Contributor Post Created with Sketch. ‘Twas the Season in West Germany

 

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 Group Writing
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  1. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown

    This conversation is part of our Group Writing Series under the December 2020 Group Writing Theme: “’Tis the Season.” Stop by soon, our schedule and sign-up sheet awaits.

    Interested in Group Writing topics that came before? See the handy compendium of monthly themes. Check out links in the Group Writing Group. You can also join the group to get a notification when a new monthly theme is posted.

    • #1
    • December 1, 2020, at 8:28 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  2. Randy Webster Member

    When dad was stationed in France, probably in the late 50’s, we went to the mess hall for Thanksgiving dinner.

    • #2
    • December 1, 2020, at 9:01 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  3. RushBabe49 Thatcher

    Playing the full-length Messiah, every note, with a small pickup orchestra and choir of hundreds, at the University Unitarian Church in Seattle, every December 26 for the last 15 years. The Church put on that fund-raiser for fifty years. We started precisely at 7:00PM, and left after 11:00PM, totally drained but happy. The choir was never the same two years in a row, and neither was the orchestra. The singers packed the place to the rafters, and we orchestra players sometimes forgot to play, while listening to the singers. They were excellent.

    With the emphasis on “were”. For the first time in 50 years, the University Unitarian Messiah was cancelled this year, and if our epidemiological “experts” have their way, it will never resume. Never. Too risky, in the new “era of Covid”, for any kind of choral music. The Left destroys everything it touches, and this year they have destroyed choral music everywhere. I am Jewish, and this tradition was something I looked forward to every single year. I would have been happy to take the risk of getting the virus, for the joy of playing Handel’s Messiah. But we were not allowed by the medical powers-that-be, who threaten to lock us down again. It will be a sad Boxing Day this year.

    • #3
    • December 1, 2020, at 9:26 PM PST
    • 12 likes
  4. Hartmann von Aue Member

    Alas, Christkindlmärkte sind coronabedingt verboten heuer! It is very disheartening to most. Our Christian community house, Koinonia, is doing instead a “Lebendiger Adventskalender” . Johannes Mair, one of our neighbors whom we also know through the Augsburg House of Prayer, noticed back in September that we have exactly 24 windows on the side of the house facing the street, so we made these silhoutte pictures with multicolored filter paper and will illuminate a new one every night for the next 23 days, accompanied with worship music and a short reading. The whole village parish has been invited and turn out so far has been good. I will send pictures later. 

    • #4
    • December 1, 2020, at 11:37 PM PST
    • 15 likes
  5. Susan Quinn Contributor

    Your story is a very special one. I especially liked the intimacy of your practicing your faith with the locals, and then being invited into their homes. That wouldn’t necessarily be our first assumption with the Germans, but it is a time when faith brings people together. Thanks for a lovely story, Clifford.

    • #5
    • December 2, 2020, at 5:45 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  6. PHCheese Member

    This wasn’t a holiday experience but you discussed Germans following rules. We were in Germany in the nineties, I did remember the town but it was probably in the Rhine valley. It was on Sunday and the stores were closed. The locals were window shopping and the street was closed to vehicles on the weekends. We walked one side and came to a corner and we wanted to cross to walk the other side. There was a light at the corner and although you could see a couple of blocks in each direction that no vehicles were coming everyone stood and waited for the light to change. Probably 75 people. Everyone waited except a couple from Pittsburgh where we don’t even cross at the corner. Jay is our middle names. If looks could kill. Of course everyone was to polite to say anything.

    • #6
    • December 2, 2020, at 6:38 AM PST
    • 8 likes
  7. Hartmann von Aue Member

    PHCheese (View Comment):

    This wasn’t a holiday experience but you discussed Germans following rules. We were in Germany in the nineties, I did remember the town but it was probably in the Rhine valley. It was on Sunday and the stores were closed. The locals were window shopping and the street was closed to vehicles on the weekends. We walked one side and came to a corner and we wanted to cross to walk the other side. There was a light at the corner and although you could see a couple of blocks in each direction that no vehicles were coming everyone stood and waited for the light to change. Probably 75 people. Everyone waited except a couple from Pittsburgh where we don’t even cross at the corner. Jay is our middle names. If looks could kill. Of course everyone was to polite to say anything.

