The remainder of my flights were completed without problems and on 25th December 1948, at the age of 32, I
arrived in Costa Rica to start the next phase in my life.
I was given the job by Don Willheim Peters, as had been promised, and worked on the Peters family farms as a
manager for the next 18 years. The farms were jointly owned by Don Willheim and his brother Don Werner, who
looked after the financial side of the business. while Don Wilhelm. the 'romantic’, looked after the general
management and agricultural side of the farms. Don Werner had also been interned during the War, but while
initially interned in Costa Rica had got married to a German/Costa Rican girl and when he was later transferred to
the U.S.A. he was sent to a camp for married persons. I was not, therefore, to meet him until I came to Costa Rica.
During the War, Don Werner and his wife were sent to Germany in exchange for Allied internees. Wilhelm had been
luckier and had been sent directly back to Costa Rican when he was released after the War by the Americans.
During this time I got married to Maria Hotensia Moya, who was related to one of the senior Costan Rican families,
the Monteleagre’s and became the father of two sons, Rolf born in 1953 and Jan born in 1957 and a daughter, Elke
born in 1955.
I met Maria Hortensia, through Ana, the wife of Don Werner Peters, who had decided that it was time that I stopped
my bachelor ways with my strange girlfriends. Maria Hortensia had been a classmate of Anna Peters and from the
time I first met her I knew she was going to be my wife and within one year we were married. Her family had wanted
the wedding to take place in the Cathedral, but my being a Protestant and refusing to become a Catholic, was more
than the Bishop could accept and he refused to let the wedding go ahead in the Cathedral, although he permitted
the wedding to take place in the auxiliary chapel.
My new in-laws lived in a beautiful house that had been built from the proceeds of the sale of my father-in-law’s
very valuable stamp collection to the Costa Rican government, which was subsequently presented by Costa Rica to
President Roosevelt as a gift. It is said that the collection was finally ended up, either with King Farouk in Egypt, or
in a museum.
It had always been a joke of mine to say that it is better to look among rich girls for a wife, preferably a beautiful rich
girl, and not to waste your time taking out poor girls. I thought my philosophy born fruit when the beautiful girl I was
to marry also appeared to be the daughter of a ‘family of substance’. I was to eventually find that this was not in fact
the case as far as the "substance" was concerned.
One of Maria Hortensia’s first cousins had married the American conductor Leonard Bernstein who I was to meet
when he was in Berlin in the 1970’s. My son Jan was also to stay with Bernstein and his family in New York when
Jan was there on a business trip.
I had not, however, married my wife for her money and we started our married life together on the farm in Sarchi.
The Peters had coffee farms and processing plants in Sarchi, Grecia, Naranjo and near Arenal and a sugar farm
and refinery at La Luisa. NW of San Jose
The years between 1950 and 1960 were years of promoting coffee planting and the improvement of its cultivatation.
New ways of planting, with and without shade trees were tried, herbicides used and new species (Villa Sarcht, Novo
Mundo, Caturra, etc.) were introduced to augment production and to try and produce disease resistant trees. Coffee
plants are open to attack from an immense number of fungi and insect diseases which have to be prevented by
continuous spraying with a number of different chemicals.
We also introduced on the Peter’s farm, during this period, irrigation being almost the first company in Costa Rica to
do so, other than the banana plantations, and demanded an immense effort in training the farm workers. At the start
we used diesel pumps to pump the water around the system, but after some years of experience, the use of pumps
was abandoned and the systems worked on gravity, which not only simplified everything, but was also much more
economical, reducing costs considerably.
It always amused during the time diesel pumps were used, that if a pump failed during a nightshift, the peons, who at
that time were mostly illiterate with practically no technical ability, would repair the pump and when I arrived in the
morning they would always show me a handful of nuts, bolts and washers which they claimed were unnecessary
since the pump now worked again without them.
The Peter’s not only had their own coffee plantations, but they also bought the crops from other small and medium
sized growers in an area of a radius of around 30 kilometers. "Recibidores" were built to receive the coffee,
measured per volume against a receipt and were transported by company trucks every evening to be processed.
