Sunday, 5 April 2015

Reminiscences of a Military Brat (Part 7) - Various Travels and Visitors

It's a beautiful Easter Sunday, cool and sunny, kind of nice weather for looking out the window and thinking back. While in Germany, my dad was stationed at two bases; 3 Wing Zweibrucken, as I've described in my previous Reminiscence Blog and after a year and a bit, 1 Wing Lahr, in the Black Forest. I'll talk more about that stay in my next Blog. I think this time I'll focus on some places we visited and some of the visitors that came to see us while we were in Germany.

For my mom, moving to Germany was a move back to her past. She was born in the town of Schneidemuhl, which after WWII became part of Poland. Her parents and one uncle and aunt moved to Canada after WWI and settled in Kirkland Lake, Ontario. My mom moved when she was very little, like 4 years old. So her memories of Germany were few. She still spoke very good German. Her family spoke Hoch Deutsch (high German), like the Queen's English, or Parisian French. When we moved to Germany, the area we lived in had their own unique dialects and as well, technology had advanced considerably so even the words she knew had changed.

Visiting Mom's family in Northern Germany
But with Mom, we were able to travel in Germany easily. I also took German in high school so that made it somewhat easier for me. One of the special things for Mom was the opportunity to reconnect with her German relatives. We had family in Dusseldorf and also living in Northern Germany, around the Wolfsburg area. We visited a couple of times and were treated royally and enjoyed ourselves very much. It was especially interesting seeing the subtle differences in the cultures between the North American and the German.

My brother, John, was just very little the first time we went to Dusseldorf to see Uncle Reinholt and Aunt Hilde. As a youngster he was somewhat fussy about what he ate and drank. He was fond of Tang, that was pretty well all he drank, besides water. At our first breakfast there, they tried to offer him so many things to drink; milk with the cream still floating in the top, sproudle wasser. My parents countered by saying he would drink water. Shocked looks about that as water was only for washing in. It was quite funny. We were also amazed at how much they fed us. We were used to our three square meals a day. It seemed that there was always a meal of some sort being prepared during our visit; breakfast of cakes and coffee, mid -morning snack, a cold lunch, more snacks before supper, then supper and maybe coffee in the evening with cakes. It was quite amazing. We heard stories about the war, refreshed memories of my Mom's family.

Our visit to Northern Germany was as fruitful. There were many more family living there and we had the opportunity to visit with all of them. The big business in that area was the Volkswagen factory in Wolfsburg and many of my mom's family worked there. We visited (I will apologise here as I can't remember all of the names) Heinrich's (I'm pretty sure that was his name) farm, where Mom got attacked by one of the geese. It stuck its head into the handle of her purse, causing much uproar. Heinrich's wife grabbed the goose by the head, swung it around a few times and then tossed it across the yard. Hilarious!!

There were other members of the family who lived in Southern Germany and we visited them and they came to see up in Lahr as well. I think that was one of the special times for my Mom, this rare opportunity to find out about her roots.

In my previous Blog, I mentioned our trip to Italy with your new trailer. We saw many fun spots and also some of the history that demonstrated man's less proud moments. We took a trip to Munich and stopped to see the concentration camp at Dachau. It was very sanitised, the majority of the buildings were gone, just spaces where the huts had been. The 'tourist' centre had many displays, showing the evil of which man is capable. Interesting, thoughtful. Wouldn't it be nice if man could learn from this. It doesn't seem so at times.

Carnaby Street
We did manage to see quite a bit of Europe in our travels. Quite a few of these trips were made easier by the availability of military service flights which travelled around Europe to locations where Canadians were stationed. We drove up to Dusseldorf to catch the Hercules aircraft that had a weekly trip into London, UK. Had a great time there, visiting Madame Toussaud's, Carnaby Street (where I bought some paisley ties), Buckingham Palace, etc. We stayed at the Canada Club while we were there. When my parent's went out to see  a play, I think it was called The Pyjama Game or something like that, John and I got to watch English TV in the hotel lounge. What a treat after two years of no TV. I saw my first ever episode of Star Trek then and about 10 years later when I saw my second, it was the same one. When we were in London, they were going through the process of switching to the new pound. We had many helpful people explaining what things cost, so we could get on a bus or pay for meals.

