With the Mongolians in East Qermany

Nearly forty years ago, NORA WALN, a young Quaker, passed through the battle lines of the warlords on her way to Mongolia, where, at the behest of a Swedish publisher, she wrote her first book, about Frans August Larson, Duke of Mongolia. Subsequently, in China, where she wrote her famous narrative THE HOUSE OF EXILE,and still later, in Hiller’s Germany, where she gathered the source material for REACHING FOR THE STARS, she traveled unafraid. This is the latest of her adventures, carried out after Khrushchev had built the Wall.

ASIANS have enriched my life. They have intelligence and gaiety. But people of a different race from mine are not easy for me to understand, even when they are people I respect and enjoy.

In East Prussia, with friends from the Mongolian plateau with whom I was traveling, as their guest, I stood leaning against the fence of a paddock on a horse-breeding cooperative, and I turned on my radio. This transistor radio, manufactured in Japan, is tiny. It fits into a small handbag or the rear pocket of my riding pants. My Mongolian friends bought it, as a gift for me, in a store in East Berlin. I got the eight o’clock morning news, and I translated an item concerning them.

I told them that the British considered it a foregone conclusion that their country would get a scat in the United Nations in New York. They were lour men and a woman. They listened gravely, but they showed no elation, and they made no comment until they noticed my puzzlement.

“It is the price we have to pay for Russian help to keep our virgin pasturelands,” said the young horseman whose mother is my special Iriend in Sunit. “Russia protects us from the Chinese.”

The young woman with them was a graduate of Urga University, and she did postgraduate work at the university in East Berlin. When “I asked her what she thought about Mongolian admission to the United Nations, her reply was, “I would rather that we did not get a seat, but a delegation will go because the Russians want us there.”

“We know that you like Chinese people,” said another man slowly, “but you must realize that Chinese and Mongols are natural foes. The Chinese have no respect for turf. They look down on us for liking to be nomads, living in good tents, raising fine herds; and we despise them for settling down in villages, destroying pastures, digging up the grass, fencing in community wells.”

“Century after century, when strong, the Chinese have come in above their own Creat Wall, and we do not want them,” insisted another. “Our ways and their ways differ. When the Manchus ruled China, we were united with the Manchus, but we have never been united with the Chinese. After they destroyed the Manchu dynasty in 1911, the Chinese thought they owned Mongolia. We were weak then. Chinese farmers got in and destroyed thousands of our acres.”

“We do not belong to the Chinese government on Formosa,” said the woman firmly, “and we do not belong to the Chinese Communists. We are free because the Russians help us.”

“You know that venereal diseases among us and rinderpest among our animals are our shame and our curse,” put in one of the men. “The Swedes have helped us control, cure, and prevent these diseases. The Danes have helped us. Germans have helped us. But the Russians have sent us more doctors for people and for animals than have all others combined. We will be in New York voting for the Soviet Union if elected to the United Nations.”

I said no more. They drifted off. exploring and examining the pasture where we were. One took his long-bladed knife out of its sheath. He stooped and cut a piece of turf. I heard their exclamations. The grassland here in East Germany was as thick as the best grass on the Mongolian plateau.

WERE far northeast of the broken city of Berlin, in a part of Germany often spoken of as the land where the wolf says good night politely to the fox. The October day was warm and sunny. It would be a leisurely day for me. The Mongols intended to purchase the stallion that they had been sent from their homeland to buy. They carried with them the gold for the horse.

They would make no show of eagerness. Hours would pass before they would let the wonderful black be shown to them again. The bargaining would be slow and shrewd. Yesterday they had bought a stallion, three rams, and a bull. Previously they had bought other animals at other stockbreeding farms where we stopped. The total of these purchases ran into a good deal of money, but the whole lot was of minor importance to them. The black stallion they had traveled thousands of miles to get was in the stable to my left.

The five Mongols who were here had been carefully selected for their job. Although she was a scholar who spoke fluent German, the young woman was as sharp concerning horses, cattle, and sheep as the men. And with them they had two able German brothers, born of Christian missionary parents, reared on the plateau. The delegation had been briefed for their task. Their commissioners in Urga had knowledge of this worthy stallion, and they gave this information to the delegation. They had been shown pictures of the stallion, and they had his pedigree before they departed from Mongolia. Yet, when the black horse had been paraded yesterday, the delegation had shown no interest. They had asked stupid questions and bought the other stallion. Mongols are that way.

The scene around me was beautiful. Away to the rim of the horizon stretched the green pasturelands, and when I turned 1 could see the homestead. Fine trees with stout trunks and far-spreading branches grew singly, in clumps of two and three, and in avenues, planted where they could protect the manor house and the barns; evergreen firs, oaks, beeches, poplars — strong trees to break the winter winds and hold off driving snow.