(Coffee cannot be left in a heap for more than three hours, after which time it starts to ferment. Coffee in fact has a hull
of fruity material, similar to cherry, containing the coffee bean which is in a permanent shell which has to be hulled).
The trucks worked late into the night transporting the coffee received at the "recibidores" to the processing plant
where the coffee was offloaded and put in siphons, together with water and the hulling process started which would
continue all night.
The house that I lived in on the Peter’s farm was close to the processing plant and the noise at night from the
machinery and the trucks delivering the coffee would lull the family to sleep, but causing us to wake up when the
noise stopped. This affected the family more than me, since I had to be on duty until the last truck arrived, which
often would be very late due to a truck breaking down on the road somewhere, or as happened once, a driver
became drunk. On that occasion I had to take the jeep and go and find him and drive the truck back myself, leaving
the driver beside the road. This introduced a new line of discipline to the drivers and another reason for my being
disliked, if not hated, by the workforce.
During the harvest season all repairs to the machinery had to be done on a Sunday due the heavy workload. One
Sunday in 1959 Don Wilhelm and myself were taking Bruno Miller, the farm electrical engineer down to the
hydraulic power plant to carry out some maintenance work, when we received a phone call with the awful news that
the main building of the processing plant (Beneficio Seco) was on fire. We hurriedly drove the 5 km to the plant and
found the big building ablaze. This building had a wooden structure with outer walls of zinc metal sheets and
contained the dryers with their ovens and burners, together with the hulling and sorting machinery. I ran to get the
irrigation pumps, installed them and started to fight the fire, but to no avail, the water we were pumping on to the
high flames being unable to control the blaze. In the meantime Don Wilhelm had phoned for the fire fighters from
the nearby town of Grecia. It took them an hour to get to the farm and they also were unable to put out the fire, only
soaking the heaps of coffee and the rubble of the building. Looking at this scene of desolation was too much for
Don Wilhelm, who had a nervous breakdown and had to be taken by jeep to hospital in San Jose.
Life and the business of the farm, however, had to continue, so while I took care of sorting out the damage to the
building and machinery, Don Rudolfo Dieke, the chief bookkeeper, sorted out the paper work. The coffee industry in
Costa Rica being government controlled, it is a requirement that every week a report is sent to the relevant
government authority giving details of the total amount of coffee we had received so far for processing. The first
thing Don Rudolfo did was to wake up the local postman and get back from him the latest report that we had the
previous day before he sent it on to the authorities in San Jose. The next morning a new report was sent which contained
all the pounds of export grade coffee that had been damaged.
I, meanwhile, had worked with the patio foreman checking the state of the machinery, pulling down, by
winch, wall to expose the damage.
When the inspector from the insurance institute arrived the next morning and got the impression of considerable
damage, he wrote in his report that almost all the machinery was a "write off". It so happened that my father-in-law and
mother-in-law were staying with us that weekend and he also by chance was a director of the State Insurance Institute
and was able to ensure that emergency meetings were called so that the claim would be acted on swiftly.
The insurance inspectors report finally recommended that all the machinery was a total loss, including the six
dryers, and should be auctioned off. Through my father-in-law we learnt that only one offer was going to be made,
this by a man called Juan Gallo, famous for his deals in coffee and coffee equipment. I went to see this man to
persuade him not to put in an bid by offering him around $1,000 and the promise to supply him with
coffee at a favorable price over the next few years. He accepted the deal and withdrew his offer to the Insurance Institute.
As a result
Peters was able to purchase the six dryers, including stoves and burners for Colones 30,000 which, after minor
repairs, were as good as new and are still working to this day. The money received from the insurance claim partly
paid for the construction of a new concrete processing building (the dryers alone being valued at that time around
Colones 500,000). Thus was the way the
coffee dynasty was able to continue.
