• “I’m Haag”

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    I used a short vacation near the beginning of my final residency year, 1959, to explore opportunities for subsequent training. Following a brief time in Zurich, Switzerland, I wanted to see the renowned Haag-Streit instrument factory, about 75 miles away in Bern. The train ride to Bern was fast and smooth and the scenery magnificent.

    I had no address, but assumed that such a well-known factory would be entirely familiar to any taxi driver. Perhaps it was my faulty German pronunciation, but my taxi driver didn’t seem to get it when I said, “Haag-Streit.” The word Fabrik (factory), however, evoked a glimmer of recognition.

    We started out in silence and soon were traveling largely uphill out into the countryside. On and on the driver continued, passing one farm after another, while I became increasingly doubtful that he had understood me. “Are you sure this is the right way?” I asked, but he had no idea what I was saying. Abruptly, the driver turned into a gravel driveway, stopped the car, and got out. To the right was a large stone farmhouse with a set of steps ascending to an entrance. I expected the driver to go in and ask directions.

    Instead, he opened the taxi door and motioned for me to get out. I stepped out and looked around, completely puzzled. Just then an elderly gentleman opened the farmhouse door and came out on the landing. He saw the perplexed look on my face. “Are you looking for Haag-Streit?” he asked me in English. “Yes,” I responded. All was not lost. Here was someone who not only spoke English, but also was familiar with Haag-Streit. The factory must be nearby. Surely he could give us directions. “I’m Haag!” were his next words. “You’re in the right place. Come in.”

    I paid the driver, proceeded up the steps, and followed Mr. Haag inside. “This is our office,” he explained. “Our showroom is upstairs. You are welcome to visit.” I breathed a sigh of relief. The taxi driver had brought me to the right place after all. “Thank you very much,” I said. “But I was hoping to see the Haag-Streit factory.” “Oh, yes, of course,” Mr. Haag replied. “If you would like to see our factory, you just walk out to the back and down the hill and you will come to it.”

    “Thank you again,” I responded. I made a few small purchases. The saleslady called the factory to alert them to expect a visitor. The factory was a modern long rectangular one-story structure about 100 yards behind the office. I marveled at the meticulous work being done there. No wonder Haag-Streit instruments had such a superb reputation. No wonder in this rather small workshop they were not producing enough slit lamps to keep up with the demand from around the world. 

    Seeing the factory was a gratifying experience, but my fondest memory is running into one of the owners himself and hearing him say, “I’m Haag!”