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This document is about when my Mom, Dad, brother, and I lived in Frankfurt am Main, West Germany, 1959-61. It's just one part of a much larger family history written for my children, Peter and Amy. To me, the Army base in Frankfurt was a model for a near-ideal society, composed of people from all parts of the country, of all races and religions and economic classes, living together, working together, going to school together, learning about one another, all in low-stress economic security, none rich, none poor; a way of life virtually extinct today. 'Nuff said! Cast of characters: Mom: my mother Vivian Lund, a housewife; Dad: my father Frank da Cruz Sr., who worked for the CIA; Dennis: my younger brother Dennis da Cruz, who died in 1979; Judy or Mommie: my ex-wife Judy Scott, mother of Peter and Amy; Granpa, Judy's father. Photos: Most were taken by me or my father, some others contributed by other Frankfurt veterans, and others were found on the Internet. If you have photos of the area that you think would fit, please send them to me; if I use them, of course I'll credit them however you want.

—Frank da Cruz <[email protected]>

Recent additions:

Most recent update: 2 May 2024 16:53:32

Frankfurt am Main, Germany, 1959-61

My dad's job takes us to postwar West Germany for two and a half years. We lived in US Army housing and I went to the Army high school for 9th, 10th, and 11th grades.

Also see (onsite)...

Frankfurt aerial views and WWII bomb damage (Click image strip to see gallery)

Frankfurt aerial views Other galleries:
* Frankfurt High School published its own yearbook, Focus, for the first time in 1960-61. Prior to that, different American schools in Europe shared the same yearbook, with a chapter for each school. The 1959-60 and 1958-59 yearbooks, both called Erinnerungen, came in two parts; Frankfurt High school was the first chapter in Part B. Other schools in Part B were Heidelberg, Kaiserslautern, Mannheim, Munich, Nürnberg, and Stuttgart. The Part A yearbooks covered Augsburg, Baumholder, Berlin, Bremerhaven, Karlsruhe, Orléans, Paris, Poitiers, Verdun, and Würzburg. The two Erinnerungen PDFs listed above come from the Berlin Brats Yearbook Archive, which goes from 1947 to 1994. Ironically Erinnerungen was the title Albert Speer chose for his book whose English title is Inside the Third Reich.
Also see (offsite)...

AND (on Youtube)...

  1. Book: Lemza, John W, American Military Communities in West Germany, McFarland & Company (2016).
  2. Book: Elkins, Walter, et al. Amerikaner in Heidelberg 1945-2013, Verlag Regionalkultur Heidelberg (2014), ISBN 978-3-89735-806-5 (auf Deutsch). Kind of like a coffee-table book with lots of photos. If only there were a book like this for Frankfurt!
  3. Online: Dewey Arthur Browder, The Impact of the American Presence on Germans and German-American Grass Roots Relations in Germany, 1950-1960, Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College PhD dissertation (1987), 274 pages. Detailed social history of the early Occupation. In 1987 Browder was a Lieutenant Colonel in the US Army with a German wife.
  4. Film: Berlin Express, Jacques Tourneur, 1948: extensive footage of the Hauptbahnhof, the IG Farben building, and the ruins of Frankfurt. I have a gallery of screenshots here.
  5. Video: Frankfurt am Main with Alemanizando: from half-timbered houses to the top of a skyscraper, Youtube, about 7 minutes.
  6. Video: Don't visit Frankfurt's old quarter: let me show you an alternative (Höchst), youtube, about 6 minutes. The Höchst castle housed the AFN Frankfurt radio studios when I lived in Frankfurt, and a group of us Frankfurt High School students broadcasted a live radio show from there every Tuesday.

Frankfurt 1959-61 narrative

"You should write a book about your theory that the only golden age that this country ever experienced was in the military outposts overseas. A totally new idea."
  —Heidi Laird, email, 26 October 2023
Heidi Laird is a German expatriate who grew up in Frankfurt during the Nazizeit and the early postwar. She fled to the USA as soon as she was old enough and has been here ever since. Now a retired clinical psychologist and author of the books The Frankfurt Kitchen and Letters from Jenny, she looks on with horror as 1930s German history repeats itself in the USA 90 years later.
Postwar German occupation zones 1945
Germany occupation zones
US forces in Germany 1959
US forces in 1959
At the beginning of 1959 (for me, the middle of 9th grade at Williamsburg Junior High School in Arlington, VA) my dad was sent to Germany and the government paid for the whole family to go. Germany was still carved up into US, Soviet, British, and French occupation zones, although technically the occupation ended in 1949. By the mid-1950s, the French zone (mainly the Rheinland) existed only on paper; it was full of American military bases, such as at Kaiserslautern where I would be stationed as a GI just four years later, and many others including Baumholder, Zweibrücken, Pirmasens, and Bad Kreuznach. Berlin was in the middle of the Soviet zone which became a distinct country, the German Democratic Republic (DDR) or "East Germany"; Berlin itself was still divided into Soviet, American, British, and French zones. The geopolitical events of this period lent an intensity to our experiences that now, six decades later, still has not faded:
10 November 1958
As we were packing up to leave Virginia for Germany, Soviet Premier Khrushchev gave a speech demanding that the Western powers withdraw from West Berlin because they had violated the Potsdam agreement by rearming West Germany and bringing it into NATO.
25-26 September 1959
Camp David summit where President Eisenhower and Premier Khrushchev de-escalated the Berlin situation.
1 May 1960
The U-2 Incident, in which an American spy plane was shot down over the Soviet Union, and which reignited US-Soviet tensions and re-escalated the Berlin situation.
17 April 1961
The Bay of Pigs Cuba invasion.
4 June 1961
Vienna summit between Premier Khrushchev and the new American president, John F. Kennedy, in which Khrushchev renewed his insistence that Western forces leave West Berlin.
July 1961
President Kennedy, unwilling to abandon West Berlin, prepares for war by calling up reserves and doubling the US military draft.
Sunday 13 August 1961
Stacheldratsonntag — Heavily guarded barbed wire is strung along the East-West Berlin boundary line, which would soon become the Berlin Wall. This marked the end of the Berlin Crisis of 1958-61 and averted World War III.
(By this time I'm back in Virginia)
22 October 1961
The Checkpoint Charlie standoff in Berlin.
16-28 October 1962
The Cuban Missile Crisis.
(Now I'm in the Army and back in Germany)
26 June 1963
President Kennedy visits Berlin and says "Ich bin ein Berliner".
22 November 1963
President Kennedy assassinated.
During each of these incidents, US forces (our parents and, starting in 1963, myself) were on high alert, expecting either nuclear war or a massive armored ground invasion of West Germany at any moment.
  1. German History in Documents and Images (GHDI), German Historical Institute, Washington DC.
  2. Speech by Soviet Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev, November 10, 1958 (GHDI).
  3. Peter J. Ortmann, Berlin Mitte und die Welt - wie sie einmal war, ISBN 978-1-4452-6699-2 (2009), 668 pages.
  4. The Berlin Crisis of 1961, Wikipedia (accessed 21 December 2019).
  5. Donald A. Carter, Forging the Shield: The U.S. Army in Europe 1951-1962, U.S. Army Center for Military History (2015), 513 pages, with photos: pp.363-368 and 403-427 on the Berlin Crisis.
  6. Schulze, Inga, Warum Frank aus N.Y. nicht von Frankfurt lassen kann, Frankfurter Neue Presse, 22 June 2006.

The Voyage to Germany

View from Hotel Dixie 1959
View from Hotel Dixie 1959
Dixie Hotel 1959
Dixie Hotel 1959
On February 9, 1959 (give or take a day or two), we drove from Arlington, Virginia, to New York City, which I had never seen before, and stayed at the Dixie Hotel on 42nd Street, just off Times Square, which in those days was 100% drugs and prostitutes and peepshows and pickpockets (Times Square, not the hotel, but the hotel was pretty sleazy too). My mother was scared to even leave the room so I didn't see much of the city; only 42nd Street and the view from the hotel window (second photo). We were on a very high floor and couldn't see much through the filthy windows but I remember we had a view of the light-blue McGraw-Hill building (where I would go many years later when I published some articles in their magazine, Data Communications). I don't remember this part, but my brother told me that dad took him to a movie at a sleazy Times Square theater and it was a traumatic experience for him, creepy people grabbing at him, etc (I took Peter — at his own insistence — to what might have been the same theater 30 years later to see a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie, Blood Sport (his idea, not mine), and it was still just as sleazy.

SS America
SS America
SS America tag
SS America tag
Pier 86 1959
Pier 86, 42nd Street 1959
NYC Skyline from SS America 1959
NYC from SS America 1959
SS America promenade 1959
Promenade & deck chairs
On the deck of SS America 1959
On the deck 1959
SS America interior
SS America interior
The next morning we drove straight to Pier 86 at the west end of 42nd Street, where the Intrepid is now. We boarded the ship, a luxury liner in fact: the SS America (1939, christened by Eleanor Roosevelt, served as a troop ship during WWII), occupying two first-class cabins, all expenses paid by the CIA. Dad rented out our Arlington house while we were gone and we took the car with us, a 1959 Studebaker Lark station wagon, which they hoisted with a crane and lowered into the hold. I remember as we left, we passed under the Verazzano Narrows Bridge, which was only about half built and seemed a mile above us, the construction workers looking like ants hanging from strings; 25 years later I would run across it in the NYC Marathon.

The crossing was great fun, Dennis and I ran wild all over the whole ship. Ping-pong was an interesting activity because the ship's rocking caused the table to move out from under the ball. Swimming in the small indoor pool was even more interesting… Just when you dived in, the water would slosh over to the other side of the pool and you'd land on the bare bottom and then, while you tried to recover your senses a huge tidal wave came down on top of you. Dennis and I shared a cabin; he got seasick and I didn't. I was always playing tricks on him to make him feel even more seasick like in the Fred and Ginger movie Shall We Dance.

Bremerhaven 1959
Bremerhaven 1959 - Was ist los???
Bremerhaven 1959
Bremerhaven Feb 1959
After a week at sea we docked briefly in Cobh and in South­ampton (so technically I have been in Ireland and England even though we weren't allowed to leave the ship), then finally in Bremerhaven on February 16th. We waited for the car to be unloaded, then got in and started to drive south. We had only gone a few blocks when the car stalled and couldn't be started… And we were on train tracks! And a train was coming!!! Seriously, we got out and pushed and saved the car and ourselves just in time. Turned out the gas tank was full of water from condensation in the hold. We got that fixed and then drove to Bremen where we had our first German meal in a Gasthaus — sausages and black bread, and Fanta to drink — then on to Frankfurt (via Hanover, Kassel, Fulda, and Hanau), where we were going to live for three years.

Rubble in Frankfurt main square 1945
Frankfurt Römerplatz 1945
Rubble in Frankfurt main square
Only partially repaired in 1959
Germany was still a poor country, still marked by war and full of amputees; the Wirtschaftwunder had not fully bloomed yet. Most people didn't have cars, or if they did, they were the extremely cheap postwar "microcars" like the Messerschmitt (basically a fighter plane cockpit with a lawnmower motor over three little wheels).

Dennis and accordion 1960
Dennis & accordion
Dennis's German accordion teacher 1959
German accordion teacher
Huge num­bers of Ger­mans de­pended on the American occupiers for their living: work­ing as Putzfrauen (cleaning ladies), cooks, nannies, or pros­ti­tutes; giving music lessons to American brats (like Dennis's accordion teacher shown at right), working as B-girls in bars, working on the base in the PX or Snack Bar, or trading on the black market. Most Germans got around on bicycles or (in the country) horse-drawn wagons. Some German amputees had self-propelled wooden wheelchairs that had a big lever on each side; the rider pushed and pulled the levers to power the wheels. They could go fast, I even saw them zooming down the Autobahn.

Frankfurt 1938[3]
Germans 1940s
Typical street 1940s
In general Germans were extremely friendly and polite. They greeted you when you passed them in the street or when you entered a store and there was always a lot of hand-shaking. But clearly they had mixed feelings about Americans and about themselves too. Almost everyone over 30 years old had been a Nazi (NSDAP, Hitler Youth, BDM...), or supported them, or went along with them — with some notable exceptions[1,2] — and everybody over 30 had been involved in the war in one way or another. Few ever talked about it, unless to claim they had served on the Russian front. Germans were infinitely more friendly and jovial than (say) the French or Belgians or Swiss. They loved to drink, sing, and have big festivals, they invited you to their homes. But walk down any street, and you could imagine it festooned with Nazi flags not so very long before. Still, the penalty for Gemans for merely critizing Hitler and Nazism, let alone taking any form of action, was death or concentration camp. Contrast with Trump-era USA where some 40-50% of the population is openly racist, antisemitic, misogynistic, xenophobic, etc, of their own free will. The Nazi Party received only 37% of the vote in the election of 1932 (the one that launched Hitler's Führer career), suggesting the 63% of German voters were antifascist, whereas Trump received 46% in 2016.
  1. German Resistence to Nazism, Wikipedia (accessed 17 February 2023): "[D]uring the height of Nazi Germany, unlike the more coordinated efforts in other countries ... [t]he German resistance consisted of small, isolated groups that were unable to mobilize widespread political opposition."
  2. Rebecca Donner, All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days - The True Story of the American Woman at the Heart of the German Resistence to Hitler, Little, Brown, and Company (2021), 559pp. The Woman was Mildred Harnack, the author is her great-great-niece, and the resistence Die Rote Kapelle (the Red Orchestra); it didn't end happily.
  3. Color photo from the Historiches Museum Frankfurt, Frankfurt and Nazism section (accessed 17 February 2023).

