The first German Science Fiction Convention was held in Wetzlar over the weekend of 14th and 15th January, 1956. Wetzlar was home to Anne Steul and close to Giessen where teenage twins Jim and Greg Benford (1941- ) lived, their father Lt. Col. James A. Benford then being stationed with the American armed forces in Germany (the family returned to the US in 1957 - see the twins' reminiscence 'Gerfandom Days' in MIMOSA #30). After getting together, the trio decided to put on a convention in Wetzlar. Greg Benford's '1st and 2nd Encounter' in VOID #4 describes how this came about.
The report below has been woven together from Greg Benford's in VOID #5 and those by Anne Steul and Julian Parr (first published in the UK in FEMIZINE #8 and TRIODE #6 respectively). Links to the complete reports appear at the end.
Julian Parr (1923-2003), a member of the wartime Stoke-on-Trent SF Club in the UK, found himself employed by the British Consulate-General in Dusseldorf after the war. Contacting the early German fans of the day he told them about fans in other lands and so helped speed the development of German fandom. In 1955 he helped found Science Fiction Club Deutschland, the national fan organisation, and was member number 2.
Anne Steul (1924-1989) published one of the earliest German fanzines and may well have been that country's first female fan. A reader of American prozines for many years, she didn't become aware of the existence of fandom until introduced to it by prominent Belgian fan Jan Jansen when she placed an order for some books with him. (WETZCON appears to have been their first actual face-to-face meeting.) She quickly became enamoured with fannish fandom and even had a fanzine - FANannIA - in the fifth OMPA mailing in 1955. She also wrote a regular column for FEMIZINE and was probably the German fan who engaged most with UK fandom during the 1950s.
In 1989 when I published the first issue of THEN the fanzine, in which the initial version of my history of fandom in the UK first appeared, I was contacted by Thomas Recktenwald the editor of ANDROMEDA, official organ of the SFCD. He was interested in reprinting the contents of THEN #1, which covered the 1930s and 1940s. In the course of our correspondence I mentioned Julian Parr's account of WETZCON, sent him photocopies of the pages from TRIODE, and that report along with the text from THEN #1 duly appeared in both German and English in ANDROMEDA #115 (June 1990), though it had actually already appeared in ANDROMEDA #3. Combining it here with other reports presents a fuller picture of the event.
In 2015, SFCD celebrated the 60th anniversary of its founding by returning to Wetzlar for WETZCON II.
Before launching into the report, however, here's an excerpt from Julian Parr's multi-page review of ANDROMEDA #2 that explains some of the tensions then present among the attendees. This is the same review mentioned in the report.
The ISFCC is mentioned at several points in the report. This was the International Science Fiction Correspondence Club and was run by Jan Jansen. His fanzine ALPHA was at one point the only fanzine being published in continental Europe.
Approximate English translation:
We called it 'WETZCON 1956' but we did not get away with it. Not by a far shot! Right from the start there seemed to be certain dissenters who tried to publicise our brainchild as Witzcon. Witz = joke. Though we did not object, it proves what jokers they are, doesn't it? Others, fully convinced that a German nuthouse was on the loose, told Ellis T. Mills he was going to attend a German "Spinnertreffen". But since he is a trufan he bore it in good spirits.
One Saturday afternoon the twins and I got together to type and print the programmes. After addressing them to all the goons who were supposed to get one, we sticked the stamps on, stapled them, and I mailed them at the station in Giessen and was glad to be rid of that job.
The next Monday I returned from town, thinking no evil, when my mother, full of pity, led me to my room. I damn near fainted! There, in the centre of my desk, was every single letter I had mailed. Mailed without my name: mailed without my address! German detectives must be good! After dinner I took of large bag, with the letters, all spare cash available, and grabbed my club. On the way I met an old friend to whom I told the dreary story and he, as a man of the world, decided to protect poor ignorant me. We discovered that it was not easy to see the manager of the local post office but at last the big boss came. My friend offered him a cigarette and pleaded my case. Some time later, like two wet poodles, we left the post office and bought a pair of scissors, rolls of string, glue and so forth. In a quiet wine restaurant we began to unstaple over 200 copies 'printed matter.' Get the stamps off 200 copies 'PM'. Refold over 200 copies 'PM.' Cut wellsized pieces of string for over 200 copies 'PM'. Wrap said pieces around over 200 copies 'PM'. Stick glue on stamps and put over 200 back on over 200 copies 'PM'.
