Something I enjoy doing once in a while is play virtual tourist. I get up on Google Earth, and check a place out. But once in a while, I do that with someplace I’ve been. In this case, my old barracks in Ansbach, Germany.
Often times I marvel at how much has changed, and then I marvel at how much has stayed the same.
Ansbach figures into the Lawman novels several times. Usually it’s a simple reference to an event (like Max and Eva’s wedding) or a beerfest, or a case that occurred.
When I was there, there was still a substantial American presence. There still is, but not as much as there used to be. Many of the old Kassernes have been turned over to the Germans, and they’re now apartment buildings or such.
Ansbach is an old city. Somewhere in the 8th Century, a Benedictine Monastery was founded there. But it didn’t really become a city until the 1300s when the House of Hohenzollern established themselves there.
Flash forward to 1989. A young MP arrives in Ansbach, Germany. Our barracks at the time was Bleidorn Kasserne and was located on the hill overlooking the city. We’d inherited the barracks from German soldiers who we fought against in WW II.
We shared the kasserne with another MP company, the 1st Division Band, and Division Artillery. We were within easy walking distance of really good restaurants, downtown shopping, and the banhoff (rail station).
Our barracks was a combination of the new and old. There’s a roadway that passed in front and then circled the parade ground in the middle. The roadway was cobblestone, and where there’s now a parking lot, there was a large grass field where we did PT.
A story I’ve heard, but never confirmed was that the parade ground was really the roof for a large underground garage that the Germans used during the war. When we moved into the kasserne, there were still a large number of tanks, trucks, and the like parked down there. Fearing that many might be booby-trapped, the garage was flooded, and then the entrances bulldozed shut and sealed. I have no clue if that story is true.
Over the entrances to our barracks was a stone relief of soldiers with a flag in the background. We didn’t put it there. Another story I heard was that the helmets and the flag had swastikas on them. But the work was the work of some famous artist, and rather than destroy it, the swastikas were sand blasted out.
Our barracks was a four story building, with a barber shop, dry cleaning pickup, small shopette, and a bank on the first floor. We lived on the second and third floors, with the company day-room, platoon offices, and headquarters on the forth floor.
The lady who ran the barber shop was probably there cutting hair when the Nazis ran the show. She called me Leibhaber (Loverboy, and all I can say is in her dreams). Since the CG (Commanding General) also got his haircuts from her, I can’t help but wonder what her nickname was for him.
A lot of the troops used to go down to Main Post to get their haircuts. There were a couple of Turkish girls who ran that shop, and were cute as a button. They gave OK haircuts, but I never heard of any of the many prospective Romeos dating even one of them.
Speaking of haircuts. The armed forces tends to be kind of strict on those, and they define the haircut for you in regulations. One of them is there can’t be any designs in the hair.
One morning my platoon had the gate duty at Main Post. Cpl McArtor and I were relieved to go get breakfast. Breakfast at Main Post was always a treat. So we walked over and purchased our breakfast. As we were eating, we suddenly heard the Division Sgt. Major lock someone up. He wasn’t exactly yelling at the soldier, but everyone heard it. He had this young man at parade rest, and was asking him about his haircut and if his Platoon Daddy had seen it. Even from across the mess hall, we could see the kid had stars and lightening bolts sculptured into the haircut. He told the soldier he was going to go get a “proper” haircut, and then he expected him and his Plt Sgt in his office at 1000 hrs.
I’ve never felt more sorry for a soldier in my life.
He basically asked me the same thing a few days later. I have a large scar the runs right above my left ear. He spotted it as I was checking his pass to come in. He asked me about it, and I told him, “It’s a scar, Sgt. Major.” I then had to tell him the story of how I’d cut my scalp open on an exposed nail as a child, and how an old Korean War medic had put it back together.
Something American soldiers all report about Germany is they either loved it or hated it. Those who hated it, I really have to wonder how many times they got out of the barracks. Some people have accused the German people of being stuck up (whatever that means).
The thing is if you treat anyone well, and with respect, you become accepted.
An example was one of my favorite gasthauss (restaurants). Ludwig’s was just down the hill from my barracks. I don’t know if the place is still open, but they had some of the best Italian food I’ve ever eaten. Once a week, I treated myself to a meal out, and that’s where I’d go to have a big plate of Spaghetti Carbanora. This is a a great dish with noodles, ham or bacon, cheese, and some cream mixed in. That with a good German beer to wash it down was heaven.
