A few weeks after our move to Columbia, Maryland, in the fall of 1967, I flew out of Dulles airport on my first trip to Europe. The purpose of the trip was for me to introduce some of our overseas personnel to a new research tool that I had developed at NSA. My initial stop was at Frankfurt am Main, where I had a quick and unpleasant introduction to the meaning of jet lag. A day or two later, after visiting several field stations in the Frankfurt area, I moved on to Stuttgart. From that city, my guide and I travelled by automobile to Nuremberg and Kassel and then back to Frankfurt. We visited several field stations on our way, I gave many briefings, and we saw much of the German countryside. Before leaving for home my friend and guide George Wood took me to the Rhine River region, and we had an interesting tour of the old university town of Heidelberg. My memories and impressions of the trip include the following:
o I dined at a few excellent German restaurants during my trip. Water was almost never served, but wine was everywhere. Since I didn’t drink wine, I quickly learned to order traubensaft or applesaft (grape juice or apple juice) as a substitute.
o I particularly enjoyed a visit to one restaurant where, after the meal was finished, the clients all raised their glasses and began singing hiking and marching songs. Many of the tunes, though not the words, were familiar to me. Everyone appeared to be having a grand time.
o My favorite German dish was wienerschnitzel. I wish I had a really good recipe.
o The Germans drove the autobahns like madmen. I don’t believe there was any speed limit. Accidents were few, but when they occurred they were often horrific.
o I visited the I. G. Farben building in Frankfurt. The building was being used by our own people in 1967. While there I thought of I. G. Farben’s many contributions to the German war effort in World War II — particularly their development of Zyklon B, the gas used to kill hundreds of thousands of Jews and other so-called “undesirables” in Nazi concentration camps.
o One of our field sites was located on the site of an old Luftwaffe base. When we walked into the base dining hall we could see the names of pilots emblazoned on the walls. It was sobering to reflect on how few of those young men survived the war. The large double doors to the dining hall were constructed of solid wood and there was ornate carving on the face of each door. I recall the image of some sort of superman holding a flaming torch — undoubtedly a symbol of German youth leading the way toward a brave new world. Underneath the somewhat pagan symbol was etched the words “Anno Domini 1937.” It all seemed rather sad and incongruous.
I returned home to my family in Columbia in late November. We were living in a large apartment in Bryant Woods as we waited completion of our home in Faulkner Ridge. We moved into the new domicile in early January 1968.
One thought on “Off to Deutschland”
I just read your blog about your visit to Germany. The blog brings back many memories for me, since I was sent to Germany in 1954 as a private in the army as a member of the occupational forces. I spent only one year in Germany, but learned to love the people and the country during that time. I have, since that first visit, been back to Germany on two separate trips.
My second trip to Germany was at the expense of a German company with whom I did business. The trip was led by John Gundlach, who had been a pilot in the Luftwaffe during the war. He spent a little more than six months as a prisoner-of-war in San Francisco and decided that America was where he wanted to be. Henceforth, John became a salesman for this company which imported German textile fiber into the US. Oddly enough, it was a Jewish owned company with headquarters in New York where John resided. John and I remained friends for many years until I finally lost touch with him in the early nineties. During that second trip, I, along with 14 others, toured all over the western sector while visiting different industries along the way. We also made a trip through Check Point Charlie for a look at what was happening in East Berlin. What a difference there was between East and West Berlin in 1968.
My last trip to Germany was in 1992 when I led 14 family members on a tour that lasted for 14 days. During that time, we tried to cover all of the places that I had visited, but the family liked Munich and Bavaria so much that we missed seeing a few places. We did, however, return to Berlin, and I found it so nice to be able to walk freely through the Brandenburg Gate. In 1968, the Gate was still blocked off by the wall.
During that last trip, we had one member of the group who had a very special reason for going; he had been a prisoner-of-war in Germany and was going back to Germany for the first time since 1945. He wanted to visit one of the three Concentration Camps where he had been held, but all three had long since been closed. We settled on a visit to Dachau, and what an experience that was. Immediately, he met another man who had also been a POW. The two of them led us through and just listening to their comments to one another was unbelievable. What a wonderful trip we had, and I would love to go back one more time.