Sunday, September 16, 2012

Göppingen

The city is located in the south-western corner of Germany, in Baden-Württemberg. These days the town has just shy of 58,000 inhabitants. It’s current claim to fame in Germany is Frisch Auf Göppingen, the handball team—a sport we watched avidly during the Olympics. Its more venerable fame derives from Mount Hohenstaufen, in its vicinity—indeed within Göppingen’s borders. Only the ruins of a castle survive atop Hohenstaufen, but there, for a while the most famous of Kaisers, Friedrich Barbarossa, once spent some time.

I got to know this place because Cook Barracks were part of the town, an American military facility, and in my days (1956) briefly the headquarters of the 8th Infantry Division. I’d only spent a year there before our division moved to Bad Kreuznach (Rhineland-Palatinate). In succession, Cooke Barracks was the home of the 4th Armored Division, later renamed 1st Armored Division, then the 1st Infantry Division, which came to be deactivated in 1991—and Cook Barracks returned to the Germans the following year. It began as a civilian airfield, later became a Luftwaffe site called Fliegerhorst Kaserne, and also served to house DPs and refugees (1945-1949). We were not among them, but we had once been DPs. The acronym stood for “displaced persons” in those days—maybe still does.

The first image I show here with thanks to Landkreis Goeppingen (the county, link). Beneath it is the city’s coat-of-arms, depicting the antlers of a deer. The large image is an aerial photo of the post itself. It is a happy image because it shows, about in the middle, a low red building that used to be my own rather exclusive barracks; three of us (rather than twenty) shared a room. A close examination of the airport itself reveals that it was (perhaps still is) used as a golf course. One of my very best friends ever, Stanislav Opalka, worked there as a groundskeeper. Stan was, like me, an immigrant. He originated in Poland but had reached the United States the round-about way—by way of India, South America, and then the United States. We knew each other only briefly, but it was an amazing friendship. Let me illustrate. One day, having had a late Saturday lunch, I entered the hallway leading to my room. On the top bunk of an adjacent, and more crowded room, a man was sitting reading a book—aloud! But he was all alone—and, judging by his accent, probably practicing his English. The book he was reading was An Historian’s Approach to Religion. Even the brief passage I overheard was enough to put me on high alert. We got to talking. I’d never heard of the author before, Arnold Toynbee. It was, that meeting, the beginning of many, many things.

Not that I haven’t tried, but I’ve never been able to locate Stan. Shortly after his appearance, he was reassigned. And the authorities, knowing that he would be, gave him that temporary but very cushy job of taking care of the Göppingen golf course.

The immediate motivation for this post? I got another comment from a lady who had been born at Neubrücke military hospital, Monique’s cradle, as it were. The post on that subject has, over time, become the most read posting on this blog. Vast numbers pass through the military. And as they age, the mind remembers more. So why not remember Göppingen too… 

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