One day during a storm at Sarchi, the electric power cable supplying the small sugar plant on the farm was stuck by
lightening closing down the plant. I arranged with the plant foreman for the power supply to the cable to be cut off so
that I could mend the line. I had just prepared the power line and was climbing down the pole and around the
transformer through which 3000 volts passed, when someone shouted for me to freeze where I was. I looked
around and saw that the lights were on again and that the power had been switched back on again without my
knowledge. Unknown to me, lightening had also struck the transformer that supplied the coffee processing plant
which Don Willhelm had got someone else to repair. Once the repair was completed, Don Willhelm,
not knowing I was also repairing a damaged power line,
instructed the power to be turned on again immediately so as to minimise the effect to the coffee milling process.
The foreman had done as instructed by Don Willhelm, but without also warning me. I missed electrocution and
death by a matter of seconds. Another lucky escape.
As the years passed Don Willhelm was keen to involve his three sons in the business and as they progressively
became more involved it was made clear to me, through the family’s intrigues, that Don Willhelm’s side of the family
no longer wanted me to continue working for them and was trying to ease me out.
For example, when I arrived in Costa Rica in December 1949, I knew nothing about coffee and its processing. In
fact I had never seen a bush before. Under the instruction of Don Willhelm Peters I was to learn, relatively quickly, all
about the business. As long as I was learning, all was fine, but as I became more knowledgeable and understood
how things were done, Don WiIlhelm must have believed I was becoming a threat to him.
He did not like this situation and started to put obstacles in my way to such an extent that he eventually never asked
me to report to him anymore, only consulting with his son or the patio foreman on the daily position. This his son
used as an opportunity to make false reports to his father, even to the extent of reporting that I was responsible for
errors that he had made and which Don Willhelm readily accepted. I know this to be true as, by chance, one day I
picked up the phone and happened to overhear a conversation between the two of them in which terrible false
reports were made about me. I therefore decided then that I had no option but to resign and leave the farm after the
coffee crop for that year, 1964/65, was finished.
Throughout my time with the Peters, Don Werner attitude towards me was one of a complete gentleman and gave
me support during the time I worked for them. After I left, I was later to learn that Don Willhelm’s eldest son, who
took over from me, became involved in deals that resulted in losses to the business and particularly to Don
Willhelm, who paid out of his own pocket to cover the losses. Don Willhelm’s middle son also was to
leave the coffee companies
and now lives in Ambassador, Germany. The youngest son was the only one to have
an academic education and is the only son to still work for the business doing the job that had once been mine.
During the last few months of my time in Sarchi, I started, together with Carlos and Rodrigo Chaves, former
mechanics of the company, and my friend Andreas Luksch from the USA, to build a shrimp boat from plans obtained
from America. The new fishing company we formed was called LUCHAR LTDA, the LU from Luksch, the CHA from
Chaves and the R from Ruge. The boat called the PUNTA DEL ESTE was finished about the time I left Sarchi.
I was now in the parlous situation of being 49 years old, with a family of three children, aged 10, 12 and 14, with no
substantial savings, nor having received any severance payment or compensation from the Peters after 16 years of
working for them, having only a meager salary to initially survive on. I had to once again virtually start from scratch
with no specific training other than the Navy and my experience on the Farm.
I had to get a large bank loan to buy a house, which on the day I moved into it, in 1965, received a message that my
father had died in Cuxhaven. His last words before singing "Sah em Knab em Roeslein steh’n" were "GOOD LUCK
AND GOOD FISHING".
After a year of fishing with the Chaves brothers, during which time we built another boat the PUNTA DEL OESTE.
the relationship between Rodrigo and myself did not work out the way it should and it was decided that we should
go our separate ways, the Chaves taking the PUNTA DEL EOSTE and myself and Luksch the PUNTA DEL ESTE.
However, in 1969 the German Bosch company was looking for a new independent representative in Costa Rica, for
which there was much competition. At that time the existing company employed in Costa Rica a German engineer
from Bosch, Juergen Plate, and he was able to give to me discrete advice on how to approach making the offer.
