Post 989: Grüße aus Deutschland!

The mail came yesterday. It contained the usual seasonal bills, magazines, and seed catalogs. Sorting through the pile, though, I came across a postcard from Europe. Perhaps my Dutch friends sent a greetings, I thought, then I read the message:

christmas card

That’s in German…. So I flipped the card over:

Ha! Ha! Andy and Dougy never looked cuter!

Ha! Ha! Andy and Dougy never looked cuter!

Mystery solved: Smilla and Luke are Nicole's children, and they are the inspiration for the video I made using Louie the Ginger Cat's photos.

Mystery solved: Smilla and Luke are Nicole’s children, and they are a delight! Need I add I am delighted with this greeting?!


Post 612: Beware the portal!

There are haunted places in Germany, places where you best better watch your step!

Don't pass into the portal because...

Don’t pass into the portal because…









Now you know.

Post 473: of Jeep accidents and other messes…

The first long out-of-town US Army motion picture job I went on was Reforger II, an annual Cold War exercise conducted in the Autumn of 1970. It was doubly exciting because it also was the first time I got to drive on the Autobahn, if in a Jeep with a speed restricted to 60 mph (100 km/h). It was 1970.

I just passed the test for my military license, was a newly-minted SP4 (same pay grade as a corporal), and it was my first time to drive anything with a trailer attached. The trailer held our personal gear and various supplies to get us through the exercise.

We decided to return to Kaiserslautern for the weekend since we were close by. It was early evening and we looked forward to sleeping in our own beds!

On the way back to Kaiserslautern, in the Ludwigshaven area, there was road construction. Though I passed the written and driving tests for my military driver’s license, I failed to recognize the significance of the road sign for “right lane merges left” at a section of road repair till too late. With inadequate time to slow for a safe merge (plus there was traffic in the left lane that wouldn’t let me move over) and a trailer that began to fishtail when I braked, I lost control of the Jeep and rolled it across two lanes.

jeep wreck

My passenger and I had a few bumps and bruises, but slow speed minimized the injuries. Oh, I did sideswipe a German’s car, but he made out OK, thanks to the arrangement the US Army had with the Germans to replace or repair things killed, run over, hit, knocked over, or otherwise harmed during Reformer operations.

I did total the Jeep, I learned later. I don’t recall much more about the accident. I’m sure I talked with someone in authority about what happened, probably my 1st Sergeant, but forgot about it until over a year later when my 1st Sergeant pulled me aside. By then, I’d made SP5 (like a sergeant with three stripes in pay grade), was well into my time as a motion picture photographer, had lots of road trips — without incident! — under my belt, and thought the matter of the Jeep was ancient history.

“The file on the Jeep accident is closed. They’ve decided not to make you pay for the Jeep or charge you with anything,” What!?

The figure of $20,000 came up as replacement cost for the Jeep, a sum equal in purchasing power to $127,204.42 now. Don’t think I didn’t have to sit down after hearing that! Turned out the Jeep was fully depreciated out since my photo company only got the old crap left over from other more critical units. Later, it turned out that model Jeep had a history of rolling over. I think they realized that.

Oh, I forgot to mention: The gas tank was under the driver’s seat in that Jeep, and the gas cap came off during the rollover. I was soaked in gasoline. Standing along the Autobahn after the accident, Germans smoked cigarettes. I truly was blessed to come out of that accident with so little injury to my passenger or me.


touch typing

Remember these? If so, you are older than dirt!

That’s a Hermes portable typewriter, a high-class Swiss machine that was a joy to use. Or was it? It had no spell or grammar check, and “cut and paste” literally required scissors and a bottle of glue if you wanted to insert a photo into the text. How quaint! But it served me well during my army days and up till I got a word processor sometime around 1990.

Come to think about it, that word processor wasn’t so wonderful either: Dim five-line screen, cranky program to correct errors, a film ribbon that made great looking letters though the film flaked off the paper. Yeah, you could write letters or do reports on it. That’s pretty much it.

Give me my computer any day!