Living in Frankfurt

The City of Frankfurt am Main had been mostly leveled by Allied bombing but was largely rebuilt by the time we arrived. There were modern office buildings downtown but no skyscrapers. In every town and city the church or cathedral (Dom) was supposed to dominate the skyline, and in 1959 Frankfurt it still did and no matter where you lived, you could always hear church bells. Beyond downtown, there had been less destruction so buildings were older, although where I lived you could still see walls that had been raked by machine-gun fire. "AMI GO HOME" was written on walls all over the place. There was not actually any perceptible anti-American sentiment in daily life; the graffiti was mainly just from kids. If you went downtown at night (like to the Jazz Keller), it was dark and quiet and there were rabbits hopping around the streets.
27 Raimundstraße
27 Raimundstraße in Frankfurt 1959
27 Raimundstraße
Raimundstraße: our car with US Forces plates
Dennis and Klaus-Dieter
Klaus-Dieter, Dennis, 1959
Michelle 1959
Michelle 1959
At first we lived "on the econ­omy" in a German apart­ment at 27 Rai­mund­straße, right over a loud bar, Rudi's, second floor far left in the left-hand color photo, with Rudi's beneath it. No kids my age lived there but there was a family with two kids Dennis's age, Klaus-Dieter and Michelle Böhm, children of the building's super, Herr Böhm; they became great friends; Dennis learned German very fast playing with them. If you click the left-hand color image to enlarge it you can see Dennis (red shirt) with them and a third person, don't know who, on the balcony next to ours.

German coins in circulation 1959
German coins in circulation 1950s-60s
Our first day in the German apartment, my dad went to work and my mom was panicked, she didn't know what to do. She sent me out to buy food… There was a Lebensmittel (a small food store, like a bodega) up the street. I didn't yet know where the PX and commissary were. I went in and bought black bread, unsalted butter (the only kind Germans use), sausages, mustard, milk, eggs, salt and pepper, etc. I knew a little German already from phrase books. I was struck by the fact that food wasn't packaged at all. If you wanted (say) five eggs, you just picked them up one by one. You also had to bring your own shopping bag or basket (I don't remember what I did about that). I managed everything OK, I understood numbers and basic phrases and the money — 1 Mark had 100 Pfennig and was equal to 25 cents, pretty easy to deal with. Sixty years later (as I write this), "zero waste" stores like this are starting to pop up in the USA (about time!).

Walking to the Lebensmittel I was struck by how clean everything was. In those days, at least, Germans were fanatics about cleaning everything. Every morning early everybody would be outside sweeping the sidewalks and streets with those old kinds of brooms like in fairy tales. They also washed sidewalks and steps and cobblestones. Nobody left trash behind, not only because they were neat but there wasn't much to discard.

German forest
A German forest
German forests were different too. In the USA forests have all kinds of underbrush growing between the trees and there are fallen branches and rotting tree trunks. In postwar Germany, the forest floor was perfectly clean, a beautiful carpet of green grass. Germans scrounged everything else for fuel, kindling, or food.

German farms
German farms in the Rheinland
In fact the whole way Germans use land is completely different. In the USA everybody is an individual, on their own. So American farms are isolated from each other: a house surrounded by its land, far from any other house. In Germany they put all the houses together in a little town that might also have a church and a Gasthaus and maybe a shop or two. Everybody lives together. If a family has a milch-cow, it lives in a room of their house, not in a separate barn. So if you look at the German countryside from the air you see little clumps of buildings surrounded by vast amounts of cultivated land with no buildings, as in the aerial view in Rheinland-Pfalz near Kaiserslautern. This way the people are closer to each other and they can share resources more easily, so not everybody had to have a car or a pickup truck or a tractor. Some of these little towns are 500 or 1000 years old and they have a distinctive farmyard smell.

When I lived in Germany there were hardly any suburbs, and never had been. You could be in a town or a city, or you could be in an agricultural area or a forest. The boundaries were sharp, you could literally step out of the city into the country.

German bathtub
German bathtub
German toilet with shelf
German toilet with shelf
German apartment buildings are different too. In the staircases at night, the lights go on only if you push a button, and then they go off automatically after one minute; you have to push the button on each landing as you go up the steps. Doors have latches instead of knobs. Bathrooms don't have stand-up showers or shower curtains; toilets have a "continental shelf" instead of a bowl and the water tank is up on the wall with a pull chain. Supposedly the reason for the shelf is to prevent splashing and to allow "inspection".

PX transformer box
1959 PX transformer box
Germany, like the rest of Europe, uses 220V 50-cycle current, so if we brought anything electrical from home we needed a transformer for each thing. Electric clocks were no good even with a transformer; they only showed 50 minutes per hour due to the lower frequency. We didn't bring a TV either because in those days AFN (Armed Forces Network) didn't broadcast TV and all you could see on German TV was Fußball games. The Army European Exchange System (EES) made transformers at their facility in Gießen and sold them by the thousands at the PX so we could use our radios, record players, and toasters.

Raimundstraße 1959
Raimundstraße 1959 (panorama stitched from several photos)

Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof 1960
Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof 1960
Our German apartment looked out over Raimundstraße, which was paved with cobblestones and had trolley tracks, with the Number 17 trolly (Straßenbahn) running on them, which consisted of one or two cars made of wood (at least on the inside). Frankfurt did not have a subway until the late 1960s. The 17 went to the Hauptbahnof, the majestic but war-blackened Bismarck-era main railroad station, where you could transfer to any of the other trolley lines, some of which went to neighboring cities like Höchst or Offenbach or even up into Taunus mountains. The seats near the trolley entrance were reserved for Schwerbeschädigte, badly damaged people — war casualties, amputees, who were a large segment of the population.

Frankfurt Straßenbahn Nº17
Frankfurt Straßenbahn Nº17 at WAC Circle
Frankfurt Straßenbahn Fahrkarten
Trolley tickets early 1960s
The trolleys had a driver and conductor. The conductor would walk up and down the aisle selling and punching tickets — "Noch jemand bitte?" — it was pretty much an honor system but fares were so cheap there was no point in cheating. Some of the other trolley lines were starting to get sleek modern metal trolleys where you had to stop at a ticket desk when you entered, like on the Nº.11 to Höchst (this trolley line still exists as of 2023).

When standing up in a crowded trolley, or even walking around in downtown Frankfurt, I towered over all the Germans. I guess this is why I never thought of myself as short until recently (I was 5'6" then, less now!). In countries like Germany and Japan, it was only the postwar generation that started to grow taller, supposedly due to the influence of the American occupation on their diets.

A Henninger Bier bottle from 1960
Henninger beer
bottle from 1960
Old Limonade bottle
Limonade bottle
from the 1960s
Frankfurt Trinkhalle 1960
(yearbook photo)  
Raimundstraße Trinkhalle and beer truck 1959
Raimundstraße Trinkhalle and Binding beer truck, 1959
Across the street from our apartment was a Trinkhalle, a kiosk similar to a NYC news­stand except it sold beer and schnapps as well as snacks like Gummi bears and soft drinks called Limonade (four syllables) in big glass bottles: sparkling mineral water with fruit juice, normally citrus (somewhat like Orangina), or German sodas such as Fanta or Florida Boy. There was also German Coca-Cola with a lemony taste. As for alcohol, anybody could buy it, even little children. German beer was so much better than what we can get here that I can't even describe it. It came in half-liter bottles with ceramic tops (Bügelverschluß) like on the big Grolsch bottles. My dad had a wooden case of Henninger Bier delivered to our apartment in Frankfurt every week, much like New Yorkers used to get a case of seltzer delivered every week in the old days. If he didn't drink the whole case within a week, it would spoil. Seriously, it would turn into big globs of slime. That was the difference, local beer was unpasteurized. Once you boil it, it doesn't spoil but all the taste disappears. That's why European export beer and all American beer is so tasteless.

Button from the Taste-Freez store
Other features of Raimundstraße that I remember include a fenced-in yard with a big sign in English that said "BEWARE SHARP DOG", a Kino (movie theater) that played the Horst Buchholtz - Hayley Mills film Tiger Bay[3] every single day for the whole time I lived in Frankfurt (and there were always long lines to get in), a Tastee-Freez shop, and D'Angelo's Pizza, the essential local hangout for us FHS kids.
  1. Verkehrsplan der Stadt Frankfurt von 1956, Verlag Richard Schwarz KG (1956), from www.tramfan-ffm.de. Frankfurt map showing Straßenbahn (trolley) lines as of 1956, which were very close if not identical to those of 1959-61, before the subway and light-rail system was built starting in 1963 and opening in 1968, replacing many of the trolley lines, with further expansion later. On this map the trolley routes are shown as solid blue lines with blue numbers such as 17; at an Endstation (terminus) the number is circled. The map does not show the Platenstraße housing area or the American high school, indicating the "plat" content of the map (buildings, etc) dates from 1954 or earlier.
  2. Horst Bosetzky, Alfred Gottwald und einem Mann an der Kurbel, Noch jemand ohne Fahrschein? Straßenbahnerinnerungen, Berlin, Jaron Verlag (1997), about German trolleys in the postwar (but in Berlin, not Frankfurt).
  3. Tiger Bay of 1959 [Wikipedia] was perhaps the beginning of the British New Wave, preceding A Taste of Honey by two years; it's quite good, see it!

American Housing in Frankfurt

View of Platenstraße from my bedroom 1959
Seen from Raimundstraße
The Platenstraße housing area 1960
The Platenstraße housing area 1960
HiCoG building
HiCoG building architectural rendering 1951[1] - click to see gallery
In May 1959 we moved to American housing in Platenstraße, the housing area just across from our first apartment; I could even see it from my Raimundstraße bedroom (left photo). Our new ad­dress was 2231 Platen­straße, apartment on 3rd floor all the way to the left. Platenstraße was medium-rank housing; for NCOs (sergeants) and company-grade officers (lieutenants, captains) and their civilian equivalents who had families. There was a higher level housing area for field grade officers (majors and colonels) called HiCoG[1] ("High Commissioner of Germany"), a.k.a Carl-Schurz-Siedlung, a few blocks away and there were also some Platenstraße clones (Hügel, Von Steuben) nearby to the northeast (see map). And then, near the high school there was a little neighborhood of private houses for generals. For unmarried officers there was the BOQ (Bachelor Officers' Quarters). Married enlisted men ranking below some level of sergeant lived "on the economy"; i.e., in a German apartment. Unmarried enlisted men lived in the barracks.

Our Platenstraße apartment
Picture window and balcony
Our Platenstraße apartment
Our Platenstraße apartment
The Platenstraße housing area 1960
Platenstraße buildings 1960
The Platenstraße apart­ment was palatial by NYC standards: two or three bedrooms, one or two baths, big living room, nice kitchen with a cutout onto the dining room so you could eat at the bar or at the table. Fully furnished, picture windows on both sides with ample views of the other buildings and a balcony, plenty of closets (which were virtually unknown in Germany, where they use a piece of furniture called a Schrank the way we use closets). The windows of all the buildings were lined up so perfectly that if everybody had their curtains open you could see through them all at once. The buildings were arranged face-to-face and back-to-back. Our apartment was directly opposite the apartment of a friend of mine; we used to have balcony-to-balcony snowball fights in the winter. I don't know what the rent was, or even if there was any at all! (Apparently not, see below).

The attic of each building was a huge empty room, 250 feet long, that could be used for parties or playing; usually they had at least ping-pong tables. And in the basement there was not only a common laundry room but also private storage rooms for each apartment. Every building had its own parking area, free of course. Almost all the American families had American cars, but there were also a few small cars (mainly VWs) and one guy, a sergeant and father of the pianist in our band, had a 16-cylinder 1937 Cord* in perfect condition; it would be worth millions now. I saw it every day, wish I had taken a picture of it. Obviously it was a horrendous gas-guzzler, but since we Amis paid only 10 cents a gallon for gas, so what? Germans paid ten or twenty times that, and had 10 or 20 times less money. Another Platenstraße resident had a Nash Healy ("America's first postwar sports car"), a combination Nash Rambler and Austin-Healey.

* Greg Cagle points out that there were no 16-cylinder Cords in regular production, but Dickie's dad once opened the hood and showed me the engine; he liked to joke about how just starting the thing used a whole tank of gas. This was sixty years ago as I write this, so who really knows.

History: Restricted areas and requisitioned German housing 1945-55

Römerstadt on 1946 map
Römerstadt on 1946 map[19]
Römerstadt aerial view
Aerial view of Römerstadt about 1930
Römerstadt building
One of many Römerstadt buildings 1928
Soon after the US Army took charge of its sector of Germany in 1945, it encountered a lot of discipline and morale problems among the troops, not to mention a low reenlistment rate (and a high VD rate)[12]. To address the situation, the authorities decided to allow married soldiers to have their families join them in Germany. The first dependents arrived in April 1946 via troopship with no place to put them, so they were housed in requisitioned German homes. In Frankfurt, the American occupation requisitioned about 3700 apartments in Ernst May's historic and un-bombed 1920s Weimar-vintage Bauhaus-style "socialist" Römerstadt complex on the north bank of the Nidda river about 4km NNW of the Farben building, between Heddernheim and Praunheim: at first to temporarily house freed Polish slave laborers, then American paratroopers, and then until the mid-1950s it was home to American military families complete with snack bar, PX, fire house, chapel, movie theater, and parade ground: a fenced-in and guarded area for about the first five years[14,15,16]. Displaced tenants were paid monthly rent for their apartments, which came out of German war reparation funds[20,p.481]. Americans started starting moving out of the Römerstadt and other requisitioned German apartments in Fall 1950 with the opening of the 420-unit HiCoG housing area[1], but it would be five more years before enough American housing was available to free (almost) all the requisitioned units.

