Saturday, 18 April 2015

Reminiscences of a Military Brat - Part 8 - On To Lahr, Germany

Sites from Lahr, Germany
In 1969, with 3 Wing Zweibrucken closing down, we were moved down the Autobahn, into the Black Forest to Lahr, Germany, RCAF Station 1 Wing. It was quite a different base from 3 Wing. 3 Wing was a fighter base, home to the 104 aircraft. Our only remaining fighter base was in Baden - Baden. Lahr may have had fighters too, but it was primarily the Air transport hub to Europe for the Canadian Armed Forces. PMQ's were scattered throughout the town of Lahr, they had been taken over from the French Army by the Canadians in the early '60s. The Air base proper was at one end of the town while the Headquarters and most of the recreation facilities and schools were at the other end of town in the Caserne. In the photo above, taken from my Grade 10 yearbook, you can see Area 31, one of the PMQ areas. In fact, we originally lived on the Economy in the village of Sulz, in a two bedroom flat next to a beer distributor. We had great neighbours, the Popp family and even after we moved into PMQ's (into Area 31 in fact), they remained great friends of my parents. In the photo of Area 31, you can see three buildings running parallel to the main street, Schwarzwald Strasse (Black Forest Street). We lived in the middle one, on either the 2nd or 3rd floor, end apartment. You can see my bedroom window. Lucky you. We had an apartment that had been made from two individual apartments, so from the front door you had the kitchen on the left, one bathroom on the right. You entered straight into the living room, turned right into the dining room and then into the bedroom area (which had actually been the other apartment). So unfortunately for my parents, John and I had to go through their bedroom to get into the other part of the house.

Photos of the Caserne, including bottom right the school
The PMQs were scattered throughout the town, as I mentioned earlier. They started at the Bahnhof (Area 30, I think) with some apartment buildings. (In the first photo, it's the top right photo). As you went up Schwarzwald Sstrasse towards the Caserne, you next hit our area (31). Continuing on you came to the Grocery store for the Canadians with another section of PMQs, some apartments like ours. Just a bit further were somewhat fancier buildings that were used by the Officers and then you pretty well in the downtown core. One of my best friends in Grade 9, Grant Gerlitz, lived in this area and I spent many an evening visiting with him. He had a basement room that he turned into his bedroom and the gang of us spent many evenings, listening to music and fooling around with his electric train and other stuff.

In the first photo, middle left, you see the big building with the KK, that was the big German department store, Kaufhaus Kreuz. I found many of my first 45's (records, not guns) there. That area was the main German shopping street. If you turned left, you followed the road that lead you to the Caserne. That's where I went to high school. Second photo, bottom left picture is the High school, I'm pretty sure. Other pictures include the Arrowhead Arena (where my dad worked as a Ring Rat) and I think the curling club. Also at the Caserne was the big Canex department store, a book store (loved it) and just by the main gate, the Teen Town, where we could hang out. Friday nights there was always a dance (the excellent sound system explaining my poor hearing nowadays).

So that's a general picture. A few other items of interest. There were two Canadian cinemas, one nearby to the grocery store and one at the Main airbase. My dad was manager of them and quite often, the whole family would help out working at the concessions at the cinema on the base. Mom made the popcorn and I sold candy and drinks. John was a bit young so would have been classified as child labour, so he sort of hung around the concessions with us. Sometimes my friend Peter Emberley (from Grade 10) would help out. It was lots of fun and, as I recall, the popcorn that we made was so popular that people used to come and get it even though they weren't going to the movies. John and I got to go and watch the movies once we finished serving the initial crowd. There were some relatively racy films for kids our age... we didn't complain. Quite often on Sundays, if we didn't go out on the town and have dinner at a local Gasthaus (we learned pretty quickly not to go out if we were already hungry and we also learned just to get John an empty plate. The meals were slow and lovingly cooked and there was so much food we only needed 3 meals), we would have dinner on the Base at the Junior Ranks dining club. The food was great and it was a nice formal setting.

Grade 9B class photo (me in the centre)

In Lahr, I finished Grades 9 and 10, probably my favourite two years up to then. School was interesting, I was involved with so many activities and I had so much freedom to do what I wanted. As you can see, we wore school uniforms at that time, the boys, blue blazers and grey slacks and the girls, blue vests and grey skirts. I have to say, I really started to notice girls then.. :0).. unfortunately they didn't notice me that much.

Our hotel (pension) on the Lido
In Grade 9 English, we took The Merchant of Venice and each of the Grade 9 classes had to act out certain scenes. I think I played Bassanio. Anyway, the class that did the best job, according to a couple of judges, got the opportunity to go to Venice for a week's trip. What a great trip! It got off to a rough start. As soon as we boarded the train in Lahr, we were told there was a train strike in Italy so we would have to bus from the Swiss/ Italian border to Venice. That, in itself, was an adventure and after an evening water taxi ride across form Venice to the Lido, we staggered into our hotel late in the night.

Me on Attila the Hun's throne
We got to see so much, sample excellent Italian cuisine (there was a restaurant down the street from our hotel and we ate there every night. The waiter taught us the proper way to eat spaghetti and we got to drink vino with our meals. It was cheaper than coca cola.) The train trip back was much simpler.

My nickname in Grade 9... *sigh*, yes Baby Dumpling
Checking back through my old yearbooks has brought back a memory that I'd forgotten. I can't remember why, but it seems my nickname was Baby Dumpling in Grade 9... probably something to do with my actual name, eh? It must mean they liked me, right?

