Herman Watzinger

Herman Watzinger’s father, Adolf Watzinger, was a well-known man in Trondheim. He was the very first professor employed at NTH [Norwegian Institute of Technology] (1909). As a German national he was called up for military service during World War 1, and his son Herman was therefore born in Wiesbaden in 1916. After the war the family returned to Trondheim, where Adolf died in 1959.
The family initially lived in Eidsvollsgate, but later moved to Tidemandsgate 34. Here Herman grew up, with his father, his mother (who was from Latvia) and an older brother. He completed three years in upper secondary school in the mercantile programme in 1936. In his spare time Herman played sports. He was a member of the workers' sports club Trond, where he was also a leader and representative. He probably never developed his talent fully, but in 1938 he did the 400 m flat in 50.2, which was one of the best athletic results that year in this region.
After the gymnas [upper secondary school] Herman Watzinger studied at NTH, finishing as a technical engineer (machines) in 1941. The same year he married, and set up house in Breidablikk.
From 1942 to 1945 Watzinger was an assistant engineer at NTH. He was also active in the resistance against the German occupants. In the final phase of the war he was a member of the Milorg group [a military organisation /resistance group] Polar Bear 2, which had the primary goal of preventing the Germans from destroying important facilities as they retreated. Herman was a weapons instructor for the group that was linked to NTH. Perhaps the resistance movement should have been wary about a person with such a clear German background. But obviously much trust was placed in Herman, a clear sign, no doubt, of his fundamental integrity.
After working briefly in Kristiansund, in 1946 Watzinger went on a study trip to New York. Here he met Thor Heyerdahl, and was recruited as a participant in the Kon-Tiki expedition. Heyerdahl wanted to prove that it was possible to travel great distances across the open sea with a vessel only constructed from natural materials. Watzinger was Heyerdahl's most trusted man and participated actively in designing the Kon-Tiki balsa raft. The 8000 km long voyage from Peru to Polynesia (spring/summer 1947) was carried out in 101 days, attracting great international attention. After the expedition, Watzinger went on a lengthy tour giving presentations in Trøndelag, with great success and to packed houses. In Trondheim, extra performances were put on in Frimurerlogen [Freemasons Lodge].
The desire to travel continued to be a natural part of Watzinger's life. After two years with the Fred. Olsen shipping company in Oslo and two years in Stockholm, he returned to South America. Most of the time from 1950 to 1970 he lived in Peru, where he also became the Norwegian consul general. He had a network of contacts across most of the continent and his field of work was fisheries, particularly processing and conservation/freezing of fish. He was also employed by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
Around 1970 Watzinger was back in Europe. Here he was stationed in Rome and connected to the FAO with fisheries development as his special field. He later became the assistant director general of the organisation.
Herman Watzinger died in Peru in 1986, while guiding a group of researchers. When his brother Hans Jacob died the next year, the urns of both brothers were interred at the family burial site in Domkirkegården [the Cathedral cemetery] in Trondheim.
Watzinger's name again came into the spotlight in 2012 when the film Kon-Tiki (directed by Rønning/Sandberg) premiered. To create more tension in the film, the Herman Watzinger character was portrayed as a sceptic and doubter. The consensus was that this did not in any way fit the real Watzinger, and this triggered a discussion about ethical principles and the relationship between fact and fiction.
Recommended reading: Ragnar Kvam: Thor Heyerdahl (Volume 1) Mannen og havet [The man and the sea]. Gyldendal, 2005.



Author: Einar Rædergård