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Adventures in Bad Kissingen

Alex Sutherland

One advantage growing up as an army brat in a small Bavarian town was that there was always a lot for us kids to do. Our little gang consisted of myself, Tom, Butch, Gary and Ricky with, at times, a couple of other kids joining in. Our Dads were based in Daley Barracks, home to the 2nd/11th ACR. The housing area and post were on the northern edge of town, surrounded on three sides by the German neighbourhoods and on the fourth side by the edge of the countryside, a hilly area we called Devils' Hill. Bad Kissingen is a small Bavarian spa town, surrounded by the rolling hills and valleys of this part of Northern Bavaria. It reminded me somewhat of West Virginia, only without the coal mines.

Us kids, thus, had not only the entire housing area and army post as a playground but also the town itself and the countryside and hills around it, as long as it was within walking distance. We treated it all as a big adventure playground.

One of our favourite places was the town park with the river Saale flowing thru it. We would spend a lot of time down here, messing around. A good place to hang around was the big 'Saline' building. This was a big wooden structure, with a roof over it but open sides. It was a couple of hundred yards in length and narrow. A walkway went around it on the outside. The middle structure was a network of what appeared to be dead woody shrubs, going from the floor all the way up to the ceiling. Thru this wooded part trickled salty water, hence the name 'Saline'. People with bronchial problems and ailments would walk around it, taking in the salty air. It was supposed to make breathing easier. It was quite an interesting building for us as well to explore and race around the wooden walkway.

We would hang around down by the river and wave at the little pleasure boats on it, or throw bottles into the river which we than tried to hit with pebbles. Nearby was a little pleasure pond where you could hire a little boat to go on it. Here we would spend a lazy summer afternoon sitting in our little plastic paddle boats, just gliding from one side to the other.

The river had its darker side as well. One winter the river flooded its banks and the water went over the paths by its side and then froze over. We were down there messing around as usual and thought it would be cool to walk on the ice. We didn't get far. The ice broke underneath me and I went thru right up to my knees. By time I got back home in the housing area my trousers were frozen solid. I was damn lucky that we were over the flooded path and not over the river itself!

The town of Bad Kissingen offered us many opportunities for fun as well. We used to go to the German 'Kaufhof', or department store. The only problem was that every time we went there we would be followed around the store by a stern looking German shop assistant, keeping an eye on us in case we stole anything. We would never do something like that, but it still bothered us, so we always took our Deutsch Marks to spend elsewhere. It was funny though, every time we went there, sure enough, she'd be there behind us. We had another funny incident with a German shop assistant. Butch had broken his watch, so we went to a jeweller down town. She took one look at us and sniffed, "Wir dienen Amerikaner nicht!" (We don't serve Americans!). Our response was to leave, and as we went out the door we turned and replied with "f***ing Kraut", and slammed the door behind us. On the whole, however, the local Germans were friendly with us, except for the one legged man who lived across the field from the housing area. He lived by a small wooded waste land and we were always down there play fighting, pretending we were in a jungle fighting the Japs. Our noise upset him and he was always yelling at us kids. We just yelled back at him! Once he took out a camera and started taking photos of us, so we all just gave him the bird. Another time he chased us all the way back into the housing area, hobbling on his crutches, his empty trouser leg rolled up and secured with a safety pin. We didn't feel too good about it and from then on left him in peace. By this time we were in the Boy Scouts and felt we should be a credit to society!

Being in the Boy Scouts, though, made us more inclined to explore our surrounding area. This resulted in hiking in the surrounding countryside and going further afield than before. We were also a little older and no longer playing at soldiers.

One of our favourite places was the wooded hill overlooking BK called, I think, the Sinnberg. On its ridge stood a fat stone tower which we thought, at the time, was a water tower. It was called the Bismarck Turm, or tower. It was actually built in the late 19th century as a viewing tower. From here we had a great view over the town, looking south. We could see the post and, behind it, the housing area. Nearby was a stone quarry, from where the stone to build the tower came from. We would many times come here and build a little camp fire and hang out, keeping warm and eating things out of C-rations we had liberated from post. We would spend hours up here in the woods, exploring the area. It was full of history as well. Back in 1865 the Prussian and Austrian armies fought here and there were the graves from their fallen soldiers all over the wooded hills. We would go thru the woods looking for the stone crosses and stand in awe in front of them, trying to read the names on them.

