Looking west on Fuggerstrasse; the Augsburg Opera House at Kennedy Platz in the distance,
By Don Maggio, 24th IDA President
Augsburg, Bavaria, Germany was the home of the 24th Infantry Division (Mechanized) Headquarters and major elements when I arrived in May 1967. There were also a significant number of troops in Munich. Many of us Cold War Era veterans remember the Rathaus (Town Hall) as Augsburg’s symbol.
Augsburg has a long history dating back to 15 BC as a Roman camp under Caesar Augustus’ soldiers. Its location at the confluence of the Lech and Wertach Rivers made it a major Roman trading center.
Augsburg has seen the wrath of the Huns, and been a part of the Holy Roman Empire.
Thanks to Anton and Jakob Fugger, Augsburg became Europe’s banking center in the 1500’s. In 1521 they established the Fuggerei, the oldest social settlement in the world. It still exists today and provides apartments to Augsburg Catholics who have fallen on hard time.
In 1530 the Augsburg Confession occurred in an attempt to reconcile the religious schism between Martin Luther’s Protestants and the Catholics. In 1806 the city became part of Bavaria.
Rudolf Diesel, an engineer for the Augsburg Maschinenfabrik, invented the first internal combustion engine in Augsburg in 1897.
The U.S. 5th Infantry Division was stationed in Augsburg at the end of World War II, being replaced by the 11th Airborne Division during Operation Gyroscope, 1947-1956.
The 24th Infantry Division was reactivated July 1, 1956, and replaced the 11th Airborne Division at Augsburg. The 11th Airborne Brigade became a part of the 24th. In the early 1960’s the 24th Infantry Division was reorganized into the 24th Infantry Division Mechanized, with the mission to patrol along the Czech Border and defend against a possible Warsaw Pact invasion.
The 24th Infantry Division was rotated back to Ft. Riley, Kansas from June to September 1968 under Operation REFORGER (REturn of FORces to GERmany). Equipment was positioned in Kaiserslautern for rapid deployment in case of a Warsaw Pact forces invasion.
Twenty-Fourth Division troops were deployed back to Germany for at least two REFORGER exercises for joint training with other NATO troops. Units of VII Corps Artillery and the 66th Military Intelligence Brigade took over some of the Kasernes.
Those of us stationed in Germany during the mid- to late 1960’s had a very pleasant time, despite the frequent alerts and cold winters.
There were times troops had just returned from their assigned staging areas only to be “called out” again on alert from a higher command. The Armor Battalion on Sheridan Kaserne had to load partially-repaired engines into their compartments and tow the vehicle behind a tank retriever.
One U.S. dollar would get about four German Marks, so our purchasing power was good. But those who had “unsponsored” dependents (family not authorized to accompany a soldier) had it much more difficult as rent at private homes was very expensive relative to the authorized housing allowance.
This was when the German economy was changing from capital intensive to consumer intensive as most of the post-war reconstruction had been completed.
German citizens were beginning to make major improvements in their quality of life. They began to buy Volkswagen Beetles, Gogomobiles, Messerschmitts, Mercedes Benzes, Porsche’s, BMWs, Autounions, DKWs, and other cars.
Many of us were impressed that the standard taxi was a black Mercedes diesel. But most Germans still utilized the Strassenbahn (street car) or buses.
Many Germans only drove their cars on the weekends and in good weather. Road and highways became crowded on Sundays after church as families drove to the country for a picnic or to a rural Gasthaus.
On the Autobahn, “Kamerad” drove with abandon! Passing on hills, curves, and narrow bridges seemed commonplace to them while unnerving to most of us.
Most of us stationed at Sheridan Kaserne had our favorite Gasthaus. There was the Pink Haus west of the Kaserne and the “Gasthaus zum Lamb” where trolley #1 turned around in Stadtbergen. Across from the east gate were a couple of more GI spots and a bistro or two.
Hasenbräu and Riegelebräu were produced in Augsburg and served in most of the local “Gasthäuser” along with Spatenbräu, Löwenbräu, Pauliner, Franziskaner, and Hofbräu from München.
With our beer, we ate Schnitzels mit Pommes Frites, Spätzele, Bratwurst, Knockwurst, Curriewurst, Semmel, rye bread, and mixed green salads. The cakes and other bakery items were also very delicious.
Augsburg had a “bierfest” each summer. Hasenbräu and Riegelebräu would set up large tents with a band platform in the middle. We would order liter steins of beer, eat roasted chicken, cheese, pretzels, “steckelfisch,” lox and onion sandwiches, and radi (the large white radishes spiral-cut and soaked in brine). We tried to sing along with the Germans as they swayed to the music. Often we could barter American cigarettes for more beer.
The Germans were very friendly as long as we behaved with some measure of civility. They often began a conversation with a tale of their recent visit to the U.S. or talking about a relative who lived there. A few steins of beer seemed to improve their English and our understanding of the German/Bavarian/Swabish language.
All-in-all, our duty in Germany was most enjoyable. Those of us lucky enough to return have seen significant changes in the city.
Augsburg celebrated its 2000th anniversary in 1985 with major renovations of the Rathaus, Perlacherturm (Perlach Tower), Augustus Platz (across from the Rathaus), and other major fountains and buildings. They opened the newly-restored Grand Hall in the Rathaus for the event and had docents dressed in period costumes leading tours of the city.
Augsburg’s downtown area is now a pedestrian only zone with only street cars and buses allowed. The sidewalk cafes are still busy and good places to watch people. Beer is still the popular drink and Gemütlichkeit is still a way of life in this wonderful city.
Donald E. Maggio, 2009
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