15 December 2010

Traveling Back in Time – Frankfurt, Germany – United States 97th General Hospital

Here at long last is our memorable adventure with the polizei (police) at the now defunct United States 97th General Hospital as remembered by my sister, Mary.

Disclaimer: No photos will appear in this story.

In Germany cars are smaller for several reasons; smaller people, smaller roads, expensive gas, but mostly to be able to maneuver quickly in and out of traffic at high speeds, regardless of pedestrian or oncoming traffic. Mom and Dad rented one of these cars into which the seven of us promptly stuffed ourselves. As we travelled up, up and around the curves and narrow pathways of the parking garage, I couldn’t help feeling I was on the Test Track ride at Epcot. Around the corner and increase speed to 20 MPH, around another corner and increase speed to 30 MPH and around another corner and increase speed to 40 MPH. When I saw a glimpse of daylight ahead, I worried for a second there was an oncoming truck. Suddenly we shot out into daylight and we were on the streets with the rest of the maniacs zipping around. I am pretty sure Dad enjoyed all that shifting into gear and taking the corners at what felt like warp speed. 
Why is it one always feels the need for a Xanax after the panic has set in and it is too late?

We were on our way, first to Frankfurt to see the 97th General Hospital where Jennifer was born. If we survived that, we would go to Butzbach to see where I was born. There were lots of wrong turns, lots of yelling and after I saw the beating Dad was taking from all of us, I was glad I was not driving. I could not imagine myself figuring out this new car in a foreign country; a car overloaded with people who primarily speak English in a country with all German signs. My only goal was to avoid all autobahns. Despite all these odds against him, Dad did a great job. I know this because I am alive to write about it.

We did get lost and went in circles, but thanks to Jennifer (Now who would have imagined she would be the one to find our way anywhere?), we finally found the hospital. There were no cars on the street as we circled the area. It looked so abandoned and sad.

Dad found a spot to park, which was not too hard since our car was the only one. After all, who would need to park near a building not in use? Here we all piled out onto the street (picture a circus car). Jen and I were the first to get to where the main entrance of the hospital used to be. There we saw signs for the United States Consulate. Of course, being the photographers that we both are, she pulled out her camera. Suddenly the door of the consulate flew open and a guard in a uniform yelled out to her Verboten! Verboten! with that right index finger tsking her in an abrupt and directive way. I yelled to her to put her camera down, he doesn’t want you taking pictures! Thankfully she had stopped and all I could think of was ‘whew that was close’.

At this point the rest of the gang is out of the car and Dad is approaching the man in the uniform. Come to find out he is an American living in Germany. Dad explained that Jennifer was born in this hospital and that is why we are there. He told us that we could not take pictures because “they” do not want us too, and if “they” see us take pictures “they” will come and either erase the pictures off of the card or take the camera away from us. We, of course, are all relieved that Jen had not taken any pictures. Shaking all of our heads in unison to ensure this man that we all understood, we asked if we could take a walk around the perimeter and he said that would be OK.

We were on our way down the street, skipping along in our minds, not realizing yet that “they” really did not want us there. Within moments here comes the Polizei slowing down, giving us the once over and then taking off quickly down the street. They drove down a bit and then did a quick u-turn. We all knew they were coming back for us.

Now why I was nervous, I do not know, because we were doing nothing wrong. However, when they pulled up to the curb, there we were again all shaking our heads in unison and saying whatever we think will make them go away. The Polizei advised us that “they” had called them and “they” wanted to make sure we were told not to take any pictures. Otherwise “they” will come and confiscate your pictures or camera. I can tell you this, these Polizei were trying to look friendly. You know the smile that says they aren’t sure if we are up to something so they are playing nice to feel us out. We advised them we already knew because the guard at the consulate had told us. Dad asked these smiling Polizei if it is ok for us to walk down the street. Their response? Well, Germany is a free country and we can’t stop you (emphasis on the word stop) from walking down the street. There was a general feeling of fear in the air and I can tell you it was coming from us not from the Polizei. We decided as soon as they left we needed to get back to the car and make like a tree and leave.

We quickly returned to the clown car and climbed over each other as fast as we could to get in so we could get out of there. Dad was trying to figure out the parking brake and the rest of us were yelling just go, go, go. So we left the place of Jen’s birth, where we certainly did not procure any memorable pictures, but definitely experienced a memory none of us will ever forget. Jen left knowing her place of birth was still owned and run by the United States. It was not run down or even abandoned, but is now fully occupied as the consulate. As we drove away, we made a wrong turn and were forced to drive by on the other side of the consulate. Now, we thought, we must really look like we are up to something, all while trying to avoid those cameras so “they” don’t recognize us. Who were we kidding, "they" probably trailed us until we were out of sight.

Soon I was focused on our next venture. I was just hours away from seeing the place where I was born. I would find out that the place I have had pictured in my mind for so many years would be the exact opposite of the images I held. Who would have known at that moment that Jennifer was the lucky one. Even though her place of birth was heavily guarded it was still alive and still American. Next stop, Butzbach!

Mary, Sister of Scrappy Gen

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  1. I remember those cars in Europe - I can't believe you got 7 people in 1 car!! Wow! Glad you were not detained!

  2. Today I was there. Also I asked police for photomaking. Not possible. But they have wished me a good day...

    Stefan, Germany


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