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The Magpie Sings the Great Depression:
Selections from DeWitt Clinton High School's Literary Magazine, 1929-1942

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Eight Weeks in America

By Fred M. Hechinger, '37

The Magpie, June 1937, v. 21, n. 2., p.12.

For just a few minutes I am going to bore you, dear Magpie reader. Just a few lines of this paper I am going to fill. Maybe, you will think even that too much, but now it is written, and all I can do is to advise you not to read this article if you don't like it.

Eight weeks in America! That certainly is not a long time, but perhaps the first impressions are the most interesting, the most typical. Two months ago the "Veendam" approached New York and I was standing on her deck, waiting for all the marvellous things about which I had been told so much. Now, my dear reader, you will ask me immediately how I liked the Statue of Liberty. Unfortunately, I must tell you that I did not like it at all (please do not send me back to Europe!), because I could not see it. This beautiful sight, for which people travel from all parts of the world, was wrapped in dense mist, and I had to enter Hoboken deprived of the first great impression.

But half an hour later, I had forgotten all about the Statue of Liberty, the true symbol of the country of liberty, the world of freedom. Perhaps you, children (I only mean that figuratively, of course, gentlemen) of New York, will laugh, but there are few buildings as impressive as the huge skyscrapers of Manhattan. Believe me, when I first saw the giant "stone mountains" of Rockefeller Center, I was speechless with admiration. I have seen the life of Berlin, I have walked through the traffic of London, but none of these cities, though they are magnificent too, can compare with New York. All of you, I am sure, have already used the expression "New World"; none of you, I dare say, is able to understand the truth of this name, and nobody can understand it except the European who comes to the United States the first time. Take Broadway at night, for instance. Of course, the Kurfuerstendamm of Berlin, Oxford Street in London, and the great boulevards of Paris show variety, life, and gaiety too. But the Broadway! Maybe, it is the name already which fascinates us people from "the other side." No, it can't be just the name. It really is fascinating. And when I first saw this beautiful, glittering Broadway, I felt pity (believe it or not), pity for all of you who are hurrying through this wonderful part of this wonderful city, or who are sitting in the bus and just staring at a newspaper instead of enjoying the glorious sight. But perhaps you are too busy to do so (mostly a beautiful "movie" is waiting for you, and you cannot miss Jeanette MacDonald of Clark Gable, of course). Anyhow I cannot understand that there are people who do not follow the advice of the Fifth Avenue Coach Company: See New York—The Wonder City (although, I guess, this is not written because of pure, unselfish admiration). Or am I wrong with this judgment, or is my pity unjustified? I hope so. I hope even you sometimes realize this marvellous sea of light, this endless stream of carlamps, this waving river of colors. Or do those impressions last only eight weeks? You may answer the question yourself.

I have spoken enough about the city now. There is something else, important for you and me: DeWitt Clinton. Three days after my arrival I went to school. When I first saw the immense building, I could not believe that this was a high school. And when I went through this beautiful place, my surprise grew greater and greater. I never before had seen such a giant, clean, and well-organized school. But to be honest, I must confess that my first thought was: "How shall I ever find my way in this labyrinth?" A few days later I noticed already that I walked through the long floors and innumerable exits like a "born Clintonite." Then the lessons began and every thing was entirely different from that to which I was used. I had to learn American History, of which I did not know much more than that it was very short (fortunately), and you can imagine the difficulties as I first had to get accustomed to the language and everything else.

But though I had and still have to study very hard, I am able to say that the European or rather the German schools are much more difficult and that, in my opinion, the American schools must be very easy for American boys. Please, do not shout: "Do you . . . (whatever expression you may use. Unfortunately, I am not yet familiar with this most important part of the English language.) want to make us work harder?" No, you must not be afraid, I did not say which method I think better. I will leave that decision to experts. Nevertheless, I think I ought to justify my statement and therefore, I am going to briefly describe the German school system. After four years of public school, those students who want to go to College later attend the so-called "Gymnasium" for eight years. They may choose among three different kinds of schools, namely the "Real Gymnasium," in which mathematics is most important, the "Reform Gymnasium," with modern languages as main subjects, and the "Humanistische Gymnasium" teaching practically everything, but stressing Latin, especially. I was in the latter and had to take all the following major subjects: Latin, German, French, Greek, Mathematics (Arithmetic, Algebra, Geometry, and Trigonometry), Geography, German History, Roman History, Greek History, Physics, Biology, Zoology, and religious lessons. Those subjects are compulsory for everybody without any choice. English, Italian, Spanish, and shorthand may be added as voluntary subjects (without marks and taught in the afternoon). Tests, the number and date of which are fixed at the beginning of the year (eight tests in Latin, for instance), cover everything learned up to this day and last from fifty minutes to two hours. Perhaps you would also like to know that there are regular lessons on Saturday. The school hours are from eight a.m. till one p.m. Then, of course, the homework has to be done, but strangely enough it was usually less than we get in DeWitt Clinton (about two hours daily. During the time of tests, of course, it was much longer), but generally I had more leisure and more time for sport than I have here. But altogether I can tell you that I really am proud to be allowed to attend DeWitt Clinton.

And now I have talked enough. Perhaps you noticed that earlier than I did. (Americans are supposed to think faster than Europeans.) But before I finish this article, I want to use this opportunity to express my thanks to those who kindly enabled me to come over to America and to enjoy all these things. And my thanks as well to all my teachers in DeWitt Clinton, who have really helped me in a wonderful manner. And, last but not least, thanks to the kind reader, whose patience I am not going to try any longer.

The Magpie Sings the Great Depression

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