Remembering Christmases from my childhood at Landstuhl Germany with our German friends for six years.
Though my dad was stationed at Landstuhl Army Medical Center from 1952-55, we lived in Vogelweh. I was a little guy and do not remember much except Christmas with the Leithauser family in Atzel. It was wonderful fun to go to their Gasthaus and celebrate Frohe Weinachten with Lani and Louis and their children.
Jumping ahead to 1959, after four years in the states at Ft. Chaffee, Arkansas, it was back to LAMC and this time we lived on post. So close in fact, we could hike to the Leithauser Gasthaus in Atzel on nice sunny days, and we did, a lot.
However, with the cold temperatures and the plentiful snow of December 24th, we always cranked up the 1955 green Ford and drove the short distance down the hill and over to the little town to celebrate Christmas Eve. Greeted like the family we had become, the grown-up sat around and yelled “Prost” every five minutes enjoying their adult beverages and hearty laughter.
We kids owned the Foosball table and drank free cokes, washing down German gingerbread cookies and other goodies. along with the best ham and cheese sandwiches on brochen I have ever tasted along with those incredible pickles, and had a ball. There was Paul, Brigette, Traudel, Dieter and their little sister.
Herr Leithasue had met my dad during the war, and though I never got the whole story, he and Lani had helped him survive. They became lifelong friends. After opening gifts, their’s mainly American cigarettes and other goodies they could not purchase, and we were given lovely sweaters, leiderhosen, hats with pins, wrist watches and the like, and my Mom recived paintings, clocks and other German handicrafts.
My dad would get soft gloves, bier steins, ash trays and other practical gifts as well as free German Bier, all he could drink, and that was a lot. We then gathered around and sang Christmas carols, in German, since we had learned them in school. ‘O Tannenbaum’ is still the only way I can sing ‘O Christmas tree.’
The next day they would drive to LAMC and come to our third floor quarters, Bldg 1172, Apt. L, where we would have dinner and exchange a few more gifts. They did not have television and Lani ‘had’ to watch Perry Mason on our Black and White Zenith from AFN. She could neither speak nor understand English, but it did not matter, she loved Raymond Burr and the entire cast.
Even now, while I get ready for Christmas, whether hanging the lights or wrapping presents, my mind goes back to those days when our former enemies in WWII were our closest friends and family for six Christmases. I went back in 1977 with my Mom to see my sister and her husband (Lt. Col. Carl and Donna Holden) who lived in Nuremburg and we headed North on the Autobahn and looked the Leithauser’s up.
Only Louie and two brothers were still around. Lani has passed on and the kids had moved on as kids do. We sat around their table, the Gasthaus now a small bakery and deli. In our halting German and Louis’ little used English,we remembered. This time, he offered us ice cubes for our cokes. That was most welcome, but didn’t taste the same, so I drank from the room temperature bottle and the memories flooded over me, as I shed a tear and smiled at our old friends.
I laughed loudly and said “prost” and he did the same, stood up, drained his bier glass and hugged us all while we cried a bit too much, but we just couldn’t help it. The Leithauser family and those Christmases were the bvery best ones of my childhood. Ich Liebe Deutschland und der Leithauser familie.
Danke Schoen meine freunden!