Walter Panknin (1898 – 1977) and His Family – Part 13

The Vienna Slivovitz Hunter

Being cut off from his unit in Zavidovici, Papa returned to Vienna to report for military duty and to prepare a newly formed battalion to defend the city. Fortunately for him, there was not much action during the next two months except for the endless allied bombing raids on the capital of Austria. Since there were virtually no German fighter planes, American bombers brazenly made daily attacks in broad daylight on the beautiful city on the River Danube. With the regularity of a clock, they flew in from their air bases in France.

Vienna Amusement Park Prater in the 1930s – Photo Credit:

Ignoring the lethal blows to entire neighbourhoods, Papa remarked in one of his letters employing his peculiar kind of sarcasm that the Americans were knocking down one café after another. He would soon have none left to go and enjoy with a colleague a game of chess while sipping coffee and tasting delicious Viennese pastry. Knowing that the war would soon be over and all his money worthless, Papa spent his off-duty time scouring the local liquor stores for the liquid gold, his cherished slivovitz. He perceived it to be more valuable than the war-tarnished currency of the German Reich. On his final official leave at the end of February, Papa had assembled a dozen 1-litre bottles of his favourite plum brandy, for which he had a wooden crate especially built for the transport on the train to Gotha. However, he did not quite satisfy the desire for this precious drink. Indeed, he had also considered its trade-in value for scarce essential items later down the road. He managed to scrounge up a keg containing about 10 litres of slivovitz, which he stuffed into a huge rucksack.

Vienna Coffee House – Photo Credit:

With all these goods unavailable in Gotha and a suitcase full of foodstuff for the family way back home, he had to struggle to make his way to the railway station with a rucksack on his back, suitcase on the one hand and a small cart loaded with a box full of bottles on the other. People must have watched in amazement the most peculiar sight of an army officer that Papa offered to the curious Viennese onlookers. He was homeward bound and did not care much about the image that a German army officer was supposed to present to the public eye. Despite constant propaganda promising final victory, Papa and everyone else knew that the war was lost and that it was time to think of survival and to ignore how ridiculous one might look when plodding along with a load of valuables on the sidewalks of Vienna.


  1. Amy · June 25

    That’s a great image you’ve described. I can just imagine him lugging that suitcase full of slivovitz and other goodies.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pure Glory · June 25

    Papa certainly had a keen sense of cunning for survival for himself and his family, The times after Germany’s defeat were definitely perilous. He was definitely thinking how to prosper in the midst of chaos/

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Steve Schwartzman · June 25

    You may be interested in the ways that slivovitz is related to some words in English:

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Stella, oh, Stella · June 25

    I think it was a splendid idea to turn the Reich money into Schnapps. It would be a good means of exchange for other goods.


    • Peter Klopp · June 25

      It certainly was good thinking to buy as much plum brandy as possible. As it turned out it was a good investment.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Stella, oh, Stella · June 26

        People will always need (and want) alcohol …

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ankur Mithal · July 6

        During the intermittent Covid-19 enforced lockdowns over the last 15 months, liquor shops are among the last things to be shut and the first to be opened. People will always buy alcohol, like someone else said. Besides, it generates huge revenues for the government.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. kopfundgestalt · June 25

    I don’t know slivovitz.
    It is said that the Americans stationed after the war always got a decent ration of whiskey. Some did not drink it, but sold it to Germans. Some of the neighborhood boys were really keen on this stuff

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Ann Coleman · June 26

    The war was so hard on civilians, not just the soldiers. It sounds as though your father-in-law had the ability to look ahead, and that served him well.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. rabirius · June 27

    Slivovitz I remember from my travel to the Balkans.

    Liked by 1 person

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