Tag Archives: 1950s

A German Experience

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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)

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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

 

The Making of a Novel

Novelists get ideas from many places: Museums, newspaper or magazine articles, family or personal history, and books. In my case it was a book I bought on one of my family visits to Germany. It covered the history of Ramstein Air Base as well as personal memories of the local population. I had worked on this base as an administrative clerk for many years, but I had no idea what occurred during the 1950s when the base was being built.

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While I studied the pages and gazed at the photos, I learned that many Germans and refugees found employment at the base. Others made extra money by renting rooms to military personnel or operating bars, restaurants or ice cream parlors. The clubs on base frequently hosted concerts that attracted German and American entertainers: Caterina Valente, Conny Froboess, Max Greger, Bata Illic, Little Richard, Count Basie, and the Golden Gate Quartet, among many others.

The soldiers with their pockets full of dollars, rock ‘n’ roll records, and their huge cars (we called them Straßenkreuzer) were the envy of the German youths and the girls found them irresistible.

There is a novel in there, I thought while I was reading, and I’m going to be the one to write it. After all, I had lived the life I was writing about. Research would help me recreate the world of the Fifties on the page. But what about a plot? I decided on a historical murder mystery to give the book a tight structure. During my next trip to Germany I visited two newspaper archives, an image archive, and interviewed a retired German police officer. I also reached out to a few former servicemen. A final plot twist occurred to me when I recalled an event in my village during the late 1970s.

I enjoyed myself so much during the research and writing that I am now thinking about a sequel.

 

Image: Courtesy of U.S. Air Force

Shopping in Post-War Germany

Life in a German village during the 1950s and 1960s meant shopping close to home. Since only a few people owned cars, we usually shopped by bicycle. That way we had handles and a rack to put our purchases on. There were bakeries, a butcher, hair dressers, a Raiffeisen feed & coal store, and numerous Tante-Emma-Läden (mom-and-pop stores) in a front room of the owner’s house.

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You could buy almost anything you needed: bread, groceries, toys, school supplies, magazines and tobacco, film, threads, yarns, clothing, and toiletries. You were never far from a store and it was not uncommon to send a child there alone. After all, everyone knew everyone. If we needed shoes, we bicycled to the next village with its two shoe stores. We walked to the farmer with a milk can. In the fall, my mother and grandfather helped with the potato harvest to earn our winter supply.

All this changed when people began to buy cars. One after the other, the mom-and-pop stores disappeared and supermarkets began to pop up everywhere. They offered a wider variety of goods at often cheaper prices, but not the same human contact. Gone are the days of a friendly chat with the store owner or other customers.

Image: Deutsche Fotothek (Roger Rössing)

And The Band Played On

I recently blogged about 1950s cars, but cars were not the only change the GIs brought to post-war Germany. They brought the latest records from America with them. No wonder they were so popular with young people.

Far away from big cities and their range of entertainment, the clubs and the entertainers who toured the bases brought the big wide world into the Hinterland. After all, the soldiers had to be entertained. Well-known American and German musicians and singers like The Golden Gate Quartett, The Platters, Count Basie, Caterina Valente, Conny Froboess, Max Greger, and Bata Illic worked at the clubs during the 1950s and 1960s, which was often the beginning of a long career.

And who could forget that the most famous singer of the time, Elvis Presley, was stationed in Germany? He did not give any concerts during his tour, but remained a huge draw wherever he went.

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Image: commons.wikimedia.org, Author Neptuul

Cars, Cars, Cars

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Historical fiction authors have to do a lot of research. Much of the research involves reading books, pouring over archives or visiting a museum, but occasionally we get to experience a living history event. Even though many of my childhood experiences made it into my 1950s novel, I needed more hands-on information and visual aids about 1950s cars.

“Oktober Heat” deals with the clash of cultures between the GIs and their big cars and the German locals who were lucky if they owned a bicycle. My protagonist is saving up for a motor scooter while lusting to get a ride in a big American car.

I needed to know what a car from the Fifties looked like up close. Luckily, there are classic car shows all summer long. We headed to a huge show and, sure enough, Chevrolet Bel Air and Ford Fairlane were well represented. I took photos and even asked an owner what his car engine sounded like. Even though I have yet to ride in a classic car, it was easy to see why such a car made heads turn on the narrow German roads.

Self-publishing a Book

I recently joined the growing ranks of self-published authors with my novel Oktober Heat. Before taking the plunge I bought two books that covered the formatting and sign-up process and read blogs of publishing insiders. Here is my experience so far:

Cover design: Authors and readers agree that a compelling book cover is very important. Cover designers are often booked months in advance and it is crucial to book an artist even before hiring an editor. The advantage of self-publishing is that you get to choose your own cover. The disadvantage is that you have to decide what to put on the cover, including images and fonts! Music was a thread throughout my novel and I wanted a clean design that gave a feeling of the 1950s. My artist subscribed to a stock photo agency and I spent days looking at images, trying to find one that spoke to me. Finally, I saw a vector that I loved and the artist used it as a guideline.

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Copy editor: I knew I needed a copy editor because English is my second language and I did not want to give anyone a reason to give my book a poor review because of misplaced commas. Networking is the best way to find an editor. Just like cover designers, they tend to be booked weeks, if not months, in advance.

Formatting: If you don’t want to tackle the formatting yourself, your editor more than likely knows the names of several formatters to choose from. I decided to format the novel myself for CreateSpace and Kindle. Should I offer my book on other formats in the future I will probably pick a distributor that offers formatting. After all, I want to spend my energy on my next project.

Publishing: The books took me through every step of the publishing process, with one exception: I had no idea that I had to submit two W-9 forms, one to CreateSpace and one to Kindle Publishing because they are different entities. Fortunately, this step is only required for first-time authors. But if you have set yourself a deadline, it is worth mentioning that processing your tax information can take several weeks.

That’s self-publishing in a nutshell.