Thanksgiving Memories for the Life of Helmut Tanz 1935-2008

Melitta and Helmut Tanz 45th Anniversary Cruise 2006


Thanksgiving Memories for the Life of Helmut Tanz - 1935-2008
I was very deeply saddened to learn today (05/01/09) of the death on Christmas Day 2008 of this very dear friend of more than 35 years. He would have turned 73 in only two weeks I first met him early in January in 1972 in Brantford, when I was seeking a low cost 2-bedroomed apartment for myself and my now late older brother Bob, as I had just started a job with MasseyFerguson in Brantford, and brother Bob was not working at the time, and had joined me while he sought his next employment. We had been sharing a large attic room in a house on Dalhousie Street there, with shared use of kitchen and bathrooms with other residents. Helmut was a slim and handsome (as, in my experience, he pretty much remained for the rest of his life), about 36-years old then, and was at work renovating one of the 6 apartments in the block he owned on Emilie Street. We hit it off, and I rented the quite small, but adequate, two-bedroom apartment. It was an old building - perhaps more than 100 years - and Helmut had put in the updated bathrooms and renovated everything, including papering the ceilings(!), and adding an exotic open Arabian Nights-style curved-top doorways to link the kitchens and living rooms. He said he had paid someone to help him (especially on the plumbing part) to renovate the first apartment there, so he could learn how to do it, and then Helmut renovated the rest of the apartments himself. I lived in two of Helmut’s apartments there. One was downstairs on the right side from the street and the other one above it. When I was contemplating moving into the upstairs one, Helmut was still renovating it. He told me it was important for him to go and see his mother in Germany, but he was short of funds. I offered to move into the unfinished flat and pay regular rent from the moving date to help, which is what happened ...and he had enough funds to go to Germany. At the time he worked at Cockshutts, a local farm machinery production company. I had recently started a job at Massey-Ferguson, which had four factories then in Brantford, and was then the town’s major employer (about 5,000 staff then in Brantford). He told me he had previously worked at Massey’s Verity Works, one of the company’s town’s then four factories, which made farm implements, mostly to be pulled behind tractors. He would come to me and collect the rent monthly, and I would usually offer him a drink of an inexpensive Napoleon Brandy, my preferred tipple at the time, which he would invariably accept. This usually turned into having several drinks of the same for both of us. Helmut would tell me stories of his childhood and later life. He had fond memories of his father (I think he said he was a teacher) who, despite just having one lung, was finally drafted into the German army later in the last desperate years of World War II and sent to Russia. It seems he disappeared during the siege of Leningrad/Stalingrad and was presumed to have died there. See This loss and the aftermath of the war resulted in a childhood in Berlin of considerable hardship for Helmut and his mother and sister, who went hungry at times. Despite this, Helmut had many fond and happy memories of Berlin, and of his youth and friends there. He very much wanted to introduce

me to the Berlin he remembered and loved, and invited me to join him on many trips he made there right up until his last visit there in the autumn of 2008. Unfortunately these were not at times which fit into one or another of my working life, budget or circumstances. I deeply regret not having benefitted from his introduction to Berlin, and still do hope to visit it one day ...though it will not be the same as having seen it with friend Helmut. While he was still young and living in Germany, his mother encouraged him to obtain a professional certificate through training, and Helmut qualified as a lathe operator. This allowed him to emigrate to Canada, where he went first to Toronto and worked in a plastics products business, and later settled in nearby Brantford, with trips back to Germany between living in these two places, followed by later visits back to Germany off and on for the rest of his life. He told me his bachelor life was a bit wild during these early years, living from one pay cheque to the next, and he realised he would be better off having a wife and a more settled life. This resulted in him proposing to Melitta, a beautiful young lady from his home country. They married, and his life became more stable. Following this, he worked in New York State. They had two beautiful sons, Eric and Uwe. At the time I met him, Helmut was living in a fairly basic post-war prefab (wooden – I think) house in Brantford. He had personally dug a partial basement/storage area under the house. When I had a friend (Julian) from England come to visit (about 1973), Helmut invited us to a traditional Sunday style meal at this home with his family. Melitta prepared the meal, and it remains a special enjoyed memory for me. Not too long after this Helmut, now a little more prosperous, sold this house, and he moved with his family to the more modern and bigger home on Blueridge Crescent, which became their home afterwards ...when Helmut and Melitta both, or Helmut alone, were not travelling.

