Germany


Army Lt. Col. Tandy Brown, center, commander of the 7th Special Forces Group, serves a soldier and his daughters during a Thanksgiving Day meal on Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., Nov. 24, 2014.

 

Many families celebrate Thanksgiving with their extended families. Airports and highways are so crowded that a video of Thanksgiving traffic on a Los Angeles freeway makes an iconic picture of the trek to go home. The song Over the River and Through the Woods vies for top Thanksgiving honors with We Gather Together.

Where do you go, though, when you’ve only been “home” for a few months, or for a couple of years at most? Whose food reminds you of Thanksgiving when Grandma is across an ocean? Where do you make memories if all your dishes are still in transit, wrapped in packing paper, and (the gods willing) unbroken?

If your family is a military family, you may go to the dining facility (DFAC), formerly known as the chow hall, mess hall, or mess deck. What you call where you eat depends on the service to which you (or more likely, your parent) belong.

 

ARABIAN SEA (Nov. 22, 2012) Culinary Specialist 3rd Class Job David Santiago, from Manila, Philippines, frosts a cake aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Jason Dunham (DDG 109) on Thanksgiving. Jason Dunham is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility conducting maritime security operations, theater security cooperation efforts and support missions for Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Deven B. King/Released)

 

Usually, dining facilities are reserved for service members on active duty. Their primary purpose is to feed the Army that, in the words of Napoleon Bonaparte (or Frederick the Great, depending on your source), marches on its stomach. On Thanksgiving (and sometimes on Christmas), the dining facility is open to family members. This is a treat that many military Brats look forward to when they are children, and reminisce about when they are grown. My sister and I recently rhapsodized about the shrimp cocktails we remember setting on our trays as we moved through the dining facility line.

In Facebook groups for Brats, the talk in this week leading up to Thanksgiving has been about eating at the dining facility. Among the comments were those about tables full of fruit and candy, how the cooks decorated the dining facility even up to ice sculptures, and food that included roast turkey or ham, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie, in addition to fancy food such as that delicious shrimp cocktail, crab legs, and prime rib. My own favorite memory (in addition to the shrimp) was going to the milk dispenser and lifting the heavy weighted handle so that the milk shot into my glass with enough force to produce bubbles. I must say that, as a basic trainee pulling KP in the mess hall, I wasn’t quite as thrilled to heft the five gallon cartons of milk into the dispenser cabinet — those suckers weigh over 40 pounds.

 

Army Spc. Matt Squairs shears off a corner from a block of ice he is sculpting into a pumpkin on Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., Nov. 21, 2014. Squairs, a culinary specialist assigned to the 7th Special Forces Group Airborne’s Group Support Battalion, and other cooks spent more than two weeks preparing a Thanksgiving meal held in the unit’s dining facility.

 

We Brats doted on being allowed into the dining facilities for holidays, but I don’t know that we fully appreciated the work that went into feeding people their daily three square meals, seven days a week, plus holidays — way more people (and food) on the holidays. As someone who has seen both sides of the serving line, I’d like to give all the cooks a rousing cheer, despite the cadence songs we sang about the food. After a day of KP, I felt as if I’d been pulled backwards through a keyhole and my feet …, oh my poor feet how they ached.  I can’t imagine the endurance it takes to be a cook.

 

Army Spc. Trinh Tran, a cook with the Operation Iraqi Freedom Dining Facility at Fort Hood, Texas, covers prepared salads and dressings for the evening meal service, Nov. 21, 2013. Trinh is on a team to assist in preparation of the upcoming Thanksgiving Day dinner. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Kim Browne

 

Hooray for the dining facilities and all the cooks in all the services.

I hope they have a restful day-after-Thanksgiving.

 

All photos are released from the DoD photo archive.

What it is.

 

Google’s Cardboard function is an application that works in conjunction with a viewing box that fits 4” – 6” phones. Using Cardboard is like looking into a Harry Potter Viewmaster — the view moves as your head scans the displayed scene. Peekaboo totaliarmus!

