Friday, October 29, 2010

Neubrücke: One of Our Cradles

Monique was born this day at the 98th General Hospital of the United States Army in the little village of Neubrücke, Germany. These days it is a place of some 416 inhabitants; in those days American military swelled the numbers. Neubrücke was then and still remains part of Hoppstädten, a township that actually makes its mark on the south-western side of the German map, an economically somewhat modest region in easy driving distance of Belgium, Luxembourg, and France. The county (Kreis) is Birkenfeld; I was good friends with the County Commissioner and therefore knew something about the struggles of this region.

 We lived just ten miles from Hoppstädten in one of Germany’s two largest artillery firing ranges, Baumholder. That place is still there, still housing some 10,000-plus U.S. troops…when they happen to be there. Most of them today are “temporarily” in Afghanistan and in Iraq. The crest and the photograph are of Hoppstädten itself; Neubrücke is out of the picture but would have presented a continuation of the scene we see here had the camera panned to the left a little more. The nearest serious hospital to us, then, was in Neubrücke—and the 98th was a very serious, very modern, 1,000-room general hospital.

It lost its status in the 1970s when another large military hospital was completed in Baumholder itself. For a while this complex of some 50 buildings, of which the hospital itself was the largest, served various elements of the U.S. Army, Air Force, and Marines. Later it became property of the German government and served as a school and as residential district. I’m delighted to have found a photograph of one end of this actually much, much larger building. This photo was taken during the hospital’s period of abandonment and on a dreary day. It had quite a different look on sunny day when it was at its peak and filled with life. I was also lucky. This picture shows that end of the hospital where I actually parked my little grey VW bug on the day of Monique’s arrival and on subsequent visits. Then I walked the whole seemingly interminable half-length of the building to enter it in the middle.

Like so many places in the old world, Neubrücke has a deep history. To give a glimpse of that, here is a quote from GlobalSecurity.org, from an article titled “Neubruecke Kaserne, Germany”:

The history of Neubruecke can be traced back to 2,000 B.C. The area at that time was occupied by tribes of Celts who began a series of fortifications along the Idar Mountain range as protection against Germanic tribes to the Southeast. These fortifications continued until approximately 100 B.C. The defense line which ran between the Mosel and Rhine rivers was initially built of wood, but was rebuilt in stone during the Roman Era. The site of the old hospital complex covers a Celtic burial ground called …“Tumuli.” Twelve of these large earthen mounds or tombs were excavated before construction of the hospital complex. Relics typical of the Bronze Age were found. Bodies of the dead were entombed in wooden coffins fashioned by hollowing out whole tree trunks and personal items such as jewelry, vases, urns, and bowls were placed with them. Most items unearthed were of Celtic origin, but also found were bronze artifacts which probably dated back to Greek times. All the relics unearthed can be seen on display at the Landesmuseum at Trier.

John will be happy to know that the Celts were already guarding the place of his future wife’s birth before, you might say, time began. And it is strangely appropriate that a place once a tomb honoring the brave should have in time become transformed into a place where many thousands of babies saw the light for the first time ever.

44 comments:

  1. For me this hospital holds memories of a warm, secure and caring place. I spent 15 days there before Monique's premature arrival and got to know and very much appreciate the doctors and nurses, mostly male ones. For the first month of Monique's life Arsen and I drove to visit her daily. The young male nurse who exclusively cared for Monique would give us detailed information of her progress each day. On the day before we were allowed to take her home with us, he greeted us with some excitement and a big smile – “she has gained weight for the first time” he said…”now she’s ready to go home”.
    Unfortunately we do not have his name. His care and enthusiasm however, remain a most happy memory revisited often this time of year.

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MONIQUE!

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  2. How nice.

    Such fun names, Neubruecke, Hoppstadten, Baumholder, and Kaiserschlauten... Is it any wonder that my official documents—upon which, over the years, I've used these names interchangeably to refer to my place of birth—are a bit confusing?

    What is very clear to me is just how very fortunate I am. I came into the world surrounded by loving, carrying people and have felt that support and love throughout my life. There is no greater treasure.

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  3. Hurrah for Neubruecke, Hoppstadten, Baumholder, Kaiserschlauten, the Celts, the U.S. Army, and anybody else who may have had a hand in bringing such a splendid woman into the world!

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  4. P.S. And yes, that "Hurrah!" most importantly includes Arsen and Brigitte above all!

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  5. Baldy: of coarse this blog reminds me of the K.C. Union Station meeting Brigitte, with Hillary carrying a yellow carrier with Monique in it. That is etched in my memory. It still brings tears to my eyes.

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  6. Not Hillary, Baldy, but Barbara. You've jumped a generation there. But yes, it was, one of those great events...

