Jürgen Grohne
During the last years of his life on Bowen Island, British Columbia, Jürgen Grohne started writing about his German childhood. He called his memoir ‘MY HITLER YOUTH’, the double meaning appealing to his sense of irony.

Born in 1928, Jürgen grew up under the Nazi regime. World War II began when he was ten. In the dreadful turmoil of that war, he was swept into the German Army as a young teenager and ended up in an American internment camp. After he was freed, he studied graphic art and went into advertising, working in agencies and publishers in London and Munich.

In his twenties, Jürgen Grohne immigrated to Canada He chose Vancouver, where he established Karo, a graphic design firm to serve Western Canada. He also married and had four children.

In his retirement, he wrote “MY HITLER YOUTH: Growing up under the Third Reich”. He was planning to publish it when he was stricken with a serious form of Parkinson's Disease. Known as Multiple Systems Atrophy, it ended his life. His survivors later arranged for the publication of this magnificent account of his childhood in pre-war and wartime Germany.

If you would like to read a more detailed biography of Jürgen Grohne, in the form of a memoir by his brother, Frithjof Grohne, please scroll down.

Jürgen Grohne
1928 – 2004

My name is Frithjof Grohne, known as Joff, and I am Jürgen’s younger brother.

My brother Jürgen was born on October 10th, 1928 in Hamburg during one of the coldest winters in Germany of the last century. He was the second son of Elisabeth and Kurt Grohne.

Because of our father’s position and later because of the war, Jürgen attended six different schools in six different locations. Towards the end of the war, with just a few months left he volunteered, as a Hitler Youth leader, to join the Army to defend his country. His age was 16 years and 5 months.

Like many other Germans, Jürgen became a prisoner of war and was finally released after spending sixteen months in an Internment Camp. He was barely eighteen years of age.

His aim to become a Graphic Designer was firmly established by then. In 1946/47 with Hamburg still in ruins, the questions for him were “How? How will I learn and who will teach me?”

He systematically researched the design work done in Hamburg and catalogued all those designs that he admired. One designer appeared more often than all the others. This was the professor of design who was not allowed to practise because he had worked for the government during the war.

Jürgen asked if he would teach him, and he did… for free. Later he joined a small but renowned Academy of Graphic Design “Kunstschule Alsterdam” which was just starting up again.

In his spare time and in the evenings he earned a meagre living as a waiter at a seaside resort, freelancing for a promotional company, as a booth and window decorator and as a helper in a typesetting house.

With the help of some old family contacts in England he managed in 1949 to work and live in London, England, as an art director in an advertising agency.

During one of his first visits one Sunday morning in London, King George VI passed by in an open car waving at him and the other few people gathered on the corner of the street. Jürgen waved back and was never quite sure how exactly he had waved. He loved telling people about this event. At this time his passport was stamped: Enemy Alien.

With the experience of working in the advertising field in a free country with a free market, and now having a much greater command of the English language he was ready to come back to Germany… ready to make his mark.

His first position was with the headquarters at the British American Tobacco Company with far more responsibility than anyone expected. The reason, as he later found out, was that the German management assumed he had been planted there by the tobacco company’s head office in London.

He was put in charge of developing a new brand of cigarettes, called “Gold Dollar.” When the big brass, Mr.Whyte, arrived from London he quietly reviewed the presentation and simply said, “This is not yet Gold Dollar.” All eyes were on Jürgen. He took the plan he had inherited, changed it completely, Mr. Whyte approved and Jürgen was on a roll.

His next job brought him to Munich as the assistant advertising manager of a large company that published three national weekly magazines. After a year or so, Jürgen became restless and hungry for more knowledge and experience. He travelled the United States and Canada, working during the summer as a bus driver for Brewster's servicing the Banff Springs Hotel, Alberta, which he loved. He finally continued moving west and ended up in Vancouver.

It took Jürgen only a short time to find a position with O’Brien Advertising, which was then handling the election campaign for Prime Minister Diefenbaker in Western Canada.