It’s almost like being there, wherever “there” is.

 

Google Cardboard stereoscopic view.
This view is of one of my former homes — favorite destinations for me. In the late 1980s, me, my husband, and our kids lived in the Perlacher Forst housing area of the Munich Army military community. Our apartment was the one on the 2nd floor.

 

Where you can go.

 

If Google Street View cars or walkers have gone there, you can go there, too.

All it takes is a smart phone with the Cardboard app loaded, choosing a Street View location, tapping on the Cardboard viewer icon, plopping your phone in your Cardboard viewer, and looking into the viewer. The thrill of Potteresque apparating, but without the danger of being splinched.

 

Why to go.

 

The cost of any Cardboard viewer is cheaper than any ticket to faraway lands.

Other perks are:
No suitcase to lug.
No lines at airports or other travel departure points.
No waiting for your color to be called when debarking from a ship.
No electrical transformer thingamajigs needed.
No visa needed (although maybe a Visa).

You also get to sleep in your own bed afterward, but maybe that’s just important for people who’ve had to sleep in many, many different beds.

In any case, for the cost of about a meal for two at Mickey D’s, you can have armchair travel adventures from around the world.

 

Bon voyage!  Gute Reise!  Happy Trails!

When I’m writing a story, sometimes I get stuck. I’ll forget where my characters are in relation to each other. I’ll forget the exact sequence of events. I’ll forget where the characters are standing. I’ll forget how many people are even in a room.

When I have these lapses, I’m almost cheerful because that’s when I can legitimately play with some toys I (said I) bought for the grandkids — Playmobil playsets.

The two men on the (invisible) motorcycle are about to throw a Molotov cocktail at the car. My heroine, the woman on the balcony, will roust a colleague and they'll be finding fire extinguishers to put out the fire before the car can go up in flames.

The two men on the (invisible) motorcycle are about to throw a Molotov cocktail at the car. My heroine, the woman on the balcony, will roust a colleague and they’ll be finding fire extinguishers to put out the fire before the car can go up in flames.

 

I first found Playmobil toys in 1976 after we moved to Germany for the second time.  My husband and I gave our son two sets of them for Christmas.  In the years since then, the company has expanded their range of playsets so that people like me can now use them in ways the designers probably didn’t imagine. At the moment, I have a motorcycle policeman on order. In future, my characters won’t be riding invisible motorcycles.

I’m happy to say that when my little characters aren’t busy getting up to no good in my imaginary worlds, they’re happily inhabiting the more innocent stories of little children.

The Veterans Writing Project picked up my story “Beer Here” for their publication, O-Dark-Thirty.

Procession from the Kreuzberg monastery up to the crosses on the mountain.   Picture courtesy of Wikpedia.

Procession from the Kreuzberg monastery up to the crosses on the mountain. Picture courtesy of Wikpedia.

Beer Here

Barb Hoskins, a Cold War-era CI investigator runs into a platoon-mate from Basic who is on her way back to the Land of the Round Doorknob. They go out for a last-minute fling at a monastery, famed for its beer, and wind up with more action than they bargained for.

The story is one of a series that will be part of a book, Culture Shock.

Today’s blog-topic came up because I saw a query on an email list for tips on leash-training a cat. Our family has had many cats, but only some of them have been leash-trained.

The first cat we walked on a leash, Screech, seemed happy enough to do so because it got her out of the car during the rest stops we took while driving over Christmas vacation from the east coast to Missouri and back. My husband and I were young, and lucky, and didn’t realize that most cats would rather lie immobile, perhaps until forever, rather than walk while wearing a harness. Screech didn’t object either to the harness or to being walked while we stopped at a rest area along the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Screech was a trooper.

My husband and Screech, taking in the Pennsylvania Turnpike in December.

My husband and Screech, taking in the Pennsylvania Turnpike in December.

