Saturday, 21 March 2015

Reminiscences of a Military Brat (Part 6) - Our Stay in Germany Begins

At the time we moved to RCAF 3 Wing Zweibrucken, Canada had 3 Air Bases in Germany; 3 Wing Zweibrucken, 4 Wing Baden Sollingen and 1 Wing Lahr (which was also our HQ in Germany. We also had 3 army bases up in Northern Germany, Hemer, Verl and Soest. (I think anyway). While we were there from 1968 - 1971, Canada started a major withdrawal of its forces in Germany, so ultimately our stay in Zweibrucken was a relatively short one, one and a half years.

We did have some snow
We did make the most of our time there. For the first part of our stay we lived in the village of GroƟsteinhausen. I finished off my Grade 7 and the first part of Grade 8 while we lived in that town. That meant I was bused into school each day. There were two schools for the Canadian kids. From Kindergarten to Grade 6, the kids went to school in the Military Housing area, which was located a few miles off base, just on the outskirts of the city of Zweibrucken. The PMQs sat on a hillside overlooking the city, with a lovely view. On the other hill, hence the name of the city, was the American Army base of Zweibrucken. We used to shop there at their Grocery store and Exchange, just for a change from our own base grocery store.

My Grade 8 Class (that's me beside Miss Preston, our teacher)
But back to school. The Junior High and High Schools were on the base proper. (Well, I'm assuming that the High school was there, I just don't recall associating with anyone but my classmates.) So as I mentioned, I was bused into school each day, I think our town was the second stop on the route and we took a meandering route around the various villages picking up other Canadian kids, came into Zweibrucken from the back, dropped off the little ones at the PMQ school and then finally the rest of us on the base. I think it was at least a half hour to 45 minute trip each way. John started in the Fall with some of the other kids in the village, all of them heading off to Kindergarten.

So if we wanted to go anywhere, it meant a drive into town or to the base for groceries, movies and other entertainment activities. My mom decided pretty early on that she needed to learn to drive so after work, Dad and she would head off to some farmer's fields and she would practise shifting gears and getting used to driving. I remember at least once, while I sat in the living - room, babysitting John and waiting for them to return, feeling the house tremble because she didn't stop quite on time and gave the house a love tap with the front of the car.

Eventually, sometime in the Fall of our first year there, we moved into the PMQs. Our apartment was a two bedroom on the 2nd or 3rd floor and at the bottom of the hill. John could now walk to school and I just caught the bus that went from PMQs to the base. That was definitely a lot more convenient as most of my classmates lived in PMQs, even if they were pretty well all at the top of the hill (officer's country). It made it much easier for attending activities. I could now take the bus in the evening with my mates to go to movies or on weekends to the base to use the swimming pool or library.

In the salt mines, that's me grimacing (the Dumoulin smile) behind the pretty girl
One thing about living in Germany was that we got to travel a lot. This was the first time that I went away on overnight school trips. In Grade 7, we took a weekend trip to the US recreation facility in Berchtesgaden.

We had tours of the Salt Mines and also of Schloss Linderhof, one of Mad King Ludwig's castles. In Grade 8, Miss Preston took us on an overnight trip to Luxembourg to visit the Catacombs and see the history. It was a fascinating time, just being able to hop on a bus and head off down the road. Unlike in Canada, everything was so close, often just a 3 or 4 hour drive to be able to experience these sites. I also thought it was kind of cool, that being just in Grade 7 or 8 (13 or 14 years of age) and being able to walk into a wine store and buy a bottle of wine; which I did during a day trip to Berncastle and buying my parents a bottle of Berncastler Riesling (honest, it was for them).

Heading to Holland to get our trailer
Of course I didn't just go on school trips. Pretty quickly we went up to The Hague and picked up the Alpen Kreuzer, tent / trailer that my parents bought so we could spend our summers travelling around Europe (we normally headed south to the Mediterranean), spending time on many beaches. We used the trailer quite often just on the base. Most families kept them in a trailer park just by the bomb dump and on the weekend, everybody would head there, open their trailers and set up the BBQ and just spend a Sunday afternoon playing, eating and enjoying each others company.

Camping by Pisa, just by the beach
It was a pretty big trailer, especially with the extension and the awning. We slept on air mattresses, John and I on the lower portion, Mom and Dad on the upper. It was pretty self-sufficient and obviously you could keep yourself well-supplied wherever you were visiting. We always managed to find other Canadian families wherever we seemed to set up and quite often ended up travelling around with them.

Yup, it's really leaning
Our first summer with the trailer we went to Italy, planning to go to Rome. But we ended up having so much fun on the beach in Pisa and Livorno (or Leghorn as the Americans called it) that we talked Mom out of heading to Rome and extended our stay in Pisa.

Once we explained to John that the corn was for the pigeons...
We then headed to Venice (one of two trips I made there), camped on the Lido and went exploring St Mark's Square and other sites. A great trip, made more entertaining because we did manage to find another Canadian family to share the adventure with.


Ah, that German beer.. at least so I heard at the time
Zweibrucken was a great city and fantastic Air Base. We went to movies regularly, Dad and I used to go most Sunday's to the driving range on base. I think he and Mom continued curling. There were always activities; the Flying Fathers or the Montreal Canadian Old Timers coming to visit and play hockey against the base team. I wasn't as involved with organised activities while we were there, but that came later when we moved down the road to Lahr, Germany. But there were so many good friends, Grant Gerlitz, Michael Siemens, Dave Deveau, Rejean Duscheneau, to name a few.

It was a sad day when 3 Wing closed down. We used to go to the Cinema to say good - bye to friends and families that were busing back to Lahr to catch their flights back to Canada and then eventually, on completion of Grade 8, we followed them down the road. Luckily for us, we were staying two more years, but just starting new adventures in Lahr, Germany.

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