Erster Weltkrieg und
    Besatzung 1918-1930
    in Rheinland-Pfalz

    Germans and Americans Living Together

    Wine tasting together with a German family in Plaidt (Archive Plaidter Geschichtsverein e.V.).

    In the early phase of the occupation, sharing everyday life proved to be a complex challenge for the Germans and the Americans alike. The armies of both nations had fought a bitter war, resulting in the propagation of many stereotypes. The Germans were the horrible “Huns,” while the Americans were considered rude, unworthy and poorly trained.

    Caricature in the “Amaroc News” about the language barrier between Germans and Americans (dilibri Rheinland-Pfalz;

    These attitudes changed when the young and good-looking Doughboys marched in well-trained formation into defeated Germany. The American soldiers represented an entirely different type of man, including but not exclusively because they usually lacked the mustaches that were common among European men at the time.

    Germans and Americans also met during their leisure activities. Here, American Doughboys skate together with German civilians and children on the frozen Moselle River at Koblenz on April 8, 1919 (National Archives Washington, D.C.; Collection Dr. John Provan, Kelkheim).

    The tight billets that were often found in small villages resulted not only in disputes with local inhabitants, but also in friendly relationships. The differences in language and culture were frequently the basis of complaints, however. The Doughboys enjoyed chewing gum, which was rather unknown and irritating for the Germans. The Americans ate fat, rich and oily food, and consumed much more water, gas and electricity than the locals. The increased numbers of mechanized vehicles, especially the large U.S. motor pools, the limited number of available roads and, according to the Germans, the irresponsible and dangerous American driving habits led to some further disagreements.

    Doughboys in “Ackermann’s Inn” at Plaidt (Archive Plaidter Geschichtsverein e.V.).

    Excessive alcohol consumption of the Doughboys became another source of conflict. Back home, Prohibition had just been introduced. In the Rhineland however, they could purchase beer and wine, although sales or consumption of stronger alcohol remained illegal. These rules were nonetheless often broken, since the Doughboys were willing to pay excessive prices, often resulting in drunken soldiers who began fistfights or caused heavy traffic accidents that occasionally resulted in fatalities. A constant issue was repayment by the American Occupation Forces to German civilians for damages incurred. In the end, the German government had to make these payments.

    In many cases pictures were taken of Doughboys in the company of Germans – during a picnic with a German family, joking with children in the street or talking to young ladies while controlling the border of the zone in Hundshagen (National Archives Washington, D.C.).

    The American soldiers also viewed some of the local German customs with skepticism. On multiple occasions, for example, stinking manure piles that were traditionally located next to rural farmhouses were the subject of much irritation.

    The Germans had to tolerate a great deal. Meetings or large gatherings were prohibited. Mail and all means of communication were censored. Every German above the age of 12 had to carry ID papers at all times, all borders were closely controlled, and travel restrictions were imposed, so that no one was allowed to move without prior permission of the American authorities. 

    A publicly posted regulation made by General Pershing in Cochem. The older gentleman whose pipe head still adorns the portrait of Emperor Wilhelm II is not particularly interested (National Archives Washington, D.C.).

    Local commanders placed further limitations, which were strictly enforced by American MPs who dealt with the Doughboys. Germans accused of violations against the orders of the occupation forces were brought before provost courts and often sentenced to imprisonment or fines. The military courts, which dealt with numerous legal issues between soldiers and civilians, appeared more lenient towards American soldiers, while German civilians were given stiffer and even harsher penalties.

    Public concert of the 51st Pioneer Infantry Band in Cochem (National Archives Washington, D.C.).

    Nonetheless, what is remembered most are the good times experienced by all. Since many Germans were living in poverty, the American authorities prohibited the purchase or confiscation of food from locals as early as late 1918. The Army of Occupation established soup kitchens instead for poor Germans and distributed surplus food or clothes to people in need. 

    An American soldier distributes sweets to German children in Cochem – presumably a deliberately staged picture of the Signal Corps (National Archives Washington, D.C.).

    During Christmas, German children were given thousands of presents by the Doughboys. These acts were long remembered by the people of the Rhineland. Even today’s memories of the typical post-World War II GI giving a German child a candy bar actually originated between 1918 and 1923.

    Cooperation and cultural exchange between both societies was also an important aspect of the occupation. A friendly co-existence evolved, and a cooperation on good terms with local officials was very important for the American Occupation Command.

    Texts and editing: Marc Holzheimer M.A., Hauke Petersen M.A., Benjamin Pfannes B.A., Dr. Kai-Michael Sprenger