I liked my barracks cubicle. I had lots of light and fresh air from large windows. I “inherited” a large editing table from the person who had the cubicle before me. Thanks to large lockers, I had a wall on two sides of my cubicle formed by two of a roommate’s lockers and my two, set up in an “L” pattern. A small cabinet that blocked the view across from my cubicle gave me added privacy, a rare thing in the military.

I don’t remember the dresser, but the photo says I had one of those, too. It was a degree of luxury not usually associated with US Army barracks at that time. The cubicle looks exceptionally out of order for the army. I did mention the 69th Signal Company (Photo) wasn’t, um, too big on things military, didn’t I….

my barracks room

Yep, I had on my army overcoat and nothing else when I made this “selfie” in 1972. Feelin’ good! Feelin’ good!

Post 462: “Are you up!?”

I noticed in Facebook my friend Ralph’s birthday was yesterday. I looked at my brother and said, “That’s odd. I thought Ralph’s birthday was July 10th…!” After a pregnant moment, I thought out loud, “Oh! This is July!”

What can I say? I’m nearly two-thirds of a century old and the inexorable process of entropy has robbed me of some of my, um, “mental acuity”! 🙂

In 1971, I think it was, Ralph and Deborah came to Kaiserslautern on a visit. They’d been great hosts when I visited Paris, so I wanted them to have an equally memorable visit to Germany. One day trip we made was to Heidelberg, where we climbed the hill to Schloss Heidelberg.

ralph tim deborah doug Schloss Heidelberg 1971

The foot scene above is from the climb to Schloss Heidelberg with Ralph, Deborah, and army friend and Beethovenstrasse roommate Tim. We were strong. We were fun. We were playful. We wanted to have a different way to remember our day trip to that city. I believe Deborah proposed the idea above. My big foot is in the foreground. Counter clockwise, the feet belong to Ralph, Deborah, and Tim.

Then, on a trip to Paris — the one Tim was able to take with me — Tim, Ralph, and I stopped by an Alsatian bar (best beer!) Ralph liked for ambience and product. Low light, slow ASA 100 black and white film — this was 1971, I think — and this surreal scene revealed itself to us all.

alsatian brasserie tim and ralph paris 1971

I also took a photo of the proprietor, a happy Alsatian who insisted I take his photo, too. He was an institution there and a camera ham, so the proprietor’s photo turned out heroic: “Noble barman at the helm of his bar, awaiting the next onslaught of thirsty patrons demanding perfectly pulled draughts of tasty Alsatian beer…!”

I suppose I could post the proprietor’s photo with no issues, but I am hesitant to post anything with recognizable people without their permission.

Anyway, the point and purpose of this entry today is to honor the birthday of a well-tested friend, someone responsible for many of the happiest times in my life, if not a few of the more horrific…. Given my age, he must be a real antique by now!

Ha! Just kidding, Ralph! I love you and cherish our friendship so much I hope I die before you so I don’t have to know a world where you aren’t there, waiting to ask that famous (infamous) question that always lead to adventures of a life time, “Are you up!?”

Post 459: 69th Signal Company (Photo)

Between July 2, 1970, and November 30, 1972, I was a motion picture photographer assigned to the 69th Signal Company (Photo), Kleber Kaserne, Kaiserslautern, Germany. All military units seem to have their slogans, expressions of their pride and esprit de corps. The 69th Signal’s was: “If it’s photo, forget it,” and “Our best is none too good”.

Mostly, though, we were seriously good at what we did, and the slogans were satirical commentary on the goofiness of these slogans. We collected them during our travels to other units, and they were a source of a chuckle or two!

The 16mm Arriflex camera in this photo is  like the one I used.

The 16mm Arriflex camera in this photo is like the one I used.

Twice, we motion picture photographers took tours of the Munich factory where Arriflex motion picture cameras are made. That was extremely instructive and fun. We enjoyed the chance to see how our cameras were made, and to let the men responsible know how much we loved to use their cameras! Besides, they served us breakfast…with beer! What gracious hosts! 😉

When we weren’t on assignment, the photographers hid out on the soundstage. If our first sergeant looked like he needed a detail to clean up or buff floors, we made sure we had busy work (finishing captions sheets to include with our exposed film, loading film magazines, unloading film magazines, heading out for the morning or afternoon break at the PX snack bar…) to avoid such nonsense.

