Or, even spies have to have somewhere to live.
This is me outside the Barracks I lived in on Andrews Kaserne in April of 1977.
Andrews Barracks, located on Finckensteinallee in the Zehlendorf district of Berlin, was originally a barracks and NCO Academy for Hitler’s Shutzstaffel. To the victor goes the spoils, and after the war, the U.S. Army grabbed this prime piece of real estate and created a Kaserne named after Lt. Gen. Frank Maxwell Andrews.
To me of course, it was home while I was in Berlin. There were a lot of amenities, among them a swimming pool built for the 1936 Olympics, a movie theater, an amateur theater-in-the-round, where I actually had a small part in a production of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest , a small PX, and a recreation center, where I played a lot of contract bridge with various denizens of the American community and some expats who came by from time to time.
A winter view of the building I lived in. My room was in the center section, on the third floor, between the stairwells.
There was an awful lot of somewhat grisly history associated with the site; some of the the executions on the “Night of the Long Knives” occurred on the Kaserne, in a small courtyard at the northwest corner.
History aside, the Kaserne was not bad at all as living conditions went- It had been designed as basically the West Point for central Europe, and of course it had been remodeled a couple of times since the war.
Since I was an E-5, I got NCO quarters, which were large rooms that were partitioned off out of even larger squad rooms. In many places there would be 8 to 12 people living in a space I now had to myself, or with an occasional transient roomie. 12-foot ceilings added to the feeling of spaciousness. In the original architecture, my room and the two on either side of it were one huge space, probably a classroom or squad room. Pictures I found later in my tour in the post library showed Hitler standing just about where my couch was. Creepy.
We were allowed, within reason, to decorate our rooms as we saw fit. This led to some fairly wild variations in room decor. One fellow had draped every surface in his room with DDR and Russian flags, including the ceiling. Hanging DDR flags was a common way of partitioning off space, because large DDR flags could be gotten extremely cheaply in the East, for far less than plain cotton cloth in the PX or on the local economy.
This contemporary photograph shows Hitler inspecting members of the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler in front of the building that would later be my barracks. The white circle shows my room. Some wag during my tour had an enlargement of this photo printed up with a label that said “First Sergeant Middlesteadt inspects Company B, USAFSB”, which was funny when you considered that Top was a generally all-around decent guy and family man.
Not to belabor all this dark history, but it has a bearing on later events. Suffice it to say that the buildings and grounds fairly reeked of a bloody past and dark history if one was at all sensitive to that sort of thing, and could well give you pause when hearing strange noises at night.
I wasn’t particularly a barracks rat, but I did spend enough time on post to become very familiar with all the denizens of Company B. My best friend Mike was spending his time in his room writing a novel, while another friend was busy with an apple II computer- the first one I had ever seen- learning how to program it. I was spending a lot of time developing film in the barracks bathroom when I wasn’t over at the rec center playing bridge, learning German from Gerhard, one of my partners, or the little German gal who was in charge of the center. The overall atmosphere was pretty laid back, and almost like I’d imagine a college dorm to be like.
The general level of soldiers in FS Berlin was very high, indeed. Most of them were college educated, and there were a wide range of cultural and outside interests evidenced in the population. There was drinking, to be sure, and some drugs, but most of us were fairly sober and intelligent folks. The surrounding community had adapted itself to the presence of GI’s completely by the time I got there: The big restaurant right outside the gate was Al Mulino’s Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria- just like any corner pizza joint back home- except they served German beer and you paid in Marks. One had to travel a bit further afield to find genuine German establishments.
The mess hall on post was unremarkable, save the one time we were served lemon Jello over a layer of raw onions, due to a misunderstanding on the part of a newly-hired cook.
All in all, the U.S. Government had managed to provide us with fairly luxurious quarters as quarters went. Next time, I’ll talk about work and the Hill.