Herbert and Lotte Krippendorff (1993)
When the Brothers Wright flew their first motorized airplane, he had just outgrown his diapers. When Einstein developed his Theory of Relativity, he started grammar school. As a high school student, he heard of the assassination in Sarajevo and the beginning of World War I. As a teenager, he read about the Russian October revolution in the newspapers. As a work-study student in the US, he missed by a few days the Wall Street stock market crash on "Black Friday." He lived through the ups and downs of Germany: the Monarchy, the Weimar Republic, the Nazi-Dictatorship -- megalomania, ruin, reconstruction, economic miracle, partition, and reunification. He was 60 when, at the height of the Cold war, the Cuban Missile Crisis threatened détente and 63 when John F. Kennedy was shot. At 68, he saw Neil Armstrong's first hopping steps upon the moon. When he was 91, he followed the disintegration of the Soviet Union -- a whole century, Herbert Krippendorff was there, active, and alive. This civil engineer, with a remarkable record of professional and academic accomplishments, who has lived in Ratingen, Germany, for more than 50 years, was born in 1900 and is still exceptionally healthy and sprightly. On September 28 he will be 100 years old.
Electricity was a Rarity
World War I impacted greatly on this young man. His father, already 50, became a reserve officer and died after -- by today's standards -- a rather insignificant medical procedure. He lost his favorite uncle on one of the meaningless battlefields. In the newspapers, then the only source of information for most people, he recalls reading of the Soviet revolution in Russia, the abdication of the German Kaiser, and the rising political turmoil in Germany. The radio was not yet fully developed, and the world was still small, simple, and seemingly comprehensible.
Camel Caravans on the Suez Canal
The Statue of Liberty in the Morning Fog
Thanks to his all-round technical education, he got jobs as lathe operator and mechanic, but soon was attracted by the car metropolis of Detroit where he applied for a job with Ford Motor Company. They needed toolmakers, so he bought himself a box of used tools, hoping to impress the interviewer for the job. Although his boss did not fall for the deception, he hired him anyhow -- "and I learned more than I bargained for." A couple of years later, he was asked to manage the New York office of the now established German-American work-study program.
In 1929 he returned to Germany, and married his wife Lotte, who had been in the United States for two years as well, pursuing her own dreams. She died in 1997 after 67 years of marriage. His career sent them all over Germany. They had four children, Klaus, 1932, born in Frankfurt; Ekkehart, 1934, born in Augsburg; Ute, 1938, born in Rostock; and Rainer, 1943, born in Halberstadt.
The five years he spent in the United States kept him free of the growing racism and anti-Semitism that he encountered during the Nazi era. "In the States I learned to be open and tolerant." Unsuspectingly, the technical knowledge he acquired in the United States helped him to endure this darkest period in German history and World War II. He was spared the draft by working in the airplane industry and survived Allied bombing of Halberstadt, three days before the U.S. Army entered the burning city without resistance.
Flight in a Farmer's Truck over the East-West Border
Thanks to the network of former America-work-study students, he soon found work in Düsseldorf and moved to nearby Ratingen. "It was astonishing to see how different the two parts of Germany had already become: ideological inefficiency dominated the East while monumental reconstruction efforts could be observed everywhere in the West." Herbert Krippendorff was hired to head an industry-supported office in Düsseldorf, dedicated to help manufacturing firms modernize and remain competitive. He gave lectures at the German Engineering Association and organized workshops. He also wrote many articles and several books on logistics and transportation in manufacturing. He virtually founded this area of technical know-how, which is presently taught at several universities. He thus helped build the future infrastructure of the German industry.
Retirement? Not Yet
How come? After the German-American work-student program ceased in 1929 for economic reasons and never restarted on account of World War II, Herbert Krippendorff had remained in touch with many of the about 300 surviving alumni of this program. Their intercultural experiences had so significantly shaped the course of their lives that the idea to re-establish the student service came quite naturally to them. In 1949 a council was formed which became the Carl Duisberg Society. It now makes the very dream that fuelled Krippendorff's and many other students' explorations of the world a reality for young academics and professionals.
Even at 100, Herbert Krippendorff stays active. He is typing his memoirs and files them together with other documents. He continues a lively correspondence with friends, now mostly younger than him. He lives alone in his apartment, essentially caring for himself. Although his daughter peaks in daily and he has a son in Bonn who visits frequently, he cooks for himself. Nevertheless, he admits: "You know, one becomes a bit lonely as the years go by. The many friends … It's sad not to have them any more."
Is there no "secret" for his sprightliness? "I never smoked, but I do
treat myself to a little evening drink." It "annoys" him to have to use
a cane to take a walk into the city -- but then he adds, "I am so grateful
for what I could do in my lifetime" -- and a century of creative contributions
indeed is a remarkable accomplishment.
Adapted by Klaus Krippendorff from an article in the Westdeutsche Zeitung by Joachim Dangelmeyer