The big barn, the little barns, the extensive stables, the hay sheds, the manor house with its cluster of cottages had been built of good stone and excellent timber by competent builders. The roofs had not sagged. Pillars had not sunk. Doors and gates did not swing on broken hinges. Rail fences on paddock and corral had not broken down. For more than three hundred years, until sixteen years ago, this estate with its rolling acres was the property of aristocrats, generation after generation famous for their horses. Now it is a cooperative farm run by a Communist committee. To horse breeding the Communists have added sheep and cattle breeding, and a school for animal husbandry.

It has been said of me that I make trips where others might not go. Some say that if the devil himself asked me into hell, I would have a look at the place under his guidance. Yes, that is true. I think it sensible to know what is going on if one has the opportunity. That is my attitude in regard to China and Mongolia, my approach to Germany when Nazi, and today, when half Communist. Where 1 enter, I go not to spy, not to condemn unseen, but to learn.

I am not naturally brave. But I have learned that courage is not being unafraid; it is going ahead matter-of-factly when scared. In the Communist part of Germany, I am at times almost overwhelmed by surging memories of Nazi cruelties because these cruelties are repeated now.

The country through which I traveled with the Mongolians was not new territory to me. 1 had been in this eastern part of Germany with my husband, always coming by motorcar, visiting in the great country houses on Junker estates. We had ridden fine horses, enjoyed musical evenings at which my husband sang, taken pleasure in warm and gracious hospitality. In return, we had entertained these Germans in a villa we had at Le Touquet in France and at my husband’s country house in Buckinghamshire, England.

I know that the heir to this estate, on which the black stallion was bred, is alive. He has a wife and five children. When I asked about him and his family, I was told by the cooperative leaders that they were away. My question as to where they had gone was answered evasively. It was the same on every Junker estate where I went with the Mongols. “Sie sind gegangen,” is what the German Communists in the cooperatives said about the nobles. “They are gone.”

The Communists assigned the horsemen to stay where they were at the war’s end. They may not seek other jobs or move. If they do and are caught, they are treated as criminals. In many of them I saw an unmistakable sadness, as if the destruction of the way of life they have known has hurt them beyond healing.

Their hours of labor are longer than they were when my husband and 1 visited in East Germany. In addition, they must attend lessons in Communism, learn songs and slogans, take part in processions and rallies. Often a Communist leader in a cooperative introduced us to the head horseman, praising the man, saying that this man was one who never went to bed until every horse was curried and brushed, fed and watered, bedded with clean straw. They said that the apprentices found such men examples difficult to copy.

AS WE traveled through the country, I saw much waste in unharvested crops. More grain, potatoes, sugar beets, and other farm produce had been planted than were being harvested. Townspeople and schoolchildren were working at the harvest, but the labor force looked small for the work to be done. The excuse our guides gave was that East Germany has suffered a sixteen-year drain of population—impatient people running off — and that the necessity to call able-bodied men to arms last summer left few to work in the fields.

The horse-breeding cooperatives to which we were taken were different. Horses, cattle, and sheep were well cared for. The pastures were in good condition. In the stables, all was neat and orderly. Wood, brass, and leather showed the mark of hard rubbing. Glass over the pictures of famous horses was without a flyspeck. Old silver cups on display were without a stain. The apprentices on these farms nearly broke me. So many were so young. In Europe and in our United States we had shameful child labor in an earlier time. I presumed that era to be past; it is newly begun again in East Germany.

In factories and on the land, I saw children, boys and girls, from five to twelve years of age toiling uncounted hours. I saw them working in the fields under great electric lights which turn night into a continued day. On these stockbreeding farms, the child apprentices were up every morning before I was up — and I am an early riser — awake before the sunrise.

Children live in dormitories without adequate blankets, without pillows. The winters are bitter in East Germany. I saw many who appeared to have tuberculosis. In East Germany there is a shortage of doctors. The doctors who are there are short of needed supplies — medicines, salves, even bandages.

On the slick stockbreeding cooperatives, children toil at cleaning stables, brushing and combing animals, sweeping, putting down hay, cleaning bridles and saddles, scouring, rubbing, polishing. Those over ten are honored by being permitted to tend horses. The younger ones can tend sheep and milk cows. They sleep and eat in barn dormitories, in sheds, in any space available.

The Mongols do not separate children from adults, and in their tents the little children have the favored place. They remarked on the East German situation. They did not find it sensible. “That way, the Germans will die out,” they said. “As a people they will diminish.”

