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Among the ghosts of military times past

It has been good to get out of the UK this Christmas. As one or two Samizdata regulars will know, I had a crap December as my dear mother, at the relatively young age of 69, died of cancer on 9 Dec. I just needed to get away and decompress and gather my thoughts.

Fortunately, I have wonderful relations via my wife who work with the US military in Southeast Germany, about 20 km from the Czech border. They are a great group of folk who know how to put on a good Christmas. Bavaria has been spectacular due to all the heavy snowfall. It has seen temperatures as low as -18 Degrees.

One of the places I visited was a museum all about a huge US army base near the small German town of Grafenwoehr. The place dates back to the start of the 20th Century, when the then German government built it up and it remained in German hands until the Allied armies, with Patton’s 3rd Army to the fore, captured it at the end of WW2. During WW2, for example, the place was used by the various groups within Hitler’s armies for training purposes. Himmler gave a speech there. During WW1, it was used, among other things, as a PoW camp. Many soldiers are buried there. Later, during the Cold War, even the likes of a young Elvis Presley did some army training on the base.

Going on the base with a relation of mine, the place seems so pristine and businesslike with lots of US servicemen and women getting ready for deployments to the MidEast. I wonder what they think about the uses to which this huge training area has been put in the past. It is, so I am told, the biggest US army training facility outside of the US. Of course, a lot of bases have been closed down since the early 1990s, but the presence of NATO forces is still evident, judging by the various North American accents I hear in the local shops and restaurants.

I can strongly recommend this part of Southern Germany as a place to visit. The locals are very friendly and the economy is, judging by a massive shopping mall in Regensburg, buzzing. And the local beer is awesome. What more excuse do you need?

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15 comments to Among the ghosts of military times past

  • Very sorry about your loss, Jonathan. 69 is indeed young by today’s standards. Sigh. Glad you were able to unwind.

  • You can actually tell an American accent in German? I’m impressed.

    Personally, I have a huge emotional barrier towards ever visiting Germany for mere tourism. I know it’s totally irrational, but there it is.

  • Johnathan, I’m so sorry to hear about your loss and please accept my condolences.

  • Valerie

    My condolences on the loss of your dear mum. As an aside, my father was in Grafenwoehr as an MP in 1952, among other places in Germany. I wish he would fly back there with me to revisit, but no luck getting him on a plane.

  • RAB

    Yes, sorry to hear of your sad loss Johnathan.

    My entire year has been focused on my 87 year old mum, who has managed to break both wrists and is only one week out of hospital from a hip replacement operation.

    She has driven my wife and I completely round the bend over Christmas, but at least she is still with us, so my deepest condolences.

  • lukas

    My condolences to you, Johnathan.

    As it happens, one side of my family are farmers very close to Grafenwoehr, and they have hated the base ever since it was built. They hated it when their land was taken away and their villages razed, they hated it when errant shells blew up their crops, they hated it when American GIs started competing for the local girls and they hated it when low-flying F-16s terrorised their livestock and shattered their sleep.

    But no one ever asked their opinion about this whole business, of course. Not the king of Bavaria, not Hitler, certainly not the post-war government of the Free State of Bavaria or the US. </rant>

  • Jim Keenan

    Please accept my condolences on your loss.

    When serving with BAOR 7 Armoured Div at Fallingbostel we had similar concerns as our camp used to be an ex SS Armoured Division Base built close to the Bergen-Hohne ranges. Of course the clue is in the range name, the camp was next to the railhead that was used for the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and slave labour was used to build the camp. Whenever they dug foundations to extend the facilities they would dig up the bodies of slave labourers who were buried where they fell.

  • Kim du Toit

    Johnathan, sincere condolences from this side of The Pond. This December marks the first anniversary of my pwn mother’s death (she was advanced in years and ailing, not that it makes it any easier to bear).

    On a happier note: southern Germany is absolutely in my top 5 places to visit — maybe even top 3. Glad you could surround yourself with friends and scenic beauty during so shitty a time.

  • May I add my condolences to those already expressed. My own mother also died of cancer at a similar age and it is a heavy blow.

    On a happier note, given the transport hassles in Heathrow and so on, I am glad you made it over to Southern Germany to experience Christmas there – as you said (and I think Paul Marks mentioned on an earlier thread), it is a place that really enjoys Christmas and looks the part with all that snow.

  • JB

    I’ve trained at Graf several times with the US Army. It’s a nice base and am sorry not to be in Germany with all the snow this time of year. My condolences about your mum.

  • Dale Amon

    I just got an email from another old friend that his mom died after a terrible and extended battle with cancer. The real knock for me though was hearing that my business partner from my DotCom era venture died of a sudden heart attack a couple weeks ago. The shock was that Damian Finnegan was all of 44 years old. I just could not take it in.

    Auld Lang Syne my friends…

  • Sorry to hear that, Dale.

  • Stephen Fox

    I read and enjoy your blogs regularly, usually without commenting.
    I am very sorry to hear about your mother. Mine died just over three years ago, and I know I will always miss her.

    Best wishes to you in your loss.

  • I would also like to offer my condolences to you on the loss of you mom. I still have Mom. Lost Dad more than 21 years ago. Painful business burying parents.

    I’ll also join those who have trained at Graf. Miserable place the times I visited. Once jumped down from a tank and found myself knee deep, no exaggeration, in mud. Both boots sucked off my feet extracting myself. Odd feeling to be lying face down in the mud and reaching into rapidly filling holes to extract ones boots.

    In the course of one morning we passed from rain to sleet to hail to snow and back through each again.

    Lost a good friend to a training accident there and once waited for hours while another fatal training accident was investigated and cleaned away. Three dead that time.

    No, I share no fond memories of old Graf. Some odd pride for having been there more than once and survived, but no fondness.

  • Paul Marks

    The old free city of Regansburg – on the Danube and near the great forest.

    I approve of reconstruction (if something good is destroyed is should be recreated – or as near as can be managed).

    However, Regensburg is real – the city was not destroyed and so did not need to be recreated.

    Bavaria (of which Regensburg is now part) is the classic example of the meeting of the “three legs” of the chair that is Western Civilization.

    The Classical tradition – of Greece and Rome (as seen in Bavarian education – but also physically in such things as the reconstuction, IN A NEW FORM, of the Parthenon not far from Regensburg).

    The Christian tradition – both Catholic and Protestant (the Catholic being older and seen in such things as the ancient church singing and art, but the Protestant also being important and, in the Lutherian tradition at least, not hostile to the art and culture of the West) .

    And the Germanic tradition – as seen (for example) in the memory of the old institutions of the Holy Roman Empire (a much mocked entity – but mocked for the very reason that libertarians should value it, its rejection of centralization and tyranny).

    Modern Bavaria (and especially modern Regensburg) also show how there is no contradiction between tradtion and modernity.

    Ancient streets on the one hand – and B.M.W. factories and shopping malls on the other. There need be no conflict – if reason and moderation are used.

    People often say an example is too small – Cambridge (an ancient university and modern biotech) supposedly proves nothing because it is “too small”, Liechtenstein (top of the line manufacturing and tradition) is also held to be “too small” to prove anything.

    But what of Regensburg – indeed of Bavaria generally?

    Millions of people live in Bavaria (and millions more in Baden-Wurttemberg) – claims that this is “too small” to prove anything ring hollow.