The second cat we had that we leash-trained, Pippin, took to it as if he’d been born to walk on a leash. It helped that Pippin loved traveling in the car and he associated the leash with going on car rides. Again, we lucked out.

 

Me and Pippin near the border between West and East Germany.

Me and Pippin near the border between West and East Germany.

 

[The above photo will look odd to military personnel who were stationed in Germany before 1989.  Part of my husband’s job at the time, though, was to keep an eye on changes along the border while not looking like a soldier.  Odd, but that was the way it was. With Pippin, he definitely didn’t look like an American soldier.]

Pippin’s ‘sister,’ Merrie, apparently took her cue from her older ‘brother’ and tolerated the harness-and-leash setup. (yes, that’s a Lord of the Rings theme going on there with the cat names) The leash-training was probably easy because Merrie was a tiny kitten when she joined the household. Harness-wearing was something she grew up with.

Pippin meeting Merrie

Pippin meeting Merrie

After the death of Pippin (the old guy made it to 19) Dinah joined the household. Dinah was a stinker, an adorable stinker, but a stinker nonetheless. Like Merrie, Dinah was introduced to harness-wearing when she was a kitten. Both Merrie (18) and Dinah (just missed 20) have joined Pippin.

Our daughters at a motel in South Dakota.  Merrie is behaving herself, as she usually did, but Dinah is being a rascal and trying to get down.

Our daughters at a motel in South Dakota. Merrie is behaving herself, as she usually did, but Dinah is being a rascal and trying to get down.

Dinah, probably scheming.

Dinah, probably scheming.

Dinah’s ‘siblings,’ Foofie and Pudding, were adult strays when they came to us. They didn’t appreciate harnesses.

Foofy, our white cat, after rolling in the dirt. That's what outdoor cats do.

Foofy, our white cat, after rolling in the dirt. That’s what outdoor cats do.

 

Pudding, the junk yard thug.

Pudding, the junk yard thug.

The current crop of cat-friends–mama Minka with her youngsters Rusty, and Audrey–don’t wear leashes, probably because we aren’t traveling with them. Our previous cats all joined the family during my husband’s military career and traveled with us in the United States as well as in Europe. Now that we’re a retiree family, no one is going to show up at the house with cardboard boxes and pack away everything to take all of it somewhere else, so the cats have no need to travel. They occasionally mosey out into the back yard, but that’s about it for their vacationing. One of our daughters is a veterinarian so even their health care (so far) comes to them.

Minka

Minka

Rusty

Rusty

Audrey

Audrey

I wish I had some useful tips about leash-training cats rather than just pictures, but other than starting them off with the harness as kittens, I think a lot has to do with the cat’s temperament. That and luck. Lots and lots of luck.

During this holiday season, I’m missing the at-home sights and sounds of not only an American Christmas, but also those of my other-cultures, traditions given to me through my nomadic military travels (in countries with Christian traditions).

In watching my grandkids, I think it must be nice to be grounded in one’s life, to know who and what you are and not to miss parts of your own life with a sharper pang than that generated by ordinary nostalgia. I don’t know if a settled life is ‘better’ and a nomadic life ‘worse’ (or vice versa) but being from one place might have less existential angst.  Or maybe not.  Hard to tell from the vantage point of having had just the one childhood.

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I’m in luck concerning my first culture, English, the one I think of in my child’s mind as ‘the way it’s s’posed to be.’  At a young age, you don’t know you’re not living where you’re nationally-assigned to be living.  You also don’t know that what you’re experiencing as ‘normal’ is a mix of two cultures, that of your parents, and that of the country in which you live. All you know is that you’re home, and that’s that.

I’m lucky that crackers, as one element of my early Christmases in England, are now readily available.

 

23 christmas crackers

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Another part of my other-culture heritage is seeing the Gombey dancers from Bermuda.  When I was a kid, the dancers didn’t seem to be as well-organized or to have as good P.R., as they do today, but again, that observation may be a result of the childish attention span.  Still, they’re something I remember seeing on the island around Christmas.  I think we could do with some Gombey dancing around here.