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  7. It is these sorts of family reunions—whether our own or others that we simply witness—that make any trip to the airport, train station, or even bus station such a potentially emotional thing.

    I obviously do not remember the meeting you mention here, Baldy, but I do remember clearly Mommer telling the story of that meeting. I'm glad I was there!

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  8. My wife and I both worked at the 98th Hospital in 1958 to 1961. I met my wife on the OB ward and I was working in recovery. I still have the same wife.

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  9. We may have met, Anonymous! And thank you for your fine work!

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  10. I lived in Birkenfeld, Germany from August 1984 through June 1986. Lots of memories.

    Jimmy Smith

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  11. This posting has lots of readers, Jimmy. Surprisingly many. That obscure and economically humble part of Germany has left a big impression on many of us who served or worked there...

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    1. Stationed at the 98th general hospital as the chaplains assistant from dec. 59 to June 61 have nothing but fond memories of Neubrucke with a special thanks to the 4 daughters gast haus (hotel wadesruhe)
      Ex chaplains assistant or as I was known - the sky pilots co-pilot.
      Mark Mooney
      Sp4 (retired)?

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    2. Welcome, Mark. A very good friend of mine, from 8th DivArty HQ Company, was a chaplain's assistant in my days in Baumholder, and I got to hear the insider take on things from him.

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  12. I lived in Neubrucke, taught sixth grade in Baumholder (Smith) Elem. l974-77. So many amazing experiences living there. On the commute to/from Baumholder I recall seeing a chimney sweep wearing top hat, long brush coiled over his shoulder; stopping for a flock of sheep crossing the road guided by their shepherd; freshly skinned rabbit being carried by the ears into a home, likely headed for the stewing pot. Sometimes there were convoys of military tanks, slowing down the trip considerably. Neubrucke train station (two tracks)near the Nahe River and Highway 41 connected us to destinations near and far. I recall Schnell Imbiss parked on roadside nearby where one could get fried schnitzel sandwich and pom frites (fries) with mayonaise. YUM! --Sharon L.

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    1. Delighted to hear from you, Sharon! Your own memories bring back our own. We were back in that area a while back, and it hadn't changed a great deal in its flavor--although both Baumholder and Neubrucke have grown. In its humbler and more backward regions (and those words describe Kreis Birkenfeld and region right to and even beyond the border with France) the "old" Europe still survives. I am now trying to get some decent pictures of Baumholder to follow up this post with another. Hope you will be back.

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  13. My father was statoned in Neubrucke from 1959-1962, I arrived there around 1960 and left in the summer of 1961. We lived on "economy" meaning in a small attac appartment with a German family in Edaroberstein (I have no idea how the town should be spelled, I was four years old at the time). When base housing was completed we moved into the brand new three story terrace apartment houses. I couldn't have been more than 5 years old, but I would take my younger brother and walk from the apartment across a street through a baceball field, through the woods to the Sunday School building, P.X. and Movie Theater. All of the buildings seemed to be interlinked somehow, once we entered the closest building we would walk down long hallways from one inteeresting locaation to the next without leaving the building. The buildings had wheel chair ramps instead of stairs, or maybe we just took the wheelchair ramps instead of stairs.

    I have some pictures of my family in Germany and the base at that time. The German house that we lived in was occupied by Oma Kuntz, her daughter Lotta, her husband Hair Georgivitch and around 1961 a new born son. Oma Kuntz ran a coal yard nextdoor to the house.

    My name is Wanda Burlason.

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    1. Dear Wanda:

      Thanks for your comment -- and for sharing your memories. The town you lived in was Idar Oberstein; it was and is a lovely place, and when we were there we used to go there on Sundays to have nice meals. You remember Oma Kuntz's husband as Hair Georgivitch; you're reproducing the sound that you heard as a child. That was probably Herr Georgivitch, meaning Mr. Georgivitch, and children called adults Mister, Herr, pronounced like "hair."

      I am twenty years older than you are, but in my youth I had very similar experiences in wandering the vast spaces of great European buildings with my little sister and even smaller brother.

      Thanks again. It's nice to hear from you.

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  14. My husband was stationed in Birkenfeld with the 615 AC&W Squadron from 1967 to 1970. My oldest daughter was born in the Neubreucke Hospital in 1968. Seems so very long ago, yet after reading some of these comments, bring all the memories of Germany to mind. Thank you! Paulette

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    1. Thanks for sharing your memories, Paulette. A very large number of us passed through that region, transients, to be sure, but at a crucial time in our lives. Brigitte, my wife, was there eight years before you. Curious this. Those times now seem like memories of childhood--although we were all adults...

