Americans in Berlin after the War – a personal View


One evening in early July 1945 there appeared soldiers on our street (then Immelmannstrasse, today Dudenstrasse) we hadn’t seen before. They walked in pairs and looked different from the soldiers of the Red Army. They were better dressed, dress not battle uniform, and carried carbines (M1, but we did not know that at the time). We were speculating who they were and some thought they were French because the uniform looked similar to what French prisoners of war wore. We learnt quickly that they were Americans and soon we called them „Amis“.

Why did they wear rifles? They wouldn’t be afraid of us? We had enough of the war and all the killing that went on. They soon appeared without their weapons and settled in as the occupation force in the American Sector of Berlin. We lived near the Tempelhof Airport and they used some of the airport buildings as their barracks. There they were often hanging out of the windows whistling to girls or throwing out sweets or chewing gum to us kids. When they were off duty we could see them in the street, smoking cigarettes, chewing gum or fooling around with each other. They seemed a lively lot.

Their cigarettes (Luck Strike, Chesterfield and Camel) were very popular with the Germans and they were freely available on the Black Market. One cigarette was worth 12Mark and became quickly the standard of exchange among the population. The not so pleasant aspect of the Americans smoking in the streets was when they threw away the butts some nicotine deprived German bent down to pick them up. Some of the soldiers did not like it and stepped on the butts before someone could pick them up and often made sure they stepped on the hands of the men.

The Americans liked their Baseball and soon they had two base ball fields up and running. One at the sport field at Katzbachstrasse and one on the field opposite the main entrance to the airport. We were amazed what heavy equipment they were able to use in the construction of the base ball fields and the removal of radar and searchlight equipment at Katzbachstrasse. They used bulldozers and cranes of enormous size, and even we children understood why they had won the war. Soon they had the stands up and the spectators were able to support their teams with a lot of loud encouragement. We had no idea what they were doing and marvelled at the huge leather gloves and the way they slid with their feet first when they reached a base.

At Columbia Damm they build a large sporting complex for their own use, but they also made it available to German children. They also took over our local cinema, the Korso. We loved that cinema and at first were sad but soon we accepted it as victor’s spoils. Here too they shared their facility with us. Once a week they put on a session for us children. We loved those Western movies like Union Pacific and Destry rides again.

Because of power rationing and cuts after the war and during the Blockade German cinemas were very restricted in the number of session they were able to put on. The Americans installed their own generator So, they had no power issues. Later on they built their own cinema at Columbia Damm, aptly named Columbia. We got our cinema back.

The Amis loved to go out and in the evenings they swarmed out into the streets. We had several pubs, we called them Kneipen, in our street. Two of them became their favourites. One, called Der Weisse Mohr, was frequented by the white soldiers and one other, Jängrich, was prefered by the black soldiers. The latter one had several club rooms and one of them was used exclusively by the black soldiers and their German lady friends. Here they could play their own music. The music was often loud and the soldiers boisterous but there was never any trouble neither with the German public nor among themselves.

I wish I could report the same about the white soldiers. Almost on a daily basis the MP had to restore order at the Weisse Mohr. Fights spilled out on to the pavement. Sometimes the trouble was so bad that the MP patrol had to ask for reinforcement and they came in big number and brought prison vans along. The MP’s formed two rows, with their truncheons at the ready, from the door of the pub to the prison vans. Then they called out the soldiers and they beat them with their truncheons as they rushed to the vans. We kids had great fun and not a little Schadenfreude.

The segregation was not restricted to the two pubs. Often there were fights between white and black soldiers on the street. It seemed to me the white soldiers were the aggressors. Once I even observed a white soldier on a motor bike chasing a black soldier and when he caught up with him, throwing him into rosebushes.

Later, when I was old enough to go into a night bar I became involved in a case of unintended segregation. Many of the night clubs and bars were “Off Limits” for military personal. They were clearly marked as such by large signs on the entrance door. By this time soldiers, when off duty, were allowed to go out in civilian clothes. Perhaps, that gave them the opportunity to be more relaxed and mingle with the civilian population of Berlin. From time to time Military Police would look into those establishments and give them a cursory glance only. They did not really check them out.