So the two of us sat drinking coffee and slaving. My friend was soon glued to his own fingers. The glue had laid several layers of artificial skin which soap and hot seater would not remove. Poor fellow! Five minutes to 20.00 we hurried back to the post office and unloaded more than 200 copies of stringed and printed matter. The clerk swallowed, sighed and looked weak on his legs. All consideration for others had left me. My hand kept diving into the bag and drawing out bundles of 'PM.' I heard my friend fell sick after this. I saw him after the con and he crossed hurriedly to the other side. Perhaps he had seen my bag with a few old envelopes sticking out? Another suffering had been going on from November. What a difficult thing to convince a German movie-owner he should. bring a SF film for a matinee! Weeks and weeks I ran to his office. So far SF films had audiences of no more than 15 people, the German public being conservative and staying away in droves. He tried to argue me into 'Rififi' since he did not know what SF was all about - when I explained he said I was crazy, the house would be empty. Since I persisted in a trial he said he would see what 'crazy' films were available. That was Christmas. The argument continued. At last I went to the "Wetzlarer Neue Zeitung" our local paper. Here we discussed SF and they promised me full support on anything they could provide. So I asked why not print an article on SF? They said: "You write it, we print it." So I wrote it. And they printed a special paragraph on the movie and everything was running smooth. "War of the Worlds" was the best he could get and I thought it was better than nothing at all. When the article came out I was promised space for another one after the con. Information would be passed to the radio and so forth. Well, so far the deal was shaping up nicely.
Since I had already provided quarters in November, oh, yes, in Germany this has to be done early because on 11/11 at 11:11 each year starts the Fasching- season and all the nuts have their meetings. But all this had been taken care of. The programme itself was supposed to be the sole responsibility of the other half of the committee. They procured a speaker all right. For a time I was afraid there would be none and I most certainly was not willing to take any part in this. However, I learned a lot from all the things that had to be done and I came to one conclusion: if I ever do this again I ought to be hanged, quartered, burned at the stake, shot, knifed and drowned afterwards.
One of our local bookdealers had agreed to order books and hold a sale connected with an exhibition of SF books and magazines from anywhere. In fact there must have been over 300 books on exhibit (mags included). Three large tables were flowing over and a good part was arranged on the carpet. Hardly a mag worth mentioning that was not there.
Friday 13th JanuaryFriday afternoon I got a telegram from Ellis T. Mills, now stationed at Rhein-Main in Frankfurt, and I hurried down to the station. Ellis had promised tape recordings from US conventions and especially a recording of Willi Ley. This had to be translated for those who did not understand enough English, so I was anxious to lay hands on him. The more so since I had learned the hotel was not available till next day and the poor guy had to sleep somewhere.
I was early, so sat in the waiting room solving crossword puzzles, a favourite occupation. At last I was able to check the passengers on the train. Ellis was supposed to be on. One after another they went away, none burdened enough to be him - you cannot hide a tape recorder in your pocket. I hurried outside and checked the taxi stand. No heavily burdened American. By now I was desperate, Half of my programme was highly endangered! I went back to the station. Finally I saw someone leaning placidly in a corner. On the ground his two legs nearly covered a blue bag. A BLUE BAG! That was it! These guys at Rhein-Main ought to have blue bags! "Pardon, did you cone on the train from Giessen?" I enquired in my Sunday-best German. He looked stupidly at me - probably thought I was nuts , and made an enquiring noise. I looked him up and down and noticed a copy of the latest GALAXY sticking out of his pocket. It had to be him! It was. So we hastened outside and drove home. I paid the cab and in we went. The only thing I distinctly remember from this evening, eve of big events, is Ellis sitting dog-tired before a tape recorder and stopping Willi Ley every so often in order to let me take down what he said. Since I am no shorthand expert, it took quite a while and the heel was reading while I slaved! Then he went to bed and I sat till 3 o'clock in the night and translated the darned thing. Worse, since I had to get up early in order to get Jan Jansen from the train.