Christmas in Wilhelmshorst

 By Kurt H Miska

Christmas in Wilhelmshorst and the aftermath
Even though I was born in New York, I spent the first twelve years of my life in Wilhelmshorst, Germany. Wilhelmshorst is a small village about 5 miles (8 km) from Potsdam, which, in turn lies just southwest of Berlin. It is on the Wansee to Beelitz line.

Even though my family and I experienced the war years in that little village, Christmas was nevertheless a festive time and a time associated with Märklin.

If my memory serves me correctly, my first exposure, to what I now call my beloved Märklins, must have been a Christmas eve in the early to mid-1940s. I remember vividly that they were classic tinplate clockwork motor powered locomotives and freight cars set up on the dining room table. It was a classic oval with one passing siding and one siding terminating in a blue Prellbock or buffer. There was a mechanically actuated crossing gate and warning bell. My mother's brother had fabricated an appropriate tunnel finished with green paint. I mustn't forget the main and advance signals. 

Then there were two trains, each with three freight cars - one for me and one for my younger brother. My locomotive was a very simple, black 0-4-0 with a two-axle tender (R 890) and my brother's was a green two-axle electric (RS 900). We each had different freight cars which no doubt led to long forgotten arguments who was to play with what specific cars. At some point, I suspect it was 1943, we each were given two more freight cars. I still have both locomotives and the cars, all quite a bit the worse for wear. The only box that remains is the one for the steam Lok and the brown box is marked RM 6.00, a modest amount at best. After Christmas all was carefully packed away to await yet another Christmas. 

As Christmas 1944 approached and unbeknown to my brother and I, good friends of our parents asked them to safeguard what turned out to be a good assortment of OO-gauge equipment. Living where we did meant that we were in the path of the Allied bombers returning from their raids on Berlin. Except for an occasional stray bomb, we sustained little damage. Still, my parents' friends feared for their precious OO-gauge "Tischbahn." The result was that these trains were set up for us boys at Christmas time. You can well imagine the surprise and joy my brother and I felt at being able to play with these marvelous electrics. I seem to recall that there were three locomotives, a small tank engine switcher, a small electric locomotive and a 4-6-2 passenger locomotive. In referring to Koll, I think they must have been a T790, RS700 and HR700, respectively. There was "Oberleitung" or catenary and therefore the ability to operate two trains simultaneously. The lighted four-axle passenger cars and a fair assortment of freight cars were the greatest. I don't remember if the turnouts were manual or electrically operated but none of that mattered because these trains were so far and above the tinplate that we were used to. In retrospect and in light of our young ages, I am still surprised that my brother and I were able to deal with making the necessary electrical connections without shorting everything.  

Other than the continual air raids, my brother and I were not too conscious that the war was coming closer and closer. Then came the night of April 12th and with it the big raid on Potsdam. We were terrified. Living very close to that doomed baroque city, Wilhelmshorst received more than a few hits and I can distinctly remember saying to my mother that we would soon die. Probably shortly after midnight, it was all over and water, electricity and gas were cut off. That also put an end to our playing with our parents' friends OO-gauge. By early May, the war was finished but it was a while longer before some electric service was restored.

Still, we had to part with the Märklins but by no means did my interest in trains part with them. I often wonder what would have been the course of events if we hadn't left Wilhelmshorst and remained in Germany. Would my brother and I have been treated to our own electric Märklin? In 1947 I left for the U.S. where I was exposed to Lionel, and eventually my now beloved HO Märklin. But, that's another story. Till then...