The other AFRC resort we visited back in the 1970s was in Garmisch, again in the German Alps. This time, however, we went in the springtime. I guess it must have been back in ’76. Once again, we booked our hotel back in Bad Kissingen and took the long drive south on the autobahn. We stopped, as before, in Nurnberg and Munich to tank up on gas and get supplies at the PX and commissary. We reached Garmisch in the late afternoon and drove straight to our hotel. This was the General Patton hotel, just down the road from Sheridan Barracks and Artillery Kaserne.
Though I haven’t been back to Garmisch in over thirty years, I still recall the hotel. We signed in at the reception and then made our way down a long corridor to our assigned room. Again, there were two bedrooms. I clearly remember looking out of the room window and seeing a mountain outside, it went up and up into the sky, my eyes following it upwards to the peak.
Again, as in Berchtesgaden, we ate out in town in the evenings. Garmisch was somewhat bigger than Berchtesgaden but in the same traditional Bavarian style. We slept soundly that night, tired from the long drive and refreshed with the mountain air. We had our breakfast every morning in the hotel. Thereafter we had a full days’ sightseeing.
We went, first thing the next morning, to the local PX. I still recall seeing the Zugspitze from the car park there. The Zugspitze is Germanys hightest mountain and dad said we were going up it in a train. I didn’t believe him, how could a train go all that way up, it looked so high. Well, as it turned out, he was partly right.
After the visit to the PX we went to the train station. Here was a separate train station which indeed went up the mountain, it was a cog train. I still remember the blue and cream colored trains into which we were crammed, along with a thousand other people. It was worse then the New York subway. We left Garmisch and were soon out of the town and going through green fields with yellow flowers. Gradually we started climbing higher and higher up the mountain, leaving behind the warm spring weather.
It got colder and snow still lay around up here. We were prepared, though, and had hats, gloves and warm jackets. After a while the grass and trees were left behind and it was bare rock and snow from then on. The views were very spectacular from the train but soon we entered a long tunnel. At last the train stopped at a station and everyone streamed out. We weren’t yet at the top, though. From here everyone got herded into large cable cars that went up the rest of the way.
I seem to remember, that to get to the very top we had to go on two cable cars. I don’t really know what I was expecting up there, but nothing like what we found. There was a great big terraced area up there, the cable car station, a big restaurant, shops and millions of people. What really blew my mind, though, was that the border between Germany and Austria went through here as well.
I never really thought that borders went up mountains and was amazed that I could walk from Germany into Austria up on that mountain, how cool was that? From the terrace we watched as people went skiing down the slopes. We could also see the actual summit of the mountain from the terrace, it was only some yards away and on the top was a large cross. I bought some postcards in the shops, they stamped the cards with a special postmark to say that you bought them up there.
I still have my postcards and the postmark says ‘Bayerische Zugspitzbahn, Gipfelstation 2966m’. I can still recall the cold wind whistling past and after a while we headed back down the mountain. I still have the AFRC leaflet about the trip, brittle and brown now. In it it states that the Zugspitze round trip cost DM 20 for US Army (active) visitors as opposed to DM 25 for regular visitors. Kids went for DM 12.50.
The next day we headed for Austria again. We again went through the border control without being stopped and searched, again a disappointment to me. I must have watched ‘Funeral in Berlin’ a few too many times as a kid! We travelled up to the town of Innsbruck. I only remember that it was surrounded by mountains and that it had a long main street. At the end of this street was a house with a golden balcony. That about sums up my memories of Innsbruck.
I do remember quite clearly going to the castle of Neuschwanstein, the one in the ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ film. We did a tour of the castle which I hated, I wasn’t at all interested in all the old furniture and wall hangings. I did like the castle though. I remember that some Japanese tourist grabbed hold of me and took a photo of me and some other Japanese tourists.