History: The big Sperrgebiet

Frankfurt Groß Sperrgebiet 1945-48
IG Farben building with barbed wire fence
Frankfurt Groß Sperrgebiet 1945-48
Guarded compound entrance
Frankfurt Groß Sperrgebiet 1945-48
Das Große Sperrgebiet
A much larger fenced-off zone, das Große Sperrgebiet (the Big Restricted Area)[18], was created in April 1945 for American use and lasted until June 1948: 2.4 square kilometers enclosed in barbed wire and protected by armed guards. Germans were not allowed to enter except with an Army-issued permit. It went from a block south of the IG Farben building, north to Am Dornbusch, west to incorporate Grüneburg Park and the Palmengarten, and east to Oeder Weg. The western part included the IG Farben complex; the eastern part included a lot of apartment buildings, from which the tenants were evicted, allowed to take only their clothing, sheets, blankets, pillows, and cookware, and were not allowed back in until 21 June 1948, when the barbed wire was taken down. But they weren't able to move back into their apartments until Platenstraße and the other American housing areas were ready about 1955. The first American elementary school opened in the Sperrgebiet in Fall 1946.

History: Newly-built American housing 1955-1995

Between 1950 and 1955 as US occupation forces expanded due to heightened Cold War tensions, the demand for American housing was growing at the same time that German political and public opposition to requisitions was reaching a boiling point. The occupation had little choice but to construct its own housing and return the requisitioned units to their renters or owners[20]. HiCoG, which opened in 1950, was the first purpose-built American housing in Frankfurt; it was constructed from bombing rubble[20]. In May 1954, the Stars and Stripes announced the aquisition of land near the Farben building and other locations in Frankfurt for the construction of housing[17]. By 1958 about 20,000 housing units had been created[11,12] including Platenstraße, Hügel, and Von Steuben in the IG Farben area.

Map of Platenstraße 1960s
Platenstraße building numbers
Platenstrasse in 1954
Platenstraße site in 1954 (from this photo)

Platenstraße housing did not exist yet, as can be seen in the 1946 Große Sperrgebiet map above and the 1954 aerial photo at right. But by the end of 1956 both the street and the housing were fully realized[5]. The apartments were constructed to American specifications (bathrooms, closets, kitchens) by German contractors and — like all American housing in Germany built before 1957, including HiCoG — it was paid for out of German War Reparation funds[11]. Platenstraße housing comprised 41 buildings with a total of 777 apartments, making it the largest US Forces housing area in Frankfurt[4], and the same design was used all over West Germany. The units ranged in size from 80 to 115 square meters (861 to 1238 square feet). Traditional construction, not prefab, because had it been prefab it would have been called Plattenstraße :-) (in German, Platte is a prefab panel and Plattenbau is prefab construction). The housing area is named after the street that runs through it, which, in turn, is named after poet and playwright August von Platen-Hallermünde.

When Platenstraße housing (along with Hügel, Von Steuben, and others in Frankfurt) opened about 1955, the Römerstadt, Sperrgebiet, and other requisitioned apartments were turned over to the City of Frankfurt and displaced former tenants were free to move back into their old apartments, and some did[16,17].

History: What was the rent?

Numerous references discuss postwar dependent housing, and all state that it was "subsidized". But to what degree? What did an Army family pay for rent in Platenstraße or HiCoG? I don't remember ever hearing any talk of rent when I lived there as a teenager, neither does anyone else I know. Nothing shows up in Google or any of the books or articles in the References section below. Maybe rent was never discussed because there was nothing to discuss! Greg Cagle[5], who (like me) lived there in the 1950s and 60s as a dependent, found the following entry in his father's diary from January 1964:
... I’d have to pay for shipment of my car, there was no way out of that. I would have to wait my turn for family quarters. The quarters were rent free.
Robert Paul says, "I can confirm that we consulate families paid no rent for the housing in Frankfurt. I recall my parents' discussing how they could save money by being posted abroad."

History: Elvis at Platenstraße

Elvis at Platenstraße 1959
Elvis at 2238A Platenstraße 1959
On another historical note, on January 18, 1959, PFC Elvis Presley of the 1st Medium Tank Battalion, 32nd Armored Regiment, 3rd Armored Division in nearby Friedberg paid a visit to the Marquette family at 2238A Platenstraße and their six-year-old son Robert, March Of Dimes poster child for the 1958-1959 campaign against polio, arthritis, and birth defects.[4]

This was the second of three visits he made to Robert; on this one he is accompanied by Czech/German actress Vera Tschechowa (at left in the photo), only a few weeks before I arrived in Frankfurt.

Platenstraße and HiCoG today

Thanks to Ruth Schlögl and Joseph Röder von Diersburg of the Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences, who were working on an Audio Guide to Platensiedlung[9] in July 2021, for sending the photos and information in this section.

Aerial view 2021
Aerial view 2021
Platenstraße buildings 2021
Redensified north buildings in 2021
Platenstraße buildings 2021
Platenstraße-South buildings in 2021
Shortly after the American base in Frankfurt was vacated in 1995, most of the Amer­ican housing in Frankfurt was transferred to the City of Frankfurt, which manages it and rents the apartments as good-quality affordable housing through manage­ment companies such as ABG[2] and Bundesimmobilienagentur BIMA. The Platenstraße housing area is now called Platensiedlung (Platen Village). Rents are subsidized, normally set at 35% of net income. Some of the apartments are designated "social housing" for people with low incomes. Others are for employees of the Federal Government of Germany. A typical
Platenstraße buildings 2021
rent might be 9 Euros/square meter, significantly lower than market rate (and less than half what I pay in the Bronx, which is the lowest-rent district in NYC). In many of the former U.S. housing areas the average age is comparatively young since there was a complete change of tenants in 1996 and many young families moved in. Nevertheless, there are also a lot of old people. A large number of people with foreign roots live together at Platenstraße and in Frankfurt as whole, where the proportion of foreigners is about 17%. Buildings south of Platenstraße (the street itself; see old map at C-12) remain as they were in the 1950s and 60s; in the northern part a "redensification" project has added two stories to each building[2,6,7,8,9].

HiCoG is now now known by its traditional name, Carl-Schurz-Siedlung; Americans still live and work there, this time those attached to the US Consulate, and the buildings are being renovated too[3]. Reputedly the new American acronym for the former HiCoG buildings is AMCONGEN.

References... (American housing in postwar Frankfurt)
  1. Chadbourn, Dorothy, "HICOG Houses Its Employees", HICOG Information Bulletin No.187, February 1951, pp.19-23, unearthed by FHS veteran Dennis Healey in 2018 (see Information Bulletin index 1945-1953).
  2. Modernisierung der Platensiedlung, Wohnungsbaugesellschaft ABG Frankfurt Holding website, accessed 14 July 2021. So far 650 new apartments have been created.
  3. Germany, eDiplomat website, accessed 14 July 2021: "The Carl Schurz Siedlung is a combined housing and office complex, conveniently located in Frankfurt and within walking distance of both the Consulate Office Building and the RSC [Regional Support Center]. Transportation to and from Consulate facilities is not provided. The Siedlung has over 300 apartments in 25 three-story, walk-up buildings. Each building has two stairwells with six apartments sharing each stairwell ... Frankfurt is renovating and upgrading its apartment buildings to improve facilities and institute energy-saving measures. This project is ongoing and while in progress, the flexibility of housing assignments will be limited, as entire buildings need to be reserved for renovation."
  4. Platenstraße (Frankfurt am Main), Wikipedia.de, accessed 18 July 2021.
  5. Gregory A. Cagle, Scenes from an Automotive Wonderland: Remarkable Cars Spotted in Postwar Europe, McFarland & Company (2018): "...it's parked in front of our apartment building in the Platenstrasse American housing area in Frankfurt on December 9, 1956." Later I found evidence that Platenstraße opened in 1955: "Die Housing Area Platenstraße war die Größte Wohnsiedlung der Amerikanner in Frankfurt. 1955, zehn Jahre nach Kriegsende, zogen die ersten US-Bürger dort ein..." (Inga Schulze, Warum Frank aus N.Y. nicht von Frankfurt lassen kann, Frankfurter Neue Presse, 22 June 2006).
  6. Video: Frankfurter Projekt baut alten Häusern Zusatz-Stockwerke, n-tv Nachrichten, 26 Juni 2019 (accessed 18 July 2021). Early stages of redensification of "Platenstraße North". It looks there is a lot of prefabrication involved so now maybe it's Plattenstraße after all!
  7. Video: Platensiedlung aktuell, November 2020, ABG Frankfurt Holding, Youtube (accessed 18 July 2021), shows Platenstraße Nord" (where I lived) with new upper stories, construction in progess.
  8. Video: Platensiedlung aktuell April 2021, ABG Frankfurt Holding, Youtube (accessed 18 July 2021), same thing five months later.
  9. HALLO Platensiedlung!, Ruth Schlögl, Natalie Heger, Thyra Jones; Forschungslabor Nachkriegsmoderne, Architekturstudiengänge der Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences, 23 July 2021. [Facebook] [Instagram] [Map CLICK HERE to hear the Audio Walk (37 minutes, in German)  
  10. Donald A. Carter, Forging the Shield: The U.S. Army in Europe 1951-1962, U.S. Army Center for Military History (2015), section "Settling in for the Long Haul", pp.127-137: the story of behind dependent housing. Briefly, it was for both the morale of the soldiers and to convince the Soviets that the US occupation was not a prelude to invasion.
  11. Robert P. Grathwol and Donita M. Moorhus, Building for Peace: U.S. Army Engineers in Europe 1945-1991, Center of Military History and Corps of Engineers, United States Army Washington, D.C. (2005), pp.96-100.
  12. Brian McAllister Linn, Elvis's Army, Harvard University Press (2016), pp.45-46.
  13. Dewey Arthur Browder, The Impact of the American Presence on Germans and German-American Grass Roots Relations in Germany, 1950-1960, Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College PhD dissertation (1987), pp.74-79.
  14. Klaus Gülden, Die Beschlagnahme der Römerstadt-Siedlung durch US-Truppen Ende März 1945, heddernheim.de (accessed 28 August 2021).
  15. Von Clemens Dörrenberg, Plötzlich mussten sie das Haus verlassen, Frankfurter Rundschau, 14 March 2016 (accessed 28 August 2021).
  16. Heidi Laird, The Frankfurt Kitchen: Forty-One Stories of Growing Up in Post World War II West Germany, Fulton Books (2021), pp.92-93. The author, a German born in Heidelberg in 1941, lived in a Römerstadt apartment for several years starting in 1949, when it was full of American families; she notes that the Americans gradually started moving out that same year. "Frankfurt Kitchen" (Frankfurter Küche) refers to the unique Bauhaus design of the Römerberg's kitchens. Laird eventually emigrated to the US and became a clinical psychologist in San Benardino, California. Read an interview with her here.
  17. James Quigley, "Land acquired for 1,834 New NACom Billets", European Stars and Stripes, 19 May 1954, p.2: "Northern Area Command recently completed the acquisition of land in the Frankfurt area that will be used for housing construction projects scheduled to begin soon. The land is located in the Gibbs, Drake, Edwards, and IG Farben Complex areas, as well as adjacent to the HICOG housing development and the Hoechst cemetery. Plans call for the construction of 103 buildings which will include 1,854 housing units. The acquisition of suitable land for housing construction will now allow the US Army to release sooner German housing currently under requisition."
  18. Andrea Janssen, Das große amerikanische Sperrgebiet in Frankfurt April 1945 bis Juni 1948, Stiftung Polytechnische Gesellschaft (sptg.de, accessed 4 September 2021).
  19. Stadtplan S8 1/498 Frankfurt/Main in Hyperboloid-Projektion mit Kilometernetz, Falk-Verlag (1946).
  20. Adam R. Seipp, "This Land Remains German": Requisitioning, Society, and the US Army, 1945–1956, Central European History 52, Issue 3 (September 2019), pp.476-495 (restricted access): A detailed account of requisitioning of German dwellings and other property by the American occupation.
  21. 1945 in Frankfurt: Wie Frankfurter das Kriegsende erlebten, Frankfurter Rundschau, 10 April 2015.
  22. Ernst May, Wikipedia (accessed 24 November 2021).

Frankfurt High School

Frankfurt High School
Frankfurt High School
Frankfurt High School
FHS dorms (right) and "Quonset" huts (Silver City)
My bro­ther and I went to the Amer­i­can Army schools — 9th-11th grade for me, Frankfurt High School; ele­men­tary school for Dennis. The FHS student body was 900 and included kids like me who walked to school, kids from farther away (the Drake-Edwards or Gibbs or Atterberry Kaserne, or neighboring towns and cities like Aschaffenburg, Babenhausen, Bad Homburg, Bad Nauheim, Bad Vilbel, Bonames, Butzbach, Büdingen, Darmstadt, Friedburg, Gelnhausen, Hanau, Höchst, Langen, Mörfelden, Oberursel... or the Rhein-Main air base near Wiesbaden) who arrived in 25 big olive-drab Army buses each day; kids from even farther (e.g. Bad Godesberg, Gießen, Fulda, Kassel, Wildflecken) [apparently, at least Fulda and Gießen got their own American high schools in later years] who lived in the dorms all week but went home on weekends, and kids from REALLY far away like Moscow, Damascus, Warsaw, Helsinki, Lisbon, Tunis... (children of diplomats or attachés in places where there were no American schools); they stayed in the dorm all semester and ate three meals a day in the cafeteria. Although 900 sounds small to a New Yorker, it was far too many for the original 1954 building so we also had some "Quonset huts" for the overflow (strictly speaking these were Butler Buildings; real Quonset huts are half-cylinders, but it's the same idea: prefab temporary buildings made of corrugated metal that can be erected in a few hours)[9].