There was a little cafe up there on the hill as well, though we never went there (I did as an adult when, many years later, I returned to BK. They serve a good coffee there.). In the winter we would bring our sleighs up here and sleigh down the slope of the hill.

Another interesting place up here was a small town dump where things were thrown out. Now and then we would trek up to it and see if anything interesting had been trashed. This meant a nice hike from town, up a hill and across a pleasant little valley full of fruit trees. Once we found some old maps of the town here and an old atlas. Tom kept the town maps, I kept the atlas. It was from the prewar years and I was interested to see the German borders before the war and seeing the German names for the US.

At the very edge of town was the top end of Daley Barracks. On one side was Devil's Hill which was not far from the housing area, and on the other side were the slopes of the Sinnberg, where we had our camp fires. Connecting the two hills were the beginnings of the surrounding countryside, made up of big wheat fields, little orchards and other crops like turnips and potatoes. A dirt track passed by here, there was never any traffic here and mostly it was deserted, except for a lone German farmer on his tractor perhaps. There was a back gate into the post, it was never open and always deserted. I think it was a crash gate for times of war. We, however, would often come to this lonely spot and mess around. The little orchards had little huts in them, we would go there and explore. In one of the huts we found some German magazines. They were very interesting, as along with joke pages and articles on food and such like there were photos of German couples in the nude! They would be shown in their homes totally nude. We studied the photos with great interest! In the hot summer days we would rest under the shade of apple trees. All you would hear would be the buzzing of insects, perhaps the far off rumble of a tank on base or a distant tractor working a field somewhere. It was a magical area in the Fall, almost spooky at times with the wind blowing over the ripe wheat fields. We also had a little den up here. We found some sandbags somewhere and made ourselves a little fort alongside a shrub embankment. We used it as a kind of forward lookout point for our hikes into the next valley. Devil's Hill also was the location of our tree house. This was in an apple tree in an orchard near to the German neighborhood. In fact the tree house had been built by the German kids and then deserted. A typical day would find us starting either here and finishing off by the stone tower, or vise virsa. We could spend all day up here, slowly going from one place to the other.

We called the area above the post Devil's Hill as we thought that it was haunted. It was rumored that there was an old cemetary here, thought, of course, there wasn't. It was scary, though, at times, especially when it was overcast and more so in the Fall and winter. Once, we thought we saw a ghost. We were on the hill looking down when we spotted an old man walking along the track. He was tall and lean, walked with a stoop. He wore a long dark coat and a dark hat. He disappeared behind some shrub and didn't reappear on the other side. He hadn't gone back or anywhere we could see, he appeared to just vanish. We went down to the track, no sign of him anywhere. It was spooky, but in a good way. We loved Devil's Hill! And no, I don't think we saw a real ghost, the hill made our imagination run riot. But, then again....

The surrounding woods and hills had other places of interest for us. A much longer hike would take us, for example, to the local wild life park, or the army training grounds clear across town on the other side of the hills there. There was also a tower on top of the hill overlooking the housing area, you could go right to the top and see for miles.

The wild life park was a few miles from town. We would walk thru the woods to get to it. We would then search for a quiet corner at a far end of the park, away from prying eyes. Making sure that we didn't climb into an animal enclosure, we would scale the fence and spend a pleasant afternoon looking at the animals. Nobody ever stopped us to find out whether we actually paid to get in. I guess nobody thought we had just climbed the fence to get in. We did this a few times. I clearly remember us collecting acorns to feed to the wild pigs. It was beautiful in the Fall with the leaves changing colors, the smell of the damp earth underneath you and the feel of the air getting crispier.

