A German Experience


The post-war years shaped Germany in so many ways that I will concentrate on my home state of Rheinland-Pfalz. While I don’t personally remember the 1950s, many developments influenced my life as well as the lives of my countrymen until the fall of the Iron Curtain.

The Korean War spurred such a military build-up in Rheinland-Pfalz that it resembled a Gold Rush. Practically overnight, fields and moors were turned into air bases, army depots, and housing or recreational facilities for the American GIs who poured in. These installations provided jobs for thousands of Germans and brought prosperity to previously poor areas. Local businesses and landlords also profited from the influx of money.

Even during the 1960s, few villagers owned cars, relying instead on their two feet, bicycles or motor scooters. If we had business in town, we took the bus or train. I remember being awestruck at the sight of the huge American cars that navigated our streets.

Of course, there were also many negative aspects to these developments. I never took a walk in our village forest because it was turned into an ammunition depot before I was born. We followed the news very closely because every crisis between the superpowers could mean war. Still, life went on, despite the fact that we were living on a powder keg.

Many of those military bases have disappeared now, and we recently observed the equinox of the Berlin Wall. It has now been torn down longer than it stood. A whole generation of Germans has never lived in a divided Germany. May they never have to experience the tensions our generation and our elders endured.


Image: Trier Air Base (U.S. Air Force)


How German Immigrants Shaped American Life

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Imagine you’re going to a picnic. The sun is shining. The birds are singing in the trees nearby. The kids are playing on a swing. You’re sitting down with your family and friends, ready to eat and drink. But, there is one catch: You cannot use any ingredients introduced by German-Americans. That means: no hamburgers, no hot dogs, no Heinz ketchup or pickles, no Hellmann’s mayonnaise, no potato salad, no gummi bears, and most importantly, no beer! At least, no beer made by Miller, Pabst, or Anheuser Busch breweries. Wouldn’t that be a very boring picnic?

After the food-less picnic, you’re driving—in a car invented by Germans—to a baseball game. Imagine baseball without German-Americans like Honus Wagner, Babe Ruth, and Lou Gehrig. It’s hard to imagine!

When the game is over, you go to the movies. Nowadays, that could very well be a movie with Sandra Bullock or Kirsten Dunst and music by Hans Zimmer. After you come home, you turn on your TV and they’re showing Independence Day again, and again, and again! What would the cable networks do without that movie? They would have to show a blank screen half of the time! Another day, they might show Titanic with Leonardo di Caprio. Not long after the picnic, you and your family fly on vacation in a Boeing airplane.

When school starts, you’re taking your child to a kindergarten. At bedtime, you read a book by Dr. Seuss to your child. Once your child is asleep, you sit down with a book by John Steinbeck or Kurt Vonnegut.

Today, 25 % of the American population are of German ancestry. Some famous names from my home state include Elvis Presley, Thomas Nast, and Henry John Heinz.


From Groundhog Day to Independence Day, American holidays have been shaped by German immigrants. We might not even celebrate Independence Day without the aid of Baron von Steuben, who whipped the Continental Army into shape during the revolutionary war.


And let’s not forget about the biggest holiday, Christmas. Imagine what Christmas would be like without our beloved Christmas tree? And who would bring us presents, if not the Big Man, Santa Claus himself! Thomas Nast created the first image of Santa Claus as we know him today. Christmas without German traditions—unimaginable.


From the Brooklyn Bridge to Hollywood, from the backyard barbecue to the White House ceremonial march, from your bookshelf to the space center, life in the United States would be vastly different without the accomplishments of German immigrants. It would simply be unimaginable.


Image: commons.wikimedia.org (Porsche 997SBS)

Looking Back and Ahead


Like most years, the past year has brought joy and sadness for me. A highlight was my trip to Germany in July after an absence of three years. I even visited some attractions I had never seen before.

I published my novel “Oktober Heat” in German and was interviewed by my hometown newspaper, “Die Rheinpfalz,” during my visit. Work on my next photo book consumed much of my time during the fall.oktober-heat-1deutschebookcoverweb

While I have been giving presentations for years, the past year brought my first three elementary school visits. What a wonderful opportunity to share my love of nature!

But I also mourned the losses of several dear friends. We had begun working on my new book when my designer/editor died suddenly. Not long afterward I learned of the death of a long-time member (almost 50 years!) of my Toastmasters club. John had been a wonderful mentor and friend as well as a passionate speaker. I am certain that his influence will be felt for a long time. His passing also means that I am now the longest-standing member of my club with a mere nine years.