Me in Frankfurt 1959
Me in 1959
Frankfurt High School aerial view 1960
Frankfurt High School aerial view 1960
When I started school in the middle of the 9th grade, it was quite shock. Instead of all white suburban kids like in Virginia, there were Black kids, Puerto Ricans, Hawaiians, Mexicans, Filipinos… and even the white kids were from all over, with every kind of background and accent. Plus people were from all social classes from aristocracy (children of ambassadors or generals) to dirt-poor. It was the complete opposite of my junior high school in Arlington, where everybody was exactly the same: white, middle class, and Virginian.

Some of the FHS kids in 9th grade were hoodlums like in Blackboard Jungle, with leather jackets and collars turned up and ducktails and switch­blades but there was never actually any fighting. My friend Joe Caranci always spent Geography period carving things into his desk with his switchblade and one day when the teacher said something about it, he cut off the teacher's necktie and threw his briefcase out the window (that was my only Blackboard Jungle class). And yes, there was a Geography class; in those times everybody learned what all the countries in the world were, and something about them.

Miss Costello's Latin Class
Miss Costello's Latin Class in Silver City
Creating writing story
Creative writing story 1961
In reality, it was an excellent school, and the best thing about it was that if you did well in class, there was no social stigma as there was in Virginia. Consequently I got high grades the whole time I was there and had good relationships with many of my teachers, for example Miss Costello, my Latin teacher for two years who ran the class like a Marine drill sergeant but in reality was a sweetie. Or Miss Rotter who taught AP English and encouraged me to write down any crazy thing that came into my head. I could do that and still be a cool guy. She was also the Radio Club adviser in 1960-61. Or Mr. Thompson (more about him below).

The Lovings
The Lovings of Virginia
To top off the differences from "back home", there were interracial couples… This was at the exact same time as the huge uproar in Virginia — in Central Point, not far from where I had lived — about the Lovings[11] (a white man and black woman who married and were prosecuted for it), that went all the way to the Supreme Court. Honestly, we all felt so lucky not to have to worry about any of that... Imagine, living in a diverse community with no racial barriers in the late 1950s and early 60s. We knew how precious a gift this was; we lived in a virtual paradise safe from all the ugliness and brutality of our own country.

Carolyn Parker in 1960
In 9th and 10th grade I was friends with a girl named Carolyn Parker. We sat next to each other in class; I helped her with her homework (she didn't really need help, it was like a game). We just enjoyed each other's company; she was very sweet and soft spoken. I guess I had a crush on her. But that was 1959-1960 and it simply didn't occur to us to see each other outside of school, or if it did, we were probably both thinking about how our parents (or in my case, just the one) would react. Plus we were both pretty shy. She "rotated" before my junior year which was when I started to have a social life. But I still remember her.

Speaking of rotating, I quickly realized that another big difference between a military base and everywhere else I had ever lived is how easy it is to make friends. Because kids are so diverse, there wasn't the kind of cliquishness I recall from my junior high school in suburban Virgina. And because nobody stayed in the same place more than two or three years, military brats grew up learning how to make friends rapidly and how to be openminded and honest and not play games. I never felt more comfortable with people in my life than I did there, and never had so many friends, not before, not since.

Another facet of life as a kid on a military base is how the parents are so conscious of rank: who's more important than who, who can socialize with who, who can go to which club (Officers, NCO, EM)... whereas the kids instinctively rebelled against all that and we all developed a healthy antiauthoritarian streak. For example if a General found out his daughter was dating a Sergeant's son he would almost certainly order her to break it off and that would only make the relationship stronger.

Frankfurt Base Facilities

Frankfurt PX, Commissary, and Snack Bar
WAC Circle: Frankfurt PX, Commissary, and Snack Bar, 1960
Meanwhile, there were endless facilities on the base for service members and their families. The Post Exchange (PX, center in the photo) was like a department store that sold clothing, records, books, pots and pans, etc, (and of course, transformers) at no markup or even subsidized, in recognition of the low military salaries. The Commissary (right of the PX in the photo) was like an American supermarket for food shopping, also nonprofit and subsidized. The Snack bar (left) was a huge cafeteria featuring approximately the same fare as a Burger King or IHOP. There was also a "Class VI store" somewhere, that's Army-speak for a liquor store. Behind these buildings was a gas station where gas was 10 cents a gallon. Scattered all over the base (after 1948 it wasn't a fenced-in base[6], just buildings and neighborhoods all over the city) were countless smaller snack bars, field houses, clinics, athletic fields, running tracks, dispensaries, clubs, and so on[7]. Barracks for soldiers were fenced in, however; they were called Kaserne since many of them were old Wehrmacht barracks (Kaserne) with swastikas chiseled off the gates (♪♫ Vor der Kaserne, vor der großen Tor... ♪♫).

Medical care was free and universal, school was free and excellent, and housing was free or heavily subsidized. Ordinary working people of all ranks could live modest, comfortable, and relatively secure and stress-free lives without being millionaires and billionaires or working 100 hours a week. Our parents (or more often than not, just our fathers) did their 40-hour-a-week jobs (and we did our jobs by going to school), and the government took care of us. No wonder we liked it so much over there, it was Socialism! [1]

In January 2024 Pam Ives came across a two-page 1960 Army Times article[2] clipped by her parents that describes the Frankfurt base facilities in great detail. If you think it sounds like Paradise on Earth, you're not far wrong!

  1. Strictly speaking socialism includes public ownership of the means of production; the Frankfurt Army base experience was more like "market socialism" where private companies exist, but the essentials of life such as housing, health care, education, and secure retirment are provided by the government at no or low charge. This was the dominant form of government in postwar Europe and Scandinavia and, to some extent, other countries like Canada and New Zealand, but lately is eroding due to the wave of right-wing backlash sweeping the whole planet. US military bases sometimes crossed the line into true socialism, like when the Army set up factories in Germany (and elsewhere) to produce ice cream for base residents.
  2. Guild, Hazel, "Frankfurt: Chicago on the Main, Army Times, 14 June 1960, pp.36-37.

Bob Engs

Bob Engs
Bob Engs (yearbook)
Bob Engs at home
Bob Engs at home 1959
Höchst chemical plant
Chemical plant
I don't remember much about 9th grade, it was only a few months. In 10th grade, Bob Engs was pretty much my main outside-of-school friend. Bob was a year older but we had the same birthday. He was also a year ahead of me in school and president of his class, a super-achiever. He lived far away in the indus­trial city of Höchst, about two hours away by trolley*, dominated by the huge Höchst AG chemical plant that spewed out toxic black smoke, the air was always thick with it; in those days if you took a color picture of Höchst it would still come out grey. The chemical plants employed thousands of Turkish "Gastarbeiter" under horrible conditions, we never saw them because they weren't allowed to go into town. My dad was scandalized about Bob, but said it was OK for me to have black friends as long as we were in Frankfurt, but not in Virginia. My brother's best friend was also black. My parents were pretty impressed I could navigate the trolley system from city to city, negotiating the hair-raising transfer from the #17 to the #11 at the free-kill zone in front of the Hauptbahnhof.

The Engs family returned to the USA at the end of the 1959-60 school year, ending up in Fort Eustis VA, near Newport News; I visited them there in 1962. Bob had a long and distinguished academic career and died in 2013 at age 69[12].

* Mary Frances Keller '61, now Mary Fran Archer, who made the trip every day, says 30 minutes.
  1. Frankfurt American High School, Wikipedia (accessed 31 March 2019).
  2. Wertsch, Mary Edwards, Military Brats, Harmony Books and/or Brightwell Publishing (1991, 1996, 2006).
  3. Curtis, Marc, Growing Up Military, CreateSpace (2009).
  4. Willis, William, Base Jumping, William Willis Books (2013).
  5. Tuscott, Mary R., Brats, Dutton (1989).
  6. "'Little America' Fence in Frankfurt Seen Doomed", George Bria, Schenectady Gazette, 9 February 1948 (via usarmygermany.com). Apparently the fence was up for only a bit more than a year (1947-48).
  7. Army & Air Force Exchange Service, Europe, Walter Elkins' U.S. Army in Germany website, accessed 7 July 2020: The European Exchange System: "The mission of EES is service to the troops in Europe. Basically, this means providing services and goods at minimum costs and in the most pleasant, courteous, and efficient manner possible."—Col. Charles L. Redman, QMC, EES Chief.  EES was responsible for PX's, commissaries, liquor stores, snack bars, delis, laundries, dry cleaners, barber and beauty shops, photo processing; watch, radio, and shoe repair; florists, tailor shops, photo studios, gas stations, car repair garages, libraries, athletic fields, service clubs, teen clubs, service shows, as well as central butchers, bakeries, dairies, and ice cream plants (such as the massive one in Grünstadt) that supplied the commissaries and snack bars. There were also EES service stations and snack bars on the Autobahns. Also there were mobile PXs and snack bars for troops in the field. In Germany the large majority of employees at EES establishments was German.
  8. The Bald Eagles Echo, Fall 1995: 26 pages devoted to the closing of Frankfurt High School and the whole American base in Frankfurt.
  9. Julie Decker and Chris Chiel, Quonset Hut, Princeton Architectural Press (2005).
  10. Memories from Germany, American Overseas Schools Historical Society. I particularly enjoyed the story of an American teacher, Nancy Siler, who went to Germany on a troopship in 1949.
  11. The Loving Story, 1960s documentary about the Lovings.
  12. Dr Robert Francis "Bob" Engs Jr, 1943-2013, Find A Grave memorial by Allen Monasmith, 11 May 2014.

History: American schools in postwar Frankfurt

"A somewhat unprecedented byproduct of the USAREUR dependents’ school system was the 'melting-pot' role it assumed far beyond the borders of the United States. Both staff and student body were composed of persons from all 48 states, and the territories, as well. People from all walks of life, all races and creeds, and representing the full range of sectional backgrounds and interests, met in the classrooms, bringing with them the uniqueness that was theirs and taking away, certainly, a fuller knowledge and deeper understanding of the totality that is the American people." —[10,p.113]
FHS sign Starting in 1946, the US Department of Defense Dependents Schools (DoDDS) made schooling available to children of military, consular, and other American families in Germany and other occupied countries[7]. So the correct way to refer to these schools is DOD or DoDDS schools, but we always called them Army schools. Why? Because (1) there was no Navy, Air Force, Marines, or Coast guard in Frankfurt, it was all Army; and (2) the sign on our school said "U.S. ARMY FRANKFURT HIGH SCHOOL" as seen on the inset, that comes from the far right of this photo. Other American school signs in Germany also said U.S. Army, such as this one in Kaiserslautern.

An interesting facet of the American elementary and junior high schools was that German language instruction was given to all students[16,17] in a required daily class. My younger brother Dennis took German at Frankfurt Elementary #1, as did Robert Paul (see report card), Greg Cagle, and other slightly younger informants who were in Frankfurt the same time I was. Similarly for American schools in France, but French instead of German. German language was taught by Germans; one of my informants has an autograph from "Ruth Geise, Deine Deutschlehrer). The same is true for American elementary schools in elsewhere in Germany such as the one in Kaiserslautern, confirmed by another informant who was there in the late 1950s.

At Frankfurt high school when I was there in 1959-61, Latin, German, French, and (from Fall 1960) Russian were offered as electives. Checking the 1977-78 yearbook I see that Russian had been removed and Spanish added.

High School...

Friedrich-Ebert-Reformschule, which would become the first Frankfurt High School in 1946. Photo: frankfurt1933-1945.de.

The first Frankfurt High School (FHS) was at Am Bornheimer Hang 46 in Bornheim, about 2.5 miles (3.8km) east of the Farben building. It was built in 1929-30 as the Friedrich-Ebert-Reformschule[1,2] and designed by Ernst May, who was also responsible for the revolutionary Römerstadt apartment buildings described above. This school building was the first of its kind in Europe and drew visitors from many countries. During the war it served as a military hospital, an officer's school, and temporary housing for bombed-out families. From May 1945 to September 1946 it was billets for American occupation troops. It became Frankfurt's American high school in Fall 1946 and served in that capacity through Spring 1954.[3]  A protected landmark, it's still there as the Charles-Hallgarten Schule[4,13,14] for special-needs students, grades 1-10.

Frankfurt High School 1959
Frankfurt High School Siolistraße 1959
In Fall 1954, Frankfurt High School moved to its newly constructed home at Siolostraße 41, just north of the IG Farben building. It was in operation from Spring 1954 through Fall 1995 when US forces left Frankfurt after 50 years. It was one of few American high schools with dormitories (Nürnberg, Kaiserslautern, and Munich also had them but I believe they were 5-day only, whereas Frankfurt was both 5-day and full-term). It went from 9th grade through 12th grade through
Phillip-Holzman-Schule 2014
Phillip-Holzman-Schule and athletic field 2014[15]
1959-60, then 10th-12th until it closed in 1995. The school's name was changed to Frankfurt American High School (FAHS) only in 1961-62, the year after I left. When closed it was returned to the City of Frankfurt and became the Philipp-Holzmann-Schule; it has since been considerably remodeled, expanded, and improved. In April 2014 a former FAHS student (Otis Pate, class of 1985) visited the Holzmann campus and posted a rhapsodic 7-minute video of it on Youtube (screen shot at left). By 2020, however, the at-least-80-year-old athletic field was sacrified to make way for another new school, the Adorno Gymnasium (academic high school), address: Miquelallee 160.

Junior High School...

