Michael Brown

The Paradise Wars and Clark Ransom Thrillers

Kaiserslautern

My father was in the army until I was in tenth grade, and we lived in a split-level on the ocean south of San Francisco.

But from fourth through sixth grade, we lived in Vogelweh Germany outside  of Kaiserslautern in one of the world’s largest US Army bases. Life Magazine nicknamed the base Little America.

VogelwehWe lived in a four-story stucco building with three entrances, each entrance leading to eight apartments.  The outside was an unattractive industrial beige, but inside the apartments were quite large, high-ceilinged with hardwood floors in every room. The furniture the army provided, at least in a pre-teens mind, was stylish and of high quality. I remember lots of red arm chairs and mahogany.

We had a maid, who buffed the hardwoods by hand with what I can best describe as a block of lead covered in felt that pivoted from the end of a stick. Elsa swung the heavy lump of metal back and forth in regular patterns, regularly bashing table and chair legs.

The unending nicks and scratches kept my mother, Belgian — not the most fond of Germans and borderline OCD fastidious — in perpetual annoyance.  My sister and I were victims of Mom’s peevishness, so we escaped.

Behind our house was a hill covered with raspberry and blackberry bushes, where the other army brats would play hide and seek, capture the fort, or just explore. Beyond that hill was another and on top of that  was a small decaying castle: Hohnegger.

Swear to the gods it was an actual castle, with a spiral staircase, which had crumbled away in parts, that went up, up, up to one single turret from which we could survey the surrounding woods and the quadrants  of apartments, barracks, and the central shopping complex containing PX, Commissary,  the Movies, and the Chapel.

Facing the opposite direction, we saw  the spires of Kaiserslautern from where at one time  Barbarossa ruled the Holy Roman Empire.

Knowing nothing more, Barbarossa has nagged at the fringe of things I should know more about.

My last trip to Hohnegger, while descending —  and thank God near the bottom– a stair crumbled away and I fell into a deep bed of stinging nettle.

My Dad made the castle off limits to all the kids.  And only years later did the charm of the romance of Hohnegger and the spires of Barbarossa’s Kaiserslautern return. Until then, it was all about remembering the days in a bath of baking soda and the nights of calamine.

What is the half-life of pain? What is the value of joy, romance, and adventure in psychic currency? In myself, I don’t know which wins out.  I don’t know if we ever do.

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