How living in Germany Helped Me Become a Better Writer by Coco Ihle

Today has been one of reflection on my life in Germany way back in the late 1960’s; a time of invention and creativity that has helped me as a writer to record more thoughtfully subjects familiar to me, but possibly unique or unconventional to someone else.

My then-husband was a member of the 615th AC&W Squadron in the U.S.A.F. and we lived in the southern part of the country in a small village called Morbach, nestled in the Hunsrück Mountains. Here we found ourselves in a beautiful and fascinating part of the world with a strange language and a different way of life.

Our first residence was an attic apartment in a German home. Refrigerators were very tiny and electric stove tops had  solid plates instead of the coils with which I was familiar, so meal preparation took a lot longer than it did in the States. Water had to be heated before washing clothes or dishes or for bathing.

The villagers shopped daily for the dinner meal and greeted me with a, “Guten tag” (good day) as I passed them on the lane. They were a friendly people and I often had a game similar to charades with a certain shop keeper when I needed an item I couldn’t describe in German. He and I would exclaim our glee when he finally figured out what I wanted, and with a huge smile, he’d fetch it and place it ceremoniously in my hand.

Since rain in the mountains was unrelenting and could be depressing, I was given the task of coming up with an idea to brighten the lives of our wives’ club members. I thought cheerful homes might help make cheerful moods, and what better mood-lifter was there than flowers? But not everyone could afford flowers. Another problem, we had no art supply store near us. The only available stores were the commissary (food) or the Base Exchange (clothing, shoes, magazines, gift wrap, etc.). So I taught a class on How to Make Flowers Without Art Supplies. Imagine my surprise and delight when the BX sold out of tissue paper and clear tape the next day.

I remember my clever downstairs neighbor who didn’t have money for furniture, so she bound together all her books, covered them with throws and made chairs and a sofa for her living room. The challenging part came when she wanted to give me a book to read that was on the bottom.

We didn’t have American television and trying to understand German TV was a challenge, so reading became a big part of our days and nights as our husbands worked irregular shifts seeking ways to keep the Russians from invading Germany.

It was a different world back then, but the lessons I learned have held me in good stead all through the years and continue to do so. I loved Germany, its people and the wonderful and even zany experiences I had, and I cherish the creativity and inventiveness those experiences fostered in me.

Have your life experiences brought out your creativity and inventiveness?

28 Comments

Filed under life, musings, writing

28 responses to “How living in Germany Helped Me Become a Better Writer by Coco Ihle

  1. Natasha Holland

    Coco,

    This is so interesting, especially about tissue paper flowers and “book furniture”. (And I thought, with the total shortage of everything in the USSR, we were the only ones that became inventive with things!) Yeap, things like this will sure make a change in you!

    I want to share one thing with you that made me a different person this weekend. On Saturday I found out that my classmate died. I had been in school with him for 10 years. He was what you call a “straight D and F” student. I was a Communist leader of the class and he was socially “inactive”. A constant pain for me because of his bad grades and behavior. Couldn’t do simple math or even spell right. A permanent clown that ruined almost every teacher’s class.

    Now that he is gone, I found out that he had been a paratrooper in Afghanistan. Then served a little time in jail for a street fight. After that he took to drinking and was so poor that he had to collect empty glass bottles to scrape some money for food. Then he put his act together, became a businessman and moved to Moscow. He drove a nice BMW in his 20s — earned every single penny for it by himself!

    I never knew much about him. (Don’t even know how he died!) He was a “bad boy” and I was a “nice girl”. Too nice to condescend to him to find out more about his life. But now, I am thinking — is it really important that he could not spell? Or do fancy algebra? Turned out that he was fearless, defended his motherland, and he “made himself” with his own bare hands, with nobody’s help. Loved his two very young sons (one is still a baby). And still has that clown’s smile in all the pictures, with a little sadness in the corners of his eyes…

    Pretty interesting life if you ask me! And I never even bothered to find out more about it… Or to spend SOME quality time with the guy when he was alive…

    Well, at least his death helped me become a better person.

    With love,
    Natasha Chirkova-Holland

    Love,

    Natasha Chirkova-Holland

    • Natasha, what an interesting and sad comment. I’ve had instances, too, when I wished I had paid more attention to something or someone and regretted it later. We never know the burdens others carry. your comment provides a lesson for us all. Thanks so much for sharing.

  2. Interesting to learn about another facet of your life.

    • Dahris and Haley, thank you for your comment. The longer we live, the more experiences we have, but sometimes the first experiences have the biggest impact. So glad about Melissa’s transplant. God is good!

  3. Susan Coggins

    Coco, I believe a book on life in Germany in the 60s would be ideal. You could be a spy or the shopkeeper could be a spy from Russia and you could out him. Rain, gloomy days, attic spaces, limited resources – Ooooh, can’t wait for next book.

