Ringeisen couple

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Friedberg and Bad Nauheim, Hessen mean a great deal to Kim Ringeisen. He was not aware of the area or town before getting off the bus in 1981. If fact, the only reason he was in German was that I traded assignments with another soldier in basic training who wanted to remain in the US, so he volunteered to take his assignment. Now looking back on that decision, it was the best decision in his life!

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In the spring of 2022, Gisela Berntheusel from Assenheim wrote a letter about the arrival of the Americans in Friedberg in 1945. She was able to actively witness how the Americans first made contact with children after the total fraternization ban was lifted. In the meantime, Mrs. Berntheusel has unfortunately passed away, but her granddaughter has forwarded this letter to us.

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Tim and his skateboard, at the Berlin Wall , looking East (propably 1986)

Album niethammer 8

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I visited Christine Niethammer in her home in Niddatal Kaichen in the spring of 2022. The friendly, elderly lady is in her late eighties and, despite having survived a stroke, is still very spry, full of life and agile. After her husband died unexpectedly early in the seventies, Christine Niethammer ran the legendary Friedberg Central Studio until 1996. On her Kaichen terrace, she let me scan her photo album from the Central Studio days while enjoying a juice spritzer and good weather. Many pictures and negatives are unfortunately lost.

CHris Hunter

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In the early summer of 2022, Chris Hunter from Pennsylvania responded to a social media post that I actually wanted to use to find Americans and Germans who played music together. Chris wrote that he unfortunately had no musical talent, but had been friends with some local skaters during his time in Friedberg. As it turned out, they were mutual acquaintances.

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Chris, Arlo, Tobi and Oli continue their conversation about the years 2000-2001. The four got to know each other in the legendary Friedberg skate shop Lifestyle, Chris way into the skate scene of the Wetterau. Their shared memories consist of long cross-country trips to remote skate spots, wild parties, but also fears and insecurities.

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After an extensive preliminary conversation, Chris and I agreed that it would be great to bring some of the guys he knows from Friedberg together with him in a Zoom conference to remember together how it was back then around the turn of the millennium.

The uncomplicated and friendly relationship that Chris had with the skaters from Nidda and Friedberg started at the local skateshop Lifestyle, a go-to place for many American soldiers at the time. How do Tobi, Oli and Arlo remember Chris? Why did the friendship end so abruptly? And why can't Johannes take part in the conversation with whom Chris had the closest connection at the time?

Wolfgang radkovsky-2

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Memories of Wolfgang Radkovsky

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Claus-Kurt Ilge (*1942) is probably the most famous living Elvis witness from the Wetterau. Besides a lot of stories about his encounters with the King of Rock'n Roll, Claus also has a lot to tell about other encounters with Americans. Be it as a student, as an apprentice, or later as a telephone repair man in the Ray Barracks - the Americans were always part of Claus' life. In the first part of the interview, Claus talks about his parents, his school days, the trouble with the Nazi teachers and his first friendships with Americans.

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Alex contacted me in response to an open call on Facebook. He is the child of an American soldier. He hardly knew his father, but as a young man he had worked in many pubs and discos where Americans frequented. He would have a lot to tell. I expected exciting stories about fights, excessive Friedberg nights... but in our conversation Alex and I didn't even get to that point. Instead Alex told me how he looked for his father at age thirty – and also found him, how it came about and, and, and....

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Reed Kimborough came to Friedberg in 1958 as the child of an NCO. Reed's father was the first officer Elvis Presley was assigned to. After only a few weeks, Presley changed platoon. In a four-part interview, Reed tells how this came about, as well as about his childhood as an Army Brat.

Gefördert von der Beauftragten der Bundesregierung für Kultur und Medien, dem Neustart Kultur Fonds und dem Bundesverband Bildender Künstler

G L O S S A R Y

  A

  • The child of an army officer or enlisted person, especially one who has grown up on army bases or in military communities.

  B

  • Do you want to play "Korbball"(that's the German word for basketball)? Sounds stupid. But basketball sounds like a shiny parquet floor, a huge scoreboard hovering over the court, high speed, millionaire superstars, action and excitement. When cable television, and with it sports channels, moved into Hesse households in the nineties, young people, dressed in the newly acquired sleeveless jerseys of the LA Lakers and Chicago Bulls that were suddenly available everywhere, stormed the courts in and around Ray Barracks. As was often the case, sports helped overcome the invisible barrier between American and German youth. Many mourn this time, when one could simply go to the Barracks, and on the floor, always met Americans, with whom one could play, who received one friendly, played fair, with whom one laughed together and developed short uncomplicated friendships.

  C

  • Since the seventies at the latest, the discotheque in Wolfengasse has been the hub of Friedberg's nightlife. Many relationships, friendships and enmities between Americans and Wetterauers began and ended here. Many GI's who were stationed in Friedberg considered the Central Studio their second home. The operator of the discotheque until 1996, Christine Niethammer was affectionately called "Mum".

  E

  • Elvis Aaron Presley, the King of Rock'n Roll, was stationed in Friedberg as a conscript from 1958-1960. His stay is documented in numerous books and films.