I was thinking of the children when a handbell rang. A stableboy was clanging it, calling to the Mongols and me. In front of the big, south-facing barn, horses were ready for us — five lively young geldings and a placid mare. The Mongol who is my special friend gave me a bent knee from which to mount the quiet horse. As I settled into the saddle, a girl groom told me that the mare’s name was Erica and she was an ambler.

The Mongols looked the geldings over. The leader of the cooperative watched the Mongols. Elderly grooms held the restless horses on lead reins. The horses arched their lovely necks, switched tails, shifted their feet. They were closely matched, and all offspring of the black stallion, we were told. They were show horses, their elegant hooves oiled and blacked and highly polished. Teen-aged boy and girl stablehands stood by. very evidently proud of what their cooperative could show.

Although the Mongols wore their native dress, they did not appear out of place in this setting. They were at ease with horses and horse people. Their manner displayed no astonishment at the fantastic geldings. The Germans, clad in riding breeches, open-necked shirts, and stiff boots, did not look more comfortable than the Mongols in their long, close-fitted gowns of blue cloth — the dress with a fold that allows ample room for mounting and riding astride.

Their slim waists and their straight backs were given firm support by girdles of silk cloth in bright colors, yards long, wound tightly around and around in a broad band with the ends tucked in smoothly. Their boots of soft leather, decorated with tooled patterns, had inside pockets in their wide tops. As at home in Mongolia, here the Mongols carried on their persons everything needed for their way of living.

Pocketed in their boot tops, in their gowns, and thrust into their waist sashes were silver and leather cases holding flint and tinder for making fire, snuff bottles, long-bladed knives and chopsticks, their eating and drinking bowls, longstemmed pipes and well-filled tobacco pouches, tea, grain, and salt. Fastened to their girdles with thongs were leather bottles for fermented mare’s milk.

Their things were treasured possessions made by native craftsmen, of wood and leather, silver and gold. Ivory and jade, amber and turquoise, and rose quartz had been used in the making. Each thing had its traditional place in their garments, securely held so as not to shake out and be lost, however roughly they rode. In their travel luggage — gay-patterned woolen saddlebags— they brought with them to East Germany a goodly supply of brick tea, homemade cheese in hard cakes, and plenty of their highland rock salt. Also, a black iron kettle for making tea as they like it, with a tripod to hang it on over the lire.

This group of Mongols is the sixth delegation that has been sent to East Germany to buy stock, and they came prepared because they had been warned about food and drink. I he Mongols are independent people. They bought grain and parched it as needed. They bought butter to put in their tea. When they wanted meat, they bought a sheep and cooked it.

After an exchange of glances concerning the geldings, the German-speaking Mongol woman asked lor lighter bridles. No double reins, no snaffles — single bits, she said. The cooperative leader told a groom to fetch light bridles. The groom did not want to do it. He reminded the leader that these were spirited horses, valuable, oat-fed, in need of control, or they might be ruined.

The groom was not answered, Under a commanding stare, he gave over to a stableboy the restless gelding he held. With bent head he disappeared into the barn. The Mongols each went to a horse. They shortened stirrups, refixed girths.

When the bridles were changed, they mounted. The horses kicked and snorted, bucked and bounced, probably afraid of the strangers. The Mongols let their mounts racket a short time, then sent them forward with knee stabs in horse ribs, a shrill yell close above horse ears. The horses leaped forward.

Without whip or spur, the Mongols rode, perched with knees high, seats not touching their saddles as they went away, hands light on loosening reins, giving their steeds freedom to go. They did not pull their horses around. Each went in the direction the horse was headed in when it started.

Soon the geldings were galloping with long smooth strides. The thud of their hooves on the turf was a pleasant drumming. Birds flew up from the grass. Grazing horses, cattle, sheep gave them way. Over the rim of the earth they went — wild horses, wild riders. My mount watched the other horses go, her cars up, her head stretched forward, but she made no attempt to follow.

On the tour we traveled with other tourists in Volkswagen buses, and the Mongols found the scats irksome. Nights, we were billeted in country mansions. They did not like the beds. Every morning they had to be given swift horses to ride to stretch their muscles, clear their minds before they could get on with the business of their day. Always they got me a quiet horse. I did not attempt to ride with them. After they were off, I rode when ready.

I pulled Erica around to look at the German brothers. Sitting side by side on the ground, their backs to the barn, they had taken out their folding chessboard. They never rode in the morning, and they were always silent until needed. I heir job was to interpret for the bargaining and to get the stock to Mongolia. They were soon putting out their chessmen, ready to play on from where they left off yesterday.