One evening, while sipping on a drink I was beckoned by a black young man to come outside. He said he could not go in and he wanted me to pass on a message to one young woman who worked at the bar. I assumed he was a soldier and told him that he need not to worry as many of his buddies were inside. They did not seem to care. But he pointed at his face and I understood. If the MP would have looked in they would have known straight away that he was an off duty soldier because at that time Berlin did not have many black tourists.

Of course the Americans brought the AFN (American Forces Network) into town. That station drove our parents nuts. They presented their programs with infectious enthusiasm. We liked their music much more than the local variety. They also gave German jazz musicians a go. One of our friends, Helmut Brandt, appeared live on AFN and was very popular with the American troops. Jazz was prohibited during the Nazi years and was for us young people a real revelation.

In 1948, after the currency reforms and the start of the Berlin Blockade RIAS-Berlin radio station became our main source of news information. US military cars were used to drive the newsreaders around to read the news at various prearranged spots. Those were the dark days of the cold war. But the good thing was that the Berliners and the Americans came closer and became real friends. This goodwill could be seen everywhere. The Marshall Plan was started, the Amerika Gedenkbibliothek was build and the American people collected money for a copy of the Liberty Bell (Freiheitsglocke) to be presented to the people of Berlin. General Lucius D. Clay became a real hero for us Berliners. He was a real leader and action man. The America House at Nollendorf Platz became a centre of American culture and many young people used it’s facilities.

In early 1951,while the monument to the airlift was being built in front of the airport building, I walked past the barracks on my way to work. It was bitter cold and still dark. Soldiers came rushing out, some still chewing on their breakfast, desperately trying to put on their uniforms as the Sergeant bellowed at them to hurry up for the morning roll call. One soldier holding an apple in his hand and when he saw me he past it on to me before he fell into line. I was happy to have something unexpected for my lunch. The apple was dark red and the colour penetrated into the normally yellowish flesh.

In 1954 I joined the Bereitschaftspolizei and was stationed at the former Patton-/ Oliver Barracks at Gallwitzallee, Lankwitz. During our training we were using some of the facilities provided by the Americans. We went swimming at the large indoor pool at the Andrews Barracks at Finkensteinallee. Small weapons training was done at Rose Range, Dreilinden on the outskirts of Berlin and for the light machine gun firing we went to the Keerans Range at the old AVUS Südkurve. I also learnt later, that a group of girl syncronised swimmers had permissin to use the pool at mFinkensteinallee for their training.

I did not stay in Berlin. After starting a family we migrated to Australia in 1959. We loved Berlin but we sought new opportunities and could not be there when the Berlin / American relations reached their highest point in 1963 when President John F. Kennedy gave his famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech.

The occupation came to an end on the 2. October 1990 on the eve of the German Reunification. There is a very good and informative website, documenting the American stay in Berlin for all this time. It is the site of the Berlin-Brigade. In the dark days of April 1945, when hardly a stone remained untouched in Berlin, people were saying the Allies would stay for fifty years. Well, 45 years was near enough. The Americans came as conquerors but I’m sure they left as friends who learnt to love Berlin. 

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6 thoughts on “Americans in Berlin after the War – a personal View

  1. Hi Peter!
    Wow! This is great about reading more than just in history books ion school. This is very interesting first hand. I didn’t get to hear much about what my father did other than he was a paratrooper in WWII & got a purple heart for bravery I think. He parachuted over different parts of the world along with getting to see what these countries were like. He had knee injuries from landing after parachuting from planes overhead. This is so neat to get more knowledge about Germany first hand. How were people from movies as the characters in Germany real or fake in how they made fighting in Germany like the Reich & a couple other types of army or military who fought for their countries there? Am very happy to get to see a few things about Germany from movies & some TV series that show anything about Germany too. Thanks for bringing this to me as it gives me more of an idea about how Germany is right now then.
    Rodney

  2. This was so fun to read – like going back in time to envision a place where my mother grew up. Thank you. I’ll be reading more for sure. How close was your neighborhood to Rote Isle (Schöneburg?). That’s where my mother lived.

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