800 Black Forest Squadron, the first Cadet Sqn overseas
During Grade 9, some of the military people on the base formed the first Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron (800 Black Forest Sqn) in Germany. I joined up and had a great time. We used to meet once a week in the evenings at the Caserne, so I would either ride my bike up or walk there in my uniform. We wore the old RCAF battle dress, which I thought was so cool. In the evening classes, we of course spent most of the time doing drill, even fancy drill movements, then would watch war movies, play games, learn about the military. On weekends there were often activities on the base; we got to do the High Altitude Indoctrination course (meaning we were in the high altitude tank that fighter pilots use), learned Morse code (Dot Dot Dash), fired weapons at the range, etc. The first summer about 20 of us got to take the service flight back to Canada and spend a couple of weeks at the Summer camp they had every summer in Trenton Ontario. (You can see a picture of the tent city we lived in just above.) We arrived a week early for our camp (the exigencies of relying on a once a week flight) and spent that time travelling around Ontario by bus visiting the Ontario Science Centre, Royal Military College and other places. That first week was kind of lonely and I remember feeling very depressed for awhile. But my Aunt Loreine and Uncle Norman came down to spend on day with me and that helped get me over the hump. Yes, yes, I was a sensitive fella. After the two weeks of the actual summer camp, I got to stay behind and spend a couple of weeks visiting with relatives. I'm pretty sure my Uncle Bob and Aunt Tove Charbonneau were stationed in Trenton by then and they put me on the train to Ottawa, where I stayed a night with my dad's brother, Rene and his family. Rick came down from North Bay, where he was stationed at that time and took me up there, where I stayed in Barracks. (I stayed in one of his buddy's rooms, who had an interesting wall hanging outlining all the positions of the Kama Sudra... not that I noticed) We went up to visit our relatives in Kirkland Lake and Timmins and then I was handed back to Aunt Loreine and Uncle Norman who took me to Toronto. I'm pretty sure I got to go to the CNE for the first time with them. Overall it was a great time. For some reason, I'm sure that my Dad came over and we travelled back to Lahr together on the service flight. It was one of the first times that the Boeing 707 was used and when we landed in Lahr, it was such a bouncy landing that the oxygen masks all fell down from the ceiling. I stayed in Air Cadets for our two years in Germany, got promoted to LAC (Leading Air Craftsman) in my second year. I think that my enjoyment in polishing boots began then. I used to do my Dad's for him as well.

Grade 10.. which girls did I have crushes on.. :0)
In Grade 10, we had another great trip, a ski week in the Austrian Alps, located in the town of Bichlbach. I had never skied before and I remember every night as I fell to sleep I dreamed I was breaking my leg.. skiing down a hill, knee deep in snow, my legs going farther and farther apart until Boom... That actually did happen, except for the broken leg part.

High School Curling Fun
I got back in to curling again while we lived in Lahr. There was a great High School league and I enjoyed it so very much. I loved nothing better than trying for double and triple take outs. It was a great activity and very well attended.

As I mentioned earlier, my Dad was also a rink rat, meaning he worked at the Arrowhead Arena, maintaining the ice. The Lahr Arrows was the base hockey team and they played against German, Swiss and Dutch teams as well as against the other Canadian Air Force and Army teams.

The Canadian Figure Skating Team
While we were in Lahr, and I can't remember which year it was exactly, the Canadian National Figure Skating team spent a week in Lahr, training for I think the World Championships in Prague (I'm not sure of that) and spent a week practising at the Arrowhead. We used to go down at lunch time and watch them practising their figures. Not all that exciting but I had a bit of a crush on Sandra Bezik who was there with her brother Val as our Pairs team. Also on the team and in the photo were Karen Magnussen and Toller Cranston. I'm afraid I can't remember the others names. Maybe someone else does.

I've kind of rambled on here but it was a great time. After Grade 9, the Canadian government closed down the army bases in Northern Germany and moved them all down to Lahr and Baden Soelingen. It made a bit of a change for all of us Air Force folks. All the buildings were painted brown (or green, I'm colour blind) and place names changed, the Teen Town became the Teen Hut, that sort of thing and there were now tanks and armoured vehicles all over the place.

I was fairly unworldly at the time but while we were in Germany, the October Crisis (AKA the FLQ Crisis) happened back in Canada and as I understand, the government was ready to send troops back from Germany to support those in Canada when they declared the War Measures Act. We were also on the forefront of the Cold War and there were many, many nights when the Military Police would drive through PMQ's with loud speakers on, announcing Snowball, Snowball, meaning the fathers had to report to work immediately, just in case. When we lived on the Economy, they travelled door - to - door waking up those families that lived out in the countryside, as we didn't have phones there. Well, some people might have but we never did, as far as I remember.

The Hideaway Show Group
In Lahr, we did get more access to information from back in Canada. Lahr had its own radio station and it featured a mix of broadcasts from Canada (via the CBC) or local shows. A favourite for we high school kids was the Hideaway show which was hosted by some of the school seniors and they played great music. I remember the whole family used to gather around Dad's stereo (he brought a nice Grundig system) to listen to The Royal Canadian Air Farce on Monday nights. We also had a TV for the first time (I don't think we had one back in 3 Wing) and we got one German TV channel. They did show the odd Canadian or American show, of course, overdubbed into German. On Saturday nights they also had movies, quite risqué for a youngster.

Well, I think I've finished my ramblings over the past 3 'Reminiscences' of our time in Germany. It was such a great opportunity for a teenager from Canada to experience a bit of the outside world. I don't know if I grew up at all, but I do think it made it easier when I joined the military to adjust relatively quickly to new locations, new situations, new friends. The one bad thing about this moving around, for me anyway, was the constant making new friends, losing friends and then starting over again. For some people, it's not an issue, but I did find that I began making acquaintances, rather than close friends. Having said that, I treasure all of these memories and wouldn't trade them in for anything. They did help make me the person I am today, for good or bad.

We moved back to Canada after I completed Grade 10, this time to Ottawa Ontario. More on that next entry.

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