I graduated from high school in Petersburg, Virginia in June 1965. My father, who was stationed at Fort Lee, Virginia, received orders for a new assignment to Heidelberg, Germany starting in August 1965. This caused some problems for me since I couldn’t get my transcripts to the University of Maryland, Munich Campus (UMMC) in time to start the Fall semester at Munich. Therefore, I had to wait until the Winter semester which started in January 1966 to attend the UMMC.
I spent the first five months getting used to Germany and accustomed to the “German way of life” and acquainted to my new surroundings in Heidelberg. Unfortunately for me, I’d learned to speak Spanish in high school, so the only foreign language I could speak was Spanish, not German. This turned out to be a big problem for me for a while.
Well, the five months went by fast so it was time for me to head to Munich to attend my first semester at UMMC. My parents couldn’t drive me to UMMC because we were still waiting for our car to arrive from Virginia so my parents purchased a one-way German train ticket for me to Munich. They put me on the train at the Heidelberg Hauptbahnhof and wished me luck and success at the UMMC. They told me I didn’t have to worry about the train ride, because friends told them that I wouldn’t have to get off the train until it arrived in Munich. With that information, I found a free seat in a very nice train compartment and put my suitcase in the rack above my seat.
There were three Germans in the compartment with me, but they didn’t speak that much English so it was a quiet train ride until the train pulled into the Stuttgart train station. As I said, every was going just fine, until the train started backing out of the train station and didn’t continue to go forward. I panicked and started asking the Germans in my compartment why the train was going backwards. Of course, they didn’t understand why I was getting so upset. Finally, I left the compartment and started looking for the train conductor who checked my ticket on the way to Stuttgart.
I finally found him and I showed him my ticket and kept asking him if the train was going to Munich. He looked confused at me and just kept saying, “JA, JA, JA Muenchen Muenchen!!! I looked at him and said, no I mean Munich, Munich and he kept saying “Ja, JA, Muenchen.
To my luck, two couples were walking towards me and they could see I was having a panic attack. Both couples were Americans and asked me what was my problem. I told them about the train backing out of Stuttgart and they all laughed and told me not to worry that the train was going to Munich. They then asked me what I was doing on the train and if I was new to Germany which I said yes. They were going to Munich, too, so they recommended that I come back with them to their compartment and they would try to give me a fast history lesson in “the strange German ways”.
I was so glad and relieved to have run into these people, so for the remainder of the train ride I received a very fast course on the German ways. They asked if I knew what Schnitzel was and I said no, what a brotchen was, a Spezi, pommes frites, schnapps, currywurst, etc. They all laughed again and then began to fill me in on the essentials I needed to know to function in Germany. I was so thankful for their help and when we arrived in the Munich train station, I thanked them very much for their help and we all went our separate ways.
My dad had told me when I arrived in Munich I should walk out the front of the train station and get a taxi to take me to McGraw Kaserne. Well, he was right, there was a very long line of taxi cabs right out the front door of the Munich train station. I walked up to a taxi cab driver and started to get in his taxi and he ran up to me and said NEIN, NEIN, NEIN!!!! I couldn’t understand why he was yelling at me and wouldn’t let me get into his taxi. He looked at me, still yelling, but kept pointing at the taxis in front of his taxi. The one rule the couples forgot to tell me was, you have to get into the first taxi in line– another new German rule I learned. I got into the first taxi and told the taxi driver I wanted to go to McGraw Kaserne, he looked at me a little strange and kept saying something back at me in a strange dialect (found out it was Bayerisch).
Anyway, I finally arrived at the front gate of McGraw Kaserne, the taxi driver took my suitcase out of the trunk, I paid him (didn’t know I was supposed to tip him) and off he went very mad at me. (By the way, there was about 1 1/2 ft. of snow on the ground that day.) I walked into the building on the right (found out it was called the “Glass House” the girl’s dorm) and asked where Beukema Hall was located (Freshman Boy’s Dorm). Lucky for me, there were two boys who had just dropped off their girlfriends and they were on their way to Beukema Hall.
