April 2002 Wolf Stories

 

In April 1948, I was then a boy of 13 living near Fassberg airbase, my life changed suddenly.  The following is an excerpt from German Boy, Chapter 19  - Return of the Americans:  "All at once American soldiers appeared on the streets of Fassberg; their presence provided me with a deep sense of security.  I knew the Americans had chosen to be here with us Germans, placing themselves on our side, trying to save our Berlin.  Their coming meant to me that we were not someday going to be part of the expanding Russian empire.  The day-to-day presence of the American soldiers gave me, I thought, what new money could not buy and what war had lost for my country - friends.  Good friends, I hoped, who would be there each tomorrow to help if we needed them.  It was a never-ending thrill to watch the American planes take off and land and to see them overhead as I went to and from school.  I knew there was a better life ahead for us Germans with friends like the Americans.  There were many wonderful things for a young boy to discover about these American soldiers.  They were different from soldiers I had known before, mostly men whose faces were hard and whose fingers were never far from the triggers of their guns.  These Americans carried no guns.  Their numbers grew by the day; they flooded the town of Fassberg with their presence.  Soon a Gasthaus catering exclusively to them opened its doors.  Called Mom's Place, it was filled with young Americans from early afternoon until late at night.  The place was only a few houses away from my school, and on my way home I could see the soldiers sitting there, laughing, enjoying the German beer they liked so much, and smoking endless packs of cigarettes.  If they weren't smoking or drinking, they were chewing gum, just like the American soldiers of 1945.  They wore what looked like taylor-made uniforms of fine-quality material, fitting for a Sunday suit, with shoes and socks of matching color.  They wore their hats at a jaunty angle, which matched their friendly dispositions, their carefree looks, and their relaxed and easygoing manners.  Their uniforms were impeccable, except for the hats, which looked as if they had been crushed, the sides drooping down.  I learned that the crushed look came from the headphones they wore over their hats while flying.  They also seemed to have lots of the new German money, and they spent it freely.  An influx of merchants who wanted to sell their wares to the prosperous Americans quickly provided the opportunity.  The merchants erected their portable tables near the main gate of the air base and sold everything from fine Solingen knives with artfully carved stag handles to Bavarian beer steins, from Black Forest cuckoo clocks to fine jewelry from Idar-Oberstein.  Among the tradesmen were money changers who operated mostly out of the pockets of their overcoats.  When I watched them exchanging D-marks for dollars, I found out that an American dollar bought nearly twenty-four of the new German marks.  I had no idea how money was valued and by what measure an American dollar warranted twenty-four marks.  I had received only forty D-marks when the new currency was issued - not even two dollars in American money.  Women not from Fassberg appeared in town.  They stood along the garden fences near the main gate trying to find American boyfriends.  Many of them did, and suddenly there was a high demand for rooms in Fassberg.  The supply of available rooms was limited.  For the right price, though, families were willing to double up and rent a room to an American and his girlfriend, who didn't mind paying the high prices they asked for.  some of my classmates had to give up their rooms when their parents rented them to Americans.  They smiled when they told me.  Their families were suddenly prospering with the influx of so much money, money which bought real goods.  I continued to observe the American airmen every chance I got.  They drank wine and beer, and the few stores in town carried a wide variety of German wines to meet the demand of their free-spending American customers.  Most of the Americans remained friendly even when they drank too much, in contrast to the Russian soldiers I remembered.  The Americans drank for different reasons, mostly for enjoyment, while the Russians always drank to get drunk.  There were English airmen stationed at Fassberg, too; after all, it was an English air base.  But the English kept to themselves.  Most of them didn't bring their families this time, and the nice houses in the red housing area continued to stand empty. "  Copyright from German Boy: A Refugee's Story, by Wolfgang W. E. Samuel, pp 295-297