Tuesday, January 18, 2005

The Further Adventures of Innocents Abroad

This tale begins in the summer of 1949, shortly after arriving in Germany. I was 15 and had not yet begun my Junior year at Frankfurt Dependent High School. We lived in the town of Hoechst, an outlying suburb of Frankfurt am Main. During that summer I had met Phil, another American boy my age living in the neighborhood. We became pretty close pals, two against the world as it were, and we spent our days hanging out at each other's houses, biking the area, poking around Hochst and neighboring towns, and speculating on what school would be like over there.

There was much to see and wonder about in Germany in those post-war years. Hoechst was home to one of the larger IG Farben chemical factories but had been generally spared from the bombing because it was not among the factories that turned out vital war materials. The allies had planned to leave Hoechst intact for their use following the war. The plan was for approximately five separate factories, including a drugs manufacturer, a dye company and a fertilizer producer, for instance. But the idea proved impracticable and was abandoned by 1947 in favor of other plans. During the ensuing period during which Phil and I were roaming the area, the Hoechst facilities were under heavy guard by DPs, and awaiting a new use to be undertaken.

DP was an acronym for displaced persons. During the war Germany had brought forced labor to their factories and in Hoechst, many of these laborers were brought in from Poland. Many more Poles and other Eastern European nationals were forced into the German Army and after the war they found themselves in Germany and unable to be repatriated to then Russian occupied areas. The authorities had organized them into quasi-military units and given them duties such as guarding the factories. They were generally a rough and tumble bunch and we soon learned to stay clear of them. They wore a black uniform without much adornement and usually on duty they were effective at the tasks assigned. Off duty, many were big drinkers and brawlers.

So, having laid the groundwork for this little tale, it came to pass that Phil and I had ventured out of our realm and had taken a train into the main city of Frankfurt. We had had a pretty good time. We visited the Palmengarten which is a very large botanical garden and sampled a few beers from the local vending carts prevalent in the area. Feeling in pretty good spirits we ventured further afield and headed for WAC Circle, where the big US Exchange is located. Finding this pretty uninspiring, we grabbed a streetcar and headed for the Bahnhof area. We liked to go there because it was like a three ring circus in those days. The area was crawling with GI's and girls, and a lot of dives that kids our age had no business frequenting but therein lay the temptation. For a couple of midwestern greenhorns like ourselves, we were fascinated by the ever-changing street scene. Rowdy beer halls, the music that wafted through the doorways, staggering GI's, the frequent squeal and undulating pitch of the German Police sirens and the joint patrols of the white gloved MPs and German Police with their white billy clubs at the ready. The sea of "slicky boy" black-marketeers looking for business and the hint of danger at every turn created a built-in type of excitement that held a magnetic pull on us. However, time was overtaking us and we had to catch the last train back to Hoechst so we headed for the station and had a last beer while waiting for the train.

We were back at the Hoechst station about 10:30 and it was another 30 minute walk to our homes so we decided to take a short cut around the back of the train station and through the woods. We were really feeling no pain at that point and as we rounded a curve in the totally darkened path we literally collided with a foursome walking arm in arm. As we broke through their armholds and they gave out with some loud complaints in an indecipherable language, we decided it was not time to get into any kind of ruckus. So on we walked but unknown to us this aggrieved daisy chain had doubled back and ambushed us, intent on gaining revenge for the supposed wrongdoing we had done by inadvertently breaking through their arm holds.

We were no match for the surprise trouncing we were undergoing, and soon we found ourselves both on the ground, each straddled by a DP screaming what seemed to be obscenities, their knives pressing way too tightly at our throats. Now Phil and I were not foolish kids, oats or no oats, and we didn't have to debate the merits of pleading for mercy. We were no match for these brutes and I firmly believe we would be sailing on a cloud today if it hadn't been for what happened next. It was then that the girl friends, the other half of this unholy foursome, probably saved the day. They begged their male friends to "Nicht toeten, es ist zu gefahrlich!" (Don't kill them, it's too dangerous for us) After the girls adminition was repeated several times, each time stronger and more forcefully, I could feel the pressure on the knife lessen but these guys had one last indecency to inflict on us and at this point, however laughable now, it was most welcomed at the time.

They slit each leg of our jeans up the rear all the way to the crotch and tied us together, rump to rum as it were, with the several strips of flailing cloth. It was a very effective way of delaying our departure from the scene and also of insuring we could extract no retribution while they made their departure.

As I think back on this incident, retribution was far from my mind at the time. As we hobbled about in an attempt to get unbridled from this comical connection, I was only thinking how lucky we were to escape with our lives.

Incidentally, I was also overjoyed that it was then late enough to make it the rest of the way home, our bottoms poking out of our slit jeans but otherwise unobserved, and slip into my room. Phil later reported similarly good luck. Next morning I trash-canned the jeans and it was a long while before this story was shared or rehashed with anyone other than Phil. We had, should I say, been bonded in a very special way.

Dave & Phil, Hoechst, Germany, 1949

© 2005 David Agniel


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