The waiters and waitresses all spoke good English, which is good beause my command of German was embarrassing to say the least. But they were patient with me, helped me improve my German, and became my guides to the foods and beers of the area.
One day I walked in, and seated myself. The head waiter came up to me and informed me I was at the wrong table, and pointed at where I was to sit. He was indicating the Stammtisch Table. The Stammtisch Table is reserved for “regulars and friends of the management.” You are expected to sit there every time you visit. It doesn’t matter who’s sitting there, if a chair is open, you’re allowed and expected to have a seat.
One of the extraordinary things of Ansbach was that it appears that, to a large degree, the war passed it by. Oh, there were some exceptions, but the idea seems to be that the Allies wanted to take it intact. As a result, many of the historic buildings survived intact.
One is the St. Johnnis Church. It’s an old style cathedral and dates back almost a thousand years. While I never went to services there (I was a bit of a heathen while in Germany and barely attended Chapel), I did attend a Bach Organ Recital at the invite of some friends (There’s a good character development for you writers – a cowboy who thinks Johann Sebastian rocks). All I can say is “Wow.” You can’t buy those kind of acoustics.
It was outside that church that I took one of the few good pictures I’ve ever taken of a fellow human being. While I’m not bad with landscapes and documentry style photography, taking a picture of a person is something I haven’t exactly mastered yet. In my years of taking pictures, I think I’ve taken exactly three good pictures of people.
It was of an older German woman and she was scratching the nose of a horse that was pulling a carriage. I don’t know who she was, but when I got the picture back, I really liked it. One fine day, I’ll scan it and add it in here.
Another one of the buildings is the Margrave Palace. It’s kind of sort of a government building today, but large parts of it are open to the public to visit. There’s paintings and murals that are incredible within, and it can be used for ceremonies, etc.
One place that is a very popular attraction is the Hohenzollern Palace. This is building famous for it’s stunning architecture. There’s a large open ballroom, and it’s easy to walk in and imagine the waltzes played and ladies in elegant gowns and men in suits dancing. The garden grounds are incredible. The venue is a popular place for weddings and recitals. It also just a great place to walk.
One of my memories of the area was a young lady and I did a photo shoot down there for a magazine. They wanted pictures of her playing along the stream bank, so we walked down the creek that runs right through the middle of town, and she kicked off her shoes, hiked up her dress, and was walking through the water while I took pictures. All at once, we realized we had an audience. Every guy in Ansbach showed to see this incredibly beautiful woman play in the water. In true super model form, she smiled and waved at her admiring audience, and they all gave her a great round of applause.
Sorry guys, I don’t have those pictures anymore. I gave her all the prints and negatives.
As I mentioned, the war pretty much passed the town by.
But here and there were some notable exceptions. Every once in a while, the Polizi would be called out because someone found something. Sometimes it was live ordnance, or the remains of something. Once in a while it was because someone found a skull. There’s still a few MIAs on all sides of the equation and after extensive investigation, the number would drop by one.
Two places that did get hit hard were the railyards, and the airfield. Both here hit by B-26s and P-47s.
When the Katterbach airfield got creamed in Big Mistake 2, the Luftwaffe had staged He-111s out there. After the Allies captured it, we staged P-47 Thunderbolts to support the troops. Today, we have helicopters staged out of the former Luftwaffe base.
Near the airfield at Katterbach was a run down structure in the middle of a field. It was the remains of an old pillbox, a machine gun nest where the German soldiers helped to defend the airfield. Another time I walking along a forest path and saw another old pillbox. It was overgrown with trees and bushes, but was still recognizable.
Walking is one of the things you do in Germany. Germans are big on walking and there are dozens of paths that weave through the towns and forests. One of my favorite things to do was pack a light lunch, grab my camera and a couple of rolls of film, and just head out on one of the paths and see where it went. I got to see some breathtaking country and met some great people that way.
I’ll be adding to this as time goes by. I’ve a ton of pictures of the area, so stay tuned.
Bavaria is a beautiful place to visit, and Ansbach is certainly one of the crown jewels of the area. Well worth the visit.