Beerbaum, Alfred: 1946 – 1949

It was in the spring of 1946 when Dick Meyering and WAC Major Bell came recruiting in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where I was teaching German at the University. Having served in the Pacific during the war, I leaped at the chance to see the other side of the globe in the capacity of a Department of the Army civilian (DAC), working for the Dependents Schools in the American Occupation Zone of West Germany, for here was an opportunity to participate in a unique adventure in American education and, at the same time, observe history in the making as a country in shambles dug itself out of its dilemma.

I boarded the US Army Transport ship (USAT) Rodman” on September 24, 1946, with a number of people who were to become colleagues in days to come. All of us became aware of the environment we were to live in even before arriving in Germany, when we spotted masts of sunken ships sticking out of the waters of the English Channel. “Reserve your dismay” an English officer said to us, “till you go to the cities you are to work in, devastated beyond compare in numberless bombing raids.”

We landed in Bremerhaven on October 1, were processed in the staging area there, and took a night train to Frankfurt three days later. Frankfurt was a sight. Its cathedral tower was still standing and from its observation platform it afforded an impressive view of what modern air raids do. Rubble as far as the eye could see. But at school headquarters Major Walker and his staff had matters well in hand. Schools would open on schedule on October 14 for about 3000 pupils in over 40 schools.

I had been hired to teach high school English and History, but before classes started, a directive from Washington intervened to effect a change in my assignment. It seemed that the planners for the schools envisioned an elementary school curriculum, which included the teaching of German on all levels–by teachers recruited from the local economy.

This bold undertaking soon created the need for a coordinator who could provide a liaison between headquarters and the schools whose principals had to hire the German teachers. New ground was being broken here, for which policies had to be established and procedures developed for acquiring suitable teaching materials.

It was my good fortune to be appointed to the new staff position. Since I had emigrated from Germany 18 years before and had been teaching German at the University of Michigan I was considered “qualified” to give it a go and turn early improvisations into a bona fide and acceptable program.

In January 1947 the headquarters of the dependents schools was designated the 7755 Dependents Schools Detachment (DSD) and moved from crowded Frankfurt to Heidelberg, where office space was found at 51 Vangerow Straw.

I began my duties by visiting schools in the American Zone and in Berlin. The red tape of getting to Berlin by train through the Russian Zone was, to say the least…interesting. Lodging in the Zone also had its interesting aspects. I remember one instance in Frankfurt, when, being temporarily lodged in a downtown hotel, I opened a door at the end of a hall on the 4th floor which led to an abyss, a drop of 50′ to a courtyard below. The door should have been locked, but…in those days…

Different and decidedly more appealing was the conference for administrators and teachers in Garmisch. We were all overwhelmed by the beauty of the scenery there, especially the Riessersee below the Zugspitze. And when the conference was over at the beginning of the Easter vacation, more than a few of us took advantage of the facilities open to us, to wit, the Mozart Express to Vienna. What wonderful and eye-opening days we spent there! No wonder that a number of schools located in the Bavarian Alps took advantage of their idyllic surroundings by establishing contact with local German schools for field trips and class visits that brought American and German children together.

A year later in the summer of 1948, administrators and teachers attended a workshop in Bad Wiessee on Tegernsee to incorporate their collective experiences in some new guidelines for the coming school year. On weekends and days off they could be seen attending the Salzburg Festival and taking a boat ride on the spectacular Konigssee at Berchtesgarden.

It was during this workshop that the 7755 DSD moved to the Fiat building in downtown Karlsruhe and found lodging for its staff members in choice requisitioned housing. New vistas opened up. An active social life and adventures in traveling all over Western Europe offered everyone opportunities which most of them considered dreams of a lifetime come true.

In June 1949 I married Martha Lofberg of the Civilian Personnel Office in the chapel of Heidelberg castle with a good part of the American colony stationed there in attendance. Three months later I sailed for home on the USAT “Patch,” to finalize formal studies for the degree required for advancement in my then contemplated profession. My bride followed by Christmas and together we settled down to found a family. Our exciting years in Germany came, for the time being, to an end.

Looking back … we had our memories. We remembered standing on mountains of rubble, seeing a nation of people in despair, at point zero socially and economically, until, with the help of the Marshall Plan and the work of great men like Adenauer and Erhart, the people pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. It started with the financial reform of changing the worthless Reichsmark into the hard currency of the Deutsche Mark in June 1948 and, a couple of years later, of achieving political independence. In due time, America could point with pride to perhaps its greatest victory of the Great War by having replaced a dictatorship with a solidly based democracy and a down and out economy turned into sufficient prosperity to afford us a thriving trading partner.

We never forgot our great years in Germany, and when, in 1956, Dick Meyering came recruiting again at the University of Michigan, this time for the USAFE schools, based in Wiesbaden, we quickly came to some important decisions. I filled out the usual papers, this time for a stay of eleven years, till 1967. But that’s another story….

The details of the German program and its development are contained in an article I published in the German Quarterly of May 1954, a copy of which is in the AOSA.

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