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  15. Born at this hospital in March 1969. How cool to see and read about it! Thanks so much!

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    1. Your cradle too, Anonymous! Welcome. Neubruecke is meaningful to lots an lots of people. This post has become the most popular on the blog since its publication. We're a huge family, manner of speaking. Thanks for your comment!

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  16. Thank you for sharing these special memories. While my father was stationed at Baumholder and the family was living at Ida-Oberstein, I was born at the 98th General Hospital in late 1965 and driven home from the hospital in a Ford that still sits quietly rusting in the barn out back. While my mother and brother were born farther east and I spent most of my years in Germany growing up in Bavaria, I'm rather proud to be the only Rhinelander in the family.

    I am happy to read that the hospital has been given new life as a university. It's nice to think that it's been put to such a constructive use.

    Stephen

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    1. Welcome, Stephen. And thanks for adding to the chronicle. Idar-Oberstein was our favorite place to go for meals and some shopping. Our car was cream-colored two-door Chevrolet -- and also still lives in memory, if no longer on our property. Our own Monique, now you remind me, is also a Rhinelander. I'll have to remind her of that. She will be pleased.

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    2. I remember coming home from Germany with a little bug and a VW van - that my parents later sold because I told my brother it was magic and he could fly off the top of it, oops. My dad had his volksie for many years. I learned to drive in that little bug.

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  17. It's likely that my sister is the Anonymous person who said she was born in Neubrucke in March '69. We lived in Baumholder '66-'69 in one of the apartment buildings on Fern Strasse. My brother and I were pre-teens and have many fond memories of living there: the excitement of seeing our newborn sister for the first time, climbing and picking cherries off the old cherry tree nearby, sliding down the hillside on flattened cardboard boxes, going to pre-teen club dances (dancing with Danny R), watching movies at the theater for 15 (later 25) cents (including The Sound of Music...for 50 cents), and going with my mom to the area on base we called Germantown. I had a friend from nearby Fallenberg. In Idar Oberstein, I loved seeing and visiting the church built into the rock. Thanks to you and to my Sis for taking me back to some great memories. Great to read your info about Neubrucke and the surrounding area. -- Cheryl

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    1. We were close neighbors, Cheryl, if a block away. We lived on Pearl in one of the buildings there -- but left that apartment in 1960 to make our way home to the US of A. Thanks for sharing your memories.

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  18. I stand corrected.

    My mother has informed me that Monique and I are more correctly referred to as "Pfälzers" than as Rhinelanders. I learn something new of my heritage almost every day.

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    1. Well, the region is known as Rheinland-Pfalz, so all depends where precisely you draw your boundaries.

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  19. So many fond memories of my youth, we used to build inner tube rafts and go rafting down the small stream that ran directly across from the main gate in 1974. We would camp in that same field and woods and other days we would pedal our bikes all the way to Birkenfeld for a schnitzel at one of the many schnell imbiss locations. When my friends and I were not out exploring or playing "war" in the woods my brothers and I would pick the apple trees on base and my mother would make sweet apple pastries with them. Who can forget going to the movies on base or the 5 cent coke machine in the barracks. Back in the day when we were not playing organized football or baseball (the AYA neubrucke stars pee wee team)we would play amongst the housing groups which back then we called the "uppers" officers housing, "middlers" usually CWO housing and the "lowers" the enlisted housing. We called them that not because of social status, we didn't really care about that back then, but because of the natural geography of the base and the way the housing was situated on a hill. All three years I was there it never failed to snow on Thanksgiving, time to pull out our sleds. Wow, I wish my kids had the opportunity to experience such a childhood back in the days when children actually played outdoors.

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    1. Welcome -- and thanks for your memories.You're absolutely right. Childhood in Europe was just like that and may still be that way. My brother, visiting Europe last month, observed very few cell phones and children going home from school on their own. We have all ages here, who remember, and you've just provided us a child's perspectives...

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  20. I was stationed in Baumholder 68-70 and my wife and I lived on the economy in Baumholder and Idar-Oberstein. Our son was born at Nuebrucke in July 1970. We got back in 2004 for a few days. Fond memories for sure. Do you or anyone else know how to obtain the Hoppstadten-Weiersbach crest shown at the top of this page as a banner or flag? I'd love to give it to my son as a gift. Thanks for putting this up. I will check back often.

    Rodger Smith
    293rd Engineer Battalion
    rsmith@perkinsthompson.com

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    1. I'll look into it, Rodger. If I discover where you can get the crest, I'll post it here. May take me a day or two. -- And thanks for your comment. When I put this up, I had no idea how many people passed through there and have good memories...