Frankfurt American Junior High School
Frankfurt Junior High School
Frankfurt (American) Junior High School opened in Fall 1959 at 381 Homburger Landstraße at Drake Kaserne[5,17] to relieve crowded conditions at the high school and the elementary schools, taking over 9th grade from the high school and 8th and 7th grades from the elementary schools. It was convenient to residents in the Drake-Edwards, Gibbs, and Betts areas but students who lived in the Farben building area (Platenstraße, Hügel, Von Steuben) and elsewhere had to ride big olive-drab Army buses every day. The junior high school closed in 1995, along with all the other American military schools in Frankfurt. The building still exists as of November 2021 and houses the IKS Interkulturelle Schule Rhein-Main, a state-recognized private vocational and preparatory school.

Elementary Schools...

Frankfurt Elizabethan School 1946
Elizabethan School
The original Frankfurt Elementary School, the Elizabethan School[9,10] — in German Elisabethanischschule — at Vogtstraße 35-37, was about half a mile east of the Farben building. Founded in 1876 as a high school for girls in another part of the city, it moved to Vogtstraße in 1908. In 1942 it was converted into a German military hospital. In 1945 it was confiscated by American forces and opened in 1946 as a school for grades K-8[6,11]. It was in the Sperrgebiet, the fenced-in American restricted area around the Farben building 1945-48 described above. The school was returned to the City of Frankfurt in 1954 and lives on today as the Gymnasium Elisabethenschule, a co-ed academic high school.

Frankfurt Elementary School #1
Frankfurt Elementary School #1 in 1960
Frankfurt Elementary School #1 at 2201 Platenstraße[5] (photo by my father) opened in 1953, as part of the same project that created the high school and the Platenstraße, Hügel, and Von Steuben housing areas, serving grades K-8[6]. Students from areas such as Oberursel, Bad Homburg, Höchst, Fischstein and Rödelheim were bused in daily. Frankfurt Elementary School #2 (a.k.a. the Atterberry School) at 358 Friedberger Landstraße[5] in the Betts housing area near Atterberry Kaserne also opened in 1953[6].

The city of Frankfurt was located in the US Army Northern Area Command (NACOM), one of six Cold War commands in 1952-1965, covering a large part of the American zone of Germany (which by then had also subsumed the French Zone). In addition to its military role, NACOM "also act[ed] as landlord and corner grocer, city administrator and recreation supervisor for the complete community of servicemen, wives, children and civilians. Along this line there are [as of 1963] 82 chapels, 51 service clubs, 71 libraries, 74 theaters, 69 bowling lanes, 70 gymnasiums and 602 other sports facilities. In addition there are 72 education centers for the American community plus 45 elementary and high schools with an enrollment of 33,000. There are 72 housing areas and 100,000 troop barracks spaces to maintain plus providing utilities for more than 200 separate installations. The 12 main posts directly under NACom are: Giessen, Frankfurt, Heidelberg, Wuerzburg, Bamberg, Fulda, Hanau, Bad Kreuznach, Baumholder, Pirmasens, Kaiserslautern and Karlsruhe. The 12 sub-posts are Mainz, Schweinfurt, Darmstadt, Bad Hersfeld, Bad Kissingen, Wildflecken, Kassel, Gelnhausen, Worms, Aschaffenburg, Kitzingen and Wertheim."[8]

  1. Der Frankfurter Reformschulversuch 1921–1930, Institut für Stadtgeschichte, frankfurt1933-1945.de (accessed 23 November 2021).
  2. Der Frankfurter Reformschulversuch 1930–1937, Institut für Stadtgeschichte, frankfurt1933-1945.de (accessed 23 November 2021).
  3. Frankfurt American High School, wikipedia.com (accessed 23 November 2021).
  4. Charles-Hallgarten School Am Bornheimer Hang, architecture.eu (accessed 23 November 2021).
  5. Federal Republic of Germany Post Report, US Department of State, U.S. Government Printing Office, 0-281-540-2013, April 1979. Frankfurt am Main section: pp.33-37. This is written for consular personel and their families, where housing, school, and other policies might differ from those for military families.
  6. Memories of Frankfurt Elementary #1, compilation 1946-1995, American Overseas Schools Historical Society, entry by Erika and Kurt Rothe (aoshs.com, accessed 25 November 2021).
  7. DODEA's 75 Year History, dodea.edu (accessed 25 November 2021).
  8. Ralph Bennington, "NACOM to Celebrate 11th Anniversary", Stars & Stripes, 30 November 1963.
  9. History of the Dependents School Service (DSS), Germany: Those First Six Years (1946-1952), Department of Defense Education Activity, dodea.edu (accessed 26 November 2021).
  10. The Dependents' School Program of the U.S. Army, Europe, 1946–1956, Headquarters, United States Army, Europe, Historical Division (1958), 118 pages (non-searchable PDF). Page 9 has the photo of the Elizabethan School captioned "The Elizabethan School—first American elementary school in Frankfurt and headquarters of the Dependents' School Service".
  11. Elisabethenschule (Frankfurt am Main), second.wiki (accessed 26 November 2021).
  12. Elisabethenschule website (accessed 26 November 2021).
  13. Charles Hallgarten Schule website (accessed 26 November 2021).
  14. Charles Hallgarten Schule: Schulhaus (school building's history with photos, accessed 26 November 2021).
  15. Video: Behind Frankfurt American High School 2014, Otis Pate, Youtube, April 2014.
  16. Host Nation Studies: An International Language and Culture Program for U.S. Elementary Students in Overseas Schools, International Journal for the Historiography of Education (IJHE) Jahrgang 4 Ausgabe 5, October 2014 (abstract). "In 1946, the first U.S. schools for military dependents opened their doors in post-war Germany to provide education for children of American personnel on foreign soil. The school system, originally known as the 'Dependents School Service' (DSS), offered a special subject within its curriculum: Native German teachers were hired to teach the language and culture of the current host nation to U.S. elementary and middle-school students."
  17. Yearbooks, Frankfurt MS (formerly JHS) Archives, American Overseas Schools Historical Society archives. Not a complete set, but they reveal that the school had several Germans teaching German, and no other languages were taught. The 1988 yearbook identifies the school as "Frankfurt American Junior High School which is a Department of Defense, Dependent School located on Drake Kaserne, Homburger Landstrasse 381, 6 Frankfurt/Main or APO New York 09039-0005".
  18. "Who Runs the Best U.S. Schools? It May Be the Defense Department — Schools for children of military members achieve results rarely seen in public education", New York Times, 10 October 2023.

The 1960 Artillery Accident at Grafenwöhr

Memorial Service 1960
Memorial Service 4 September 1960
The morning of Friday, September 2, 1960, an 8-inch Howitzer round crashed into a 3rd Armored Division encampment at the Grafenwöhr tank range, killing 15 soldiers and wounding another 28, one of whom died later. We were in school that day and it was announced over the PA system. The fathers of many of the students were at Graf at the time, and when the announcement was made the details were still not known. Everyone was worried, scared, upset. I remember big silent crowds in the halls, I think they must have let us out early so we could be with our families. Nine of the dead were PFCs and probably not old enough to have kids in high school. Three were sergeants (two of them SFCs) and could have been old enough but their surnames don't match anyone in the 1960-61 FHS directory. The rest were SP4s and SP5s, and only one of them, Earl Johnson (an SP4, therefore probably pretty young), had a surname also found in the directory (seven times). In any case I don't remember that any FHS parents died, but there were also 27 wounded (later I checked the list of wounded against the FHS directory too, and no matches there either). Anyway there was deep anxiety throughout the school for at least the whole day. The photo was taken by SSG Lowell Fox of the 3rd AD, one of six sent in by his son Farley in 2008  (see gallery)  (decode Army ranks here).
  1. Howitzer Overshot Kills 15, Injures 27 at Grafenwoehr, Stars and Stripes vol.19 no.138, Saturday, 3 September 1960, page 1: "Fifteen 3rd Armd Div soldiers were killed early Friday [September 2], and 27 injured when an 8-inch howitzer shell with an incorrect powder charge overshot its mark and landed in a camp area after a morning roll call ... The shell smashed into three tents occupied by soldiers. It tore through one tent, exploded in the second, and sent fragments hurtling into the third."
  2. Little-known Grafenwoehr accident remains vivid to those who lived it, nearly 60 years later, Martin Egnash, Stars and Stripes, 1 September 2018: "the memory of that day lives on in the soldiers who were there. Retired Gen. Colin Powell ... was one of them."
  3. Tragedy at Grafenwoehr in September, 1960, 3rd Armored Division History Foundation. Includes list of fatalities.
  4. Artillery Accident of 1960: The deadliest event in the history of the Grafenwoehr Training Area, Johanna Pschierer, USAG Bavaria Public Affairs, 23 August 2018.
  5. 3rd Armored Division, Cold War, Wikipedia (accessed 6 March 2021): "Throughout the Cold War, the division headquarters company, the 503rd Administrative Company, 503rd Adjutant General Company, and 503rd MP Company were based at Drake Kaserne, with 143rd Signal Battalion and other support units stationed across the street at Edwards Kaserne in Frankfurt ... subunits were based in other Kasernes [in Kirch-Goens, Butzbach, Gelnhausen, Friedberg, and Hanau]", which are all places where FHS students lived (see directory).
For more information, use this Google search.

11th grade at Frankfurt High School and Pam Ives 1960-61

Me in 1961
1961 yearbook photo
Me in 1961
Look: saddle shoes!
In 11th grade I made tons of new friends, started going out on the town and drinking beer (and anything else I could get my hands on - cognac, Schnapps, Jägermeister...), having all kinds of fun. Maybe too much fun because now I recognize that, for the two full years 1961 and 1962 I drank to excess almost every day. At first it was some combination of dulling the stress and oppression of "life with father" and the fact that drinking in Germany was easy, cheap, legal, fun, and everybody else was doing it. Later, back in Virginia, where it was not legal, I still did it. The compulsion faded after I left home.

I often felt that my time in high school in Germany was the best time of my life. It was such an adventure to be in postwar Germany, still pockmarked with the scars of war, still relatively poor, still full of people who had been Nazis, and with Elvis stationed just down the street. And on the base, to be among people of all races, nationalities and social classes after living in racial and economic segregation up until then. And my first love, Pam Ives.

Pam Ives
Pam 1961 in FHS gym
Pam Ives
Pam 1961
Nürnberg Bierdeckel
Nürnberg souvenir
Cheerleader portrait
Even in 11th grade I was still shy around girls and had only been on a couple awkward dates. Pam was in 10th grade and a junior varsity cheerleader. We clicked instantly, we were inseparable; we did everything together, she was funny and she was fearless. And (as she says herself) kind of smart-ass. We always enjoyed each other, never argued, no egos, no drama, just romance, affection, and tons of fun. Everything was hilarious to us. We went on long trips in Army buses to away-games in places like Mannheim and Nürnberg (and then didn't bother going to the games), we went up in the Taunus mountains and drank our­selves silly with no idea how we would get back. I would go to basketball games just because she was cheerleading. She came to the radio station with me on Tuesday nights sometimes. I'd meet her in HiCoG every morning, where she lived, to walk to school together.

Jazz Keller
Jazz Keller
We wrote notes and slipped them into each other's hall lockers. We went to the Teen Club after school and then again after dinner at home, when it became like a night club: lights low, dancing to the jukebox or a band... and everybody forming little groups for sorties into the neighborhood or downtown — restaurants, bars, Storyville, the Jazzkeller — then coming back to the Teen Club to share our adventures. Typical corny teenage stuff but I was never so happy before or since (until recently).

About the Jazz Keller... Heidi Laird (author of Frankfurt Kitchen) recalls "being able to sit up close to famous Jazz musicians who had just given a concert at the Festhalle and were showing up at the Jazz Keller to unwind and relax in an informal setting among friends. I remember seeing Coleman Hawkins up close, and the Modern Jazz Quartet and Ella Fitzgerald and Jerry Mulligan, all legendary, almost mythical. And there were the Mangelsdorff brothers ... There was a wonderful bass player named Oscar Pettiford who died within a year or two of my meeting him..."

The time we went to Nürnberg we wandered around the city and stumbled onto the Luitpoldhain, which is where big annual Nazi rallies were staged from 1933 to 1938. Spooky!

Pam's Prom book
Pam's Prom book 1961
Prom night 1961
Prom night April 1961
The Casino Officers Club seen from I.G. Farben
You can see how ridicu­lously happy I was in the pre-Prom photo, in which the other two are our friends Joe Martin and Genell Roberson, and in which Pam is wearing the dress her Mom made for the occasion. Joe had his dad's car that night. The Prom was a very big deal, held not in a crepe-paper-decorated school gym like most proms but in the Officers' Club, the "Casino" part of the I.G. Farben complex and probably a major "venue" for the Nazi elite during the war. It was in the Casino's enormous, elegant ballroom. Honestly I don't remember much about it (was there an orchestra? Was there food?) but Pam and I danced and danced. And then as the Prom wound down we drove to a classy nightclub downtown with a stage show and had fizzy mixed drinks with umbrellas instead of beer steins. We stayed out very late, culminating in a Prom breakfast at 3:00 or 4:00am in the main Snack Bar, which they kept open for us. It was a night like in a 1940s Hollywood movie. Pam is the only one I ever danced with.

