Living “On The Economy”

While there were quarters available at most military bases, as families were moved from base to base, sometimes there was no room at the inn and living off-base or “on the economy” was the only option.

Living off base, at least temporarily, has been a part of many Military Brats’ experience growing up.

This was a challenge when living overseas, as many U.S. families found themselves living in places where a totally different language was spoken and where the value of the dollar may change month to month, but the amount of housing allowance did not.

Out in the country . . .
We lived in Florstadt, about 15 miles from Friedburg in 1973 for a few months. It was a quaint little German town, out in the countryside, and we were one of maybe four American families in the town.

We never crossed paths with any of the Americans who we knew were living in the town. With the exception of being picked up each day before the sun came up, by an early morning transportation van to take me to the bus stop in Friedburg, and only having a portion of our household goods, it was a good experience.

The people were friendly and we found the bakery and a couple of shops that sold lunch meat. My six year old sister became friends with a German girl the same age, and once they realized they both had Barbie dolls, it wasn’t long before my sister Nanci and her friend were carrying on Barbie scenarios in German.

My dad would drive us to Friedburg once a week so we could check out some books to read, and I built a painting easel at the base craft shop so I could resume painting.

TV withdrawal
My sisters went through television withdrawal as even though we could get a few German stations in Florstadt, there was no audio because our TV was incompatible with the signal being broadcast. I gave up after watching a couple of episodes of Star Trek.

On the weekends, especially during soccer season, the town came alive and it seemed the whole town turned out to see school matches and on New Year’s Eve, the partying went on until the wee hours of the morning and the fireworks were second to none.

My first experience in Germany was living in Mannheim, but it was totally different as the base in Mannheim was huge and the day to day experience of living there gave us little exposure to the local residents and German culture.

Living “on the economy” is exactly the opposite and it was great to see daily life for the average German and to realize they were a lot like us, except they drank beer as a refreshment much like we drank Coca-Cola. They got up early, came home, had dinner with their family, and enjoyed family time, which was usually attending the local soccer game.

Housing allowances
Our landlord often received a few bottles of Vodka and a couple of cans of Maxwell House coffee to make up for the shortfall in rent money some months when the dollar dipped from 1.4 marks to the dollar to 1.2 or lower. The Army gave my dad a set “allowance” for housing and he had to make up the difference in rent money that was lost due to the exchange rate.

I can remember that in in 1962-1966, the exchange rate was about 4 marks to the dollar, and U.S. currency was accepted everywhere. Not so in the 1970’s, during the Nixon years and changing economic climate and the strengthening of the Germany economy.

Early in the year in 1974 we got quarters assigned to us in Bad Nauheim and we left Florstadt behind, but I will always remember the town and the people we met and what it was like to live “on the economy.”

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