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    2. Hi, Rodger:

      There is an outfit that will make you a flag (at various sizes) with the Hoppstadten-Weiersbach coat of arms on it. Prices begin around Euro 10.00. Here is the website:

      http://www.koenigsbanner.de/prestashop/hoppstadten-weiersbach/713404200-hoppstadten-weiersbach.html

      Now that site is in German, and Google doesn't translate it very well. There are images, however, so you could do your best--or get a German-speaker to help you. It's not clear from the site whether or not they ship to the U.S.. I've sent them e-mail asking about that. In any case, it might be simpler to call them. The German telephone number is 05271 6 999 100. Somebody there will speak English, and you might be able to order your stuff by phone.

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  21. I lived in Neubruke, as well. My dad was a dentist stationed there. My sister and brother were born there in '59 and '62. Our surname is Mast. Many families that were there with us at the same time are still in touch. I was very young, born in '57, but I remember walking with my dad to that hospital. Thank you for posting and sharing, brings back cherished memories.

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    1. Welcome, Trishy. I had some dental work there when I was a soldier -- and who knows? I may have been your Dad's patient! Small world -- revealed by the magic of electronic linkage. Thanks for sharing that Neubruecke was also one of your family's cradles. Our daughter was born there,sandwiched between your brothers in time.

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    2. I agree our children gone to go to the Neurbucke schools there and we lived in one of the quarters just outside of the gate of Nuebrucken down the street in Hoppenstadten. It was just 3 appartment complex that was there (1988-1993). I use to go across the street and visit my neighbor infront of the quaters and behind the quarter. They were just like family. The best of living in hoppenst. was the walking plz behind the resident home and the Schentizer Stand. I loved it all. Wish I could go back and live there.

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  22. I was there from July 55 to Oct 57 and I bet your Dad was the one who pulled all 4 of my wisdom teeth. He said each one was so different he felt like he was back in dental school. Saved me a lot of money having the Army do it based on his advice. If he is still around tell him thanks again. I was the officer's record clerk and paid the officer's each month in scrip.
    Victor ("Smitty").
    Many fond memories of the Four Daughters Gasthaus down the road from the front gate.

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  23. I stumbled upon this post my a Google search. I was born on September 10th 1959 at a US Army hospital in Neubrücke so I assume this has to be the same one.

    Really interesting to read the stories here!

    Michael Shake, Son of Sargent Robert Shake and Rose Shake.

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    1. I am certain, Michael, that you found the place of your birth! Welcome to this very popular posting. Lots of wonderful people were born there thanks to the hard labors of mothers, doctors, nurses, and the administrative folk who kept things running, like Victor, who commented just before you...

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  24. I was born there. 1968. Went back visit 15 yrs ago ish.

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  25. I share with Monique the experience of inhereting a folder of my birth documents from various sources and pulling them one by one for the US Passport people until they said "yes" to one.
    Born Jan. 1957 to tank commander Lieutenant stationed in Baumholder. Our family returned to W.Germany for 2 more tours '63-'66 Stuttgart and'68-'72 Heidelgerg. Many great memories
    Especially check out the Hospital Christmass Greetings '55 at http://www.usarmygermany.com/Sont.htm?http&&&www.usarmygermany.com/USAREUR_City_Baumholder.htm

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  26. Ben Dawson Hey Smitty, I was also at Neubruecke from early 56 (as a young 18 yr old) to Sep. 58. Then again from 62-65. Just a glutton for the area I guess. One of my very good friends married one of the daughters (Mary Anne). Worked in the E.R. in 56 and wardmaster in Post Op in 62. Just lucky to come across this site. Regards to all.

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  27. I was stationed on Neubruecke Kaserne from Feb. 1987 - Sep. 1989. Ah, what fond memories. I was an enlisted soldier in B. Battery 4/1 Air Defense Artillery (Hawk). Arrived a buck private and was promoted to SP4 in 14 months! I will never forget the beautiful grassy rolling hills we would set up our equipment on for days at a time. It was so beautiful with such crisp cool air. On Friday nights I would sneak under the back gate and catch a train to St. Wendel to go to the "Flash" discotheque to see my girlfriend Katja. I lived in the barracks so my room was a converted hospital ward. They still had the old built-in hospital equipment in some of the unused rooms (autoclaves and large flushable floor sinks - great for dumping mop water - who knows the original use...) One of the guys in my barracks taught me how to wrestle on the terrazzo floors of the barracks - I never got a chance to thank Karl for giving me the skills to save my own neck against hostiles later on before he died. I want to say Hello to the guys lost in the sands of time - Karl, Sgt. Smitty, Curry, Rogers...the list goes on and on. God bless all of you who helped me grow up...I miss Neubruecke and all the people I knew while I lived there. Can't say I missed it when I left though...

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