With Howard Rickenberg in Bloomington Indiana 19631964

In order to reach Bloomington, Indiana, I took a ship that went from Holland to New York. From New York I took the night train to Chicago and from there a train to Bloomington. It was snowing when I arrived. There was no train station. Howard Rickenberg met me at the train. I thought I had ended somewhere in the desert. Howard drove me to the guest house of the university. Visits in the rooms were strictly forbidden. My neighbor was a lady who warned me about the red network, which was active everywhere. I feared that Howard would insist on the identity of ^-galactosidase and lac permease. He did not. He accepted my proposition to test the specificity of induction. So I did this [9]. At the time I was there, there were two restaurants in Bloomington. There was one bookshop and one bar. But there was also H.J. Muller, the great Drosophila geneticist.

A year after I arrived in Bloomington, I took ten days off. I drove with my car, alone, to New Orleans. Somewhere in Mississippi a private car suddenly stopped in front of me. We almost collided. It then speeded up and disappeared. Some minutes later I saw a car standing and the driver apparently asking for help. I stopped to help him. It was a policeman. He had his hand on his gun. My papers? "May I put my right hand into my pocket?'' I showed my green card and driver's licence. What was I doing here? "Pleasure." My luggage? I had almost nothing. The policeman told me "Get the hell out of here!'' I did. The next day I bought the New York Times. There I read that three students from New York who had come to Mississippi to demonstrate for equal rights for Blacks had just been shot by the police. I had been lucky.

I was rather lonely in Bloomington. There was one German student with whom I had some contact. The American students lived in a different world. For example, when I once said "in the local supermarket one can only buy two types of cheese,'' I was countered: "There is only one type of cheese." The female students never looked you into the eyes when I looked at them on the campus or on the street. This happened only once and ended right in bed. I met a Chinese student Chiu Hsia who introduced me into Chinese novels and poems. So I read the King Ping Me and the Dream of the Red Chamber. What kind of worlds! Years later I was prepared to buy and read the bilingual Moundarren collection of Chinese poets like Tu Fu, Su Tung po, Wang Wei, and Han Shan. Chiu hsia and I always kept some distance, but we never went apart. We are still friends.

In Bloomington I learned that many of the Professors of molecular biology were Jewish, and many of them emigrants, who had been driven from Europe by Hitler. There was Howard Rickenberg himself. He came from Nuremberg. His original name was Hans Reichenberger. In Biochemistry was Felix Haurowitz. Close by in Urbana was Sol Spiegelman, who was born in the US. It was not easy to enter this world as a German. One wrong sentence and one was excluded. It was there when I first thought that it would be most worthwhile to research and write a history of biology and of chemistry under Hitler. What had happened? How did it happen? Such research would be a major enterprise. But now I had no time. The spectre of history had to disappear. Now I wanted to get Lac repressor and nothing else. My time was running out. To go back to Freiburg or to Germany? Never! In 1964 I went to the International Congress of Biochemistry in New York to present my results and to look for a new position.

During my visit in New York, I had an experience which changed some aspect of my life. During an intermission of the Congress I left the hotel and went out on Fifth Avenue. There I saw people marching down the street. They had signs indicating that they were demonstrating against the Vietnam War. It was all quiet and serious. Blacks in the front row, and many women with small children. It was impressive. The next day I read a report on the demonstration in the New York Times. It was matter-of-fact, named the names of those in the front row, and gave some numbers. A week later I bought as usual ''Der Spiegel" the German weekly, read by all German intellectuals. It had an article on the demonstration. Its headline was ''Wascht euch mal!' (''Go wash yourself!''), and described the demonstrators as a crowd of criminals, drug dealers, and whores. The general outcry of the New York public was ''Wascht euch mal" I was so astonished that I called the correspondent of Der Spiegel in New York. He informed me that his phone conversations were tapped. I asked him how he could have written this text: ''I did not write it, my articles are, like all articles, rewritten in Hamburg." Since then I stopped reading Der Spiegel, which was the source of information for all intellectual young Germans. The other magazines and news papers did not seem to be much better. Years later I bought an original copy of Die Fackel of Karl Kraus, and read night after night the 150 copies in their original red envelopes from 1910 to the bitter end in 1936. So my view of the German Press became and still is abysmal.

Back to the Congress. I thought that Jim Watson's lab in Harvard would be the best for me. So I tried to speak to him in New York before he gave his talk. When I came to the hall where he was scheduled to speak I saw that it was impossible to enter. A huge crowd waited outside, unable to enter, the room was already overcrowded. So I gave up and drifted through the halls of the hotel where the meeting was held. Suddenly, I saw Watson. There he stood all alone. I went immediately to him, told him I was interested in Lac repressor and that I was looking for a position. He told me that he had none, but that he had a collaborator, Walter Gilbert, who had such a position. Gilbert was in England but in two months he would return. Gilbert and I met then in the Biolabs. I told him about my experiments and failure to isolate Lac repressor. (I had tried to bind Lac repressor covalently to 2-diazo-phenyl-^-D-fucoside, and thus make it incapable of being induced by IPTG). He told me about his failure. We had the same interest. He hired me. He was just one year older than me.

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