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I experienced Christmas 1987 through 1989 in West Germany, in the heart of Bavaria, serving as a young Air Defense Artillery officer in the Army Reagan rebuilt. This was just before the influx of disillusioned East Germans and other relatively lawless former Warsaw Pact people, corrupted by the poison of living compromised lives under communism. West Germans were rule-followers. Ordnung muss sein! There must be order! The affirmative answer to “is everything alright?” “Alles ist in Ordnung.”
Everything is in order. One result was that private and public spaces were clean, neat, in order. At the same time, we and the British Army of the Rhine (by its name still an occupying force) had our boots firmly on the backs of a people who had shown a particular penchant for mass violence against others. So, I got to experience German culture and society at its best. I remember two German traditions and an American military tradition.
Every Advent season, the city of Nuernberg (Nuremberg) hosted an ancient Christmas market, a Christkindlesmarkt (Christ Child market), in the stone-paved old town square. Merchants peddled their wares in neat rows of stalls, constructed much as they had been for centuries. I purchased teapots with tea-light warmers underneath and some number of ceramics in the form of old town homes, churches, and public buildings. These are illuminated by tea lights. I do not recall what else I purchased.
What I most remember are the food stalls at the end of the rows. There you found small white local sausages, Nürnberger Rostbratwurst served three to a fresh, warm, crusty roll with stone ground mustard. The crisp winter air was filled with this scent and the accompanying Glühwein (hot mulled wine). The combination was just the right thing in a winter outdoor market, set in a centuries old town square, the Hauptmarkt or high market since the Middle Ages. The practical and ornamental items I purchased there are still in our family’s use to this day.
Shortly after I reported for duty at a small post on a local hilltop, a brother in Christ sorted out that I was a believer and invited me to venture beyond the battalion’s pro forma chapel program. On weekends when we were in garrison, not out on field maneuvers or gunnery, he and I would join a small charismatic congregation in an upper room, a real rented upper room of a building in Nuremberg or Furth (the municipality grown directly adjacent to the city of Nuremberg). After a year of breaking bread together in church, we were invited to break bread together at a family’s semi-rural home on the second day of Christmas, Zweite Weinachten. Where Christmas Day was spent with family, 26 December was more about entertaining guests.
So it was that two young American Army officers were invited to gather at the family table of a religiously very non-traditional German family for a very traditional Bavarian meal. The main course meat dish was especially appropriate for a gathering of people from a charismatic congregation. Yes, it was tongue, beef tongue. How was it? Well prepared, tasty, but definitely a little stringy.
My third memory, driven by my last duty position in Germany, is of Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners in the dining facility, AKA the mess hall. For single soldiers and for families far away from home, the dining facility put on special menu dinners for special occasions. Thanksgiving was the biggest, followed by Christmas. Christmas Dinner, like Thanksgiving, was served at the lunch meal time, midday. Officers and senior sergeants, if in garrison, would show up in their dress uniforms (perhaps with Santa caps) to serve their junior soldiers the meal.
I still cherish these memories, and I got paid to experience all of them! What are your favorite memories or traditions from this season?Published in