Heidelberg Memories

There’s a German song, “Ich hab’ mein herz in Heidelberg verloren,” which means:“I left my heart in Heidelberg.”  I lived there for about eight months in the mid 1960s, and I can vouch for those words. It’s fun to reminisce  about those days now that there are very few American military personnel left in Germany.

Heidelberg is a picturesque and ancient German university town on the Neckar River. On a hill above the town stands the ruin of an old castle from the 1600s, which overlooks the small river and a beautiful old bridge. In the summer the town sponsors a special celebration, which was called the “Burning of the Castle” in the 1960s. The lights all over town were turned off and fireworks set off from the castle and the bridge. The effect was dazzling for the town’s residents and the tourists. The best place to see it is from the river, and I was privileged to view it once from a boat my brother’s Cub Scout troop had rented.

The cobblestone streets are narrow and because the town is known for its famous University of Heidelberg, there are many small bars and restaurants frequented by students, like the celebrated Sepp’l and the Roten Ochsen (Red Ox). I still have a glass boot, a favorite and unusual drinking vessel for beer. Students would order a boot full of Germany’s renowned beverage and pass it around their table. The last one to drink from it pays the tab. Air gets caught in the toe of the boot and beer will often spray onto the face of the last drinkers, a good reason for hilarity.

Most Americans stationed  in Germany lived and worked in American facilities, built in a German style by Germans. When entering these American enclaves, it was always obvious it was a piece of Americana just by the name. I lived on the outskirts of  Heidelberg  in Patrick Henry Village. While in Mannheim, my folks had spacious officers’ quarters in Benjamin Franklin Village.

Secretary to Manager, Heidelberg Officers Club

Secretary to Manager, Heidelberg Officers Club

My first job after college was a brief but fascinating position as secretary to the manager of the Heidelberg Officers Club. I took dictation, wrote letters on a typewriter, and created the monthly newsletter that informed members of all the social activities of the club. During the Christmas holidays I got to sample the special punch for the New Year’s Day party, a unique and tasty recipe from the commanding general’s wife. It was appropriately named London Fog: equal parts coffee, vanilla ice cream, and brandy. It tasted so good it was easy to get fooled, and you’d be drunk before you knew what hit you.

Since I worked with several German women, I got to polish up my German as well as learn something about their culture. They also advised me on romantic matters. One of the perks of working at the Club was the reduced price of food and all the free coffee you could drink. I was a novice coffee drinker, but it smelled good and I felt very grownup. Trouble was, I liked it with cream or milk and I overdid it. Didn’t take long before I was home in bed with a rumbling stomach or on the toilet.

I had my own mini-home just across the street from the Club: a bedroom and bathroom combo on the second floor of the BWQ (Bachelor Women’s Quarters). The BWQ was home for the most part to American secretaries, female Air Force or Army personnel, and schoolteachers. I remember celebrating a new friend’s 25th birthday in the BWQ.  Lois was a California native and bought a green MG when she came for a European vacation and decided to stay in Germany for awhile. She found an American job in the area and ended up living across the hall from me. I still have a beer mug from the 1964 Oktoberfest in Munich; Lois drove us in her MG.





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