20 Blueridge Crescent, Brantford

Helmut with son Uwe, ca. 1975
Helmut had an amazing mind, and could play chess like a Master of the game. Local tournaments would be held and Helmut would play several players one after another and win all the games. I once had a genius IQ chemist friend come to stay and (despite being quite inebriated at the time) he challenged Helmut to a chess game. He complained to me the next day that he was very upset at having lost one of three games to Helmut. Just after I met Helmut, and began being a tenant of his in the winter of 1971-2, his eldest son, Eric, who was still a very young boy, went missing. It was a hugely tragic worry and concern for Helmut, for his family, for those who knew him and Melitta, as well as for all in the area (including me). There were local newspaper articles about this mysterious disappearance. Despite search parties looking for Eric, there was no news of what had happened to him until the Spring thaw, when it was discovered that he had fallen into a local river and had drowned. He was buried in Brantford. Helmut always told me afterwards, that having his son buried in Brantford meant it was important for him to stay there and make Brantford his permanent home. (Melitta has told me that Helmut’s cremated ashes now join Eric’s at the same burial place.) Helmut became an important friend to me – the most important one - while I was in Brantford (and later, too), and also a good friend to my brother Bob, who moved to Toronto soon after. Helmut used

to visit Bob in Toronto, and they enjoyed good meals and evenings out there. Helmut was very upset (as I certainly was, too) to learn of Bob’s death in a motorcycle accident in 1976. After I went to Mexico in 1974 for a couple of years, Helmut and his second son, Uwe, came to visit. I was delighted to have them stay with me in my modest apartment and to introduce them to the Mexico City area, including the Street Mariachi band player’s experience and the Tenampa bar (a sometimes visited venue during my University days there) where these bands also play. We largely cooked for ourselves there, and he recommended his wife’s potato pancakes and tried to cook them for us, but his recipe or cooking did not work out too well. Later, he sent me Melitta’s better recipe for this.

Brian and Helmut Mexico City Airport, 1975
Helmut fell in love with Mexico and its culture and peoples, and it remained a favourite – and often an annual winter - travelling destination for him. He - and Melitta, when she could join him, usually went to Acapulco for several weeks during the worst of the Canadian winters. He had a band of foreign friends there he would rejoin each year – some of whom he would play chess with. Helmut and Melitta also visited me in Toronto when I was there in the late 70s, and then, later after I moved to England, he came to visit me in each of my homes there. Helmut loved going back to Germany to visit family. He always helped his mother as well as he could (despite not fully approving of her later partner), and enjoyed visiting his sister and her family.

Both Helmut and Melitta blessed us by visiting us when we were in Spain in March/April of about 1986 (I was working part of the time, but free following the time they joined us). We met them in Madrid, and enjoyed some great Spanish meals and watched some traditional dancing/singing. I was celebrating my birthday (46th I guess) then, and was very touched when he and Melitta joined us on that day and brought me a gold coloured metal lighter as a birthday present, which they had especially had engraved to me to mark the occasion. (I was still a smoker then, but stopped a couple of years after. However, was pleased recently to show Helmut I have still kept this lighter, and continue to value that heartfelt gift.) We went on during this birthday of mine to see Madrid’s zoo and enjoyed a full day and meals out together. After the time in Madrid, we all went on to Sevilla, in Spain’s Andalucian south. This was during the famous annual April Feria, or festival, there, which is very popular, and we were very lucky to find any accommodation. We visited a 150+ year old bar frequented by bullring fans called ‘Sol y Sombra’ (meaning Sun and Shade – the sides of the spectator parts you buy tickets to watch bullfights – the shade side tickets cost more than the sun side ones). We also went to the fairgrounds where many came on horseback and were dressed in beautiful traditional Spanish clothes. One was expected to drink the local sherry (or jerez) there and dance all night, but I am afraid we did not last too long, and returned to our hotel rooms. There were dangers there, too, and when we went out one night, a motorcycle or scooter came up behind us and the passenger on it tried to take Melitta’s handbag, but she was formidable in holding on and able to retain it, although the strap on it had been broken.

Helmut visiting Brian at The Victoria condo, Vero Beach, 1990s
(Helmut briefly owned a Florida property not too far away, but managed to sell When he found he was not using it enough to warrant ownership.)


