An Interview by Nick Lume
Today I was lucky enough to meet a great man, Carl Berner. I had the honor of sharing his time and talk to him about his memories and experiences. He started out by telling me that he is “108 and a half years old.” He is really amazing.
I asked Mr. Berner about his life in Middle Village and he replied that he has been living here since 1940! He remembers living here even before there were streetlights. He told me so much information on his life and work when he came to NYC in the 1930’s at the time of the depression.
He worked at the Chrysler Building in the 1930s, he even lived in Manhattan for a time then moved to Jackson Heights. He recalls what a difficult time it was in NYC during the depression when so many “good strong hardworking people” did not have work. He recalls amazing details about his work as supervisor of the cleaning crew in the Chrysler building at night, even remembering his shift was from 5 pm to 1 am. He supervised 70 cleaning staff and 12 porters. He recalls having to write reports of every day’s work. He even remembers his first vacation.
I asked him about his life growing up and he told me so much about his life and experiences; his stories were pretty amazing. In his own words, “I could write a book.” He was born in Germany in 1902. He told me a lot about his family and how he worked in a tool and dye factory. He even started a toy business!
Mr. Berner tries to go for daily walks, usually up and down Caldwell Avenue, and he passes my house almost every morning. He even used to clean the streets and cut the weeds along Caldwell Avenue, but that was before his hip surgery. I asked him what his favorite food is, and he said “oatmeal” with a smile.
I think it’s pretty amazing that I am 12 and he is 9 times older than I am, so I asked him if he has any advice for someone like me on living a good life. He said “I take life as it comes, I don’t drink, I don’t smoke and I try not to ever hurt anybody.” Always with a smile, he shared even more stories about his life. He remembered his grandparents, going to school in Germany, learning German, French and even Latin.
I am happy to be able to learn from people like my grandparents and also Carl Berner. It was really great to meet him and talk to him.