Walsh, Richard, C.: Germany: 1953 – 1954: Frankfurt

These reminiscences date from the years 1953 – 1954 that I spent working for the Army’s Dependent School Division, Northern Area Command. While all three have to do with my MG” they are not about the car but rather, about the kindness I experienced in Germany.

IN THE NICK OF CRIME

When I returned to my Frankfurt teaching station (Frankfurt American Elementary School) after a Washington’s Birthday holiday observance that I’d spent on a visit to pre-Wall Berlin via rail, I noticed that my MG wasn’t where I’d parked it. (This was in February of 1954.)

But I wasn’t especially concerned since I’d left my car keys with one of the fellows with whom I shared government housing. We’d been having an especially cold winter in Frankfurt and I’d told him that if his car wouldn’t start he could use mine. Well, he hadn’t used it and didn’t know what had happened to it. So I called and reported the theft to both the U.S. Military Police (M.P.) and the German police. While I had P.L. and P.D. insurance coverage, neither theft nor collision were covered, the cost being so prohibitive that hardly anyone of the U.S. employees carried it.

A couple of days passed. Then I got word that the German police had spotted the car in the woods near Rhein Main Airport and frightened off a couple of men who seemed about ready to strip the car for parts. The police had then towed the car to Rhein Main and turned it over to the U.S. Military Police based there. They notified me and I was able to put the car in driving condition after an out-lay of about $70.00 to repair the wiring which had been ripped out to hot-wire the car. My gratitude went to the German police for saving me from a major loss, thanks to their efficiency and alertness.

OUT-O-GAS ON THE AUTOBAHN

In April 1954, my friend Angelo and I were returning to Frankfurt after spending Easter week in Paris and its environs. It was getting on toward midnight when we started up the Autobahn, planning to gas up at the first American service station but I had pushed my luck too far and we ran out of gas. (This was at a time when there has been a string of unsolved “Autobahn murders” most victims having been sleeping truckers.) Angelo said that we should leave the parking lights on while parked on the shoulder and certainly, “Some Americans will spot the U.S. HICOG plates and come to our rescue.” (My previous assignment had been at the Bad Godesburg DSD school serving the children of personnel working for the U.S. High Commission for Germany.)

We spent an hour watching car after car breeze by, scarcely slowing down, and there had been many American licensed cars among them. Then an Autobahn Police car going down the opposite side of the road spotted my MG, came across the median and the officers asked what the trouble was.

When I had explained our situation, they offered to take me to the nearest German gas station, some 17 kilometers back. Naturally I took them up on the offer, while Angelo stayed with the MG and our belongings. Not only did they take me to the station but they brought me and the gas can back to the car and offered to take the can back too. I was sure they would turn down a tip but I managed to press a few packs of American cigarettes upon them. How about that for German-American friendship.

SIDE – SLIPPING IN SWABIA

It was after dark on a rainy evening in May of ’54 and I had my MG back on the wet brick road after having a pot of coffee at a German inn to forestall sleepiness. (I was traveling alone so there was no one to share the driving.)

There was a long VE Day holiday weekend observance so it seemed like a good chance to motor down to Lucerne from my Frankfurt teaching station and I’d started out after school was adjourned on Friday afternoon.

I saw a sharp turn ahead, partway down the hill I was descending so I reached for the brake pedal, but the wet sole of my shoe slipped off the brake pedal and onto the accelerator. The car sideslipped, hitting a short concrete post, and was flipped upside-down into a ditch.

Fortunately, I was thrown across the empty passenger seat since the convertible top was crushed. I knew that I was unharmed but, since I was concerned about leaking oil and gas possibly igniting, I reached over and switched off the ignition. Now I discovered that I couldn’t get out because of the weight of the car bearing on the pins of the side curtains and the door and because in my cramped position. I couldn’t manage to kick open a door. That was one time my six-foot long frame worked to my disadvantage.

Within a few minutes there were headlights and a car stopped. A German-speaking voice asked if I was OK and I assured him that I was. After a brief conversation he surmised that I was an American. It turned out that he was too. In fact, he was a Mormon missionary working in Germany.

He managed to pull a door open. When I got out I saw that other cars, all occupied by Germans, had stopped to see what was going on. They offered to drive me to the nearby town of Rottweil where I could obtain lodgings and make arrangements for the car with a Traveler’s Aid representative.

But I asked if they thought the car could be rolled upright. In a minute a few burly fellows had the little MG back on the wheels. I pulled back the convertible top frame, with its torn canvas and tried the ignition. Amazingly, she started right up. The windshield glass was gone and it was strange to see the wipers moving across an empty space. The headlights were smashed too, but a bumper mounted fog-light still functioned so I followed one of the cars into Rottweil. They led me to an inn, which provided me with a room and garage space for the MG.

Now I joined the others at the bar where I bought them a round of beer. (The Mormon gentleman had already gone his way.) Soon we were joined by the Traveler’s Aid gentleman who said that he’d see to the car early the next morning. When he saw the car he said he could arrange to have the car travel-worthy for 400 DM (then worth only $100). I said, “Fine, but I’m not carrying much cash with me.” He arranged with three different shops to get the work done immediately: one for the windshield, one to straighten the convertible top frame, and one to provide one headlight. (Finding anyone who had lights for a 12-volt system was a real problem when 6-volt was usual.)

He had wheedled each repairman so that the total amounted to only 350 DM. I figured that other 50 would be for his trouble but he said I owed him only 350. I said I’d have to send him a money order when I got my next paycheck. I even had to insist that I give him my address and an I.D.

So by early afternoon I was back on the road to Lucerne because there was very little real body damage, mostly scratches. My friend explained that while he had his own business, he volunteered his endeavors for Travelers’ Aid. Thank God for kindly local people – and a Morman missionary.

Copyright 2004 American Overseas Schools Historical Society