I arrived at Beukema Hall looking for room B-5, which I found and the door was open. Nobody was there, but a Prefect saw me wandering around, so he showed me where my assigned bed was located. He left, so I started to empty my suitcase and put my clothes into my assigned wall locker and chest of drawers. Right after I finished unpacking my suitcase, my first roommate came walking in. He introduced himself and told me I was taking over his old roommate’s assigned area because he flunked out. He showed me around the apartment, which had two bedrooms, one bathroom, a bunkbed in the living room and my bed was setup was in the dining room area. He also told me his dad was in the Air Force and there were three other roommates with dads in the Air Force and two other roommates dads were in the Army like my dad. (Total of 7 of us in B-5). It turned out all four Air Force roommates had the two bedrooms. The four Air Force roommates’ dads were stationed in England, one Army roommate’s dad was stationed in France and the other Army roommate’s dad was stationed in Heidelberg, Germany, like my dad.
My new roommate asked me if I would like him to show me around UMMC to which I said YES!!!!!!! Well, he showed me where all the different dorms were located, the college building which also had the commissary and movie theater in it, the snack bar and then he asked me if I would like to see some of the bars outside McGraw Kaserne. He showed me Die Frau, 5 and 5, Student Keller and the Blue Room. We ended up in the Blue Room where many students were hanging out all ready. He introduced me to several of the students and asked me if I would like a beer, and to which of course, I said YES!!
To my surprise, the waitress bought to our table two VERY LARGE liter mugs of beer. I couldn’t believe my eyes. At that point in my life, I had only drunk beer out of a pint beer can, I had a swimming pool worth of beer sitting in front of me.
Long story short, I eventually drank the whole thing, feeling very proud of myself until he asked me if I wanted another one. I was in shock, I told him I thought I needed to get back to the room and sort through my things. He said okay and I left. When I got back to the room, I fell on my bed and slept until the next morning. When I finally woke up, I went to the bathroom and found out that large liter beer gave me the runs!!!! HA! HA!
I ended up surviving UMMC and have always looked back at my days at UMMC with very fond memories and some great friends.
Stephen R. Sirbaugh
Circe Olson Woessner
When I was in middle and high school, I played trombone in my school band. One of the neat things about being in a DODDS school is that we had lots of opportunity to play with students from German, French, Canadian and other DODDS schools throughout the year.
When I was 13, members of the 33rd Army band came to work with us, and then we gave a joint concert that evening.
In my journal from that time, I wrote that we played “MacArthur Park”, “Spirit of ‘76”, Drums of America” and “Mississippi Suite”. I also noted that one of the Army trombone players told me that while my embouchure was good, my breathing was off—I was breathing through my nose and chest, and I needed to fill my stomach with air. He gave me his gold-plated mouthpiece to use until he “came back down to Karlsruhe”. 45 years later, I still have it.
Sometimes our “pep” band would give short concerts downtown in the town square, or in front of the big Herties department store. On May 7th, 1976, I recorded that it was 90 degrees at our concert, and we were sweating in our white turtleneck sweaters and black blazers! I remember that because of the heat, I felt sick and had a headache, which lasted for days.
Our band usually traveled with our sports teams, and it was customary to swap spirit buttons or ribbons with kids from other schools. Once, we were at either Baden or Lahr doing a joint concert with the Canadian school kids, and I didn’t have any buttons to swap, so I asked the Canadians to autograph my brotchen instead. One of the boys said, “You do set trends, Circe”. Later, while trying to preserve the bread roll, I inadvertently burned it to charcoal in the oven…so much for setting trends!
Because we did so many things regularly with kids from different schools, we developed real friendships, and often, we’d hop on a train and go visit each other outside of school events.
We all looked forward to the weeklong international band camp. Students from Karlsruhe American High School, Canadian kids from the bases at Baden and Lahr, and students from French and German schools came together in a castle/former monastery/ youth hostel in Maulbronn for a week of music and friendship. At the end of the week, we gave a huge concert to a huge crowd (probably mostly parents and military officials) and it was a Very Big Deal.
