Feb 22, 2017 - Kerstin Kormendy for SoGerman
From 1950 until 1960, about 250,000 German immigrants arrived in Canada. Among them was Günter Speckmann. The retired veterinarian, who grew up in Jeßnitz (Saxony-Anhalt), fled Eastern Germany and moved to Canada in 1958. Little did he know how a visit to the German Embassy in Ottawa would lead him to his love.
Günter Speckmann was 10 years old, when Germany was recovering from the biggest war in history. A group of U.S. soldiers moved through Günter’s hometown. Known as Hell on Wheels, they were friendly towards the locals, chocolates in their pockets for the children. This memory engraved itself in Günter’s heart.
At the age of 21, he fled East Germany. Remembering the U.S. soldiers, he met as a child, he longed for adventure across the ocean. When he learned that the immigration quota to the U.S. was full, he signed up for Canada instead.
After a train ride from Stuttgart to Bremerhaven, a ship voyage from Bremerhaven to Montreal, and a train trip from Montreal to Ottawa, Günter stepped onto the Ottawa station platform. Final stop! He found accommodation at a Catholic mission for the night.
It was unusually warm for a Canadian September. Local stores kept their doors open in hopes to catch a breeze that would cool off the room. The leaves were beginning to change color, as Günter strode along the canal on the way to the German Embassy.
It had been two days after his arrival in Canada’s capital. Two days of walking around downtown, trying to find work and a better place to stay. The Catholic Mission, where he had spent two sleepless nights was cheap but not a permanent home.
Hoping to find help at the Embassy, Günter walked into the building on Waverley Street. A receptionist greeted him, and he explained his situation. She referred him to Mr. Kurt von Cardinal, who helped German immigrants get established. He would change the destiny of Günter Speckmann.
“What can I do for you?” Mr. von Cardinal asked after inviting Günter into his office.
“I’m looking for work,” he replied, explaining that he was interested in veterinary medicine.
Mr. von Cardinal suggested that Günter would ask for work at the Ottawa hospital. A load came off Günter’s mind.
With a friendly voice, Mr. von Cardinal asked “Is there anything else I can help with?”
“If you can help me find a place to stay, I would be the happiest man on earth.”
Mr. von Cardinal rummaged through the pile of papers and documents on his desk. Then he grabbed the phone and Günter could hear a female voice replying. She would have to check with her husband first, she said. Five minutes later, the phone rang in Mr. von Cardinal’s office. With 480 Cooper Street scribbled on a small paper, Günter left the German Embassy lightheartedly.
A young woman greeted Günter at the doorstep on Cooper Street. Both didn’t know that this was the beginning of a long marriage and new adventures.
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