A Prom-related incident resulted in a bump in our relationship (my fault) and before it could be fixed the school year ended and Pam's family rotated back to the States, Pan Am Flight 73, Frankfurt to NYC, July 2, 1961 (just after her 16th birthday). I would have been devastated by this if it were not for the fact that we were being rotated too! A year prematurely, due to a f**kup by my dad. I was devastated anyway; back in Virginia I missed her like crazy. We stayed in touch by mail. A year later she was thinking about college, wanted to major in psychology, wanted to come to the east coast somewhere but said her grades weren't good and probably she would wind up at Iowa State ("Anything! Anyplace! Just to leave home!"), wished we could talk about it and do the things we used to do, and closed by telling me not to do anything crazy like getting married or... Joining the Army! But then her father was transferred to Fort Leavenworth and I left for UVA at the same time, and then the Army, and then my Mom left my Dad and my Dad lost the house — the address Pam was writing to — so we literally lost touch. Forever.  Or so it seemed!

Maps of Our Frankfurt

Frankfurt a/M 1961
Our part of Frankfurt in 1961: Falk-Plan No.119, Falk-Verlag-Hamburg (undated but purchased in 1961) - Click to enlarge

This is a piece of a German map from 1961 showing the part of Frankfurt we inhabited. Click on it to see a full size version with notations in pencil that I made at the time. At C-12 I have the Platenstraße housing area circled and building numbers penciled in, plus I drew in the baseball field. A line is coming out of 2231 showing the shortcut I used to take to school, which is in the upper left of D-10 marked FHS, north-northwest of the IG Hochhaus (I.G. Farben building, shown in red). The Teen Club (TC) is on Siolistraße right across from the school. In E-11, WAC Circle at Adickes Allee and Eschersheimer Landstraße is circled: the PX, Commissary, and big Snack Bar. Pam lived in Carl Schurz Siedlung, a.k.a. HiCoG; her house is circled by the lower left corner of D-11. Our hangouts are also indicated: D'Angelo's is on Raimundstraße near Am Dornbusch indicated as DA's in D-12. Kurt's (with the jukebox that played Milord) is at bottom center of D-12. Some other places I don't recall are indicated there too: D.S. and 7-Up, then just below the lower right corner of the same quadrant, the eat-in family Italian restaurant, Bologna. Then going south on Eschersheimer Landstraße (E-10 and E-9) was bar country: Stark's, Frank's, Bodega's (indicated as BO's), Leon's, Torrero, and finally the Straw Bar. These were the places we could walk to. Römer wine glass The Straw Bar, unlike the other rowdy dives just listed, was sedate and civilized, owned by a nice lady. Nobody knows why we called it the Straw Bar; it wasn't labeled that way. A bunch of us guys and girls would go there and sit around a large round table playing Hearts all night, drinking white Mosel Wein out of Römers (photo at left) rather than the customary Bier in Steins, in deference to the ladies, much more refined and sophisticated.

We also frequented some other places not on the map, e.g. in Ginnheim. The next map shows the hangouts we went to by trolley.

Frankfurt a/M 1961
Frankfurt Bahnhof area in 1961 - Click to enlarge or CLICK HERE to see the whole map (big).

Santa Lucia
Ristorante Santa Lucia 1961
Maier Gustl's
Maier Gustl's 1956
This is another part of the same map that shows the Hauptbahnof area, directly accessible by Straßenbahn Nº17. Various hangouts are indicated near the Bahnhof (C-D 5-6): Maier Gustl's on Münchener Straße (a huge and rowdy Bavarian beer hall complete with Oompah band), and next to it Santa Lucia (Italian grotto restaurant up a flight of stairs), Maxim's (which I don't remember). "Little Maier Gustl's" was as quiet and sedate as the big one was loud and chaotic and it had the best Ochsenschwanzsuppe. The yellow area in front of the red Hauptbahnhof was the free-kill zone where all the trolley lines met up in a huge chaos and you could transfer from one line to another if you were lucky.

Other things to do in Germany

Besides drinking in bars? On base, there was every conceivable kind of recreation for us, either free or very cheap — a movie theater (25¢), game rooms, a roller rink, the post library, craft shops, music rooms (where you could check out any musical instrument and practice on it), libraries, athletic fields, judo classes, bowling alleys, a baseball team (the Vikings), the Teen Club, plus a huge selection of after-school activites... No end of fun. And to top it off, we were in Germany! So there was even more fun to be had off base... We could go to nearby Grüneburg Park or ride all over the city on the trolley, all the way to the Taunus mountains for pocket change, go swimming at the German pool in Oberursel (swimming was the only amenity not found on base).

The Platenstraße area in Frankfurt was like Smurf Village; everybody lived in one place and it was just a couple blocks from the high school and main PX. When you walked to school in the morning you'd bump into all your friends. You could go outside any time, around the corner to the ball field bleachers (a popular hangout) or a couple more blocks to the Teen Club and all your friends would be in one of those places or the other. We'd just hang out or decide to go somewhere together, there was no end of escapades we could have in postwar Germany.

Plus there were part-time jobs for teenagers, bagging groceries in the Commissary for tips, setting pins in the base bowling alley for 10 cents a frame, and working the concession stand at the movie theater. In those days bowling alleys and pool halls were everywhere. I never bowled much, but I played pool quite well, starting in the Teen Club up through Army discharge, six years of solid pool playing. After that I think I played pool 3 times total, once with Granpa who used to be a pool hustler (I did pretty well, but he won of course — this was at the marina in Kinapic).

The Teen Club

Frankfurt Teen Club
Frankfurt Teen Club 1960 looks like a dump but inside it was magic
At the Teen Club, one room had a grill with hamburgers and french fries and a soda fountain, with tables and chairs and a nickel jukebox with good music in it. At night the lights were turned down low for dancing. The songs that take me right back there (mid-1961): Blue Moon by the Marcels, Mother In Law by Ernie K. Doe, Chain Gang by Sam Cooke, This is Dedicated to the One I Love by the Shirelles, Gee Whiz by Carla Thomas, Who's Loving You by the Miracles, and Suddenly There's A Valley by The Drifters.

Framus Hollywood 1958
Framus Hollywood 1958
Teen Club band 1961
Teen Club band 1961
Meanwhile, back in the Teen Club there was also a stage where my first rock band used to play for evening dance parties. I played a German electric guitar, a red 1958 Framus Hollywood (the one on the left in the color picture) that I got at Musik-Hruby on Marbachweg in Dornbusch, the same street where Anne Frank was born in 1929 and lived as a little girl...  In 1961 the Teen Club was totally unsupervised, the only adults there were the German ladies who ran the soda fountain and grill. We'd go out drinking in bars, come back to the Teen Club, go out again, come back... The way I remember it, this was just about every night. For the record, everybody's favorite local spot for drinking and eating was D'Angelo's, a tiny hole-in-the-wall pizza place on Raimundstraße (just on the edge of the American housing complex), run by Marco and patronized exclusively by Frankfurt High students (as opposed to, say, GIs or Germans). Marco's pizza was the best I ever had in my life (Pam says it was strange). It cost one Mark per slice, and he'd also make a custom pie in any size at all... decades before anyone had heard of a "personal pizza".

Elvis at the Teen Club?

Autographed Elvis record
Autographed Elvis record
Autographed Elvis German postcard
Postcard front
Autographed Elvis German postcard
Autographed postcard back
In November 2021 I had email from a person who was in Frankfurt 1958-1961, about the time as me; she said "I was particularly interested in your memories of the teen club. Although I never actually got to go there, I had an older sister in high school (graduated in 1959 I think) who spent a lot of time there. In fact, my stepfather was a volunteer there. I have in my possession a 45 RPM record in its jacket, and a post card photograph of Elvis, both signed by him. My recollection is that he actually visited the teen club at least once, which is where she obtained his autographs. My sister is deceased, so I can’t ask her. Do you have any memory of one or more visits by Elvis? Although I liked some of his music and movies as a teen, I was never really a fan." I don't remember but if any readers do, please let me know! The record, "A Big Hunk 'O Love", was released in 1959, about a year before my Teen Club days. The postcard photo was taken before November 27, 1958, when Elvis was promoted to PFC. He made SP4 on June 1, 1959, and Sergeant E5 February 11, 1960, and was one of those ranks when he recorded the record. He was discharged March 5, 1960.

Armed Forces Network

NACOM Chronicle article 1960
NACOM Chronicle 1960
Höchst Castle - home of AFN Frankfurt
Höchst Castle - home of AFN Frankfurt
Armed Forces Network Frankfurt 1960
AFN entrance with Dennis and Mom
Bob Engs was in the Radio Club at school (and also the president of it of course) and con­vinced me to join in 10th grade (1959-60). We had a weekly show, "Teen 20", on AFN Frankfurt, at the time the most powerful radio transmitter on earth at 150,000 Watts. It was kind of a silly show but the experience was magical. The station was in an actual 12th-century castle in Höchst (Schloß Von Brüning); every Tuesday after school we'd ride in a big olive-drab Army bus, about 12 of us. Everybody would take turns in each job: engineer, director, announcer, writer, sports news, DJ... So, for example if I was the sports reporter I'd have to go to the games and take notes, even away games in Heidelberg, Karlsruhe, Mannheim, Wiesbaden... If I was DJ I had to know how to cue records and segué from one to another while talking, watch the sound levels, making sure there was never any "dead air", and finish exactly on time, cuing the closing theme: Sleep Walk by Santo and Johnny. The real AFN staff, merry-prankster enlisted men who had worked in radio before they were drafted, taught us everything. We had sound-proof studios with director's booth, super-expensive Telefunken microphones, control consoles, and 16-inch turntables, it was unbelievable amounts of fun.

AFN announcer/DJ console
AFN console
AFN 16-inch record
AFN 16-inch record
AFN library sign
AFN Library sign
AFN library
Frankfurt library
The "Frankfurt library" photo shows my Teen-20 friends Mike Sanborn and Stephanie Smith retrieving a 16-inch vinyl record for a show in 1960 (another photo shows the card catalog used for finding records). AFN had the largest music library on earth, all on 16-inch vinyl records. Not just music but also radio shows (dramas, comedies, soap operas, variety shows) from 1942 to 1980.
Teen Twenty
Teen Twenty (1959-60 Erinnerungen yearbook p.30)
I don't know if it has been preserved, but it would be an incredible resource for music historians and archaeologists. Later I found out that when AFN converted from vinyl to casette tape in 1980, all the vinyl records were supposed to be destroyed. There were about 25,000 distinct records, each holding about 30 songs (or other types of audio), of which apparently about 20,000 have been found and archived (see References). The selection was comprehensive; there was never even one single obscure R&B song from the 1940s or 50s that I couldn't find.

AFN record and an ordinary LP
An AFN record and a 12-inch LP
The black-and-white "AFN 16-inch record" photo above doesn't quite do justice. 16 inches is like a large pizza! I happen to have a 16-inch AFN disc from 1945 (no, I didn't walk home with it from AFN, I found it recently in EBay) and took some photos. The one at right shows it alongside a standard 12-inch LP that I bought at the Frankfurt PX in 1959. Click the image for more views. It may come as a surprise that AFN was using 33⅓rpm records during World War II, especially if you read the Wikipedia page[11] that says LPs weren't invented until 1948. But it was the LP (long-playing record) — not 33⅓rpm — that was invented in 1948; the early AFN 16-inchers are NOT long-playing except in comparison to the 10-inch records. As you can see, the 16-inch record shown here has only three songs on the side that is showing (Jo Stafford); the other side (Red Norvo Quartet) has four cuts; a typical music LP has six or seven. When I was at AFN in 1959-61, the 16-inch pop music disks had about 12 cuts per side. See and read more in the accompanying photo gallery.

1960-61 Radio Club
1960-61 Radio Club
Elvis interview schedule
In 11th grade I was presi­dent of the Radio Club. We were a close group and enjoyed ourselves immensely. Aside from playing music (not only teenager music but also recordings we made of school choirs and orchestras), doing high-school sports news, and so on, we sometimes inter­viewed celebrities who happened to be on the base, like the singer Joni James (I still have a vinyl Christmas album of hers). I'm pretty sure we interviewed Elke Sommer ("America's Sweetheart") and we almost interviewed Bridgitte Bardot; it fell through at the last minute. But the biggest interview we almost had was... Elvis. It was scheduled for December 7, 1959, at his house in Bad Nauheim (click the second image to see proof). But Colonel Parker wound up nixing it so we did all the other stuff on the list instead.

Before leaving the topic of Elvis, he was filming parts of GI Blues while I was there; there was some location shooting near me. This was kind of a joint Hollywood-Army production, and the Army did things the Army way. For example, painting the tires of Army Jeeps and trucks black and painting the grass in front of Army buildings green. I saw this. Just two years later I'd be doing it.

American Consulate General in Frankfurt 2017
Consulate General 2017
97th General Hospital
97th General Hospital 1960s
Anyway since I was now well-known at AFN, they asked me to take over a show, "Bedside Rock", previously hosted by Roger Norum (also of the FHS Radio Club, who had just graduated) at the 97th General Hospital, a US Army hospital originally built for the Luftwaffe in 1941; it was almost solid swastikas inside and it was enormous; the photo shows only a tiny part of it (click the image to see more views). After the US Army pulled out of Germany in 1995, they kept the hospital to serve casualties in all the wars they'd be having in the mideast but later that role was taken over by the hospital in Landstuhl and the 97th is now the American Consulate; the red crosses on the roof to ward off bombing attacks dated from the Luftwaffe days and were still there until the early 2000s, when they were painted over with light grey paint so you can still see where they were (second image, from Google Maps).

Strassenbahn No.13
Strassenbahn No.13
Trolley Line 13
Nº13 schedule
Owing to its vast­ness, the hos­pital had its own internal closed-circuit AFN "Bedside Network" station and I had the whole studio and record library all to myself every Thursday evening; this was the highlight of my radio career. I'd take the No.13 trolley after school to the hospital — Raimundstraße to Marbachweg, last stop at the far end of the Hauptfriedhof — eat dinner in the hospital snack bar, and then go up to the studio. I played rhythm and blues from late 1940s and early 50s plus a lot of jazz, and I also talked about whatever I felt like and invited anybody who might want to stop by and chat on the air. Since hospital workers were on duty and most patients were bedridden, I mainly got mental patients which made for lively discussions! I had no bosses, no supervisors, no reports to make, nothing. It was great fun with no pay.

