One of Walter’s earliest memories is of the generously proportioned balcony outside the apartment on Eppendorfer Weg. It is situated above rusticated double ground floors; the neo-Classical facade is richly decorated with pilasters, mouldings and cornices, two storeys above Bahresel’s greengrocery and Schönen’s specialist laundry. There, on the balcony belonging to the piano nobile, behind the four urns adorning the stone balustrade, next to the niche containing a statuette representing a flimsily clad Hammonia, is the setting for Walter’s earliest childhood memory. He is in his mother’s arms and the whole family is gathered on the balcony. Everyone watches in silence and with terrified expressions as a number of planes circle above the city. It is during World War I, and enemy planes are dropping rudimentary bombs. Of course this is not an air raid in the modern sense, nothing in comparison with the attacks that Hamburg will suffer in later years. But these are British planes, and they are dropping bombs. Even much later in life Walter is always able to recall this memory and to recapture the sense of security he felt in his mother’s arms.
Another early memory is of his mother’s expeditions to provide food for her family. This is at the end of the war and the period immediately afterwards. Like many other women, Minna Wächter made regular trips out into the country to barter with the farmers. Sometimes she would not come home until late at night, but she always brought with her something edible, and she always managed to avoid the police officers who were out to put a stop to this kind of thing. Walter also remembers standing with his mother by one of Hamburg’s many canals in the middle of a bitterly cold winter, waiting for a barge with a cargo of coal to arrive. His eldest brother had been sent down there first thing in the morning before school began to secure a place in the queue. He was then relieved by his mother, who took her youngest child with her to the berth where the barge was to be unloaded. Walter can still see the long, snaking queues and the black barges. He can smell the coal, he can feel the cold nipping at his nostrils as he stands there holding his mother’s hand.