As a result I approached a group of coffee dealers (exporters) and a company called MADISA formed. This
consisted of myself, Juergen Plate, coffee dealers Karl Heinz Schnell and Joerg von Saalfeld and a big coffee
broker from Switzerland, Volkart Brothers. Once the company had been formed and accepted by Bosch to
represent them in Costa Rica, money was urgently required to buy stock for the company. Initially only Juergen and
myself were prepared to put up the money for the first order and we raised Colones 200,000, Juergen getting
Colones 100,000 from his mother in Hamburg and I raised my Colones 100,000 by the risky method of mortgaging
PUNTA DEL ESTE. Only months later the other partners realised the opportunity the company offered and added
their share. By pure chance the chief executive officer of the lbero-Amerika Bank in Bremen happened to be on a
trip to Central America to visit clients and, one morning, turned up in the MADISA offices. After a brief discussion
about our plans and prospects, he offered MADISA the services of the Bank and I asked him to provide financing
for the company of US$ 300,000 without an agreed time for repayment. He agreed and said "I will give orders to
Bremen and you can do ahead." This was the foundation and start of the now prosperous MADISA Company, of
which I was president for the next 13 years.
Whilst president of MACISA, I continued to own and run the PUNTA DEL ESTE until I sold her in 1975 to the
captain at that time, Ladislao Meirena, who was later to make a fortune when the price of shrimp rose to
Also in the period 1965 to 1969,1 founded, together with my partners in the Bosch dealership, a company called
UNION EXPORT-IMPORT LTD to import from German reconditioned Volkswagen "beetles". This was done in
conjunction with Wilm Schlikker, a coffee importer in Bremen, who being a very industrious businessman and
having some spare time available, agreed to purchase the Volkswagens in Germany and ship them to Costa Rica. I
therefore gave up working on the fishing myself, although still owning the shrimp boat and employing a local man as
captain, and dedicated my spare time to selling the 250 Volkswagens that I had imported.
Thus I supported myself, my wife and three children, including providing the children with a good education, through
a financially difficult period and as MACISA prospered and with the selling of the shrimp was able to enter a more
stable financial state, concentrating on my presidency of MACISA.
Although I had finally managed to achieve again financial stability for my family, the family was to suffer a time of
great sadness when my wife Maria-Hortensia died of cancer, after a long illness, on the 20th November 1974, four
days before her 50th birthday.
At my age of 65 years I did not feel old, so I got a job as accountant in a coffee-export firm of Dieter Sachs,
with whom I worked for 7 Years, until I started to help my son-in-law on his farm, until 2003.
To digress, I have gone through my life having had a curious bond with people of with certain names. The first
experience was in my childhood, when I spent many hours everyday from the age of 4 to 7 with Hildegard
from across the street. Such was her impact on my early life that, if I was unable to see her on any day, I would
miss her most terribly. The next Hildegard in my life I met in Buenos Aires in 1940, the
memories and thoughts of whom kept me going through my years of confinement in the internment camps in the
USA until I returned to Germany in 1946. Then there was Hildegard with whom I had a relationship in
Germany between 1946 and 1948 and who gave all her energy and efforts to compensating for my lost years of
female company during the war.
Similarly with the name Ana, or a combination such as Ana Maria or Ana-Isabel. There was Ana Marie
whose virgin firm breasts would so tighten her Hitler-Youth shirt that I would tremble and my heart flutter at the sight
of her. I was never more happy than when I used to walk to work with her early every morning in 1933. In 1940 I met an
Ana in Antofagasta in Chile when was trying to escape from Argentina to Japan. The memories of my
days and nights with her were to keep a smile on my face whilst making the sea crossing from Chile all the way to
Japan. A similar smile to the one many years later provided by the passionate nights spent with Anna , a
Stockholm girl, met on a coffee-sales trip to Stockholm and Helsinki.
The last Ana in my life helped in a small way for me to get over the terrible
loss of Maria-Hortensia by enlivening those activities that were missing from my life at that time.
My relationship with this Ana ended when I met Priscilla, a godsent gift, who I married in l983 and with whom I
have spent 20 wonderful years and with whom I hope to spend the rest of my years.