Thirty years ago I was in Germany. It is hard to believe that it was that long ago. I was stationed in Neu Ulm, Bavaria, Germany. At that time Germany was divided. The cold war was still in full swing. In fact, my job was repairing the computers and guidance components of the Pershing missile. The Pershing was somewhat of an oxymoron, which is to say they called it a “tactical” nuclear missile. The strategy of the firing batteries (Pershing was deployed to the field artillery, go figure), was often dubbed “shoot and scoot”. About half way through my enlistment it finally dawned on me that after all the missiles were shot, I became plain old infantry. It was a somewhat sobering thought.
Anyway, I remember the fall of 1977 very well. It was my first fall in Germany and I was learning all about October Fest and German beer (the best beer in the world as far as I can tell). I learned that there were lots of great German bands, everything from rock to folk to oom pah to classical. I learned that the German people were generally very friendly, especially when you tried to learn and speak their language. Most of them had 6+ years of English in school and if you made the effort to try to speak Deutsch they were quick to answer in English and help you with your Deutsch.
I had a friend named Marty that went through Pershing school with me. We were both stationed in Neu Ulm but he was in a different unit. We both loved immersing ourselves in German culture. Marty learned to speak German much more fluently than I did. He dated German girls and was one of the few single friends that I had that rented an apartment off post. We hung out in a little bar in Ulm called the Munchner Kindle. That was where I learned to love Witzen beer and Asbach Uralt, a wonderful German brandy. We would drink and eat pom frites and do card tricks for the local girls.
After I was there about six months I could afford (barely) to send for my wife and 18 month old daughter. We moved to an apartment in Leibi. After a couple of months of riding the bus to and from work, I finally managed to buy an old volkswagen. It was so nice to be able to go to the PX for groceries and not have to carry them home on the bus. Our apartment became a popular place for parties. All my friends that lived in the barracks would come over on Friday night and sometimes stay until Monday morning.
I’ll write more about these times in another blog post soon. I’m just getting started here. It was a wild ride. But we survived and it changed us all forever. I guess that is true of any experience but there is something different about being half way around the world in a different culture where the predominant language is something other than English. In short, this was when the apron strings were truely and irrevocably cut.