During a visit to Germany with Melitta in about the mid-1990’s Helmut suffered a massive heart attack and was unconscious and thought to be in a medically unrecoverable state for some days. His son, Uwe, flew over to join them. According to what he told me, against the Doctors’ advice, Melitta and Uwe encouraged them to keep him alive and do whatever was possible to help him. He recovered, but was advised that he had only 40% of his heart working after that. It worried him somewhat that this condition prevented him from obtaining travel insurance, but it did not prevent him from further travels for the rest of his life. He would always say to me during visits with me after this, that he thanked God for the gift of the years he had enjoyed since that time. (He also said that he felt he had experienced death, and his experience was that there was nothing there ...however, I hope his real final death – of the body – has given him a different experience). Helmut visited me in my London homes (where he helped me with plumbing issues) and later in Dover. By this time, in Dover, I had become a landlord myself, partly inspired by Helmut’s example and partly from books and understanding I had acquired over some decades. I feel Helmut was a good example of how long-term good landlords can benefit from gradual growth in property values, as well as from improving properties they buy. My recollection is that Helmut lost his last job through company closures when he was about 52. Despite this, he was able to continue living reasonably comfortably afterwards largely because of his relatively modest real estate investments. He also tried other business ventures, including opening a French Fries stand with Melitta in Brantford’s then market square. He joked to me that when Melitta would ask a customer if they wanted the fries to take away, rather than eat at the time, her pronunciation came across as ‘Do you want it in the back?’ (really meaning, ‘Do you want it in the bag?’) Helmut visited me in Dover in about 2003, just after I had bought my 3rd and 4th rental properties (two houses), both of which required some improvements. He showed me how to do tiling in one of them (now 109 years old) by doing the tiling over the area above the stove. I treasure a photo I have of him showing off this tiling. (I have also enjoyed doing tiling myself since.) In the other house, which had a back garden which had one and a half stories of stairs to go up, and where I had to cut the grass and look after it, he stayed and sunned on a chair behind the house, as his heart condition did not allow him to engage in such step climbing. Every time we talked after his visits to Dover, he would ask me, ‘How is the landlord business?’ I played chess with Helmut on a few occasions and, although I thought I came close at one point on one occasion, never managed to beat him. Sorry not to have the chance to challenge him again. On one visit to us in the UK, when we were driving on a day trip to France, Helmut started singing the Willie Nelson song, “On the road, again”, and said he and Melitta would sing this when they had set out travelling on driving holidays. I always remember this, and have this “On the road again” feeling when setting off on a new travel adventure. On this trip with Helmut, when we got to France and were driving south from Calais, we stopped at a lookout point (perhaps Cap Gris) where one can see England, and Helmut recounted how the Nazi Minister Goering, after the Nazis had occupied France, stood on this (or a similar) spot shaking his fist at England, saying they would conquer it next.


Helmut was an amazing traveller, with a hunger for experiencing different places. On a visit not too long ago to me in our home in Lydden, Kent, near Dover, I challenged him to tell me how many countries he had been to (my own count for the ones I had visited was about 35, which I thought was impressive). He had not kept count, so I showed him a map and a list of countries. As well as I remember, he identified 51 countries which he had been to! (a rather well travelled normal European may have been to only about a dozen). He told me his father had told him about the beautiful islands of Hawaii, and he was especially happy to have stayed there). He said he regretted not having been to Japan and wanted to know how it might work for him to visit us here (Japan, where I am writing this from), however, by this time his health did not make that possible. I have SO many happy memories of Helmut (and of his family) in several countries - Canada, Mexico, England and Spain, too many to fully recount here.

A very thin Helmut, aged 73, with a Brantford friend, both of whom I was delighted to meet and greet in Dover docks, UK, in June 2008, as they were about to join a Scandinavian cruise.

At this brief meeting, Helmut still came across and positive and hugely interested in further adventures and the what can be seen and experienced in the world. Although he commented on losing weight and not being able to put on any more, his spirit was still such that I had no inkling this would be the last time we would be together in physical forms. Brian Mayne, January 2009


Helmut "Al" Arno Tanz Date of Birth: Saturday, January 5th, 1935 Date of Death: Thursday, December 25th, 2008 Funeral Home: Beckett Glaves Family Funeral Centre 88 Brant Avenue Brantford, Ontario, CANADA N3T 3H3 Obituary:

TANZ, Helmut - With the love of his family by his side, Helmut has gone to join his son Eric in Heaven on December 25, 2008 of Brantford at the age of 73. Beloved husband for 47 years to Melitta. Always loved father of Uwe (Corry). Proud Opa to his only grandson Brayden. Dear brother of Christel Schwab and her family. Helmut will be sadly missed by his many relatives in Germany, friends in Brantford, especially Ken and John and his loyal dog Hieki. Predeceased by parents Arno and Erna Tanz, and good friend Klaus. Helmut had a passion for travelling the world and especially loved going home to Germany to visit family and friends. Helmut was also a member of the Brantford Chess Club and the Brantford German Club. Family and friends will be received at Beckett-Glaves Family Funeral Centre, 88 Brant Avenue, on Monday from 2-4 and 7-9 p.m. A Funeral Service will be held in the chapel on Tuesday at 1 p.m. Cremation to follow. Interment Farringdon Burial Ground at a later date. In lieu of flowers donations to the Canadian Cancer Society would be appreciated by the family. A tree will be planted in memory of Helmut in the Beckett-Glaves Memorial Forest.

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