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The school's worst ever stage performance? Memories of 1930s Ecolint

lundi, 8 juin 2015   (1 Comments)
Posted by: Eoghan O'Sullivan (Alumni Officer)
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Prompted by our Director General's words about the school's 90th anniversary in Issue 15 of echo magazine, alumnus Hans von Bülow put pen to paper to offer his congratulations. This in turn prompted us to invite him to share some of his memories of life at Ecolint in the 1930s. In his original note to Vicky Tuck he expressed a wish "to witness the importance of those years at Ecolint in Geneva".

The text below comes from his subsequent letter of April 2015. Now in his late 80s, Hans von Bülow is living in Charlottenlund, Denmark. He retired in 1976 following a career in Denmark's central government administration. International collaboration has played a big part in his career, for which he credits his Ecolint background.


Herewith my best effort in reply to your request for impressions from that “post-war” school that I had the good luck to frequent from 1936 to May 1940; 4 years in MA-MB, from which I remember in particular M. Salzmann’s lessons in both French and maths. In my last year I sat next to a lovely Chinese girl. I can still hear her mumbling the oral arithmetic into Chinese, then counting and finally pronouncing in French the correct answer! I remember her (Susy was her name) only as sharing with her that desk, never any contact outside the classroom. Strange, I think, for otherwise there were no problems connected with sharing comrade relations between boys and girls up to 12-13 years old.

Aerial view of La Grande Boissière in 1936

But, yes, my mind is full of memories from in particular my last year in school. MB II it was, and just before the summer 1940 holidays we left Geneva and returned by train, via Munich and Berlin, to Nazi-occupied Denmark. My father, who was in the ILO, was offered to go to Canada with the rest of the staff, but with all his other family including my grandparents on both sides living there, he decided to return to Denmark. Thus for the remainder of my school-years I was at school in occupied Denmark, and my final exams coincided with the end of the war and the German occupation. What a ball! (The German surrender, not the occupation years!)

But here, to follow, some few of the many, many memories of four Ecolint years that, I’m certain, made me the kind of person that I am. The better, not the worse!

I remember Ecolint as “adult”. Unlike many or most (?) other schools, “Ecolint” was “adult”. During intermissions we were not running around or playing cache-cache – discussions were more likely! And we enjoyed “mixed” classes, that varied according to subject matter. M. Salzmann in maths and French; Mme. Maurette in history (starting with the Near-East – Palestine, Egypt); her old father M. Dupuy in geography, where we drew maps on large sheets of paper. Oceans, oceans… and finally: Easter Island!

M. Dupuy's geography class, 1935

And then, over in the “the Library”, little Mlle Hartoch teaching German (not Schweizerdeutsch!) to a rather hostile audience of anti-Nazi pupils, including Jews from Germany on their way to Italy. (Perhaps not the best choice, considering what Mussolini was doing to that country.) Early 1940 was not my best time at Ecolint. The school was coming apart.

But before that: let me tell you about my first and only appearance on the stage, playing the role of M Perrichon in “Le Voyage de M Perrichon” (by E Labiche and E Martin). It had no fewer than five acts in the last of which M Perrichon embraces his future “son-in-law”, enacted – unfortunately – by my first love: Cécilia Walters (younger sister of Anne Marie), daughter of the British envoy to the League of Nations. I cut short act IV in order to reach act V in which I would embrace my future “son-in-law”, M Armand alias Cécilia! My co-actors did their best, but the audience was, to say the least, totally confused. If there exists a record of enacted plays on the indoor stage of Ecolint, you’d be able to see for yourself that this performance ranks among the worst, if not the worst, ever!

That event happened early in 1940 (or late 1939), well before the German attack on Denmark and Norway, and before the attack on the Netherlands, Belgium and France followed by the evacuation back to the UK of the “British Expeditionary Force”. The Walters family left Geneva in great hurry and managed to reach Hendaye on the French Atlantic Coast, where a British passenger ship was waiting for them and other refugees, and managed to dodge the German U-boats and reach England. The Walters family all survived the bombing of London.

Cécilia Walters (Ci-ci) and I became lifelong friends and I visited her quite often in London, where she lived and worked in “publication”. Her older sister Anne Marie (also Ecolint) lived for many years in or near Barcelona, but ended up in Paris, where her ashes are joined those of Ci-ci, who died early this year.

La Grande Boissière under snow, Christmas 1938 (from the collection of Douglas Deane)

My Ecolint years were very much “post the 1914-18 war”. Every year on 11 November we all gathered in or near windows waiting for the bells of St. Pierre Cathedral, sounding the memory of Armistice Day. This we also did on 11 November 1939 during the “phony war”, and the bells did ring.

Hans von Bülow
April 2015


Unfortunately we don't have a recent photo of Hans von Bülow to hand, but we did come across the clipping below from the Alumni Association Newsletter - Winter 2004.




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Antonio Carlos V. Braga le bref says...
Posted lundi, 8 juin 2015
How interesting. I crave those "mémoires d'outre-guerre"...

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