Before leaving the topic of the Armed Forces Network, it should be noted that AFN Frankfurt played music of interest to teenagers only scant hours of the day; there was also "grown-up" pop music, country music, religious programming, "music in the air", Don McNeill's Breakfast Club, and so on. The other alternative for rock & roll and rhythm & blues was Radio Luxembourg, which broadcast our kind of music about five days a week, only in the evening. We thought it was a pirate station broadcasting from a ship in international waters, and in fact sometimes it was. Meanwhile, there was a pretty serious jazz scene in Frankfurt, as noted above; in addition to the Jazz Keller and Storyville, there was excellent jazz programming on the radio (Hessischer Rundfunk, Jazz Intermezzo with Joachim L. Spieren) featuring highly regarded Frankfurt cool-jazz groups like the Jutta Hipp Quintet and various Mangelsdorff groupings[9] (Albert Mangelsdorff wrote Jazz Intermezzo's theme song "Simone I").

  1. Armed Forced Network, Europe, at Walter Elkin's monumental U.S. Army in Germany website.
  2. The Story Of American Forces Network (AFN) (video), The Big Picture, Army Pictorial Center. A 30-minute film from 1963 about the history of AFN in Europe; it includes footage of the studio and record library where I worked in the Höchst castle just outside of Frankfurt.
  3. On The Air Over There, AFN Europe: Part 2 The Castle Years, 29-minute video about AFN Frankfurt at the Höchst castle... End of the War, Nürnburg trials, Berlin Airlift, Elvis, Beatles, Berlin Wall, JFK (there are three other parts to this series).
  4. Meria Petrich, Lost vinyl collection returned to AFN home, Northwest Guardian, 9 December 2011.
  5. American Forces Network, Wikipedia, accessed 10 December 2018.
  6. American Forces Network, German Wikipedia, accessed 10 December 2018.
  7. AFN Frankfurt, Wikipedia, accessed 13 December 2022.
  8. GI Blues, a very silly Elvis movie made while he was in the Army and partially filmed on base. He sings a song in German (Muß i denn).
  9. Heidi Laird, The Frankfurt Kitchen: Forty-One Stories of Growing Up in Post World War II West Germany, Fulton Books (2021), Chapter "The Höchst Palace", pp.245-262: Her experiences as a German girl listening to AFN Frankfurt in postwar years and visiting the AFN studios.
  10. Michael J. Budds, ed., Jazz and the Germans, Pendragon Press (2002).
  11. Dennis M. Spragg, The Armed Forces Radio Service, Glenn Miller Archive, University of Colorado at Boulder, September 2013.
  12. LP record, Wikipedia (accessed 12 December 2021).

Interlude: "The Warriors" Frankfurt style

Tom McCaffrey
Tom McCaffrey
Peter and I were watching one of his favorite movies recently (summer 2015), The Warriors (1979), in which one gang is chasing the members of another gang all over the NYC in the middle of the night. I told Peter, "you know, I had a night like that once", and described it to him. Peter said I had to put the story in here so here it is… When I was in high school in Frankfurt we used to go out drinking almost every night (not just the guys, the girls too, but this night was just the guys, about four of us). We went to random places, bars, Gasthauses… So we went in a bar on a dark side street that was very dark inside, sat at the bar and were drinking. One of us, Tom, goes to the bathroom. A bit later he comes out and says, "Let's get outa here", and hurries us out. We're walking (maybe staggering) down the block and suddenly a whole swarm of guys busts out of the bar and runs at us, like maybe 20 guys. So we we start running too, and they chase us through all the dark streets, yelling and cursing. Eventually they catch us and they restrain me and the other guys except Tom, and they beat the crap out of him, I mean REALLY… One ear was half torn off, teeth missing, eyes swollen shut, face unrecognizable, blood everywhere… (at least that's how I remember it). Then they leave. We take Tom in a taxi to the dispensary (Army word for small clinic on the base). They sewed him up, put bandages all over. Very painfully he explains what happened. When he went in the bathroom, the guy at the next urinal made a play for his parts so Tom clobbered him and left him on the floor. The place turned out to be a gay bar, but we barely even knew what "gay" was!

Food and drink

Most of the German places we went to for drinking also served food, sometimes just Butterbrot (chewy German black bread with unsalted butter or cheese), or soups… Bouillon mit Ei (chicken broth with a raw egg in it) or my favorite, Ochsenschwanzsuppe: thick, dark, and rich oxtail soup served with chewy Brötchen — white bread rolls but much tastier and crustier and chewier than American ones. And for a whole meal there was Wienerschnitzel, Jägerschnitzel (which is Wienerschnitzel with mushrooms and gravy), Zigeunerschitzel (spicy "Gypsy" Schnitzel), Leberknödel (liver dumplings), Rouladin (flank steak rolls with stuffing), roast chicken... these would be served with a delicious kind of subtle marinated "soft" salad that I've never seen anywhere else, and potatoes (or in Schwaben, Spätzle, where also in the Weinstuben, Westfälischer or Schwarzwälder ham would be served with the wine). Also in some places you could get a charcouterie that was an assortment of meats and sausages on a bed of Sauerkraut soaked in champagne (Mommie had that once at the Goldener Hecht in Heidelberg and it made her very silly).

On the street there were Bratwurst vendors, flame-grilled Bratwurst with Brötchen and German mustard, and later on (when I was in Army) there were a lot of Yugoslavian food stands and the things they sold were called Ćevapčići (phonetically chee-WOP-chi-chi) (Wikipedia) and (phonetically) DZHI-vich, which were both super-spicy, I think this was the first fiery-hot food I ever ate. And then besides these, there were Chinese and Italian restaurants that were uniformly excellent. A sit-down meal in a German restaurant never cost more than 4 Marks (one dollar) when I lived there.

Waitress with beer steins
Waitress with twelve big beer steins
Henninger Bier Stein
Henninger Bier Stein
Henninger Bier Stein
Binding Bier Stein
German Gasthauses (Gasthäuser) served beer in half-liter and liter steins, and serious beer­halls like Maier Gustl's in Frankfurt and the much larger Hof­bräu­haus in Munich also had five and even ten liter steins. The wait­resses could carry five or six one-liter steins in each hand and they did this all night; it was pretty amazing (see video). At the Hof­bräu­haus in Munich you could earn a 5-liter or 10-liter pin if you drank that much in one sitting (I could have done that, but only went there once, very briefly, and it was kind of a zoo).

Weihenstephan beer coaster
Founded 1040 AD
Beer culture in Germany was unique. Each town or area made its own lager beer with a distinct taste, following the Reinheitsgebot (Purity Law) that dates from the early 1500s and says that beer may contain only water, barley, and hops. Note: no preservatives, no chemicals, no flavorings. Of course big cities might make several brands. There weren't nationwide brands because the beer was unpasteurized and it might spoil before it reached some distant destination by truck. Many German brewing companies have been in business for hundreds of years, in some cases a thousand years. When I lived there, each bar, restaurant, and Gasthaus served only one kind of beer. Besides lager, by the way, there was also a completely different thing called Weizenbier, or wheat beer, served with lemon and usually found only in Gasthauses frequented by old men; it was famous for causing fart storms so Weizenbier establishments were not for the squeamish. The main Frankfurt beers were Henninger, Binding, and Frankfurter Brauhaus, but others were to be found, both native and imported from different parts of Germany.

Mr. Thompson

Mr. Thompson
Mr. Thompson teaching Russian
Reading Provda
Reading Pravda
From the class
Gift from the class
When I was in 11th grade, a math and science teacher offered a brand-new new Russian class, which I signed up for as soon as I heard about it. He had taught himself Russian, I don't know how. It was the best class I ever had in any school. His name was John Thompson, he was a WWII and D-Day Normandy Beach veteran, Battle of the Bulge, etc, something he never mentioned and I found out only 50 years later. He had a great fondness for the Soviet Union, probably owing to their part in the victory over Germany and he had us learn and sing Soviet songs, listen to Radio Moscow, and read Pravda (and, for fun, Krokodil). Bear in mind, this was in a US Army school! We had no textbook; he typed out the lessons on Russian and English typewriters and mimeographed them, even painstakingly adding two-part harmony sheet music in the case of the songs, such as Полюшке поле: the marching song of the Red Army.... by hand, with the aid of only a ruler. He liked to talk about the USSR… One day he said, "In the USA we have a lot
Polyushko polye
Полюшке поле
Vo pole bereza stoyala
rights, but the Soviet Union has one right that we have never had: the right to work!" I had to think about that for 30-40 years before I got it. Bill Fedor ('62) tells me that the next year (1961-62) "Russian II at FAHS ushered in Nina Potopova's Russian I and II textbooks that Mr Thompson purchased in Düsseldorf for DM4.20 each." Thanks to Bill for the song scans!

Binding Bier mug
Jerry's mug
Jerry Jacobs
Jerry Jacobs (front)
John Thompson was so enthusiastic and he worked so hard; he loved what he was doing. Besides Russian he also taught physics, math, biology, and photography. True, he was kind of a hardass (and he looked the part, like a Prussian)... He didn't appreciate kids fooling around in class; he could throw chalk at anybody in the room and hit them square in the forehead. One night my friend Jerry Jacobs and I stumbled out of a bar, literally falling-down drunk. Mr. Thompson happened to be walking by just then and he helped us get home like he was our best friend. The people in the picture are Jerry, Johnny Johnston (alias DJ, "Drunkard Johnston", a self-bestowed nickname), and me in the photo booth at the PX. The color picture shows the Binding Bier mug from Little Maier Gustl's that Jerry sent me for old times' sake shortly after I rotated but after 60-some years of washing now it's just a dull gray mug, no logo.

Mr. Thompson left FHS in 1962 and died in 2009, about ten years before he could have seen these Youtube videos, which I know he'd have enjoyed as much as I do!

Family Trips while living in Frankfurt

One good thing my Dad did while we were in Germany was to take us on lots of trips. As a teenager in high school I was kind of embarrassed to be traveling around with my parents, but in retrospect I'm glad we did.


See gallery ]
Don't Miss Berlin
Don't Miss Berlin!
DC-4 airliner
The DC-4 that took us to Berlin 1959
Landing at Tempelhof Airport
Landing at Tempelhof Airport
Our first trip was to Berlin in early 1959 which was in part still in ruins, like you can see in movies like The Big Lift and One Two Three. The flight to Berlin was on a Douglas DC-4 (4-engine propeller driven airliner, the civilian version of the C54 cargo plane used in WWII and in the airlift).

This was my first plane ride. I remember looking out the window and thinking East Germany looks the same as West Germany, just a lot of farms and little towns. But traveling across or over East Germany was a tricky business, there could be no deviation from the approved route. So… At some point the pilot came back into the passenger cabin and saw Dennis, who was a cute little 9-year-old, and asked him if he would like to fly the plane. Dennis said OK, my Dad said OK, so the pilot took him into the cabin. Next thing we knew this huge aircraft was peeling off to the right and in a steep dive. Then it recovered and the pilot, his face drained of blood, brought Dennis back to his seat without a word.

Landing at Tempelhof airport in Berlin was an adventure in itself. The airport was in the middle of the city and as the plane makes its descent there are apartment buildings on both sides, sometimes so close you can see in the windows. Tempelhof (which dated from 1927 and claimed to be the world's oldest operating commercial airport) lasted until 2008, when it was closed and converted to a "green space".

Helmstedt/Marienborn checkpoint
Helmstedt checkpoint 1963
For the record, it was also possible to go to Berlin by auto. You could cross into East Germany at Helm­stedt/​Marien­born (the nearest to Frankfurt of several crossing sites) and take a special route that was totally unmarked; if you lost your way you'd be detained. Another way to go was by a sealed train like the one Lenin rode in. Anyway while in Berlin I took some pictures with my Brownie Hawkeye that are now famous from having been published in several books, including a photo similar to the first one below left but no family (obviously I didn't take that one because I'm in it).

Berlin 1959 Brandenburg Gate
Brandenburg Gate 1959
Berlin 1959 Brandenburg Gate
East Berlin 1959 (pre-Wall)
The Reichstag
Reichstag 1959 (burned out since 1933)
Soviet War Memorial
Soviet War Memorial
Soviet War Memorial
Memorial inscription
Soviet War Memorial
Red Army soldiers
Olympic Stadium
1936 Olympic Stadium
Olympic Stadium
Olympic Stadium Eagle

In Berlin I saw the not-yet-walled-off Brandenburg Gate, the burnt-out Reichstag, the 1936 Olympic Stadium (where the swastikas had been chiseled out from under the eagles), the Soviet War Memorial, and Spandau Prison where Rudolf Hess, Albert Speer, and Baldur von Schirach were serving their Nürnberg sentences (Karl Dönitz had been released several years before; Speer was released in 1966 and published "Inside the Third Reich"; after Hess died in 1987, the prison was demolished to prevent it becoming a shrine). I saw the bust of Nefertiti at the Berlin museum. I crossed into East Berlin by myself because my father couldn't go there and bought some snacks at a Trink­halle. I paid with Deutschmarks and got change in Ostmarks made of aluminum. In the Stadium photo I'm standing where Hitler stamped his feet when Jesse Owens won the 100 meters.