    Susan

  4. Art

    Coco, your reminiscing reminded me of growing up in Summit, NJ. Most people in Summit were well off but my mother and her three young sons had fled to Summit because the alcohol abuse by my father had turned to physical abuse towards her. We lived in a third floor walk-up two bedroom apartment with no hot water, an ice box, and a coal stove in the kitchen for heat. There were six apartments with at least twenty-five school age children and no money. We invented all kinds of games and activities that required drawing on ingenuity rather than dollars and united us as a club of sorts. Those times helped shape our personalities and later made us appreciate the more important values needed to lead a happy and meaningful life. Thanks, Coco.

    • Art, I never knew this about you. Yours is a perfect example of how we, as occupiers of this Earth, would do well to ask more questions and notice others around us more than we do. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in our own little worlds.
      You’ve done well with your life and I commend you for all you had to overcome.

  5. rosasjournal

    I absolutely loved reading this, Coco. It was nice to hear about Germany in the late 60’s because I love traveling and meeting new cultures. What I liked the best was the way you inserted bits of humor. I can just visualize you making gestures to be understood. It’d be great if you had any photos from that period in your life.
    It would be a great idea if you turned this into a memoir.

    • Thanks so much for your comments, Rosa. I never really thought of writing a memoir about this time in my life. Perhaps I will. Thanks for the encouragement. Yes I have some photos, but I’ll have to do some hunting.

  6. Hi Coco, All this sounds really great. I spent four tours in Germany in my 38 years in the Military and I love Germany. It is so nice and clean compared to the US. I was in Manhiem, Mesouth, K-Town and Presian. I think I have these spelled right or close anyway. Again, I want to tell you that I enjoyed your last book “She Had To Know” so very much. You did a great job. I like mystery stories. Frances kept telling me how much she enjoyed it until I just had to read it for myself.

    • Paul, I’m so glad you enjoyed your time in Germany, too. Yes, it is a clean country and I love how they never wasted a single inch of dirt by planting flowers everywhere. I’m also very pleased you and Frances liked my book. It was a joy to write and find out what was going to happen. I didn’t know when I started. Isn’t that funny?!

  7. What an interesting point! And the details about army life back in the 60s are fascinating.

    My experiences as a psychotherapist, working especially with children, definitely influenced me as a writer–I think they are what enabled me to find my voice in suspense.

  8. As the author of three memoirs including one called “My Germany,” I agree you should write about this fascinating time in your life!

    • Lev, I feel honored you stopped by my blog post. I’ve followed your submissions on DorothyL for years. Yes, my time in Germany was fascinating and I treasure it. I’ve gotten such a good response the last couple of days, maybe I will write more about that time in my life.

      Thank you so much for your comment. I really appreciate it.

      Coco Ihle

  9. I enjoyed your post. I hope to visit German next year. We have two German Exchange students staying with us now and it is so interesting to learn from them.
    Wendy
    W.S. Gager on Writing

    • Thank you, Wendy. Oh, I wish I could go along with you to Germany next year. I hope you enjoy your stay. What a great experience having exchange students living with you, for both you and the students.

      Thanks for reading my post.

  10. Alice Yvonne Scheer Dorsey

    I know this is a blog, but I got so caught up in reading about your life in Germany, it felt like the beginning of a new book by you. You never know!
    We share some similarities; I too relied on my inventiveness. As a child I would fluff & mix different colors of Kleenex to make soft tissue flowers. Then placing them neatly in a box, I knocked on doors selling them in the hamlet I grew up in. It seems to be a path I’ve followed most of my life. With my eyes wide open looking up seeing the world, & all of its silver linings. Your book “She had to Know” is a star. Thanks for sharing your talent with us.

    • Alice Yvonne,
      I can just picture you going from door to door as a wide eyed child full of hope and expectancy. I can also imagine you were quite successful in selling your tissue flowers. Good for you. I’m glad you still approach life with such a possitive “silver lining” attitude.
      Thank you so much for the compliment regarding my book. I’m glad you liked it.

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  12. Hello,
    My name is Jerry I was stationed with the 615th in Birkenfeld 1965-1968. And to be honest, I don’t know how I found you–I was looking for old vets who had served at that location. However, I was pleased to find your blog. I certainly am not a computer guru, and will post my email adddress because I may not be able to find you again. I would appreciate you contacting me with any history you may have regarding the Birkenfeld area.
    Thank you,
    Jerry
    Frankston, TX

  13. Hi, Coco. I was stationed at Birkenfeld AFB from 11-62 to 8-65. I was just 18 when I got there and I had a wonderful time there. Our radar site was at the top of Erbeskopf and we went there by bus to work every day. Did you take a lot of pix while you were there? Love to see some, if possible.
    Steve Brown

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