  F

  • An entire essay is devoted to the "Amerikafan" and yet here is an attempt to outline it briefly and succinctly, from my point of view: The term, as I understand it, attempts to exclude those who today, without sounding pejorative, would confidently be called Amerikanerds. This refers to people whose general affection for the USA is expressed in a euphoric interest in one or more related topics of American culture or history - be it vehicles, electric guitars or handguns. The Wetterauer Amerikafans, however, who are meant here, see themselves in a natural, spatial proximity to the U.S. cultural space with which they confuse the barracks. The American television series, movies, music and fashion are accepted and consumed as a matter of course, because they come from next door, so to speak. There is nothing euphoric about being an American fan, it is not directed at anything in particular, but is an attempt to imitate American normality in everyday life and in one's own life. The American fan calls his parents Mom and Dad. The Amerikafan deliberately does not speak British English in English class, but a mixed version in which he integrates the various accents of his American acquaintances. The Amerikafan assigns himself to West or East Coast, develops his own pseudo-American identity. In the Wetterau, one does not have to make any effort to live his fanhood-the discotheque, the American movie theater, Bowling Alley, the American pizzeria, which he is allowed to enter as a matter of course and where he orders in English and pays with dollars, are only one of his many playgrounds. The whole Wetterau offered the American fans of that time an impressive infrastructure in which they could live and express their being fans. Virtually nothing of that is left.

  • The district capital of the Wetterau, Army Home of Elvis Presley, one of the largest preserved castle complexes in Europe, the old town, the Judenbad. Through Friedberg leads the Kaiserstrasse, shopping mile, from which it goes in small alleys to the old town, where pubs and brothels were. Today only remains, Alter Hut, Ali Baba. All along Kaiserstraße, on weekends, the Americans moved up and down in hordes. The others to the train station, to Frankfurt, to Vilbel, or wherever. Then there is another Friedberg today, which is different, not really quieter, still alive. A post-American Friedberg, which of course does not want to see itself as such.

  G

  • Child of a U.S. soldier, stationed abroad, and a local woman; in German, the term "Besatzungskind" is more commonly used, although this is misleading, since even after the end of the occupation in Germany, children were born who were and are also referred to as GI babies.

  H

  • There are countless stories of friendships between Americans and Germans that began in Hesse; they are about mutual visits, shared vacations, lifelong bonds and neverending exchanges. In some cases, these transatlantic micro-alliances last several generations.

  • American residential area outside the barracks area.

  M

  • The U.S. military has a completely separate infrastructure that is independent of that of the civilian population - from retail stores to kindergartens. Of course, the U.S. Army also has its own police force - the Military Police, or MP. Crimes committed by members of the U.S. military, even in public spaces or in private rooms of civilians, restaurants, discos, etc., are prosecuted by the Military Police and, if necessary, tried before a military court. From time to time, there were projects in Friedberg to promote and make more effective cooperation between local forces and the MP. However, this depended heavily on the personal orientations of local commanders and mayors. The legends of many garrison towns entwine around the brutal operations of the MP. It was not uncommon for German youths dressed in American fashion to be thrown onto the loading platforms of MP vehicles and taken to the barracks. Even if it didn't really affect you, the stern looks of the MPs patrolling the town often made us nervous.

  • Before central training areas such as the Friedberg Training Area were established, tanks regularly rattled through Wetterau villages and forests. Fighter jets and banana helicopters could also be seen in the sky every day. The presence of heavy American war equipment was a natural part of Wetterau's normality.

  • From the beginning of the occupation until 1973, conscription applied in America. The composition of the soldiers in the barracks thus represented a cross-section of American society. With the change to a professional army, the proportion of soldiers from poorer strata of the U.S. population grew, for whom the army offered opportunities for social advancement and financial security.

  • Music connects - whether together in the audience of a live club, on the dance floor of a disco, or even together on stage. Music brings people together and overcomes cultural boundaries and differences. This is of course what happened in Friedberg and the entire Wetterau region when Americans and Germans moved their bodies, sang along and danced to the same beat. On this page, the Central Studio is mentioned again and again as the pivotal point. But of course there were also a lot of other, smaller clubs and which offered a wide range of different music programs every evening. Some personal experiences and reports about the legendary amiclubs of the fifties and sixties, as well as life stories of American musicians who stayed in Germany after their military service and much more will be collected here. But also the influence of American music on the attitude to life of the Wetterauer:innen is brought up here.

  O

  • The period of occupation in Germany between 1945 and 1949 was the phase between the collapse of the Nazi state at the end of World War II and the establishment of the two German states, the FRG and the GDR, which belonged to two competing power blocs during the Cold War. (Source: Wikipedia)

  P

  • short for post exchange – a retail store on an army installation that sells goods and services to military personnel and their dependents and to certain authorized civilian personnel. German civilians often used American contacts to get coveted goods from America cheaply. For our author Max Molly it is the Hershey bar, I remember whole closets consisting of PX trophies.

  R

  • Ray Barracks was a United States Army installation in Friedberg, Germany until it was closed by the U.S. government in 2007 and returned to the German government. Located in the southern part of the city near the industrial area, the barracks had numerous facilities. The barracks included a firing range for personal weapons qualification, an Urban warfare training site, vehicle maintenance facilities and various recreation facilities. After World War II the barracks were named after First Lieutenant Bernard J. Ray, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during the Battle of Hurtgen Forest. Ray sacrificed himself to destroy a wire obstacle that was blocking his unit's path. The base was closed in August 2007. (Source:Wikipedia)

  S

  • Of course, the sport, the way of life, here as a unifying element that appears again and again in the stories from the mid-eighties. The Wetterauer skaters from Nidda, Florstadt, Friedberg met and skated with GI's at all common spots in the vicinity.