“In my eyes, Neil Armstrong killed Winnetou.”


Mission Spucknik

The big top and the little bottom, that’s history. That’s how it presents itself to me. We are in the Alps, summer vacation. July 1969, I am ten and ill. He’s supposed to swallow tablets. But I’ve never swallowed a tablet before. Spit it out again and again, now there is soon half a pack on the gravel. I remember that. That there was gravel in the garden of our Austrian holiday apartment landlords, who were sitting in front of the television. Which makes things even more embarrassing. I try to swallow and spit out the tablets, I feel sick. The TV picture is black and white, very small and dull.

It must have been a repetition in the morning, because we wouldn’t have got up at night. We never did that, neither in boxing nor at the World Cup in Mexico in 1970, when the matches were very late, after Central European time. The adults were strangely excited. Not because of the huge historical event, as it seemed to me, but because one had to be excited on the moon landing day. But that didn’t interest a ten-year-old with fever and abdominal pain who was disgusted by his medicine. I felt excluded from an important event, which the elders, however, also perceived only dutifully, at least not enthusiastically. With the weather map my parents were always more engaged, there was never a word allowed to fall, it was a holy moment, a moon landing every evening. As if their fate was announced, so devoutly they listened to the weather forecast.

Many years later I stood in Washington, in the National Air and Space Museum, in front of the “Eagle”, the moon landing device. Damn small. Two astronauts with their suits should have found a place in it? Parts of the ferry were covered with foil reminiscent of the kitchen and oven, and the thing looked as if it had been screwed together from a Märklin construction kit. Conspiracy theorists claim that the moon landing is a propaganda coup staged in the film studio on Earth. When I was no longer ten and by no means twenty, I found the “Orion Space Patrol” more exciting and Dietmar Schönherr more significant than Neil Armstrong. Rüdiger Schaper

Between Radio and Seven-Up

Half a billion people are said to have sat in front of the television at the time. Not us. We sat at the radio and didn’t understand a word. That is a bit exaggerated, we could already speak a few chunks of Dutch, after all we spent every summer in Zandvoort aan Zee, as we do now. The thick radio and the cheerful excitement of the evening, they burned themselves into me. And that we followed the expedition in the funny language of Rudi Carrell. We must have understood the decisive moments, as we documented in the guestbook: “Landing on the moon!” is written there, signed and authenticated by all those present, friends and family. When I was eleven years old I knew NASA astronauts very well: as a glowing fan of the series “Enchanting Jeannie”.

To celebrate the evening we had Genever with Seven-Up, for us children probably Seven-Up without Genever, that was solemn enough, otherwise we only got raspberry syrup diluted with water. Yes, we even had a real American woman sitting on the sofa with us, Suzi. But the exchange student from Pittsburgh was obviously not aware of her historical responsibility. She wasn’t interested in the moon landing, a present friend of the family noted outraged in the same guest book, even the genever she had spurned – half Suzi simply left behind in the glass. They didn’t throw away any food or drink! The Americans acted much more carelessly. In the newspaper clipping, which someone later stuck in the guest book – the missing picture to our radio Heilversum sound – all legacies of the astronauts on the moon were enumerated, from the measuring rod for solar winds to empty food bags “as well as used faeces and urine bags”. In between the American flag. Susanne Kippenberger

Astronaut beats cowboy

After this summer of 1969, nothing was the same for me. I smoked my first cigarette, secretly, of course. My mother suspected something, but I lied to her. And I had never dared to do that so cheekily before. Now, at twelve, I did.

I had the cigarette from Günther, who was 13 and the son of our innkeepers. In their house in Preetz in Schleswig-Holstein we had rented ourselves for the summer vacation. Günther also immediately provided for the next sensation, his parents owned a colour television. I didn’t know such a thing from home, ours only showed black and white. On Günther’s television there was one thing above all else: The moon landing. Fine, the landing itself wasn’t in color and also quite blurred. But the surrounding. In the television studio they had even set up a lunar ferry.

Until then I had loved to play cowboys and Indians, westerns were still very popular in the 60s. Back home I made a lunar ferry which became my favourite toy. All of a sudden there were all kinds of space accessories to buy. Who else was interested in cowboys? In my eyes, Neil Armstrong did Winnetou. And Old Shatterhand was there too. Andreas Austilat


About Author

Mette Frederiksen is a The Washington Newsday correspondent. With her coverage of general science, NASA and the interface between technology and society, Frederiksen has been in the Science Desk's Technology Beat since joining Washington Newsday in 2018.

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