    An Austrian cop almost arrested me for jaywalking once. No kidding. He only stopped when I showed him my Indiana driver’s license. 

    Austrian cop (really young guy by the way, no older than I was at the time): So this is a Fahrausweis?

    Hartmann: Ja. 

    AC: But what do you do in America? Do you not wait on the lights?

    H: We just look in both directions and make sure the street is clear. 

    AC (horrified look on his face): But that’s so dangerous!

    • #7
    • December 2, 2020, at 7:27 AM PST
    • 13 likes
  8. Jon Gabriel, Ed. King

    You mentioned Bavaria’s love of order which reminded me of a story.

    My dad had a business trip to Munich in the ’80s and, since he was half-German ethnically, he added a few days to have a guided tour of the area. Being his first and only trip overseas, I asked if it was fun visiting his homeland (two generations removed). He said, “I’m so glad to be home. Those people are crazy.”

    To get an idea of my dad, think half Archie Bunker, half Ron Swanson. Pro-America, no BS, zero pretense. He was a simple, straightforward, old-school guy. So I asked him what he meant.

    “In downtown, everyone’s walking a little dog. Everyone! And you know what? I didn’t see one piece of dog [expletive] the whole trip! They’re either really good at clean-up or their dogs are too afraid to [expletive].”

    Then he told me about their (expensive) tour.

    “The first day, the bus driver said ‘this bus will leave each morning at 8. It will not leave at 7:59. It will not leave at 8:01. If you are not seated, you will not be on that day’s tour!’ Everyone laughed, thinking he was joking about Germans being uptight. He was not.”

    “The next day, one couple wasn’t there at 8 but the American passengers wouldn’t let the bus move until they got on — two minutes late. The tour guide was furious the whole day.”

    My dad was very orderly as well but was a piker compared to these folks. He did like one thing about the trip: touring his company’s factory. “The cafeteria had free beer at lunch! Really good beer too!”

    • #8
    • December 2, 2020, at 1:59 PM PST
    • 9 likes
  9. JoelB Member

    My church has a candle-light service every year. With our five kids we often arrived late and sat in the back. I have always enjoyed watching the light get passed across the rows as the light of a single candle becomes a congregation full of lights filling the room. How appropriate a symbol of the Gospel message!

    But that is not the last of it. One year we were seated in the front row and I turned around and watched as not just the candles were lit, but each face seemed to burst out of the darkness one at a time. He knows us not just as a congregation, but as individuals – His children.

    • #9
    • December 2, 2020, at 2:06 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  10. Percival Thatcher
    PercivalJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Chicago has had a Christkindlesmarkt since ’96 or so.

    It’s actually pretty nice, or it was. Mayor Lori has outlawed nice.

    • #10
    • December 2, 2020, at 2:51 PM PST
    • 8 likes
  11. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil FawltyJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Jon Gabriel, Ed. (View Comment):
    “In downtown, everyone’s walking a little dog. Everyone! And you know what? I didn’t see one piece of dog [expletive] the whole trip!

    Not Amsterdam.

    • #11
    • December 2, 2020, at 3:14 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  12. Bruce Caward Thatcher
    Bruce CawardJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I am heading over to see my girlfriend in Monchengladbach (outside of Dusseldorf) next week. I saw her letztes Weinachten, with no idea it would be a whole year before we were together again.

    I love the Christmas Markets, an opportunity to score some Printen (like gingerbread, but more German – lecker!). She says they will still be open, but probably smaller. Worth a trip over to Aachen, about an hour. Very nice Markt, and the home of Printen. 

    That is if we are allowed to travel at all. :-(

    • #12
    • December 2, 2020, at 5:16 PM PST
    • 6 likes
  13. Hartmann von Aue Member

    Bruce Caward (View Comment):

    I am heading over to see my girlfriend in Monchengladbach (outside of Dusseldorf) next week. I saw her letztes Weinachten, with no idea it would be a whole year before we were together again.

    I love the Christmas Markets, an opportunity to score some Printen (like gingerbread, but more German – lecker!). She says they will still be open, but probably smaller. Worth a trip over to Aachen, about an hour. Very nice Markt, and the home of Printen.

