Friday, May 2, 2014

Beer, Wine, and Bull Berry Jelly

OldAFSarge prompted some trips down memory lane and serving in the Army, Germany, circa 1965.

My introduction to German beer was part of my unit’s welcoming tradition.  FNGs were treated to several beers at the EM Club. German beer, until you develop a tolerance, is an effective laxative. FNGs rapidly learned the latrine locations during the next several days. Such kind, welcoming comrades were in my engineer company, to be sure.

Bottled beer came in glass bottles with “flipper tops”. I can’t remember ever seeing German beer in cans.

The artillery battery on our Kaserne had a goat mascot. He learned to open flipper tops. At one of their organization days, he got into the beer supply and literally drank himself to death.

The principal beer around Hanau was Henninger, usually served in ½ liter glasses. Every bar seemed to have glass boots that held one to two liters. The challenge was to chug them. Please understand, we were 17-25 years old and really didn’t give a fuck about anything. Since I was already a veteran volume beer drinker, thanks to Colorado’s 3.2 beer, I could usually win any chugging contest whether the challenger was a local or a G.I. Perhaps this was a principal reason I was a regular on the First Sergeant’s “volunteer” extra duty detail (alternative to an Article 15). 

 One FNG with a high opinion of his high moral character (just ask him) called us a bunch of drunken assholes. No, we were assholes that drank.

The Henninger brewery in Frankfurt-am-Main was something of a landmark. There was a restaurant in the tower; way too rich for a bottom rung pay scale G.I.

One good duty then was payroll guard. The Army paid in cash. Once a month an officer, usually a Lt, and three armed guards would be taken by helicopter to Bremerhaven to pick up the payroll. The duty rotated among the companies in the battalion. Other than on a rifle range, this was the only time I had live ammo. This was always a three day trip which gave us two nights to sample the delights of Bremerhaven. One time the town was full of drunk US sailors. This was the 2nd day they were in port. The third night, only some hardy career sailors were on the town. These men had drunk every kind of swill around the world and were immune to intestinal distress. We asked them about the state of the heads aboard ship. Yep, ghastly, the German beer had cleaned the newbies pipes.

A beverage I grew to enjoy was apfelwein (hard cider). A case of ten one liter bottles ran about twenty marks including the bottle deposit of .80 phennings per bottle. $1.00 = 3.80 DM at the time. The State of Hesse (which includes Frankfurt and Hanau) was the center of apfelwein production. While German beer, by long standing law, has strictly maintained ingredients, apfelwein has many wonderful variations. German beer also has hundreds of variations, but cannot be called beer.

I’ve been blessed with many wonderful aunts. Only three remain, but all of them were warm, caring, and giving women. One would send me care packages of homemade pickles and bull berry jelly.

Bull berries grow on a bush, are extremely labor intensive, and small. A five gallon bucket will make little more than a quart of jelly. The taste is unlike anything else I know.

One of my good friends, Mike, was one of the company cooks. I clued him in on the bull berry jelly. He arranged to bake a couple of loaves of bread and acquire some butter. We made a small feast of the bull berry. He liked it to the point he wanted to move to Colorado and marry my aunt. Mike liked to eat, as did I, and we would ride our bicycles out to the surrounding towns that seldom saw an American. We would eat at the local restaurants, and had many wonderful meals. Sadly, over the years, food has become fuel, and not an adventure.

Amsterdam was a popular destination for a three day pass. I could never get buzzed on Dutch beer. Amstel was the common brand then, and the ritual of pouring it was a delight. Poured until the foam overran the glass, the bartender would take a wooden straight edge, and cut the foam off at the tope of the glass.

Saw the Beetles live  in Amsterdam. Didn’t know who they were. I was with a crazy Scot serving in the Army to shorten the time to become a citizen. Don’t know if all Scots are crazy, or it was just Stuart, but he got us thrown out of the place for checking out all the women to see if they were wearing bras. He could be annoying. Liked Shirley Bassey singing, “Goldfinger”. He would pay it twenty times in a row on a jukebox.

When we were in the field, which was 65% of the time, we had a beer trailer. The First Sergeant devised a plan to keep me somewhat sober. He put me in charge. My qualifications were I wouldn’t steal, and few men in the company would challenge me. The profits went into the First Sergeant’s mox nix fund. He would use the money to buy floor wax, light bulbs, and the like. If some soldier needed to go home on emergency leave, he would help them. Trust me when I say every damn penny was accounted for.

One beverage that had a following in our company was cognac. Easy to pack and hide when we went to the field. Not 5 Star Hennessy or even one star. About 3 DM at the local Trinkhalle. Drink enough of it over time, and the expensive stuff didn’t taste right.

For the macho types, and popular with the black troopers, was a concoction called “Motherfuckers”. Take a ¾ full glass of fortified wine (Thunderbird, Night Train, M.D. 40-40) and top it off with Everclear. Sip the wine through the Everclear.

Towards the end of my tour, my drinking went way down. Don’t know if the novelty wore off, I started maturing, or other factors, but by the time I rotated out, it was one to two a day, no more. Another factor had to be seeing all the alcoholics, and the negative consequences of their drunken behaviors. It’s one thing for an E-3 draftee to mess up. Something else when it is an E-6, fifteen years in, with a family, suddenly a Spec 4.

I did enjoy the food. Berliner brand curry wurst with a hard roll and side of mustard. Pommes Frites in a paper cone with mayonnaise. Ox tail soup. Obviously, I’m no food snob.

The very best meal? Quart canteen cup inside a canteen carrier, freezing morning, with layers of toast, potatoes, bacon, scrambled eggs, and hamburger gravy washed down with boiled coffee. Bless Mike and all the cooks!
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