I heard the starting up of the engines of the two buses of our tour, which had been parked overnight in an open shed, and I did not have to direct Erica to get her looking that way. We both watched the drivers back out and drive to the tree-lined avenue. They halted, one behind the other, and tooted horns. People from India, from Burma, from Southeast Asia, and from various new nations of Africa came out of their billets in mansion and cottages. We had been together long enough to be a group. They waved to me.

Nearly all wore native costume. The sari of a woman from India was not more charming than the flowing robes of an African man. The colors were gorgeous. There was zip and zing in these tourists from Asia and Africa. I have encountered them east and west of the Soviet line. I hey were not cautious about friendship. Strangers soon became friends.

If those who wanted to converse did not have a common tongue, they found a person who could interpret, usually. They were educated. Several spoke English; others, fluent German. They told me that before leaving their homes they had learned that it is difficult, nigh impossible, to get passes to cross from Communist-controlled democracies to free-enterprise democracies. They are interested in both. So, families and friends had split up when buying their tickets. They planned to compare notes when they got back home. I found these tourists very interesting. I never heard any of them complain. They were not fretful. They seemed to vie with each other in patience and in graciousness. As neutrals, they were investigating, and enjoying themselves.

Every day of the tour, the others went sightseeing. I always stayed with the Mongols. So did the German brothers. At evening, the others rejoined us, and we had a program for the whole group. The guides gave lectures, and then answered questions. That done, the tourists took over in unscheduled displays of instrument playing, singing, reciting, dancing — showing their native cultures.

ONE morning after the tour buses went off, I persuaded Erica to exercise on the pastureland. She showed her paces, and I had a good ride. I was letting her wander and nibble grass when a little girl joined us on a white pony. She introduced herself as the youngest granddaughter of the oldest groom. She had been sent to conduct me on a pretty ride. Her name was Hedwig. Her pony was Snow White.

We rode about three miles to a natural spring, where we dismounted and drank fresh water from our cupped hands. A pail is kept there for horses. Hedwig gave Erica and Snow White little drinks — not too much, she said, because it is not good for horses to drink much far from home. Later we saw a squirrel in a tree, and further on we dismounted again, to wish on a magic stone. We were riding through a grove when my Mongol friend rode up behind me.

He and his mount had become friends. I introduced Hedwig and Snow White. Over the open pasture, we rode to the barn. Hedwig set our speed; Snow White galloping fast. The showy gelding, tossing a silly head, fluttering mane and tail, would have been a success in any horse opera. Erica cantered like a rockinghorse.

We arrived at the paved place in front of the great barn to find the others gathered in a circle having their Mongolian tea. As they did twice each day, they had their black iron pot steaming. It hung on its tripod over glowing coals. The tea is prepared by bringing fresh water to a boil, throwing in powdered tea scraped from the brick, which is prepared of tea grown and cured in South China and sold in Mongolia, then rock salt, lumps of butter, and last, handfuls of grain. They preferred Chinese millet, but here they used German wheat.

Seated around the pot, they ladled out what they desired into their bowls with a long-handled ladle, drank the fluid, ate the grain with the pushing help of their chopsticks. Offered a taste, Hedwig took a sip of the brew and a few grains of wheat. Then quickly she ran off. But soon she came back with a tray filled with a German lunch — slices of buttered bread, cold meats, cheese, lettuce, and radishes. She carried the tray to each of us; everyone took at least a little. Her grandfather called her, and she left us her offering.

The Mongols filled and refilled their bowls two and three times from their iron-pot brew, and when their appetites were satisfied, they were ready to do business concerning the black stallion. A wooden table was set up at the edge of the green pasture, and with it twelve wooden chairs. The German brothers, the interpreters, each took a chair at the table’s ends. Along the sides were the four men and the woman from Mongolia and five men of the horse-breeding governing board. They were three Russians and two Germans. They had arrived the day before. The job of the farm’s cooperative committee was to show horses when asked and reply to questions.

The Mongolian woman took as keen a part as the men. Questions were asked concerning the mares the stallion had serviced. The percentage that had foaled was ascertained. Mares were brought out and paraded. Offspring of the stallion were shown, the horse’s daughters and sons, of varying ages. Their records were asked and given. On and on the talk and the showing progressed, while the shadows lengthened from trees and buildings. The two buses returned with the Asian and African tourists just as the black stallion was brought out and paraded.

The horse was glorious. The tourists drew in their breaths with ohs and ahs. Walking like the king of horses, the black turned and wheeled, went back and forth, seeming almost not to need the attendance of the three handsome blond grooms assigned to show him. These grooms were young Russians. They wore neat Russian riding trousers and tunics of smooth beige cloth, black patent-leather riding boots, riding gloves, and their waists were girdled with belts of silver fashioned by the Mongols’ own craftsmen, each with the twelve animals of the zodiac on it. The young men and the horse, there in the evening light, were as breathtaking a show as ever I saw in my life’s journey.

