which I may well yet have more Christmas goose lunches with my Berlin and other friends; and on the terrace in front of which I may well yet have more sunny birthday feasts. I’m glad I know. I needed to know. And the ghost is laid.

Peter Zander
Chiffre 209103