Going to the army training grounds meant a long hike clear across town and over the hill on the other side. Beside the training ground the military had a small air strip up here. Our Boy Scout troop sometimes camped out here in out buildings in the woods. There was a beacon light at the air strip. At night I could see its faint rotating beam pass over the hilltop from my bedroom window, though I couldn't see the light itself. There was a small air defense base here as well, though we never went there. Well, we still hiked up here on some long day trips. We went to the army training grounds to look for spent shell casings. The main force was at the time deployed by the border, so we knew that the grounds would be empty. We found some shell cases though the big M60 tank shells were too heavy for us to carry all the way home. I still have a .50 Cal case from that day somewhere, the only one I kept. I used it as a pencil holder. We were going thru the woods when we stumbled across a smoke grenade. We were looking at it when the top fell off, instantly we threw it into the distance and flattened ourselves on the forest floor. Off course, it was a spent smoke grenade but we didn't know it at the time, it could have been a phosphor grenade for all we knew. We felt pretty good in how we took the 'correct' action, even though nothing happened, as we saw in countless war films. A little further up we were forced to flatten ourselves on the ground again as an army jeep drove by. We heard it coming and managed to hide in time, it passed by us without the soldiers seeing us. We went to the strip where we messed around for a while, before heading back to town, passing some more war graves from the 1865 battle. We were quite pleased with our walk and I used it for part of my Boy Scout hiking merit badge.

Another time, it was in summer, we walked to the neighbouring village which was a good few miles from us. We walked thru it and then went up to the ridge of the hill overlooking it. We walked thru the shaded pine trees, sandy soil underneath our feet. It was hot, but we had our army canteens. Suddenly a flight of five or six US Hueys flew over us, just a few yards above the trees. We hid in the undergrowth and watched them fly past, heading either to Schweinfurt or the BK landing strip. Again, another memory burned into my brain. Coming back to the valley we spied some apple trees across a field. We then decided to try and knock off the apples from the trees with rocks, which we threw at the trees. Almost instantly, an irate German came flying out of the orchard, shouting at us to stop. We didn't even see him before, so, once again we are forced to run off with our tails between our legs! We walked thru the little German village, it was dead quiet as they tended to be on a Sunday, and up the hill on the other side and across it back to BK. We walked many dusty miles on dirt tracks between the hills and valleys, going from one place to another. We could never understand the kids back in the housing area who never left the place. We didn't think much of the football jocks who spent their time running around a field when we were running around the local countryside. The way we saw it, the early American explorers didn't hang around throwing a ball around but went hiking into the wilderness, just as we did. (Looking back, of course, we were way too nerdy to play football with the jocks! LOL)

We ended up further and further away from the housing area, sometimes we ended up a couple of villages away. We never ran into trouble though once we were walking along the river Saale, miles upstream, when we suddenly and unexpectedly came across a camp full of older German teenagers. We literally turned a corner and there they were. We couldn't go back so we shut up and calmly walked thru their camp, the teens looking at us with as much surprise as we them. They all had scooters, so we knew that they were probably tough guys! They must have known we were American, but neither side said anything and once we passed them and were round the next corner we just ran for hell for about half a mile! We then had to take a longer way back home, avoiding the German camp. This meant a walk thru a small village on the other side of the river. Here the street was so narrow that there wasn't a sidewalk, so we had to walk on the road itself. This wasn't too bad in normal traffic, but just as we were in the narrowest part a US military truck tore thru the village at well above the speed limit. It missed us by inches, I guess the GI driving the truck thought it was real funny scaring some local 'German' kids! B*****d!

Another time we were hiking thru the fields when we came to the edge of a wood. Here was a big rock pile from which trickled a little stream. We decided, as explorers, to follow the stream. We followed it down thru the woods, climbing down some waterfalls. It was mid summer, it was obvious that more water flowed here in winter or when it rained. It was a lovely setting, a stream going thru the woods with trees making a roof overhead. On the ground was a carpet of white flowers. At the base of a cliff we found a old 1950s German Ford Taunus. I know that because it said so on the badge on the front. I levered off the badge and took it home, it didn't make the move from Germany when we left however. We climbed up the cliff, at the top was the edge of the wood and farm fields beyond. Somebody just drove to the edge years before and pushed the car down the cliff. It was still a pretty cool 'discovery' for us. We continued to follow the stream downhill until, at last, it came out in a clearing and flowed into the river Saale. We called the stream the 'GAR', after our names: Gary, Alex, Ricky.

