Tag Archives: Kalter Krieg

Oktober Heat – von der Idee bis zum Buch

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Obwohl ich lange Jahre auf dem Flugplatz Ramstein arbeitete, hatte ich keine Ahnung von der frühen Geschichte des Flugplatzes und den Veränderungen im Dorfleben, die der Bau mit sich brachte. Das änderte sich, als ich bei einem meiner Heimaturlaube das Buch „Air Base Ramstein: Bilder, Geschichten, Erinnerungen“ kaufte.

Ich war fasiniziniert von den Fünfziger Jahren. Damals wurden viele Konzerte in den Clubs veranstaltet, um die Militärangehörigen zu unterhalten: Count Basie, Chet Baker, Ella Fitzgerald, Caterina Valente, Conny Froboess und Max Greger, um nur einige zu nennen. Die deutsche Jugend liebte die Rock ‘n’ Roll Schallplatten und Autos der Amerikaner. Bars sprangen in den umliegenden Dörfern aus dem Boden und Romanzen zwischen den GIs und deutschen Frauen waren unausweichlich. Arbeitssuchende aus Nah und Fern fanden Beschäftigung auf dem Flugplatz und  anderen militärischen Einrichtungen. Das Leben in der Pfalz hatte sich von Grund auf verändert.

Da steckt ein Roman drin, dachte ich beim Lesen des Buchs. Ich begann, die Fünfziger Jahre zu recherchieren, vor allem die Popmusik, Kultur und Geschichte. Ich verließ mich auch sehr auf meine Kindheitserinnerungen. Während meines nächstes Besuchs befragte ich einen früheren Polizisten, denn ich hatte entschieden, einen historischen Kriminalroman zu schreiben. Neben einem Zeitungsarchiv besuchte ich auch das Docu Center Ramstein, wo ich Negative aus dem Fotoarchiv beäugte, um eine Vorstellung vom Clubleben zu bekommen.

Ich beschloss, dem Flugplatz einen fiktiven Namen zu geben, um jegliche Missverständnisse zu vermeiden und mir selbst kreative Freiheit zu geben. Während der Jahre des Schreibens und Übersetzens sind das Dorf Lauterbach, seine Menschen und der Flugplatz für mich zu alten und liebgewonnenen Bekannten geworden. Nun ist es Zeit, die Geschichte von Walter, seiner Schwester und seinen Freunden mit der Welt zu teilen.

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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

Cold War in Rheinland-Pfalz

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After the end of World War II, American troops soon left Germany, only to return in the late 1940s. When the Korean War broke out, a major military presence in my home state of Rheinland-Pfalz began.

Over the next few years, six air bases were established in the state: Bitburg, Spangdahlem, Hahn, Ramstein, Sembach, and Zweibrücken. The Army established more than 100 garrisons, mostly in the southern part – the Pfalz/Palatinate. The Kaiserslautern Military Community became the largest American community in Europe. At its peak, Americans accounted for 5 percent of the state’s population. In 1957, there were about 250.000 Americans stationed in the Federal Republic.

Housing units sprouted to accommodate the soldiers and their families. This resulted in a boom for the German economy, especially the construction industry. Thousands of Germans – including many women – found a variety jobs as secretaries, laborers, craftsmen, kitchen personnel or fire fighters on military installations. Unemployment dropped. Refugees and displaced persons from Eastern Europe worked as “Labor Service.” By the end of the 1950s, 30.000 Germans were employed with the U.S. military.

German-American marriages became common, between 5.000 and 7.000 a year during the second half of the 1950s. But even the GIs who did not marry a German Fräulein influenced especially the German youths through their music, clothing, and casual manners.

The Cold War changed the way of life in many German villages forever.

Source: Karl-Heinz Rothenberger: Die Amerikaner in der Pfalz und in Rheinhessen (1950-2010)

Image Courtesy of U.S. Air Force

Cold War in a Small Town

Long before I was born, my hometown of Miesau lost its forest. In 1949, French occupation forces passed on the 1.000 Hektar (=2.471 acres) forest to the U.S. military. The first ammunition deliveries began in 1950. Needless to say, the entire depot is enclosed by a tall fence and I have never walked through our woods. For our Easter walk and egg hunt my family and I had to stroll through our neighboring town’s little forest.

During the height of the Cold War the army depot was the largest ammunition depot in the world. Talk about living on a powder keg! Needless to say, we followed the news very closely.

The upside was that the depot provided up to 1.600 Germans with jobs. Many of them were farmers whose farm did not support them anymore. Others were refugees from Eastern Europe. The military also offered office jobs and became a very important employer in my area. Compare that with today when all German workers were laid off by the depot and the town is nothing more than a bedroom community.

American soldiers and their families were – and still are – a daily sight in Miesau. They shopped at the bakery and rented apartments or even houses from the villagers. When my friends and I walked to school together we often encountered tanks and jeeps on their way to maneuvers. This image must have been taken close to my hometown. (Photo Courtesy of U.S. Army)

REFORGER '82

During my childhood few Germans owned a car and I was very impressed by the huge cars the Americans were driving. They must all be rich, I thought. On the narrow German roads, however, they might have been better off driving a VW Beetle!