It's easy for me to remember the date I first set foot in Germany...November 22, 1963. The Stars and Stripes you see at right was handed to us as we got off the Boeing 707 at Rhein Main Air Base (Frankfurt). The crew had known while we were still in the air but had kept it from us, for fear of panic I guess. I was a 2d Lieutenant, fresh out of the Air Defense Artillery Officer's Basic Course at Fort Bliss, Texas. My orders said I was to report to the 3d Battalion, 71st Artillery Regiment at Wurmberg, Germany. Nobody in the Army's contingent at Rhein Main had heard of Wurmberg, but they "thought" the 3/71st was "down south" so they put me on a train bound for Karlsruhe which was as far as American troops were staiioned in the southwest corner of Germany. It took me three days to contact my new unit!
The stairs you see here were still in use in the 1960s, and I assume still are. I doubt if those operating tourist attractions in the states would risk the lawsuits that might result from using such a structure, time-tested though it may be!
The castles at right were called the Rat and the Cat Castles by Americans. Which was which I can't remember...and Google didn't help. Both were fortresses, with the one in the middle of the Rhein being operated by robber barons who stretched chains across the channel and collected tolls from passing boats.
Fachwerk architecture has always interested me and if I had the right piece of land and the wherewithall to do it, I would be hard torn between building myslef a half-timbered house, and a log house. With a little imagination, perhaps I could combine the two...
You saw an example of Fachwerk in the photo of Ploenlein earlier and you might be about to conclude that it is used only in older dwellings. We see fake Fachwerk even in the United States, but in Germany even now, building Fachwerk houses is a normal practice. The house at left is in Bretten, a fairly large city north of Pforzheim. I was made an honorary citizen of Bretten after being involved in construction of a Sportsplatz (soccer field) using labor and equipment from my Nike Hercules unit. A couple of other interesting features of this photo are that the family dwelling is above the shop operated by the family, a common practice, and the town fountain, a central gathering place.
The interesting story of the Meistertrunk tells how the Burgermeister (mayor) saved the town by drinking almost 3 liters (quarts) of wine from the container above in one prolonged stand, saving the town from destruction. I don't remember if the mayor survived!
Another top attraction for me was the ancient town of Rothenburg. The original town of Rothenburg was entirely walled to protect it from invading hordes including the Romans. The interior of the wall, complete with walkway, is shown above.
Not only did I think it rather unusual that the Army wouldn't know where their units were based, I also found it unusual that I boarded a coal-burning, steam-engine train to get there. They had long since been replaced by diesel-electric in the USA. By the way, as you can notice from my best photo of such a train at right, don't expect any photo masterpieces here...with one exception these are all scanned slides.
Arriving in Karlsruhe after duty hours on Friday didn't help my quest to find Wurmberg. I cooled my heels until Monday morning when I was finally able to contact the 3/71st by phone. The next shock was to be speeding down the Autobahn toward Pforzheim, Germany's jewelry capitol, at 100 mph...and being passed by Germans driving Mercedes. Making that even scarier was the fact that many parts of the Autobahn in those days were cobblestone as shown at left.
Not all Germans drove Mercedes in those days...in fact, few did. By far, the vast majority drove Volkswagens, all of which were "beetles." And as you can see in the photo at the right, the colors were not very imaginative. But the Germans treated their cars like part of the family...you never saw a speck of rust, and rarely a speck of dust on a German car. This despite the fact that conservation and pollution prevention ethics resulted in Germans using only one pail of water to wash their cars!
The Army in Europe named their Nike Hercules sites for the location of their radars, and the D Battery, 3/71st radars were located in Wurmberg, a village of a couple hundred located near Pforzheim, gateway to the Black Forest. No wonder nobody knew where it was. The NH missiles shown at right are non-nuclear. I wouldn't have been allowed to photograph nuclear "birds" and, furthermore, the nukes were kept in the igloos.
Another thing in addition to the steam trains and cobblestone autobahn that caught my attention early on were the war ruins. Pforzheim had pretty much been leveled because it was a major manufacturer of ball bearings, but for the most part, it had been rebuilt by 1963. The ruins of a church at right were in Hauau (north central Germany), but typical of ruins seen in most industrial areas. The Allies didn't intentianally target churches, and in fact, went to great pains to avoid damaging them.
