By Sfc. John M. Holman
U.S. Army -- Gablingen Kaserne, Germany
Gablingen Kaserne, December 1951
An American soldier couldn't be more impressed than when he steps inside a German families' home. You say, how did he come to be there? Well, I'll tell you. He was invited, just as though he was an old friend of the family and not a stranger from a strange land. You see, the majority of the German people today (1951-53), I have found, are both friendly and cooperative. They take us into their homes as if we belonged there.
It seems that our Service Company threw a Christmas party for the children of Gersthoven and each soldier were assigned one child. I was assigned Josefine Holtzhuer and Stu Halverson was assigned her sister, Antonie. After a scrumptious Christmas dinner, a visit from St. Nicholas with gifts, it was time to say good bye. But before they left, they invited Stu and I to visit their home the next weekend. And that's how it all began.
They offer to do our laundry for us and expect nothing in return, except maybe a box of soap powder which they cannot obtain in their stores. They realize we are far away from our own loved ones, our homes, and our neighbors. They try to make us forget we are thousands of miles away with an ocean between home and Germany. So consequently, when they get the chance, they extend their warm hospitality to us, the American soldier.
When the GI (John Holman) and buddy (Stu Halverson) [for we usually use the buddy system of traveling around a strange country] steps inside this typical German home, they are greeted with many handshakes from the various members of the family, mother, daughters (Josefine & Antonie), grandmother, grandfather (Oma & Oba), etc. The family is usually a large one as the grandmother and grandfather often live with their married sons and daughters. Just one big happy family, but each one of us speaking a different language, English & German.
After the greetings are dispensed with, the GI and his buddy are seated in the best chairs in the house, and in their best German language, they inquire the names of the various members of the family. Some of the names which are typical are Hans, Johann, Artur, Josefine, Antonie, etc. The family, in turn, want to know the names of the GI and buddy and what state they are from in America. The wine or beer or for those who don't drink, tea or coffee, are brought out along with cake and cookies by the host. A toast is drunk and it is surprising how the younger members of the family join in the drinking along with the grownups. One reason for this is that water in Germany is not of the same standard as in American Military installations. The German water is perfectly safe to drink only it doesn't taste like the water which the GI is used too.
The beer is very plentiful in the home due to the fact that many of the fathers and sons work in the breweries and beer is drunk at about every meal; coffee and tea is used also, but are so expensive and sometimes scarce, that they are not always readily available.
By the time the GI and his buddy find it is time to return to camp, they are well acquainted with everyone and has learned a few more words of German. They are invited back again real soon, and who would blame them for returning after such hospitality and friendship so far from home. Perhaps two or three hours of relaxation with a German family took their mind off their absence from home and loved ones. Next time, they vowed they would bring a few gifts for the family in a token of appreciation of their warm hospitality.
Yes, the warmth and friendliness of the German home are truly to be remembered and those German families who opened their homes to us, we shall never forget them.
(Postscript: The above story was written in 1952 and is dedicated to the friendship of the HOLTZHUER family of Gertshoven, Germany. Many thanks for your kindness and hospitality while we were guests in your country. -- John and Connie Holman — 1995)
In the time that has elapsed since 1995, my wife, Connie, who had been with me in Germany during 1952 and 1953, have been corresponding through email to Josefine, who has since married and raised a family of her own. Her daughter, Sigrid ("Sissi") has become a lawyer and freely translates our messages, with her own comical comments along with the translation. It is our sincere hope that we will all meet again someday, either on this side of the Atlantic or on their side in Germany.
(PS: We finally met in May of 2005 in Hampton, N.H., and spent 3 1/2 glorious, fun-filled days on the Maine and New Hampshire seacoast. There was Josefine ["Finni"], her husband, Artur, one of their daughters Sigrid ["Sissi"] and her boy friend Andy, who doubled as our chauffeur during their stay. ["What a wonderful life!")