Soundstage at the 69th Signal Company (Photo), with "busy" photographer in chair.

Soundstage at the 69th Signal Company (Photo), with “busy” photographer in chair.

Sometimes busy work that was more fun came up, and one tried to be available for that: picking up the mail, abusing the Wednesday afternoon PT requirement by organizing 10 speed tours of the area (and stopping for beer and heavy German meals at different Gasthofs), and escorting fellow company members with bad attitudes and incarceration in their future or past to and from the lock up in Mannheim.That gave us an excuse to sign out a Jeep and wear a 45 in a cool holster, for example…!

Remember, America! You paid for this! On the other hand, the 69th Signal Company (Photo) was disbanded at some time after I was there. Kleber Kaserne (or the buildings) still are there, and the link gives a bit of history on the installation. I lived in the building (shown in the small photo in the link) with the bell tower. There was no clock in it at the time, but it since has been remodelled and a clock reinstalled.

Post 267: old friends

I learned today that a couple old friends now read this blog. I feel a bit self-conscious about that, I suppose. Must mind my company manners now, not reveal the evil side I’ve hidden from them for 40-50 years…!

Aw, heck with it! They know by now, surely, that I can be petulant: Hunawhir, circa 1971, I had a hissy because Ralph insisted I taste a stinky cheese (don’t recall which variety). “If it smells like the bottom of a stable, it tastes like that, too!” He talked me into trying it, I gagged, made rude sounds and comments, no doubt offending the very nice host and hostess, and…! Yeah. Not nice! “The Ugly American”!

Or I can resist a good time: Strasbourg, same trip, and Ralph wanted to expose me to as many Alsatian wines as possible. I don’t know how many places we stopped by and Ralph said, “Just one more!” and I tried to drink just one more special wine. I finally “spilled” the contents of my stomach in the last wine bar in a trough urinal in front of several Frenchmen taking a leak. It was purple. I think I whined when I got back to the table, however I managed to find my feet to make it back!

Then there was the Stiefel incident at Zum Bitburger, the neighborhood Gasthof I wanted my friends Ralph and Deborah to try while visiting me in Kaiserslautern.

You’ve no doubt seen the boot-shaped glassware Germans have, der Stiefel (or boot) glass. Deborah and Tim, one of my roommates on Beethovenstrasse, had moderate amounts of Bitburger Pils, perhaps wine, while Ralph and I challenged ourselves to “der Stiefel”!


I’d drunk from one once, remembered the trick. (Hold it the wrong way, and you get a lap full of beer! Ha! Ha! I think I wanted to “surprise” Ralph, though I’m sure he was sophisticated enough to know the trick before me!) I called the waitress over and pointed at the Stiefel glasses lined up on the shelf, and indicated Ralph and I both wanted one.

The waitress gave us an odd look and a smile. The barkeep, who looked suspiciously like the guy on the Bitburger Pils bottle label, smiled, waved in acknowledgement of the order. I think he was laughing or, at least, enjoying the pour a bit more than you’d expect, even though he ordinarily was a happy, friendly fellow, someone I liked to talk with when I visited the Zum Bitburger Gasthof. Something was just a little “off” about the moment.

The “dienendes Mädchen” – “serving wench” as this was about to become a debauch, and debauches require serving wenches – came back to the table, and placed a Stiefel in front of Ralph, then me. We’d been drinking liter glasses of Bitburger Pils before the Stiefel arrived, so the fact that we had to look around the glasses to see each other on the opposite sides of the table foretold the long walk back to the apartment on Beethovenstrasse!

“These are bigger than the one I drank from,” I mentioned to Ralph, “I’m sure of it.” I think the one I drank from the earlier time had been a liter Stiefel. But THESE were huge! No, we hadn’t slumped in our chairs! They were so huge, we had to look around them to talk!