We had a few visitors while we were in Germany, my cousin Sheila and Uncle Lawrence and Aunt Irma came over to visit. We travelled all over with seven of us squeezed into my dad's VW 1600. Poor John spent much of the time in the wheel well of the front passenger seat or sitting on the hump between the driver and front passenger. My brother Rick and the two Daves, his friends Dave Morrow and Dave Jowett, newly minted officers in the Canadian Forces came over for a couple of weeks as well. For some reason we managed to find room for all these visitors in our three bedroom apartment. I'm not sure where everybody slept but there always seemed to be room. Rick and the Daves rented a little car and we toured around Europe with them, driving through snow-covered Alps, checking out Garmish and Bertchesgaden. We used to watch Dave Morrow in the car behind us, snapping photos with his Instamatic camera. We'd be waving frantically at him, he'd be waving back. He took so many photos of the inside of his camera cap, it wasn't funny.. Well, actually, it was quite funny. We had a great time. The young officers used to spend evenings playing bridge with my Dad and Swede Olsen, our neighbour. I don't think they one too many games; Dad and Swede were pretty cagey players.

Jim Nabeta (probably our best friend)
My parents' best friend, during our time there, was probably Jim Nabeta. He worked with my dad, was a single guy and a great friend. Whenever he went somewhere; both he and Dad were often deployed for exercises in the Mediterranean. He would bring back all sorts of presents, alabaster statues, tapestries. He used to own a small Japanese sports car and he would regularly drive John and I around in it, pretend John was his son, causing all sorts of surprised looks. He was going to give me his sports car when he bought himself a Lotus Europa, but my parents said I was a bit too young (I was about 16, so they were probably right). Good thing anyway as he totalled the Europa avoiding a slow tractor on the Autobahn.

One of Jim Nabeta's photos (hand painted)
He was a good hockey player, photographer, whatever he turned his hand to. He was a regular at our house, both in Zweibrucken and Lahr and just a great friend to all of us.

The only photo of Cyprus that turned out
While we were in Germany, Canada still had a large detachment of soldiers stationed in Cyprus, along with other countries, trying to maintain the peace between the Turkish and Greek Cypriots. As such we had a regular supply flight that went from Lahr to Nicosia and families could take that flight if they wanted to vacation there. We went down for a week and camped at a place called 6 1/2 mile beach near Kyrenia, at that time in the Greek area. We arrived late in the evening and grabbed a taxi which we assumed would take us to our camp site. Little did we know that the trip meant travelling all around the Turkish area, a good hour drive. The only way to go between the Greek and Turkish areas was in a convoy, escorted by UN troops. We missed that convoy. So we ended up having to stay over night in a hotel in Kyrenia and then go to the camp site the next morning. My dad made the mistake of telling the man at the hotel counter that, yes indeed, we would come down for supper. We were so tired that we decided not to but they had cooked a special meal for us, so Dad and I went to dinner, and enjoyed a 7 - course meal. Well worth it. The camp ground was fantastic, located right on the Mediterranean, white sand beaches, clear blue water. Of course we all got sunburned in the first day and spent many uncomfortable nights in the trailer that my Dad had rented. This was during Spring break and I was working on a speech about the European Common Market, which I kept confusing with the British Commonwealth. Yes, yes, I wasn't all that smart.

I managed to find a book store in Nicosia
Cyprus was an eye-opener for sure, especially travelling between the two zones. We saw school grounds where young Turkish Cypriots were training with weapons. The UN troops were everywhere; I think we saw Irish, Swedes, as well as Canadians and British troops. I did manage to find a book store in Nicosia and bought the book above; another eye opener. Terrifying story.

The Laughing Whale Campsite, Barcelona
I've rambled quite a bit today, but have one more spot to highlight, that being our summer vacation trip to Barcelona. We gathered up the trailer once again and headed south. For some reason, we always bypassed Paris, I think because we wanted to avoid the traffic. We spent a week at La Balena Alegre, The Laughing Whale, another wonderful campsite on the Mediterranean. We also met another Canadian family and spent lots of time with them. For the most part, we left the trailer and car at the campsite and travelled around the area with bus tours.

The Happy campers and our Canadian friends
Our big tour was to see the bull fights in Barcelona, an interesting and sometimes bloody experience (for the bulls that is). The great El Cordobes, Spain's premiere bull fighter of the time, fought that day.  My poor mother got too much sun in the first couple of days and came down with heat stroke. It took the rest of the trip for her to recover and while the rest of us were wandering around in shorts and short sleeve shirts, she ended up wearing slacks and long sweaters, trying to stay warm. Not a fun trip for her.

Well, there you go, the latest instalment. As you can see, we tried to make the most of our 3 and half years in Germany. It was a wonderful experience, one that I treasure. Next entry, I'll continue with our life in Lahr. Enjoy your Easter weekend!


  1. I was just telling my friend about living in Baden and going to the Laughing Whale 2 years in a row for vacation. We also went to the bull fights and rooted for the Have many great memories of those times. Mom & Dad also went to Cyprus on vacation. Wonderful memories.

    1. They were indeed. When were you there?


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