Looking ahead

Spring will not only bring daffodils and trilliums, but also the release of my new book “Common Backyard Birds.”9780997676716-ColorSS-112217.indd

I am busy booking presentations in the Pittsburgh area to complement my book.

I hope that the new year will bring new opportunities and challenges, as well as moments of reflection and connections with nature.

May your new year be happy, healthy, and filled with purpose!

How We Celebrated Christmas In My Youth


During my childhood in Germany (late 1950s and 1960s), Christmas gifts were often practical, if not always useful right away. Boys were luckier than girls. My uncle’s wife gave all her nieces an ornamental cup, saucer, and plate every Christmas. Much later I talked to other women who received bed linen or cutlery from their relatives. Their well-meant intentions of giving a girl a dowry did not consider fashion changes or personal taste. I, for one, never used my china and refused to take it along when I moved away from home.

Outings to other relatives were more pleasant. It was customary to visit uncles and aunts over the holidays, especially the godmother and godfather. Besides our gift we received a bag full of cookies. That way we could sample a wide variety of this Christmas essential. After all, Christmas in Germany is unthinkable without cookies.

December 25 and 26 are holidays in Germany. Even Christmas Eve is a partial holiday and all grocery shopping had to be concluded by 1 o’clock on December 24. It was a very stressful day because the butcher shop and bakeries/grocery stores were packed to capacity.

In the afternoon we would decorate our tree and go to church. We had barely finished our supper and exchanged gifts when my grandfather (Opa) called us downstairs for a second Bescherung, the gift exchange. He was always the most excited about Christmas Eve, even though he received the most predictable gifts: cigars, socks or a sweater.

Opa, a retired steel worker, was hard of hearing and did not often participate in our conversations. But one Christmas Eve he began telling stories. They were simple stories about his commute to the steel mill by train, yet I still treasure them to this day.

And while I have forgotten most of the gifts I received back then, his stories live within me and define me because they connect me to those who came before me and are part of who I am.


Image: gerbil (commons.wikimedia.org)

Fall of the Berlin Wall


Time flies! It has now been 28 years since the Berlin Wall opened, changing German and European history forever. That means that a generation of Germans has not lived in a divided Germany.

I have always been a lover of history until it occurred to me that I was living history. After all, the Cold War had shaped life in our village (I grew up next to the largest ammunition depot in the world) as well as my employment because I worked on a U.S. air base for many years.

During the early 1980s I took several trips to West Berlin and East Germany. They were very educational and satisfied my curiosity. How could I ever forget the fortified borders and the uneasy feeling of being watched around the clock? Would I get in trouble for photographing an empty shop window? How could I spend my pocket money when there was nothing worthwhile to buy, but I was not allowed to take it back home?

Fast forward to 1989, the most eventful year in my life. November 1989 was an especially busy time for me. I had just gotten married and was clearing out my bachelor apartment while also searching for a larger apartment. The sudden opening of the Berlin Wall therefore caught me by surprise.

My first reaction was disbelief, followed by unease. The 1980s had seen lots of tension and economic insecurity. East Germany, on the other hand, had enjoyed full employment. How could all those people be absorbed into the West German economy? It turned out that my fears were not unfounded. But first there was euphoria. Friends and families could visit each other after all those years. And East Germans were finally able to travel abroad.

I have never returned to Berlin after the fall of the wall. I doubt that I would recognize it anymore.


Image: SSgt F. Lee Corkran, DoD photo, USA

Why I Named My Novel “Oktober Heat”

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When I decided to write a novel set during the 1950s, the first problem I had to tackle was the exact year. The building of air bases and army posts provided plenty of material, to be sure. But the decisive factor for setting my book in 1958 was the arrival of Elvis Presley in Germany on October 1, 1958, when he joined the 3rd Armored Division in Friedberg.


That explains the word “Oktober” with its German spelling. Oktober not only conjures up images of beer and harvest festivals, but also Cold War novels and movies.  Heat, on the other hand, is not only a slang word for police, but also a term for excitement, thrill, enthusiasm, stress, passion – all of which occur in the book.


Once I settled on a month and year I was ready to research in earnest. During my next visits to Germany I scoured newspaper and photo archives to get an idea of current events, weather, fashion, lifestyle, and the availability of consumer goods. I found old photos particularly helpful in bringing my characters to life. Research was so much fun that I am now considering a sequel to my novel. It will take years to finish it, I am sure, because I will publish a picture book about birds next spring. Stay tuned for updates!


Doris Dumrauf is the author of “Oktober Heat” and “Create Your Own Backyard Wildlife Habitat