Reading back through my journal from that year, I noted that we had goulash for our first day lunch. We roomed dorm-style—all of us Karlsruhe girls were together –but I didn’t necessarily get to room with my friends—it was luck of the draw. I recall bunks and no heat!
Breakfasts at the youth hostel consisted of brotchen, jelly, cheeses and cold cuts—I remember drinking rosehip tea—a very distinctive taste, to be sure—not bad, but different. I still love that kind of breakfast best!
Thinking back, we seemed to have very little supervision after hours. During the day, our watchful teachers made sure we learned the songs, and practiced for the big day, but according to my memory—and corroborated by my journal—we pretty much roamed freely at night.
(I have a feeling we were under more scrutiny than we realized, but, at the time, it seemed pretty free.)
While there were structured events –like discos and skit nights–to occupy us in the evenings, we still managed to sneak into town to hang out with our new friends and eat French fries and bratwursts in a local gasthaus. I look back at my notes, and I mention that I ordered wine for my table– a “Siegelsheimer Sylvaner”—not bad for a kid of 13!
That year, I “met” a boy. He bought me ice cream and taught me how to break a full-nelson; that skill, I admit, I have never used. He lived in Baden- Baden and we were friends outside of band. We’d meet whenever my folks would go up to shop at the Canadian exchange, and he sometimes came down to Karlsruhe to visit.
Some of the crushes we developed in band camp developed into full-on romances and lasting friendships. Others, fizzled the minute the applause from concert died down and we boarded our busses back to our respective bases.
We looked forward to our annual trip to Maulbronn—while our friends rotated back to their respective countries, we made new friends and the hijinks continued.
We held “séances” in the ancient hallways, scaring ourselves silly. We sneaked into the boys’ dorms—and vice versa–some of the more brave ones climbing out the dormitory windows, inching along the windowsills –ignoring the possibility of a two to three story plunge to certain death. One year, I cut my foot on one of my roommate’s suitcase clasps, and by the time I got home later that week, I had red streaks running up my foot and leg and required double doses of penicillin.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!
One year, a group of us decided to scale the castle wall, just “because” it was a challenge, and we were teenagers. How could we get to the first level? The ancient battlements were built to keep the inhabitants safe from medieval invaders, how could modern teenagers manage to climb up?
Well, for one thing, we were taller than people back then, so we had a little bit of an advantage. We also were very determined. With the help of a large plank, which we stuck into a small hole in the wall, some acrobatics and a lot of pushing and shoving, lifting and dragging, we managed to get up. In a later journal, I described my 30-some bruises, scratches and lumps with great pride. It’s too bad we didn’t have a camera to capture our antics.
It was also a miracle no one got hurt!
We all made it back to band rehearsal on time, sore and tired but pleased with ourselves.
Maulbronn was a wonderful experience—and a very unique one. Students from different nations coming together under one roof –a mini UN bonding over the universality of music. Memories, even after 40+ years remain vivid, and some friendships remain intact to this day.
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Recently, several former DoDDS teachers came to visit the Museum of the American Military Family (MAMF). They had such a great time going through it, pouring through our yearbook collection, admiring the artifacts collected by fellow teacher Dorothy Cox, and swapping stories of their own years of teaching at various schools around the world.
Since having moved to Albuquerque, I’ve run into several DoDDs teachers who live here. One of them, Betty Follett suggested there must be more living in the state.
She says, “I’d like to find teachers, aides, students–anyone connected to DoDDS in New Mexico who might want to get together once in a while to share our experiences overseas.”
I thought that it would be great to host the first get-together in the Museum’s garden on April 28, 2018 from 1:00-3:00. Light refreshments will be served.
MAMF is located at 546B State Route 333 (Old Route 66), right next to Molly’s Bar, in Tijeras.
Please RSVP to Betty Suva Barron Follett at (505) 565-2451
Eins, Zwei…G’Suffa is the third anthology about the University of Maryland, Munich Campus. Click the link to order your copy.