Another thing in addition to the steam trains and cobblestone autobahn that caught my attention early on were the war ruins. Pforzheim had pretty much been leveled because it was a major manufacturer of ball bearings, but for the most part, it had been rebuilt by 1963. The ruins above were in Hauau (north central Germany), but typical of ruins seen in most industrial areas. The Allies didn't intentianally target churches, and in fact, went to great pains to avoid damaging them.
Many of the ruins are well known to any student of WW-II history. Shown above is what remained of the railroad bridge at Remagen, famous because its belated demolition by German forces allowed the Allies their first crossing of the Rhein River into the German interior. German units dug in on the high ground on the far side of the river delayed but did not prevent the Allies' establishment of a permanent bridgehead on the far side.
Ruins were not the only reminder of the war that had devestated Europe 18 years earlier. The bunker above, emblazoned with its swastika and "Heil Hitler" inscription, sat on a remote hill, unseen by any but the most curious wanderer anxious to take in anything related to the great conflict. The bunker commanded a road leading into the Black Forest. Allied Forces never advanced into the heart of the Black Forest, probably because it harbored no industry.
Another custom that added to the beauty of German cities was the penchant for flying flags, anytime, and anywhere. The flags undoubtedly represented something...the city, a family, an area...but usually I had no idea what it was. Those you see above flew in front of the Bluhendes Barock, a palace in Ludwigsburg styled after Versailles. The palace grounds contained at least one burg (fort), a flock of flamingoes, a living maze, and flowers at every glance.
But remains of war were not the only things that captured my attention. There was much more beauty than devastation to behold. I was captivated by the frescoes that adorned many buildings in Bavaria and elsewhere. When I did a Google search to find a link to a fresco (scroll down the linked page to see this fresco). I was pleasantly surprised to find the exact same one I had photographed in 1964.
And then there were the things that just seemed strange. Don't ask me why, but I was especially amused by haystacks. Although most hay was baled in America, I had seen haystacks before. But in Germany, ALL hay was stacked much like that shown at right. A small thing, I guess, but one that gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling.
I arrived in Germany about a month before my car arrived at Bremerhaven which gave me plenty of time to study German traffic laws in preparation for taking the driver's license test. A big part of the test was based on recognition of international traffic signs. We have seen modifications of those signs in the states in recent years, but in Europe they give no "hints" as to meaning. The white diamond surrounded by red border at right lets the driver know he is on a priority road. But nothing prepared me for the signal hanging over this Ludwigsburg intersection. The white "arm" rotated, and when it turned to green, which it is about to do here, you could proceed. American called the signals "macht nichts" (or "mox nix" if their commend of the German language was lacking) lights, roughly translated as "doesn't matter."
It seemed the only thing that outnumbered Volkswagens on the Germany roads were the horse-drawn carts. And just like sail boats having priority over power boats on the water, the carts had priority over motor vehicles on the roads. And many of the farm carts, many were "honey wagons", the contents of which would give you an added incentive to yield! By the time of my second Germany tour in the 70s, the carts had pretty much disappeared.
.And if the horse-drawn carts weren't enough, you also had to watch out for cows. In the mountainous areas of Bavaria, cows were allowed to roam the hills pretty much at will during the summer. Those that survived were rewarded with a floral crown as they were herded back to town. And back home, it was very common for cows and other farm animals to be quartered in the lower floor of the family house.
Even by the early '60s, the German Autobahn system provided a very efficient path for getting from Denmark to Switzerland in an easy day's drive. The Bundesbahn (federal railway) with its tightly controlled schedules provided another efficient means of transportation. But get off the Autobahn and onto side streets and driving proved challenging. It seems that every few miles you were approaching a railroad crossing just as the gates were coming down! And then you found out why the Bundesbahn trains were always on scheudle...they slowed down not at all in the little towns.
And if you weren't getting stopped at a railroad crossing, you were getting diverted on a detour. The joke among American drivers when asked where they were would be the reply, "I'm at the corner of Umleitung (detour) and Eihbahnstrasse (one-way street)." The photo at right shows my MG-B fender at just such a location...the red and white arrow says "Einbahnstrasse."