While we spent a lot of our time in the local countryside, we didn't ignore the town totally. Here we did some really stupid things, but they were fun at the time and I make no excuses for them.

Across the road from Daley Barracks was the local German High School. It was a favourite place for us, especially in the evenings. The building had an external walkway and a flat roof. You could take the external stairs right up to the roof, which you could reach by jumping over a little gate. You had to judge it just right as if you tripped over it, or misjudged your jump, you could go right over the edge of the building! From the top of the building you had a good view of the town, the lights twinkling away below. You had to be careful standing on the side facing the post as the main entrance was right across the school. Here we would prowl around the school building and grounds. Sometimes we had to hide quickly as there were usually evening classes on. We were never caught. It was fun creeping around in the shadows, speaking in hushed tones. We felt like we were in some movie.

Only once did we nearly get into trouble. Tom and I were just leaving the high school grounds and going thru the hospital ground next door. We spied two rakes leaning against the wall. Well, a rake handle is a mighty fine thing to have when you're 13 or 14. We took the rakes and, for shame, broke off the rake bit. Just at that point the damn German caretaker came out of the door and grabbed hold of Tom. The caretaker was shouting something at us, I couldn't understand his thick Bavarian accent. I pleaded for him to let go of Tom and was apologising for us breaking the rakes. Well, the caretaker was mad as hell, but for an instant he let go of Tom. We immediately ran like anything, the German guy behind us. He couldn't catch us. Both Tom and I were doing good times in our Junior High track events. Our running practice on the track field back on post paid off now as we ran down the street. In his frustration, the caretaker hurled the rake handle after us! Close shave, we cooled down a bit after that. But not for long.

In the winter of 1978 there was a big German apartment building being built in town. It was a good size and, perhaps, ten stories high. It naturally attracted us like a moth to a flame. We climbed over the perimeter fence in the dark winter evenings, after we all had supper. Using our army flashlights, we explored that building from the huge underground car parking lot right up to the top of the place. How nobody ever saw the lights from the flashlights I'll never know. The basement area was pitch black and had pools of water on the floor. It was spooky as hell, our footsteps echoing around us in the dark. In the very center of the site was a wooden shed where, during the day, the workers had their tea breaks and where they ate their lunches. There was a wooden table here, some metal chairs, some gas heaters, which we lit to provide light and warmth, some food and some clothing. Tom got himself a German army cap, we all were so envious of him. We spent a lot of time here over the winter period, as the building went up. How we were never caught I just don't know. We were so lucky, though, that we were never picked up by the Polizei, it wouldn't have been good for our Dads, let alone us! Only at the very end, after we had been in that building many times, was there a security guard who we spotted before going in again that last time.

We did some pretty stupid things in there. We didn't cause any damage or steal anything, except for Toms' army cap. We did, however, light the gas heaters and made torches out of some plastic bound onto some sticks, to give us light after our flashlight batteries died. We also went to the upper apartments, the big ones at the top, and wrote our names on the walls! How dumb was that? One evening we even managed to get right up on the roof. Here we celebrated by urinating off the roof, ten floors up, our urine blown away into the dark by the winter wind. We were all 14 - 15 years old and didn't think that we could have fallen to our deaths, either off the roof, down an elevator shaft, or whatever. It felt dangerous, but that made it such fun. We were friends having fun together, that was all that matter to us. We didn't think about the possible consequences.

As a post script to Toms' army cap, there was a wooden Western type play fort near the elementary school. It was a German playground. One cold, wet winters' day Tom and I went there and decided to build a little fire in one of the wooden teepees, to dry out and keep warm. Well, needless to say, the teepee caught fire! It burnt a hole into the floor and burnt the inside wall, but we used Toms' army cap to beat out the flames, saving the teepee but ruining the cap.

Those were the days! ET IN ARCADIA EGO!


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