What do non-Germans think of when they are asked to name one thing German? Do they think of beer fests with liter mugs of beer, pork roasts and potato dumplings? Do they think of Christmas markets with steaming-hot, sweet spiced wine and Lebkuchen? Do they sing a song from Nena? Or maybe they think of anything having to do with the hundred-odd years between the Reformation and the Thirty Years War. (I know I certainly do.)
Or do some think of the cool German cars cruising along at the speed of sound on the Autobahn? What great brands we have for the eyes to feast on: BMW, Audi, Porsche, and my favorite, VW, specifically the Golf. Occasionally a Ferrari escapes across the border to go for a run, or a Maserati. At unlimited speeds. Anyone can drive as fast as they want. Or can they?
Richtgeschwindigkeit–advisory speed limit or reference speed on the Autobahn is 130 kmh. That means that one can drive faster, but if an accident occurs, one could be held liable. But over the years, more and more speed limits have been enforced because of Massenkarambolage—Massive Freeway Pileup. I love language.
My most memorable Autobahn moment: I was driving along, doing my 130 kmh, just minding my own business and two zippy cars came up behind me at a terrifying speed. Everyone should experience this just once in their lives: looking into the rear-view mirror and seeing a Porsche and a Ferrari approaching and instead of ramming me or forcing me from the road (the A3 is two lanes here in my area) one passed me on the left and the other passed me on the right, on the shoulder. Those two men (I’m sure they were not women) left a lasting impression on me for life.
|Occupation zone borders and territories regarding former Nazi Germany. Areas in Beige indicate territories east of the Oder-Neisse Line, that were attached to Poland and the USSR, as well as the detached Saar protectorate. Berlin is the multinational area within the Soviet zone. (Photo and caption courtesy of Wikipedia.)
The first American tanks rolled through Franconian cities in the spring of 1945. A new era began for the German citizens. Nazi dictatorship disappeared and the promise of democracy took its place. Freeing Germany had cost the Americans a lot of bloodshed. But many Germans didn’t necessarily see this new occupation as freeing.
Franconians tend to be a reserved folk; traditional, quiet, cautious and guarded. Americans tend to be, well, how should I put this? Loud. My volume control is broken and it’s because I’m American. But, in spite of an anti-fraternization movement (here’s an interesting article–it takes a moment to load), cultural differences and political opinions, the two worlds eventually got used to each other.
American soldiers, gum-chewing, wearing shorts and t-shirts in November, became known in Franconia as ‘Amis.’ They brought a real kick into the economic structures of the communities surrounding the army bases. Friendships were made and families were established when a soldier married his ‘Frollein.’
Slowly, an era comes to its end. In 1995, the Nürnberg Military Community (NBG MIL COM), with bases in Nürnberg, Fürth, Erlangen and Herzogenaurach closed completely. That meant taking some 15,000 soldiers, along with 11,000 family members and 160 million US dollars that flowed yearly into the local economy out of the area for good.
And now, last weekend, another decision has fallen: the two bases at Bamberg and Schweinfurt will be closed, sending over 6000 soldiers back to the States. Grafenwöhr, Europe’s largest American Military training facility, is facing reductions as well as the base at Ansbach.