When reading above about the flags at Bluhendes Barock, if you clicked on the link during our daylight or evening hours, you probably saw a lighted palace. Such is a common practice in Germany, not only for castles, palaces, and other tourist attractions, but also for some very common buildings. Those above were in a non-descript village west of Stuttgart. I always found it interesting that folks who washed their cars with one pail of water, took a bath twice a week, and wasted not a scrap of paper, would devote resources to something as ethereal as lighting common buildings. I sure enjoyed the fact that they did!
Competing with the horse- drawn carts and Volkswagens for domination of the secondary roads were bicycles. Seeing a Schornsteinfeger (chimney sweep) in Germany is considered very good luck, so when I passed one riding his bike near Garmish, I pulled over and took this (very poor) photo as he passed me..
One could spend a lifetime in Germany and probably never see all the castles (a new one was "discovered" near Pirmasens when I was stationed there in the 70s). The ruins you see at right are part of BurgTrifels. I visited Trifels often...it was near Annweiler, halfway between Pirmasens where I was stationed, and Pforzheim, my wife's hometown.
One of the most often photographed scenes in Rothenburg if not in Germany is a little place called the Ploenlein, or..."little place." At right you see the photo I took in 1964 during my first visit. Again, you notice the Volkswagens...and a Volkswagen wanna-be. Change comes slowly to Rothenburg and other small German villages. Below you see another shot of the Ploenlein in 1977. My brother, Jack, who was also stationed in Germany in 1977, is new to the scene, but little else has changed. Above Jack's head you see a golden bell and sign indicating a shoe shop. The same bell is visible in the photo above. Such adornments, called "Schilds," are common to German shops and Gasthauses. Notice also the road is cobblestone. I don't remember ever seeing a "pothole" in a cobblestone road. probably because repair is simple...replace a couple stones. Rothenburg contained so many points of interest that three visits over the years didn't satisfy my desire to take it all in...someday I will return...
Germany is rich with tradition, and one I found very interesting was the Maibaum, literally a "May tree" but better known to Americans as a "Maypole." Many in Bavaria are permanent, such as the one at left, which tells the history of this relatively small town, as many others did. Others were temporary, raised on May 1 with much celebration similar to Labor Day in the States.
Another "must" when visiting Germany is a cruise on the Rhein River. Legends abound along the river which has served as a major transportation route for centuries. At right is the Lorelei, a rock immortalized in song and tale as housing a siren of the same name who enchants passing sailors, luring them to their deaths along the rocky shores. True...many ships have not made it past Lorelei, but only because of the treacherous rapids.
Another German landmark that has spawned many songs and tales is the Donau River, better known to much of the world as the Danube. At right you see it in its headwater in the Black Forest. This far upstream, it truly was the "blue" Danube with its crystal-clear water. Further downstream, it loses much of its luster, but retains its charm as it glides through Munich, Vienna, Budapest, and Belgrade before emptying into the Black Sea.
One of the best kept secrets in the Army in Germany was the NATO school at Oberammergau, the town shown at right. I was lucky enough to attend three courses there during my 11 years in Germany. When the black plague was rampaging Europe in the 1600s, residents of Oberammergau pledged that they would perform a "Play of the Suffering of Our Lord Jesus Christ," or Passionspiele every ten years. Getting to see that play in 1980 was one of the highlights of my Germany tours. The fresco I mentioned earlier on this page commemorates the Passionspiele.
As one drives down a steep hill from O'Gau and south toward Austria, you soon come to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, famous for hosting the Winter Olympics in 1936. Garmisch and Berchtesgaden, both on the Austrian border, and Chiemsee a bit to the north were frequented by Americans because they hosted American Armed Forces Recreation Centers providing affordable getaways in some of the most beautiful countryside Germany has to offer. Brother Jack took the digital photo above of the Zugspitze, Germany's highest peak, just outside Garmisch, in 2002. The same peak can be seen in the 1964 photo at right I took of a mother and son picking up hazel nuts in Garmisch.