Before lanterns were needed, the two German brothers were able to tell the members of the horsebreeding board that the Mongols would purchase the stallion if a price that they could afford could be arranged.

After supper, the bargaining started in what used to be the dining room of the mansion. It was not ugly haggling. There were no loud voices, no bangings on the table, no sulks. It was polite, patient, and long. At midnight, a telephone call was put in to East Berlin. The answer was that the powers there in charge of horses would call powers higher up and telephone back the answer. When the response came, it was no.

The Mongols went abruptly to bed. Next morning they had their ride on fine horses — no geldings; mares and stallions sired by the black. After tea, they raised their offer. And new bargaining went on, with more telephoning. By four in the afternoon, they owned the stallion — or would when the agreed price had been paid.

The horse buyers had their gold with them. They had orders from their government authorities to pay at the time and place of purchase. Their gold was not in coins, nor was it refined into the shining gold bars the Chinese use. It was pure gold — dug, washed, and dried—taken out of their own land. They carried it in leather bags. The five Mongols and the two German brothers each carried gold. The horse-breeding board did not want it. They declared that the money transaction must be handled by their governments.

The Mongols’ stubbornness caused more telephoning. But they paid with their gold. They bought this great stallion for breeding into their native mares with sacred gold given by their own good earth, provided by their own gods. With ancient ritual they had taken it from the soil of Mongolia. With ancient ritual they would show the stallion at the place where the earth’s surface was broken to take the precious metal.

Their government is Communist, with the slogans of the Germans Marx and Engels, the teachings of the Communist Russians; but they are an old civilization, proud of their own traditions, loyal to ancient ritual. This is how all the great imported stallions of their history have been purchased.

The gold was twice weighed, on scales the Mongols carried and on German scales. When the price was satisfactorily passed from the buyers to the sellers, then the Mongols revealed a further bag of their gold. A beautiful small bag, with green jade ornaments at the ends of its drawstrings. This they presented as their “happiness gift.”

We left all the breeding stock on the cooperatives where it was purchased. It was not branded or marked in any way. The Mongols and the two German brothers have keen observation and sharp memory concerning animals. From Germany my friends were going by air to Moscow, to take part in a display of horsemanship, then to fly on home. Five previous times, the German brothers, who have their own self-selected helpers, have gathered the stock and delivered it in Urga. They use special animal-carrying planes built in Russia. There has never been question as to any of the animals not being those bought. Every horse, bull, and ram has arrived in good condition. The chess-playing Germans are competent.

IN ADDITION to planned sightseeing, which caused two half-day halts, we had other delays on our way back to the East Berlin bus depot. These were caused by encounters with autumn maneuvers conducted by the Soviet commander Marshal Koniev. Three times we had to reverse our route, go back several miles, and take other roads. Each time our travel plan changed, our guides telephoned to headquarters of the tour management so that they would know exactly where we were.

There was no secrecy about this extensive peacetime practice in readiness for battle. Guides gave us explanations over the bus loudspeaker and at the evening meetings in the guesthouses where we stopped overnight. Marshal Koniev had more than half a million men in action, operating them as a mobile east European combat force. He was training Germans and Russians, Foies and Czechs and Hungarians to fight under one command, in unified operation, and he was making full use of a radio communications system which, according to our guides, leads into the Kremlin.

The Indians and the Africans frequently talked politics. The Mongols did not take part, nor did I. On our radios we heard newscasts about the test explosions of thermonuclear bombs. Only then did the Mongols speak about the world situation. They feared the fallout. The Indians in particular worried about a possible nuclear war, a war which would put an end to human life on earth. The Africans agreed with the Indian statement that men have too much knowledge without enough wisdom.

We arrived at the bus depot. I was soon to fly out of West Berlin and travel on into Sweden. I like to travel light. As arranged with my Mongolian hosts, we gave my suitcase and its contents to the two German women guides on our tour.

I said farewell to them, to the male guides, to the bus drivers, to the two German brothers, to the Africans and the Asians, and last, to four of the Mongols. Then, accompanied by my special friend’s son, I walked on to the Friedrichstrasse checkpoint — the only way open for me to cross into West Berlin.

I was astonished, as we approached, to see everyone who had been on our tour gathered there behind the East Berlin police guard. Clasping hands, bowing, warmhearted and ceremonial, we said farewell again. I asked them all to visit me — sometime. They all asked me to visit them in their homes — sometime. Then I walked away.