Also see...
  1. Video: Berlin 1945 in color, Youtube (7 minutes, silent).
  2. Berlin 1961-62, photos from Robert Paul, a Frankfurt Elementary schoolmate of my brother Dennis, who visited Berlin in 1961 and again in 1962 with his family.
  3. Stunde Null (Zero Hour), early postwar Germany and Berlin, Wikipedia, accessed 25 February 2020.
  4. Book: Robert Grathwol and Donita Moorhus, Berlin and the American Military: A Cold War Chronicle, New York University Press, Second Edition (1999).
  5. Book: Hildegard Knef, The Gift Horse, McGraw-Hill (1971). Life in Berlin in the Nazizeit and the early postwar: an intense, fascinating, and unique narrative. Out of print; used copies can be found at Amazon, Alibris, and EBay. It's better in the original German, if you can read it (and find it), as Der Geschenkte Gaul.
  6. Hildegard Knef, brief biography at the DEFA Film Library at the University of Massachusetts.
  7. Book: Horst Bosetzky, Der Kalte Engel – dokumentarischer Kriminalroman aus dem Nachkriegs-Berlin, Berlin, Jaron Verlag (2002). Highly detailed descriptions of 1949-50 East and West Berlin. Also available in English as Cold Angel: Murder in Berlin 1949.
  8. Victor Grossman, The Wall 30 Years Later, November 2019. Was East Germany really as bad as all that?
  9. Victor Grossman books, a review by me of two books about East Germany by Victor Grossman.
  10. Trümmerfilm (Rubble films), Wikipedia, accessed 25 February 2020.
  11. Film: Die Die Mörder sind unter uns (1946), the first postwar German film and the first Trümmerfilm (rubble film), shot in the Soviet Zone of Berlin and starring Hildegard Knef and Ernst Wilhelm Borchert.
  12. Film: The Big Lift with Montgomery Clift and Cornell Borchers, about the Berlin Airlift, filmed in the rubble of West and East Berlin in 1950. It was originally going to star Hildegard Knef, but Borchers was substituted at the last moment for reasons Knef relates in her book.
  13. Film: The Man Between, a British rubble film starring James Mason, Claire Bloom, and Hildegard Knef. Filmed mainly on location in East Berlin in 1953 and directed by Carol Reed (who also directed The Third Man),
  14. Film: One, Two, Three with James Cagney and Horst Buchholz, filmed in West and East Berlin in 1961, just before the Wall.
  15. Berlin's battle scars remain 75 years after end of WWII – in pictures, The Guardian, 8 May 2020.
  16. Joseph Kanon, The Good German, Picador / Henry Holt and Company, 2001: 482 pages of total immersion in Berlin just after the European war ended in 1945; see the New York Times review. It was made into a film of the same name in 2006 that looks like it was filmed on location in 1945 but that twists the plot and characters beyond recognition.

Bavaria and Austria

Kehlsteinhaus 1959
Kehlsteinhaus 1959
Koenigsee St. Bartholmä
Salzburg double exposure
Church from 800AD
1200-year-old church
View from Mozart's window
Out Mozart's window
Nazi ruin in Berchtesgaden
Nazi ruin Berchtesgaden
Obersalzberg salt mines
Us at the Obersalzberg salt mines

High in the Bavarian Alps, Berch­tes­gaden and Ober­salz­berg where we saw the ruins of recently blown-up houses of Hitler, Goering, and Bormann, along with their secret bunkers and tunnels, Hitler's Kehlsteinhaus (Eagle's Nest), from there to Salzburg in Austria to see Mozart's birthplace, with a stop in the salt mines that you enter by sliding down a wooden ramp about a mile long.


The Venice of the North
Wooden shoes
Once my Mom took me and Dennis to Holland on a bus tour, that was the only time she ever did anything like that, being in charge on her own. Aside from that, Bonn (to see the birthplace of Beethoven, my dad's idol), plus countless castles and museums all over Germany. Neverending castle visits are pretty boring for teenagers. The Holland trip was kind of cool though; click on the Madurodam picture to enlarge it and look at it until you notice something odd.

About Holland… It was the first place I ever saw besides Army bases that was totally diverse. The parks were full of children of all races playing together, everybody intermarried, etc. I thought it must be the most progressive, enlightened place on earth, and maybe it was. Until it became the first capital of Islamophobia in the 2000s.

Evacuation Dry Run

Evacuation story
Evacuation story 1960
Another trip we took was a mandatory one for every Army family: a practice run for evacuating from Germany in case of a Soviet attack. You have to leave at an appointed time and only then do you find out the route and destination. It was on back roads, not the Autobahn, so it's hard to imagine all the 100s of thousands of American families trying to get out at once. Anyway we drove almost all the way to France on picturesque two-lane country roads. Still, this was 1960 and we were always expecting to be vaporized at any moment, hence my little Creative Writing story at right.


Hamburg Reeperbahn 1960
Die Große Freiheit, Hamburg 1960
Hamburg Reeperbahn 1960
Another view of "Beatles Street"
But our most epic trip — 2000 miles driving! — started with Hamburg (300 miles from Frankfurt), where I took a famous picture (left) of the street where the Beatles were playing before I had even heard of them (the photo has since been used in some books*); this was in the Reeperbahn district of Hamburg on the street called Die Große Freiheit. The color photo was taken by my dad at the same time; I include not only because it's clearer and higher resolution, but it's taken from an angle where the sign for the Beatles' first Hamburg spot, the Indra Club*, is visible towards the end of the street (click on the photo to enlarge it). They had only started playing there a few days before. He took us to the Reeperbahn not because of the Beatles, obviously, but because this is one of the places he came for sex while in the Navy.
* e.g. Elizabeth Partridge, John Lennon, All I Want Is the Truth, Viking Press (2005), pp.66-67.

...and Scandinavia

See Norway gallery ]
Denmark Viking rocks
Aalborg Viking rocks
Hirtshals, the ferry Skagen
Kristiansand Norway
Kristiansand Norway
Then up through Denmark — Aarhus, Aalborg... In one of these "Aa" towns we stayed at a small family hotel where my father told the owner that I played the guitar which prompted him to give me a huge pile of classical sheet music (with swastikas on every page). From Hirtshals — the very tippy-top of continental Western Europe — a four-hour ferry ride to Kristiansand, Norway... It was dark and cold and foggy so my family stayed inside but I was on deck at the rail, there was a girl there about my age and we tried finding a common language for communicating... Not Danish, not German, not English... Russian! A fleeting moment in life. We landed in Kristiansand about 8:00pm on a Saturday night and the place was totally dark, everybody was asleep, not even the street lights were on. No signs on anything either. We had to bang on doors until somebody told us where to find an inn, Mom remembered her Norwegian a little bit, then we banged on the inn door and the grumpy inkeeper came down carrying a candle and wearing one of of those sleeping costumes like in Dickens movies.

Frogner Park
Frogner Park, Oslo
Frogner Park
Frogner Park
We visited lots of spots in the countryside... Arendal, Brevik, Larvik, Drammen... as well as Oslo, spent almost a whole day in Frogner Park with the surreal statuary of Gustav Vigeland. From Oslo to Sweden on the only connecting road at the time, a one-lane dirt road through the mountains and forests (at one point we met a car coming in the opposite direction, and as there was no shoulder we had to back up several miles before it could squeeze past us). In Sweden we visited Jönköping, Linköping, Örebrö, Stockholm, and Nyköping (in that order I think) and spent a lot of Kroner and Øre, and learned that if we got into an accident and were lying in the ditch we had to holler "Hjeyelp, Hjeeyelp!", which Dennis and I did at every road stop. In those days hotels in Europe were mostly pensions, family-run small establishments and the rooms did not have baths; normally one bathroom was shared by all the rooms on each floor, or even the whole building. Furthermore, the shared bathroom didn't have a shower so bathing meant, literally, taking a bath. Inevitably, other guests would be pounding on the door the whole time.

The Little Mermaid Copenhagen
Little Mermaid Copenhagen
The Scandinavia trip was an adventure… it was the first time I ate yogurt, or even heard of it. Besides that the only good thing I had to eat was big bowls of berries with milk — blackcurrants, lingonberries, bright-orange cloudberries… One restaurant we went to, what they brought to eat when we asked for a "sandwich" (the only word we could say that they understood) was a slab of black bread with a raw whole fish on it, with a raw egg over the fish and whole peppercorns embedded in the egg slime. I couldn't imagine taking even one bite. My mom ate it though, scales, bones, teeth, eyeballs, and all. It's how she grew up; she never wasted food. Anyway, she liked it.

Stave Church at Borgund
Stave Church
Stave Church at Borgund
Stave Church side view
Houses with sod roofs
Houses with sod roofs
In Norway Mom mostly wanted to see the countryside because her family were peasants and she heard lots of stories passed down from her grand­parents. We saw the wooden Gol stave church (stavkirke), built about 1200; it impressed me a lot, it looks like cross between a Chinese pagoda and huge Viking ship and it was amazing to me that wood can last so long. Perhaps because stave churches are built without nails. Elsewhere we saw houses with sod roofs (pictured), but not the ones with flowers and shrubs growing on top and goats up there grazing, like she had always told me about.

Oslo Olympic ski jump
Oslo Olympic ski jump
Viking Ship in Oslo
Viking ship prow
Viking Ship in Oslo
Viking ship in Oslo
In Oslo we went to the Viking museum that had a per­fectly pre­served Viking ship that had been found in the water just outside. And the 1952 Winter Olympic stadium where we went up to the top of the ski jump. On the way back we stopped in Copenhagen for a few days, the only part I remember is the Tivoli Gardens one night where I wandered around on my own and saw the Delta Rhythm Boys performing in a tent. Speaking of vocal groups from the 1930s and 40s, once I also saw the Ink Spots at the Frankfurt Officers Club.
  1. Gustav Vigeland, Wikipedia (accessed 4 December 2023).
  2. Ragna Thiis Stang, The Art of Gustav Vigeland in 48 Pictures, The Vigeland Museum Series Number 1, Johan Grund Tanum, Oslo (1957).

Other trips

The cathedral in Köln
Köln cathedral
I have to hand it to my dad, he spared no expense nor effort to take us everywhere. When I sat with him at his deathbed, it was the main pride he had in his life. I had to agree with him. I can't even remember all the other trips... Heidelberg, Köln (Cologne), Rothenburg (an ancient walled city that people still live in)... Rothenburg was untouched by the war, but Köln was flattened, all but the cathedral, like Frankfurt. Of course every cathedral we visited, we climbed up to the top on ancient stone steps worn down smooth and contoured over the centuries. The photo of Rothenburg is probably the most-photographed spot in all of Germany. There was also a barely remembered trip to Switzerland, where there was some kind of expo going on in Luzern.

A trip we did NOT take, my Dad's idea of "bonding"… He wanted to take me to Villefranche to the brothel he frequented when he was a sailor in the 1930s. No thanks.

Leaving Germany

We were supposed to stay in Germany until I graduated from high school in 1962. But my dad was caught having an affair with a woman in his office and we were sent back a year early, in June 1961. This was a terrible blow to me, I loved living there, I had never been happier anywhere else. I really did not like Arlington and knew I would like it even less after finding out how much better life could be. I tried to convince him to leave me behind, I could be a dorm student, but no dice.

Diane Sutton
Diane Sutton
I had to give up the Radio Club and my radio show at the hospital; I turned it over to a friend, fellow FHS-er and Radio Club member Diane Sutton. She was surprised and a little apprehensive but I took her along a few times and showed her how to do everything, and she did it and she was fine.

On the SS America 1961
On the SS America 1961
SS America 2004
SS America today
Now it was our turn to rotate. We trav­eled back the same way we came, on the SS America, but from Le Havre (France) this time instead of Bremerhaven. We drove there, of course, from Frankfurt, stopping in Verdun for lunch where I was surprised to find out my dad spoke French! I don't think he ever studied it in school; he just picked it up from prostitutes when his Navy ship's home port was in Villefranche in the 1930s. Anyway, some of my Frankfurt friends were on the same ship and we got our old band together and played in the ballroom and people danced. The voyage was from July 14 to July 21, 1961.

Later years

I visited Frankfurt High in 1963 when I was in the Army stationed in Kaiserslautern; nothing had changed and there were still people there I knew (story in Army chapter). Then again on a Sunday in 1975 with Judy on our belated honeymoon. The school was open but nobody was there. We went in and wandered around; everything was exactly the same except there was now a glassed-in computer lab with Teletypes connected to an Interdata 7/16 minicomputer. The neighborhood was unchanged too, except the Platenstraße buildings, once painted a variety of pastel colors, were all white.

FHS lasted until 1995, five years after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of Cold War, when the US Army pulled out of the area and gave it all back to Germany. The buildings at WAC Circle (PX, Commissary, snack bar, etc) were torn down and the space is now occupied by the new Hessisches Polizeipräsidium. The IG Hochhaus is now a campus of Goethe University. Frankfurt High School is now the Phillipp-Holzmann Schule; its athletic field survived until about 2020 when it became the site of the new Adorno Gymnasium. The American housing areas except HiCoG are now occupied by Germans, Turks, Greeks, Syrians, and other residents of Germany; the 3-story buildings are pastel colors again but the "redensified" ones are white. HiCoG houses the American consular families.

  1. Farewell to Frankfurt, Karl Weisel, Soldiers, The Official U.S. Army Magazine, Volume 50, Number 1 (January 1995), pp.22-23.
  2. Frankfurt High's Final Bell, Helke Hasenauer, Soldiers, op.cit., pp.24-25.
  3. The Abrams Building and the American Experience in Frankfurt 1945-1995, V Corps 30-minute video (1995).
  4. Report 4: Restructuring the US Bases in Germany, Internationales Konversionszentrum Bonn (June 1995).

Most recent update: 2 May 2024 16:53:35