When he applied for the job was asked to show his portfolio, but all his papers and portfolio were still in Toronto. Old Mr. O’Brien gave him paper, pencil and crayons and said, “Here are five different assignments which we are working on at the moment. Pick one and come back tomorrow morning and we will soon see how good you are.”

Jürgen chose to work through the night tackling all five projects. When Mr. O’Brien saw the quality and the sheer quantity of work, he simply said, “You are hired.”

Jürgen loved Vancouver and often sent me those enticing post cards showing beautiful English Bay, at the West End of Vancouver. He shared a penthouse studio in the West End with a few colleagues including Patrick Reid. It was here in Vancouver that he met his future wife Patricia. The year was 1957.

Six months later his former boss in Munich died in a car accident and Jürgen was offered and accepted the top advertising position at the Munich publishing house. Jürgen’s work was innovative and produced impactful results. His work was recognized nationally with a lead article in the famous German magazine “Der Spiegel” for the launching of a new weekly television magazine.

In 1958, Jürgen and Patricia came to Vancouver to be married and then returned to Munich to live there until 1960. They then made the decision to come back to Canada.

His initial work in Vancouver was chief editor of “Homes and Gardens”, followed by a short period of time in Toronto to raise funds to start a magazine and then back to Vancouver as a senior art director with McKim Advertising.

By now, he was the proud father of his daughter Katharina, sons Gordon, Michael and Raef and the family had moved to a small farm in Langley, in the countryside east of Vancouver.

In 1969, Jürgen started his own consulting practice. Shortly after this, in 1970, I, his brother Joff, immigrated to Canada and joined Jürgen and later that year we incorporated West Graphika later to be named Karo Design.

You see, all those beautiful post cards from Vancouver had exerted their desired effect, but we had always dreamed of joining forces somehow.

During the following many years, when he led the creative team, his best and most innovative work was done. Jürgen’s urge for creative simplicity, “less is more”, as well as the perfection of detail set the standards of our company, Karo.

He pioneered the first pre-sales centres for major real estate projects including South False Creek, Panorama Village, the identity and signage program for Granville Island and BC Place and the identity change from the old CP Air to Canadian Pacific Airlines to name just a few.

Clients respected his abilities of sound thinking and developing creative ideas combined with solid strategies. Karo Design steadily grew, with a second Karo office in Calgary, diversified its services, weathered troubled times and became one of the leading design firms in Western Canada.

Jürgen always dreamed of building his own house and in 1989 he designed his home on Bowen Island, just off the mainland from Vancouver. Here he retired in 1993 although he continued to do some consulting work.

He started to spend more time concentrating on reading, researching and writing his two books and trying to make more sense of this world.

Despite his diagnosis of Parkinson’s and then later with Multiple Systems Atrophy Jürgen did not slow his pace. What he missed most, I believe, was his ability to use his skill to write and draw, the activities he had so much enjoyed…from early childhood on.

As his physical strength began to fail, he was cared for in a number of ways by the Medical Team at UBC, and here on Bowen he received care from the Health Care professionals. He practised Tai Chi for several years and Jan Parker, his instructor, became a true friend.

His physical life became harder and harder, but his unfailing good nature and his spirit for new ideas continued unabated. His appreciation of friendships and the love of dialogue with those around him increased.

During his last two years he had the good fortune to be cared for, primarily by Dionisia, whom he called his angel, Joan and Piers Hayes, Christopher Proctor, Horst Mann and Peter Dean who kept his house and garden in good repair and shape. Susie Proctor would bring Jürgen every Sunday to Church.

Josie and Paul, Jürgen’s neighbors on call for several years and the ambulance teams were always ready when he needed help.

On behalf of Jürgen and the entire Grohne family, I would like to say to all. “Thank you.”

Jürgen died in peace early in the morning at his home on December 13, 2004 with his family at his side.

His hands were relaxed and he was ready to meet his God, whom he always called, “GOD: The Grand Old Designer.”