I awoke unusually early this past Sunday morning.
It wasn’t that I wanted to rise early, it was because I simply couldn’t sleep. As one ages, I suppose, those comfortable eight-hour sleep nights get fewer and farther between.
So as not to awake Judy, I turned on the television with a low (very low) volume and began going from channel to channel in an effort to find something watchable. I settled on one of the sports stations when I saw that Nuremberg was playing against Berlin in the national German soccer league.
Suddenly, I found my mind racing back more than half a century. After spending some time at Fort Gordon, Ga., my orders had come through – I’d be heading to Germany to complete my tour of duty. I didn’t really want to go overseas, but Germany was a great place to be headed. Afterall, there were basically only two other choices – Vietnam or Korea.
My orders told me I’d be heading to the 5th Army, which was headquartered in Heidelberg. Orders have a way of changing, however. After my two weeks’ leave, I reported back to duty at Fort Dix, N.J. That was the debarkation point for soldiers heading to Europe. Once my plane landed in Frankfurt, I was handed a new set of orders – I’d be going to the 4th Armored Division Headquarters in a place called Goeppingen, south of Stuttgart. After I arrived in Stuttgart and spent the obligatory two-weeks’ indoctrination, I learned I’d be headed to Furth.
I was disappointed, but it turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me during my military service, which lasted from 1965 until early in 1968.
Furth is a smaller suburb of Nuremberg and, at the time, was home to a place called Monteith Barracks, named after a WWII soldier named “Monteith.” Made sense to me.
Anyway, after arriving there I learned that I’d be sports editor for the 4th Armored Division newspaper, a paper called “The Rolling Review” because of the division’s main thrust, which was those big green Army tanks.
A strange thing happened, though, early in my 18-months in Germany. With a newspaper to publish every other week at the afternoon newspaper in Nuremberg, next to Furth, it meant the editor, John Moon from Minneapolis, and I would spend three or four days downtown at the “Nuremberg Abendtzeitung” – the Nuremberg Afternoon Newspaper where our own Rolling Review was printed.
It was there we met a man named Gunter Jaeckel. After a couple issues were printed, Gunter asked John and I if we’d like to join him and his friends at what was called a “Stammtisch.” It was a group of friends, who shared a common hobby (photography in this case) who met every Friday night at the same table in the same local gasthaus, what is more commonly called a tavern in America.
John and I must have fit right in with that group because it became a regular Friday thing for us. We’d walk a half-mile to downtown Furth and board a trolley that took us downtown to Nuremberg and the Katrinenklause.
Soon, we two Americans fit right in and were included in every activity the German friends did together – playing soccer on weekends, participating in a couple 25-km walks, mountain climbing in the Alps and many other activities.
One thing, in particular, became a favorite pastime for us both – Deutsche Fotball. That’s what they called soccer in Germany. Nuremberg was in the top German soccer league and played its home games in a large stadium with room for about 60,000 fans. However, it was different than our own outside stadiums in that there were only about 15,000 seats – all the other places were standing.
We stood because it was cheaper.
It was different, too, because fans were allowed to bring beverages in from outside. Since we could purchase a six-pack of American beer (Schlitz or Carling Black Label) for 55 cents at our local Post Exchange, it was obvious we’d carry that to the games.
But a strange thing happened during that first game as I stood, my six-pack of 3.2 percent alcohol Schlitz beer resting at my feet.
First came a tap on my shoulder. “Ist das Amerikanischen Bier?” asked a soccer fan behind me. “Ja,” I immediately replied.
The man asked me, almost begged me actually, to sell him one can of Schlitz for a German Mark. At that time, one Mark was about 25 cents in American money. Quickly, I sold him the Schlitz and took his Mark to the “Bier” stand where I bought a big, big German beer for … you guessed it … one Deutsche Mark. In fact, I sold every single can of Schlitz to Germans wanting a taste of American beer and traded every Mark I’d collected for potent, good-tasting German Bier.
One of the Germans said, “Das ist Nur Wasser,” after tasting the Schlitz – “this is only water.”
“Sure,” I thought, but you wanted it. “I didn’t ask you to buy it.”
We went to many German league soccer games that year. Every time we went, we were among a new group of Germans. John and I soon each carried a six-pack of Schlitz to the soccer games. We never had a problem selling them to Germans who wanted to taste American beer.
Yup, I’d trade one of those for a good, hearty German “Bier” any day, soccer game or not.