I only stayed in the BOQ a short
while before it got crowded and I wanted out. I found an apartment
downtown, in a private home. I found a 5 room basement apartment,
with kitchen and full utilities for $75 a month, a carton of American cigarettes,
and a chess game once a week with Joseph Huhn, the head of the 4 member
family that lived there. Seems Joseph only rented to single American
Officers because of the American cigarettes and the fact that he had a
unique experience with Americans.
Joseph had been an officer on a U-boat that was sunk off of the American coast and he and his crew were captured and put in a prison camp in Maine. He said he never had it so good while being a prison. He was able to go into town, had good food and the guards treaded them very kindly. After the war all the prisoners were put on busses and taken all around the U.S. on a big tour. They ended up in Chicago or Detroit I believe and were given the option of returning home or staying in the U.S. and starting up their old professions for so much money but they had to stay for 5 years. Joseph elected to stay and earn a lot of money because he figured post war Germany would be in pretty bad shape.
If I was in the apartment on Sundays I was expected to eat the big noon meal with the family. Mrs. Huhn was one heck of a cook but could only speak about a dozen words of English. The dinner always consisted of a salad with a rich milk-base salad dressing. When the salad portion of the meal was over I was dished out a very healthy portion of meat and the ever-present German potato dumplings. The leftover dressing was used to mix with the meat gravy which made a meal fit for a King. There was just one problem for me and that was that the Germans do not drink anything with their meals. When I brought up this fact to them and pointed out the fact that I sure could use something to drink, they broke with custom and gave me a beer or two. I was soon addicted to the potato dumplings though and went from 135-lbs to 175-lbs in just 9 months.
After the meal I would sit with Joseph and play him in chess while he enjoyed his cigarettes. I won every game but one and when he won that he was so proud. I had been there about 3 or 4 months when he decided to show me the rest of the basement. My apartment was in half of it and the other half was locked up as I recall. I guess he had figured that I was now "OK" in his book. When I entered the room I was stunned. The room was apparently his private den. Along 3 of the 4 walls were at least a dozen very expensive oil paintings that were all originals. Each one was different but depicted the same type scene, that of a single survivor that was desperately trying to stay on some small piece of floating wreckage. Each scene also showed sharks circling just waiting for the rough waves to knock him off. Each scene also showed the survivor frantically waving something, trying to get the attention of a far away ship that was going away from him. Though Joseph did not show it, the mental strain of being on those submarines must have been enormous. I guess that is why he was so happy to be out of the war.
Because it rained so much I had a lot of time off during the week so I would hide out a lot at the apartment. If they needed me they would call. Every time I would come in, no matter how quiet I was, Terry, their black male poodle would come down the stairs for company. Mrs. Huhn was always getting on me, in a nice sort of way, for not knowing German. So, with the aid of a box of dog biscuits, I began teaching Terry dog tricks, via English.
Terry was a fast learner. When the time was right I sprung him on Mrs. Huhn. With the next Sunday dinner Mrs. Huhn got on me again about my German, which was coming along but at a much slower pace than she would have liked. Between her scantly English and what little German I knew we got a conversation going and I told her that even Terry knew more English than she did. She gave me a very emphatic "NO" in German. I had set her up perfect.
I sneakedly reached into my pocket and carefully pulled out a dog biscuit that I only let Terry see. That was his cue and over he came with tail wagging and eyes almost bulging out of his head. I said "sit" and he sat and for the next several minutes Terry would have made a trained circus dog blush with envy. When Terry was through I gave him his biscuit and said "See!" It left Mrs. Huhn speechless as I walked over to sit next to Joseph. Joseph couldn't believe his eyes either but did appreciate the fact that I had pulled one on his wife and he joked about it. Mrs. Huhn then said something scoldingly to Terry and Terry went over to his bed. Joseph said she had just called him a "trader". The dog biscuits came in handy in a another very unexpected way.
The section of town that I was living in had quite a few older folks living there as well. Some would say hello to me and some would not. Joseph said that they didn't give the Americans a chance to prove that they were good people and that some were still remembering the war.
Right across the street were 2 little dogs that would bark like heck at me whenever I went in or out. Feetsbie was the mother and Nero was her son. They were little dogs, only about 10" high at best. Those 2 dogs wanted at me in the worst way it seems so they dug a little whole under the fence and would come out after the car. As soon as I got out though they would make a hasty retreat to their side of the road. Since I already had the dog biscuits for Terry I figured that they would rather eat then bark so I threw 2 over to them. It worked. Within 2 weeks I had both of them eating right out of my hand. Both Joseph and Mrs. Huhn were amazed that I could pet them and even rough house with them a little. The locals soon saw this also and from that point on I started getting greetings form virtually all the neighbors.
About 1/2 way through my tour I was ordered to take part in a German language course. It was only to be 2 weeks long but was designed to give us the basics of the culture and language. While taking the course I learned that it was custom to bring flowers to the lady of the house when invited to dinner. So, the next Sunday I bought some flowers and hid them behind my belt as I came up the stairs to take part in their Sunday dinner. I said my greetings in German then asked Mrs. Huhn to come over to me and she did. I then reached behind me and gave her the flowers. She took the flowers then stood very still and quite for a moment while looking at the flowers. Then, before I could even move, she grabbed me and about squeezed the breath out of me with probably the longest most sincere hug that I have ever received. Now you have to understand that Mrs. Huhn was your typical German older lady, not fat mind you but sort of large and muscular yet still retaining a nice figure. When she finally let go and pulled back she had tears in here eyes. I had no idea how much it meant to those folks when they saw an American go out of their way to learn their ways. Those people treated me like a son.