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Finding Fred Episode 8: Christof

During the last days of the USSR a sad American kid lived in a drab soviet apartment in Moscow. Then a friend came to visit.

Finding Fred podcast with Carvell Wallace

Christof Putzel is a second-generation journalist. He grew up following his parents, a correspondent and a foreign desk editor around the world and wound up in Moscow just as the Soviet Union was coming apart at the seams. His parents promised him that the biggest toy store in the USSR was just across the street from their new apartment, but that home was bleak and the store was bleaker still, a huddled mass of empty shelving. Naturally, young Christof struggled. Naturally, his parents noticed.

One day they told him to make sure he was home on time for dinner. There would be a special guest that night. Christof obeyed and was floored to find Fred Rogers sitting on his parents’ couch. Christof’s parents had gotten word to the visiting legend through the American Embassy that a sad child could use his attention. He had scheduled a visit immediately.

Cut to the present. Christof is a journalist. He’s worked in conflict zones. He’s seen a lot of the world — and a lot of the places and people that Americans tend to avoid. And he still thinks about that visit with Rogers, the way the TV host brought his puppets and then asked him for a tour of Moscow, a bleak city at its absolute bleakest. Christof thinks of that moment and he thinks about empathy and his responsibility to others. He thinks about what it means to see and be seen.

On episode eight of Finding Fred, host Carvell Wallace speaks to Christof about that evening in Moscow, the ways in which it changed his life and the ways in which it didn’t.