    That is if we are allowed to travel at all. :-(

    Austria according to die Welt online has practically closed the border. And all the ski slopes are shut down. Fröhliche Weihnachten!

    • #13
    • December 3, 2020, at 12:25 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  14. Hartmann von Aue Member

    Percival (View Comment):

    Chicago has had a Christkindlesmarkt since ’96 or so.

    It’s actually pretty nice, or it was. Mayor Lori has outlawed nice.

    Lovely photo, Percy. All the time we lived in Champaign, we never made it to Chicago for the Christkindlmarkt, lamentably. 

    • #14
    • December 3, 2020, at 12:26 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  15. Front Seat Cat Member

    I love your story. The food, decorations and festivities in Germany remind me of my growing up years. No – I’m not German, but Polish and Ukrainian descent. My dad, aunt and uncles went through the 2nd World War (serving at the tail end), the Great Depression, etc. I never knew my grandparents, but life was hard and harsh or them, as I learned in my adult years.

    The tree ornaments we had said Made in Germany. My aunt loved the little wooden ornaments – stars, angels, toys – they were frugal. We got to pick one thing from the Sears catalogue (although I had a relative who worked for Mattel and always got a pile of gifts!). I usually got an orange and a bag of candy in my stocking. Gingerbread was always made, but candlelight service on Christmas eve was the most important. After we got home, we got a treat and got to open one gift. I think their European heritage had a big influence on what I experienced growing up and still love those things. I would love to experience the German Christmas Market.

    • #15
    • December 3, 2020, at 9:02 AM PST
    • 5 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  16. Dave L Member
    Dave LJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I was stationed in Germany about a decade before you in Erlangen, North of Nuremberg. I was a young tank/scout platoon leader and company XO in 2/81 Armor. I remember the Christkindlesmarkt well, I can still almost taste the bratwurst and brotchen. However, I was never a big fan of the Gluhwein, I preferred the German beer. During my tour we seemed to spend most of our time on maneuvers, or at one of the three major training areas: Grafenworhr, Hohenfels, or Wildflecken. I have memories of more than one holiday meal in those sunny vacation spots.

    .

    • #16
    • December 3, 2020, at 4:32 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  17. Randy Webster Member

    Dave L (View Comment):

    I was stationed in Germany about a decade before you in Erlangen, North of Nuremberg. I was a young tank/scout platoon leader and company XO in 2/81 Armor. I remember the Christkindlesmarkt well, I can still almost taste the bratwurst and brotchen. However, I was never a big fan of the Gluhwein, I preferred the German beer. During my tour we seemed to spend most of our time on maneuvers, or at one of the three major training areas: Grafenworhr, Hohenfels, or Wildflecken. I have memories of more than one holiday meal in those sunny vacation spots.

    .

    Do they still do Reforger?

    • #17
    • December 3, 2020, at 4:38 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  18. Dave L Member
    Dave LJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    “Do they still do Reforger?”

    I don’t know, but I doubt it.

    • #18
    • December 3, 2020, at 5:13 PM PST
    • 1 like
  19. Percival Thatcher
    PercivalJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Dave L (View Comment):

    “Do they still do Reforger?”

    I don’t know, but I doubt it.

    I don’t think so. The last one was in 1992. They do Operation Bright Star instead, which involves sending a smaller force to Egypt.

    • #19
    • December 3, 2020, at 5:23 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  20. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown

    Hartmann von Aue (View Comment):

    Alas, Christkindlmärkte sind coronabedingt verboten heuer! It is very disheartening to most. Our Christian community house, Koinonia, is doing instead a “Lebendiger Adventskalender” . Johannes Mair, one of our neighbors whom we also know through the Augsburg House of Prayer, noticed back in September that we have exactly 24 windows on the side of the house facing the street, so we made these silhoutte pictures with multicolored filter paper and will illuminate a new one every night for the next 23 days, accompanied with worship music and a short reading. The whole village parish has been invited and turn out so far has been good. I will send pictures later.

    I love your Christian community’s response to the government Grinches. 

    • #20
    • December 4, 2020, at 5:26 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  21. TBA Coolidge

    I also was in Germany for a few Christmas markets and remember the carts with roasted chestnuts – something I was only accustomed to getting in song. 

    • #21
    • December 6, 2020, at 4:41 PM PST
    • 3 likes