Ralph is notorious or famous for this line, usually a prelude to a fun time you wouldn’t try on your own, but that Ralph wisely decided you wanted to try: “Are you up!?”

I don’t know if he asked me the famous line or not, but, to the amusement of the local patrons, who watched as discretely as they could, and the barkeep, who just watched, with a huge smile on his face, we each tilted back the huge, huge boots, which had to be held with both hands!

The rule is you drink the whole thing back in one take. I don’t think we tried, so the German guests at the Zum Bitburger probably got bored with the crass Americans who didn’t observe Stiefel custom or provide adequate entertainment value for the mark, and went back to their own drinks. I don’t remember how big the glasses were in volume. Four liters, five liters? A lot, that I can vouch for!

Did we finish our drinks, Ralph and I? Were we up?! I suspect so. We were younger and more stupid then. Deborah and Tim helped us stagger back down Beethovenstrasse, where we climbed the three stories worth of stairs, and plopped into bed to sleep the sleep of the drunk and the dead.


Postlude: Bitburger’s motto is “Bitte ein Bit”. (“A Bit, please!”) It is a premium pilsner that has a remarkable characteristic reflecting that high quality: “Abends Bit, Morgens Fit!”, another motto of Bitburger pilsner, “Evenings [drink] Bit, [and in the] morning [you will be] fit.” Astonishingly, it is so! Ralph and I emptied a keg and had little more distress than a little fatigue and, erm, “gas”! (“Oh, Ralph!”) No headache, though! Love that Bit!

Shinji Kasahara, victim of the dreaded peace sign!

You learned elsewhere that I was a US Army Motion Picture Photographer in the early 1970s, stationed in Kaiserslautern, Germany.

In that job, I travelled to many places in Europe to film NATO exercises, missile firings, joint German-American Volksfests, “hometowners” (short films of individual soldiers doing their army job, that got sent to a television station in or near their hometown), and miscellaneous “stuff”.

These films my teammates and I made we shipped to an army facility in Alabama to be processed, which sent a print to the Pentagon to be critiqued. The print of the films and the Pentagon critiques came back in a few weeks to the 69th Signal Co. (Photo), my home company, for us to view and learn where we did well or needed improvement. Arrival of the critique prints was a great lot of fun!

We had general rules of what not to show in our films. No one drinking alcohol (unless at a Volksfest!), chewing gum, or smoking. No horseplay. Nothing that reflected poorly on the US Army, such as out-of-uniform soldiers. (We were, in a sense, making propaganda films for the US Army, of course.) AND, the biggest bugaboo: NO ONE FLIPPING THE PEACE SIGN! This was the Vietnam War era.

Watching Shinji Kasahara’s latest video, a 29 minute visit to Seattle, with lots of his cats edited in (his main video output is wonderful cat videos), I had a flashback:

Scene from Shinji Kasahara's Seattle visit video: On the streets of Seattle.

Scene from Shinji Kasahara’s Seattle visit video: On the streets of Seattle.

Watch the woman coming up from behind!

"You cow! You just ruined the shot!"

“You cow! You just ruined the shot!”

I couldn’t believe the woman flashed the peace sign! In my army days, that snippet of action would ruin a scene, necessitating reshooting it or making sure the caption notes we enclosed with the undeveloped film included reference to the unplanned peace sign in scene such-and-such! Not to note the peace sign got a bad review. To cover for the peace sign meant extra time CYA-ing oneself in the paperwork so the Pentagon reviewers didn’t get the idea you purposefully staged the peace sign “incident”. LOL!

Over 40 years after my time as an army motion picture photographer, I still got a chill when the woman flipped the peace sign!

I’m sweating now thinking of it. I could use a few Japanese cat videos to relax. Hey! Shinji Kasahara makes great cat videos. He’s Japanese! Maybe you’d like a taste of them, too:

…or, for the more adventuresome with 29 minutes to spare, here’s the infamous Seattle peace sign video:

There! I feel cool and relaxed again thanks to Shinji Kasahara and his cats!