Some Germans I Met

After six years in Germany I came back and had two goals.  To learn to speak English [well] again and to drive 55 mph.


I speak fluent German with a Prussian dialect.   I dream in German.  When the Wall dropped I could have legally gotten a German passport and 200DM party money.  I didn’t.


When we got to Germany in 1985, we lived 32k from Hahn Airbase in the little village of Gutenthal .  Our land lady was thrilled that I spoke German.  Once she showed me how to pay the bills, she only had to come once a month for the rent.  She had a six year old son, Oskar.  Oskar and my six year old Brian became friends.  One time, she picked up the rent and left.  About a half and hour later, Brian and Oskar come down the stairs.  Soon the phone rang.  Oskar’s mom was panicked because she got home, Oskar wasn’t in the car.  I told her to calm down.  We had Oskar and he’s safe.  When she arrived she brought a case of wine as a present.  It was wine and cheese and a goldfish once every month until we moved out.


Our house had a glass door in the kitchen that led out back.  Timmy (5) and the neighbor’s kid (5) were best buddies.  Except when they fought.  One day, a rock fight took out our back door.  His Dad and I were discussing the situation when his wife came out and started bitching.  I turned to her and said:

“Die Männer reden.  Hast du nicht etwas zu putzen?”

“The men are talking.  Don’t you have anything to clean.”

She huffed, crossed her arms and stormed back in the house.  We laughed our asses off.  Her husband offered me 200DM just for doing that.  I told him that the Base would pay for the door so no hurt, no foul.


Timmy in Gutenthal


The neighbor down the street drove by and Timmy pasted his car with a rock.  He demanded 2000DM for a new paint job.  It was a tiny, teensy weensy chip.  I told him to go fuck himself.  A couple days later, my wife had a traumatic experience.  The only German she knew was:

“Ich kann kein Deutsch, aber mein Mann kann.”

“I don’t speak German but my husband can.”

While I was at work, the Polizei knocked on the door.  In English, one cop said they were there to arrest “Tim”.  She called Timmy to the door and just pointed at him.  The two cops laughed and then looked rather sternly at each other.  They apologized and left.  Later I found out they fined the asshole 200DM for wasting their time.



The post office for Gutenthal was in this guy’s house.  Every day he’d peek out the window and see my wife take Brian to the corner for the school bus.  Almost every day he’d come out and shower Brian with presents of chocolates.  He missed his grandkids.

“Ich kann kein Deutsch, aber mein Mann kann.”

One day I did Day Shift for training and was home at bus time.  My wife told me to go talk to this guy.  He saw me standing at the corner and came running out.

“You speak German well.  How long have you been in Germany?”

“A couple of months.”

“Where did you learn German?”

“On my grandmother’s knee, since I was five.”

“You talk funny.”

“My Mom came from East Prussia.  Before the war.”

Brian showed up and I told him to go home.  Our house was about three doors down and I could see him the whole way.  We kept chatting.  He became my source for Gutenthal gossip.  His wife came out carrying two beers and welcomed me to the neighborhood.  While we were chatting, my wife came up and said that dinner was ready but she would keep it warm.  She walked away.  At this point, the German wife crossed her arms and frowned.

“What’s wrong?”, I asked her.

“Whatever possessed you to marry an American?”

“Most Americans do.”, I replied.

Free beer and wine and cheese for months.


When you get to Germany, you get a sponsor to help you settle in.  Since I spoke German, I became an unofficial “Sponsor-Sponsor”.  When asked, I’d go out and referee conversations.  The Trash Scam was not uncommon.  Once I refereed an conversation about “The Rules” the landlord wanted followed.  That done, I stayed behind to chat and drink beer.  He had a huge model of the Battleship Bismark on the mantle piece.  He was a survivor of the sinking. I told him he was too young.  He said he was a mess boy.  Later he was on the Discovery and History channels bragging about being in the engine room.  If he was in the engine room, he was handing out sandwiches.


We played paintball.  We prided ourselves for never hitting the non-combatants [Germans].  Picture yourself volksmarching with the wife and kids when a bunch of guys dressed in camo, wearing masks and carrying guns run across the path.  The German were terrified.  The Americans brought picnics and watched.  One site was a castle.  Yes, a real castle.  It was raining and I was sneaking around a corner when I saw a man in a OD green poncho.  When I aimed at him, he didn’t flinch.  Oh shit.  A German. He was pissed and wanted to know why we were defacing his castle.  He was the “Schlossmeister”.  Master of the Castle, kinda like a park ranger.  Told him the paint was water soluble and would wash off.  To prove it I ate one.  Then he started asking questions.

“Is this military training?”

“No, it’s a game.”

“But you have military equipment?”

“It’s private military equipment.”

“Auch Ja.  That is why we lost the War.”

He then wanted to know the rules.  I told him that if you get hit in the head you die.  If you get hit twice anywhere else, you die.  “Then I should be dead twice”, he said. I asked him if any of us had hit him.  He said no, but he was wounded four times on the way to Moscow.  I told him my Mom was in the Luftwaffe,  He then regaled me with stories of the Wehrmacht,


I was sitting in the bar of Gasthaus Jever waiting for my turn at Risk.  We had a Stammtisch, which was our permanent table and a game was in progress.  Just then and Old Dude walks in.  He looked a million years old but could still kick your ass.  He had a little red sports model in a little red dress on his arm. He was in a three piece suit and his tie had red , black and grey stripes.

“Who are the loud ones?”, he asked the bartender.

“American Air Force.”