Guess they thought that I was a German local or something, and having me in the photo put a little spice into their vacation snaps. I often thought, as a adult, about me being on some faded photo in a album somewhere in Japan. Weird. The castle was some distance from Garmisch and I remember us driving through alpine meadows filled with flowers. I loved the Bavarian shrines by the roads, even as a kid. We stopped off at some big monestary as well. I remember we also stopped at a large bridge and mom telling us that it was a favorite place for people to jump off to their deaths.
I thought that was way more interesting then a monestary, as I imagined people flinging themselves into space and certain doom! I guess people nowadays still fling themselves off that bridge, only now it is bungee jumping. We also visited the town of Oberammergau, famous for the Passion plays. I don’t remember much of this place. I have never been back here but I’m sure that I would have a much better appreciation of the romance of Mad king Ludwig and his castles now as an adult.
On the way home after our vacation we stopped off in Munich again. This time, besides going to the PX we stopped off at the Dachau concentration camp. I off course knew some aspects of the war and of the nazi crimes, but I wasn’t prepared for seeing this concentration camp in real life. It was a foreboding place, cold even under the May sunshine. I remember seeing the exhibition which told the story of the camp and of the nazi crimes, complete with large black & white photos.
I went with my dad, mom refused to go into the exhibition. Even now I can still see the photos of prisoners hanging on the fences, shot as they tried to escape. The huts had been torn down, except for one which was left to show how the inmates lived.
I still vividly remember the wooden bunk beds and the wooden toilets in that hut. I couldn’t imagine myself there, it was all so terrible and unreal, yet people did live, and die, here. I still remember the gas chamber and though I had known about them before, I was shocked at how small, how ordinary it looked. We went into the chamber, the walls were whitewashed. There was a hole in the ceiling through which the gas came.
I was glad to get back out, into the sunshine. Birds sang in the trees. There were trees around the gas chamber, and nearby was a big memorial to the dead. The old guard towers were still in place, also stretches of the wire fence, the same one I had seen in the photos. It gave me another insight why we, both as a family and as the military as a whole, were here in Germany. It made history real for me and I lost some of my childhood innocence that day.
The General Patton hotel closed down years ago but the US Military kept Garmisch as a resort and built a large, new complex there. I wonder if it is still open now after all the military pull backs of recent years. I was there only once, but I have fond memories of the General Patton with its long corridors, of that first view out of the window and seeing that mountain just go up and up into the sky. I also loved that view from the PX with the Zugspitze as a backdrop. It was also kind of fun meeting other kids your age from different parts of Germany. I loved sleeping in a hotel, having meals there, the whole novelty of it all.
The only other time we used the AFRC facilities was when we stayed in Bremerhaven. My parents thought that we would perhaps like to see the sea, so we went to the North Sea coast of Germany and stayed at the AFRC hotel in Bremerhaven. This was located in the Carl Schulz Kaserne. It was located, if I remember rightly, just as you came through the main gate, just to the left.
I may be wrong, but it has been over thirty years since I was there. I still remember the air field and the large Radio City buildings. It was part of the large ‘Staging Area’ for the US military. Dad had picked up our family car here in ’72 after it was shipped across from the States. I guess that Bremerhaven doesn’t really mean much to brats of my generation who flew into Germany via Frankfurt, but all you older brats would have come through here when you guys sailed across the Atlantic.
I know that dad came through here when he was a young soldier way back in the 50s. All those comics we read, all the American food we ate, all the American clothing we wore, all those tanks and jeeps, everything in fact, came through here. Dad took us down to the quay and we watched as goods were taken off American container ships and put onto rail flat tops.
We had a nice few days on the German coast, seeing all those big ships. I still remember seeing a Chinese ship going by and being a little confused by seeing the hammer and sickle symbol on the funnel, thinking, hey, they are supposed to be our enemies.
We went up to Cuxhaven and played on the beaches before heading back home. Going through northern Germany I remember seeing British military bases and housing areas (they looked much like ours) and seeing British vehicles on the roads, which I thought was pretty cool.
I also remember listening to the British forces radio which was a novelty for us. I remember we stopped at some traffic lights across from some British housing area and seeing the kids there playing and wishing that I was back home with my friends again.