23 Gombey men

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From the decades I spent with my husband in Europe comes the memory of Christmas markets.  Everywhere we went during December we found Christmas markets.  Some were big and some were small, but they all contributed to the seasonal spirit. One of the items commonly found at the markets are figurines for the household Nativity scenes.  The items are expensive and collections are often added to one piece at a time over the years.

A French-culture specialty are santons.  Where Americans limit their Nativity scenes to manger-scenes, the people of Provence have the tradition of making an entire village to host the Nativity.  One display we saw in the city hall of Strasbourg, France filled the entire lobby and the scene was a multi-room panorama as visitors moved through the ‘town.’  Butchers, bakers, candlestick-makers, old men playing boules (like bocce), mothers in houses bathing their infants, beasts and birds and houses and scenery.  C’est magnifique!

The last Christmas we spent in Europe, we visited the Marché de Noel in Mons, Belgium.  The marché (market) was small with little huts selling thick waffles, utterly scrumptious frites (fries should be called Belgian fries rather than French fries),  hot drinks, and little gifts. The main hut displayed a Nativity scene. In the Mons market, the chief attraction was an ice-skating rink.

If we made a video recording of our visit, I haven’t the slightest clue how to get it off our last-century video tape and make a computer file of it, but I’m in luck — other people have recorded their visits and uploaded them to YouTube.  This video ends with a left-handed caress for good luck of the little brass monkey outside the city hall of Mons.

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The biggest, and to me the best Christmas market is the Christkindelsmarkt in Nürnberg, Germany, a market that takes place under the gaze of the Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady), a city symbol memorialized in a clock that I sent to my parents from Germany, many years ago.  With coddling, our clock still ticks away and plays its tune.

 

12 23 01 Clock

In Nürnberg, the Christmas market spectacle is magnificent as the church rises above the ‘streets’ formed in the market square by row upon row of red and white striped tents. In the tents, innumerable glass ornaments on the counters and hanging from the ceilings in the tents sparkle under the spotlights.  The visual feast is accentuated by the aroma of the small bratwurst (never called “brats”) grilling in the open-air, little sausages that tease the nose and make the mouth water. Mingling with the smell of grilled wurst is the wafting scent of Glühwein (mulled wine) for the grownups and Kinderpunsch (mulled punch) for the kids.  The Christkindlesmarkt is a sensory delight.

 

With your feet frozen from hours of wandering on the cold cobblestones, it is an absolute treat to find a Konditorei (a German café specializing in coffee and cake) and sit at a linen-draped table sipping hot chocolate and nibbling a slice of Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forest cherry cake) with your boxed gingerbread house at your feet.  The event is a lasting memory.

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I suppose I wouldn’t be missing all the kinds of Christmases I’ve known if I were in a festively-decorated house, watching the twinkling of the lights on my Christmas tree.  But no, I have cats, specifically, two young cats whose mission is to investigate anything and everything in the house. I’m waiting for them to grow up some more before introducing them to a Christmas tree.  Until then, I have my memories and the entertainment of watching the cats chase through packing paper from catalog orders and jump in and out of empty shipping boxes.

01 Audrey after candycanes

Happy Holidays!

Twenty-five years ago, not only was the Berlin Wall breached, but also, by extension, was the Fence along the Inner German Border separating East Germany from West Germany rendered an anachronism. Even in the time after the (accidental) opening of travel from East to West Berlin, getting past the Fence wasn’t quite as easy as much of it was protected by land mines planted in the ground around it.

I took this picture in 1979, 10 years before the beginning of the collapse of the Warsaw Pact.  During my husband’s assignment to the American military community near Fulda, we lived about twelve miles away from “the fence.”  Had there been hostilities, the front lines would have, again, overtaken the homes, gardens, driveways, farms and fields of ordinary people.

A view near Fulda of the inner-German-border fence constructed by the East German government.

A view near Fulda of the inner-German-border fence constructed by the East German government.

 

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