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.
You grew up with Americans in Friedberg. They were always there.
They were always there.
What would you say? Have you always been fascinated by the Americans?
By the way of life, the tolerance of the Americans. The way they acted, self-confident. They had many things that we didn't have after the war. They had food, drinks. That was simply luxury for us. That's kind of what we were striving for. Everybody wanted to have an American friend who would bring you something from the PX, from the American store. We just wanted to be like them.
How was it with your parents, for example, who perhaps also felt more like defeated Germans, did they have a different relationship to it?
They had a different relationship to it. Grandma always said, "They're our enemies." I said, "Grandma, the war is over." My father was in the Wehrmacht, he was the defeated. They were very reserved. He never joined a party again. He said: "Once and not again." He felt severely punished, even though he didn't do anything. Who was not in the NSDAP at that time? He didn't like it, nor did my mother. They were never active party members either. But here’s what I told my parents: You had Jews in the neighborhood. "Yes, they're gone." They were just gone. Nobody asked, so as not to make themselves suspicious. Because there were block guards everywhere, who then investigated peoples opinions. They were spying on people. Nobody fought back.
When the synagogue in Friedberg was set on fire, the fire department did not extinguish it. The fire department was prevented from extinguishing the fire by people who were known by name, walking shamelessly across town, until years ago, and who have since passed away. Nobody intervened. They threw the desks, the furniture from the first floor out of the window of Jewish houses on the Kaiserstrasse, onto the street, destroyed everything, the stores... to be honest: that was just the way it was, people didn't fight back.
We just became different. We grew up in freedom. We fought back. We also fought back against our teachers, who subjugated us. They were all more or less Nazi teachers. They had had their training at that time. There were no other teachers, no young ones. They always had this commanding tone about them. We disliked that so much that we were in opposition. Then they had always held up Germanism. We wanted the American, we wanted the modern. We listened to AFN. You weren't allowed to do that, it would spoil your English. All that kind of bullshit. For us, anything American was modern. And we didn't want to be from yesterday. In Germany, there was a Bully Buhlan, a Vico Toriani, a Rudolf Schock and so on. Those were also the first ones you could buy in record stores. There was no Elvis, not even in Bad Nauheim, not in Friedberg, you had to order it. Then they wanted to know our order number, so they could order it at all. They didn't have any documents. I just reflected on the Americans, because they were so cool with their jeans, their striped shirts, their striped socks and T-shirts. We didn't have all that yet. It was just cool.
We had a teacher who was a head shorter than us. So we were all a head taller. We were five close friends. We had gotten to know each other very early on in kindergarten. We just stuck together. It was a group that the teacher fought against. Whenever there was a girl, he would call out, "Ilge, come here." Then I had to stand and he kicked me in the butt. And I couldn't defend myself.
But then we fought back. Then he kind of realized, we're getting fledged now, we're going through puberty, we're going to the Oasis, meeting girls, that was the glass dance hall. And he was doing patrols. That's when I told my American friends, "This is our teacher. This is my teacher. And then they took him, bent his arms, carried him out and put him in a wastebasket. There were such large wastebaskets on Kaiserstraße at that time. He hung there with his armpits and the backs of his knees and couldn't get out. The whole mob was standing around it and bawling.
The teacher also came to the cinema. There he started: Brigitte Bardot, Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida, Jayne Mansfield they spoil the humanity, the youth. That's what was written on the bulletin board at school: "Not recommended. Harmful to young people." All that kind of thing.
We were interested in it. We were 14, 15, 16 at the time, so of course we went.