“HA, I killed plenty of those assholes.”

I bought him a beer and asked if he was in the War.  “Why?” , he asked back.  “My Mother was a Funkrin with the STUKAS”, I replied. “That so. I flew the Fokker 190 and shot down plenty of B-17’s”  He then tapped his tie and said “School Colors” and winked.  After a few more beers and a few more stories he explained that veterans wore red, black and grey ties.  Grey because they lost.  When my name was called to join the game, you should have seen the look on his face.


We had dinner at Jeff’s house.  A wonderful meal of jagerschnitzel.  German chocolate cake was for dessert.  I was in the kitchen refilling my milk so I set my half-eaten cake on the counter.  In the time it took for me to turn around to fill my glass, Dagmar had cleaned my plate, washed it, dried it and put it away.


A bunch of our airmen were living in a pension in Trauben-Trabach.. They kept at me to come out.  “He doesn’t know much English and we can’t speak German.”, they said.  “He’s got great stories.”

Boy did he.  They threw a BBQ and I dragged Mom and the kids to it.  The landlord and I started to trade beers and stories.  Then he said, “You’re not really an American are you?”  I looked one way, then the other and said, “No.”

“Then I’ll tell you something.”  “I don’t own this pension,” he said.  “Not legally”.  He was wounded in the Ardennes and came back to Trauben for Home Leave.  The pension was empty. He looked one way and then the other and said, “Juden”.  The pension had been owned by Jews and they were um…..gone.  So he moved in.  In 1947, the American soldiers came and asked if he owned the pension.  He said he did, so they gave the deed to the place


If you’re wondering.  That’s me with the East German border guards at Checkpoint Charlie.  But that’s another story.





The Berlin Wall

I was in Turkey on a TDY when the Wall dropped.  I called my Dad.

“Dad! We’re all patting each other on the back, smoking cigars and celebrating.  Was this what it was like on VE Day?”

“No son.  It’s like 1944, when the Krauts shot us through our Christmas turkey. Keep your head down.  They’ve stopped being Soviets but they’ll never stop being Russians.”

East German Trabant on the Autobahn.

In March, 1989 my girlfriend Karen and I planned to visit Checkpoint Charlie before they tore it down. So I got our travel orders and off we went.  East Germany was like traveling in time.  Like everything stopped in 1945.  We passed factory after burned out factory.  They were still pulling hay wagons with horses.  The Autobahn was filled with “Trabies”.

A West German Honda would pass us and it looked like a spaceship compared to the shit the east Germans were driving.

When we crossed the East/West border Karen and I decided to  just speak German.  I speak with a Prussian dialect and noticed the further North and East I went, the more I was understood.

Karen was doing great right up to ordering “Two kittens of tea” at the Checkpoint Charlie Museum Cafe.  The last six months in country I had two goals. To learn to speak English well again and learn to drive at 55mph.  I was hassling the guy in the gift shop for some Solidarity pins when I heard English.  I turned around to find the perfect characterization of a little old lady from Minnesota on vacation.  She was trying to but postcards and didn’t know how much they were.

“They are for the 50 pfennigs, um pennies”, I said.

“So how do you like the West?”, she replied.

Great.  I’m being mistaken for an East German.

When we got got to the Checkpoint Charlie chaos reigned supreme.  There was an open air flea market where you could buy any Soviet or East German Army equipment.  Short of weapons.  I bought some East German chemical warfare pants.  Thought they’d be great for playing paintball. The Turks had blown a hole in the wall and were selling pieces. More if there was graffiti on it. For ten Marks you could rent a hammer and chisel and get your own.  I was banging away when an Army LtCol walked up with his buddies.  They had brought a jack hammer.  He offered to let me take it for a spin and I cut off  a chunk the size of my hand.

The Market at the Berlin Wall.

Everyone in Karen’s shop had gotten pictures of them skateboarding the Wall.   I pointed out that all of the pictures were from the West side.  We stepped through the hole into East Germany. There were three Turkish boys.  they had an assembly line going on.  Medium kid sprays paint on the blank wall.  Big kid wangs it off with hammer and chisel.  Little kid picks up and bags the pieces.

Then the East German Army patrol showed up.  I assessed my situation.

I was in a Communist Bloc country.

I was a non-comissioned officer.

All of our identification was in the car.

So I became German…….and drunk.  I casually staggered back into West Ger Berlin. The guards came up to their side of the hole and we chatted.  I had a polaroid camera and they wanted pictures.  I told the film was gone.  The they noticed my 35mm.

“If we give you our addresses, can you send us the pictures?”  What the Hell.

When we got back to base we were debriefed by the OSI.

“Did you encounter members of the Soviet milltary or East German military or police?”

“We had a 40 minute conversation with a couple of guards at Checkpoint Charlie.”

“What did they ask you about the Air Force?”


“What did they ask you about the American military?”


“What did they ask you about America?”

“Nothing.  I don’t think we were Americans.”


“The whole conversation was in German.”

“Can you describe their uniforms?”

“As a matter of fact.”  I whip out my picture.

Hans und Karl. That’s me in the middle.

“The guy on the left is Hans.  He’s going to leave the Army and work with his Dad in a West Berlin garage. Here is his home address and phone number.”

“The guy on the right is Karl-Heinz.  He’s going to stay in the Army because they have food.  Here is his home address and phone number.”

OSI guy’s mind blows up.  “You got their home addresses!  Do you want to work for us?”

“No, I have a cool assignment in Nevada.”

But you never say no to the OSI.

But that’s a story for another time.