Rich is recently back from serving in Afghanistan, now posted to that romantic holiday destination… Bavaria. What great adventures will he get up to this time?
The wonderful thing about being in the Army is the extensive travel opportunities it offers. No sooner had I returned from the popular suntrap that is Afghanistan last summer than I found myself in the Adjutant’s office being told to cancel whatever plans I may have had for this summer as I was off to Bavaria and Canada for another 7 months. Fortunately, for the more feint hearted, this summer holiday should prove marginally less dangerous than last years jolly due to the current absence of a war zone in either country. That said however, as I find myself nearing the end of my first week in Bavaria, it is apparent that we still face our fair share of dangers here too, namely malnutrition or food poisoning (whichever gets you first), sleep deprivation and the serious potential for rising suicide levels.
Things got off to bad start when we arrived at the severely neglected Camp Aachen, our new home for the next 2 months, in the cold and driving rain, after a relaxing 40 hour journey from an uncharacteristically sunny Norfolk. Sadly though, the weather was soon to be the least of our worries as we were shown to the Officers “accommodation”. It’s difficult to describe it to anyone who has never been to a third world country so bear with me. Our accommodation block consists of a single story building about 100ft in length and 20ft wide divided into three sections by partition walls across half the width of the room- so effectively it’s one large room masquerading as three “cosy” rooms. The floor is made of a lovely grey stone, which really compliments the fluorescent strip lighting that offers free retina burning if you look directly at it for long enough. The real pièce de résistance however is the luxurious 1950’s metal bunk beds, designed for 7 year olds, that seem to fill any free space throughout the entire room in order that we can all fit in- there are a total of 24 bunks allowing 40 of us, with 7 months worth of kit, to get to know each other really rather intimately. Other highlights include no wardrobes or shelves at all, three plug sockets and six windows, all on one side of the building and all blacked out to give the fully authentic ‘air raid shelter’ feeling. Those interested in the remaining 8 bed spaces please apply early to avoid disappointment (floor space not guaranteed).
“Not to worry” we optimistically thought, “the one thing the Army is always good at is feeding us…” As it turns out, there really is always one exception to the rule and as luck would have it, this is it. Our first meal was supper on the day of arrival, following an uncompromisingly long journey and the severe shock to 40 Officers on the discovery that the “Officers Mess” was lacking the odd oil painting, amongst one or two other things, so there was a lot riding on this. The “dining facility”, consisting of much the same as the “accommodation” blocks, just with tiles on the walls and tables instead of bunk beds, set the tone. We queued up and one by one were handed our cardboard plate half filled with a disk of “meat” surrounded by a soggy mess of what used to be some form of vegetable from the grunting Czech “chef” who seemed to be as disgusted to be serving this gruel as we were to be receiving it. Still at least they provided tepid water to wash it all down with. Needless to say, things were not looking up so when “chef” managed to magically reproduce the exact same menu for breakfast the following morning I was not entirely surprised to see one of the soldiers sitting at a table with his head in his hands staring solemnly into his cardboard plate of gruel mumbling to himself “This is fookin’ shite. I were treated better when I were in clink.” I want to say that it really isn’t that bad but given our geographical location, the aged look of the buildings and the nervous pause people give before entering the suspiciously isolated shower block it does not take much imagination to think what this camp may have been potentially used for in, say, the early 1940’s…
Something had to be done to get “outside the wire” so at the first opportunity to escape into the nearest town four of us made a dash for it. We made our way into the very German looking local town of Grafenwöhr, about 5 miles away, and headed straight for what appeared to be the only bar in town, intent on drowning our sorrows in copious amounts of good German beer. I approached the bar and asked for 4 beers in my most fluent German only to be laughed at by the larger than life landlord and told “ Haha! My English is vay better zan your German! You vont ze beers? I get you ze beers!” He had a good point although his pronunciation wasn’t exactly perfect. The evening was then whiled away over a number of pints of delectable German beer, chatting amongst ourselves and even managing to meet a real local. Well, I say meet, truth be told we were rather rudely interrupted by the drunk German version of the Cookie Monster (in that her incredibly frizzy hair was blonde, she had a thick German accent and could barely walk) as she piled over and shouted (which they all seem to do) “You like Grafenwöhr?!” Before we even had a chance to answer she was gracious enough to shout her own opinion on the matter back at us “It’s SHIT! It’s SHIT! I hate it! Don’t ever live here!” And with that she turned to her long-suffering, understandably gaunt looking husband and launched into some delightful tirade in impressively fluent German leaving us wondering what had just happened and if it were perhaps time to head back to our own luxurious surroundings. If she wasn’t so terrifying I may have suggested that she visit Camp Aachen before she judged her quaint German town so harshly.
So this is us for the next 8 weeks, I am sure things will lighten up and I will be reporting far merrier tales not long from now, the up side is that I have bought a pocket German phrasebook filled with useful phrases such as “Hello young lady, my name is Richard, can you direct me to the nearest library, I need to use the fax machine.” I’ll let you know how I get on.
By Rich Glover