There were many distorted images – Interview with Michael Keller (Part1)
Hello Mr. Keller, Could you tell us something about growing up in Friedberg in the late 40ies and early 50ies?
Well, I lived on both sides of the American housing area. Americans have always been some kind of distorted images. At that time, we all thought the Americans were infinitely rich, because the dollar was worth a lot of DM (German marks) and the cars were just unbelievable… so there were Stingrays and Porsches and Ferraris. We didn't really know what real life was like.
But it was a completely different life than anywhere else in the city. In the first days after the loan was paid the stores downtown were all sold out, because then the purchasing power was incredibly strong. That was actually what I witnessed. We then built a house opposite the American housing area. Everywhere was rented out. The Americans were exciting for us. But as I said, there were also many distorted images. For example, it took me a long time to realize that not every GI was rich from home, but that many came from the poor areas of the United States.
What was it like in the housing area? There were children living there. You probably didn't speak any English, I suppose? But there was a certain amount of contact with American kids?
Yes, to a certain extent. That's actually, that's been going on in general as long as I've known American barracks: There were always ripples. There used to be contacts in the housing area. There was also a baseball field for the younger ones. I learned to play baseball there with Americans. And then it broke off again, because the people weren't there for more than two years.
And that's what these ripples are. And there was always a wave movement connected with questions of security, questions of whether the US Army was involved in a war mission somewhere. Whether one really understood all that, is a completely different thing. So maybe these are things that I understand today. At that time I didn't understand it at all. There were also Americans who wanted contact. There were also some who did not want any contact. But as I said, what stuck with me was that I learned to play baseball.(laughs)
You said that it was the purchasing power of the Americans or the relative wealth that perhaps struck you. In the population there were not only benevolent voices. And the relationship to the Americans was quite ambivalent. There were people who were quite hostile to the Americans, I would say. What motives did you identify for such hostility at that time and later?
There were, of course, quite objective ones. You have to see, Friedberg was conquered by the Americans on March 29, 1945. Sounds a bit crazy, but that's how it was. Then, of course, large parts of the area around the barracks were confiscated. Until the mid-50s, many German houses were confiscated. It is also clear that this did not arouse any enthusiasm among the Germans who were thrown out.
We also had something like a red light district, i.e. prostitution. There were always massive brawls. There were assaults against the population. My father himself was the chief of the criminal investigation department, so he experienced everything firsthand. These first decades, which I only experienced in passing as a small child, were also decades of occupation, and I wouldn't put too much nostalgia into it. Of course, the American way of life was exciting, with Ferrari and Porsche and Stingray. But it was also occupation time and in case of doubt, as I know from the archives, it was enforced as hard as nails. So the fear of rape, the fear of brawls, was also partly justified.
And that only subsided somewhat later, when the American army also changed.