Of the three Armed Forces Recreation Centers in Germany, my favorite was Berchtesgaden. If fact, it was simply my favorite place in Germany. As you can see in the photo below, it sits high in the German Alps, right on the Austrian border and hardly an hour ride to Salzburg. Berchtesgaden was Hitler's mountain retreat and it was thought he would make his last stand there, perhaps hunkered down in the Eagle's Nest high atop a local peak. Visiting Americans could stay in the General Walker Hotel (demolished in 1999), a building you see Hitler emerge from in many documentaries. The peaceful town with its overwatching Watzmann (the link is a live cam) peaks show no hint that the town once harbored a mad man.
During my first Germany tour, I was intrigued by the variety of dwellings throughout the country. In the north, you would often see houses with thatched rooves. Quaint, to say the least, but made less so by the ever present television antenna.
Also prevalent in north Germany were familydwellings with adjacent, working windmills (left). And no matter what part of Germany you were in (West Germany, anyway). yards were always bedecked with flowers. Most dwellings had no grass lawn, but all had flowers, whether growing in the yard, or in window boxes. Geraniums , the most common window box flower, were so prevalent I thought maybe somewhere along the line their name had been misspelled and they were really germaniums. Impatiens were also very popular, and try as I might to get them to grow like they did in Germany, I have never succeeded. Maybe it's the climate, maybe the specie, maybe the soil or fertilizer...but more likely, I think it was just the TLC given them by their growers.
Some of the dwellings you wouldn't really think of in that sense, like Neuschwanstein Castle (left) near Fussen on the Austrian border. A castle used primarily as a dwelling is called a "Schloss" in German, and Neuschwanstein is a Schloss. A castle used primarily as a fortress is called a "Burg," hence Burg Trifels which you saw earlier. Neuschwanstein was the third major Schloss built by the "mad" King Ludwig II of Bavaria, the others being Schloss Linderhof near Oberammergau, and Schloss Herrenchiemsee on Lake Chiemsee
Getting back to more normal dwellings, you see at right a half-timbered (called "fachwerk"
in German) house built in the 1400s. This would be a tourist attraction in many parts of the world, but in this small village near Stuttgart, it was just another house I came across while partaking in a Volksmarch. It's difficult to tell in this photo, but at street level and facing the viewer is a large door for entry of the family herd of cows (maybe only one or two) and possibly other farm animals. I often wondered what it was like to live in such a dwelling but never had the nerve to invite myself in for even a look, let alone an overnight stay.
And after telling you how much I like Fachwerk and log houses, I'll have to back up a bit and admit that if I could, I would pick up the house at right and move it to a remote lake right here in Washington, and it is neither log nor Fachwerk. In fact, I don't know what to call this particular architecture...wood on top, and stucco on the bottom, but whatever it is, I love it. And again you see the ever present flowers... impatiens, it appears...in the flower boxes in the 1964 photo at right, and mostly geraniums in a shot of the same house taken in 1982. Again, little change in an 18 year period. Whatever architectural style this is, it was common in Bavaria. This particular house was a few miles west of Berchtesgaden on the road to Ramsau whose church you will see feaured in a moment.
Other structures of interest to me were the churches, from the magnificent cathedrals at Köln (Cologne), Speyer, and Ulm, to the simple road side chapel. Many of the churches were outside the cities and towns, some completely isolated from other structures. Kirche Maria Gern at right is somewhat that way, located on a valley road outside Berchtesgaden. All German churches I noticed had functional bells...I miss very much their sound tolling across the countryside not only on Sunday, but just about every evening.
And finally, the last featured church and also the last photo on this page, is the Catholic Church at Ramsau, just west of Berchtesgaden. A non-descript building, but in a beautiful setting make the Ramsau church one of the most photographed churches in Germany. Known not only for its scenic setting, the church was once led by priest Josef Mohr, the writer of "Silent Night." Perhaps that is what inspired me to get up at 2 a.m. one moonlit night to catch the setting in a different light. Having a cheap camera and not being much of a photographer, I snapped shots at every f-stop and speed imaginable, and went back to bed. I was heartbroken the next morning to find that my film hadn't been advancing in the camera and that not ONE shot had come out! Oh, well...another good reason to go back...
Another oft-visited church is the Wies Kirche, not far from Fussen. Rather plain looking on the outside (above), the inside (left) was liberally adorned with gold and jewels Photography was not allowed inside the church but I couldn't resist the temptation to sneak a shot.