Around 1960, in some bases earlier, in others a little later, began the era of the Deutsch-American Volksfest, also called Friendship Fair or, by the Germans, Ami-Markt. From a military point of view it was during the time of established Cold War, when in VII Corps Augsburg the 24th Infantry Division was stationed. In 1961, the Berlin Wall was constructed, one year later the Cuban Missile Crisis took place.
The beginnings of the fairs were modest, initiated by the American Youth Activities (AYA) with their caretaking of children and youth. Organizer was the local USMCA, the German cities had no influence on features or licensing of participants and Bierzelt landlords. There was, however, a common German-American committee (DAGA), that had a say in certain aspects of the organization of the fair. Per the specifications for the participants, especially American culture and life-style had to be sufficiently taken into consideration. In Munich the name “Little Oktoberfest” granted special Bavarian features as an exception.
Some strange neologisms advertised the Deutsch-American Volksfest. This was evidently an initiative of the initiators of the fair.
The Deutsch-American Volksfest constituted an additional Augsburg ‘Plärrer’ Fair, the so called ‘Ami-Plärrer’ at the perimeter of Reese Barracks. Above a circa 1990 aerial. (Via Bobbi Martinek).
It s said that the tradition of the Augsburg Volksfest began in 1963. Landlord Erwin Ebert with his ‘Hühnerbraterei’ was the first to feed German as well as American guests, then Augsburg’s ‘Fortuna’ brewery got the tap license. Landlords were e.g. Max Lutzenberger and, for a short time, Amanda Loew of ‘Bürgerbräu’ with her ‘Young Tent’. Thus various Augsburg breweries were involved. Charly (Kaspar) Held, later quite renowned, provided kitchen services already then. Especially during the first years, the Deutsch-American Volksfest was a strange treat for the local nationals, beginning with typical American fast food, and ending with Bavarian specialties. This included, among others, hamburgers and, then still unknown, corn on the cob, BBQ spare ribs, Tex-Mex tacos, and, especially, the legendary American Ice Cream. Until nowadays, the latter is an unforgettable feature of the U.S. time, and was the outstanding reason for a Volksfest visit.
The Augsburgers – male and female – bought incredible amounts of strawberry, vanilla, chocolate, and, cherished most, ‘Neapolitan’ ice cream in the typical pound packages. People stood in seemingly endless single files in order to buy it. It is said that the Augsburg ice cream was produced in the Quartermaster Kaserne bakery until 1956, then for all German posts in the EES Depot Grünstadt. Original US soft-drinks like Coke, Pepsi, Dr Pepper, Root Beer or Mountain Dew had eager German clients, while original US beer, bottled or canned, e.g. Miller, Budweiser or Coors, were more or less rejected.
Cash payment was not possible. For all American pleasures, dollar-tickets or chips had to be purchased at a cash desk and used for (no change) payment on the fairground. Only in the commercial Bierzelt and the other German installations, cash was accepted. At times when one US Dollar was still equivalent to 4.20 DM, the U.S. soldiers lived in an almost unlimited consumer paradise. This, however, had sometimes to be quite rude ‘regulated’ by the Military Police. Excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages provoked more than one bloody (racist) brawl, even mass fight. Sometimes, homesickness was an additional problem. The seemingly unlimited theft of steins was a huge problem for the landlords. This finally led to cheap steins/tankards without brewery emblems, thus reducing the souvenir collecting fun of the soldiers considerably.
A 1972 newspaper advertisement, and a 1981 Festzelt list of beverages.
Typical Army warning sign at the fairground access - people were entering a ‘Military Area’! (Photo: AiA archives).
High School students are enjoying a ride. (Photos: Crystal Mitchell).
Of course, also Coke and Pepsi were asked for beverages (GIs, new from the States, were warned in regard to the effect of the German Gerstensaft (beer). Not only was the alcoholic content of the German beer higher than that of the US beer, while, at the same time, it was served in unfamiliar large 1-liter steins (Maßkrüge), and also because in most US states the consumption of alcoholic beverages was prohibited below the age of 21 years).
This “somehow different fair”, as it was called by later landlord Charly Held, offered whimsicalities that were never known at Augsburg’s ‘Plärrer’ fair. E.g. there was ‘Chuck-a-Luck’, a game with ice cubes, or ‘Dunk-Ball’, a crude GI joke, especially around Father’s Day in May, both fulfilling the schadenfreude of the spectators. A volunteering soldier, sitting on a hinged plank above a big tub full of water, would drop into the water when a customer hit a target with a ball and so dunked the loudly mocking GI. When the weather was nice, a pretty bikini-clad girl was sitting alternatively on said plank.
People of course also liked the Wild West style ‘Jail’ where the sheriff would imprison an unpopular benchmate for a little fee. Or the ‘Bull Riding’ that always attracted a growing number of gloating spectators. For the kids, pony- or horse-trekking, matching Wild West romantic, was established.
It was gaudy, colorful and brash. The music was loud, Bavarian or Country, the mood in the Bierzelt cooking rhythmic in the evening - a microcosm due to the Cold War and its necessities. Even old US cars that could be demolished with a sledgehammer were on the premises. Indispensable were the typical shooting galleries, the merry-go-round, the gasoline powered (air polluting) go-carts, the bumper cars, and the contemporary carousels. Even family afternoons with reduced prices were offered. A special feature of the Augsburg location was the lawn versus the usual gravel and/or asphaltic surfaces.
American Ice Cream. In 2015, the favorite Ice Cream was produced IAW the original recipe in the former garrison city Bremerhaven, and sold at a nostalgic ‘Amimarkt’ (Friendship Festival). (Screen shot AiA).
Charly Held’s ‘Bürgerbräu’ Bierzelt for 2000 customers was an elementary meeting point of the Deutsch-American society. (Photo: J.P. Barham).
Not always called ‘Volksfest’, but then also called the ‘Somewhat “Different” Volksfest’. The licensed landlords resp. the organizers were responsible for the layout of the advertisement.
Diebold’s Autoskooter was always a magnet for the US youth. (Photo AiA).
A view of the ‘Dunk-Ball’. The red dot on the yellow tarpaulin was the trigger for the dunking. (Photo: AiA).
Charly Held talking with a DEH local national. (Photo: AiA archives).
Fairground scenes. The Volksfest lasted up to two weeks. (Photos: AiA archives).
The fairground opposite of the High School was also part of the military restricted area (No unauthorized access, use of weapons, prohibition of photo-taking), and therefore the typical signs were installed. Of course this was absurd during the Volksfest. Always prominent were the Stars and Stripes. Societies like the Kiwanis Club had little stalls. The profit gained by the sales of American food and beverages, as well as by the U.S. soldier-operated ‘pleasure facilities’ was usually reserved for the USMCA’s welfare institutions.
At one time in the 80s, landlord Charly Held proposed to hold the Volksfest two times a year – which was quite stressful for the organizers and therefore happened only a few times. All together, there were 38 fairs during the U.S. post Augsburg era. Of course a visit of the Volksfest was duty as well as free style at the same time for Augsburg’s officials. For the interpersonal success, inter alia, the ‘Bavarian Evenings’ were popular with the Americans. No available statistics show in how far this actually led to lasting German-American friendships or even relationships. Did the GIs open themselves to the Germans here more than usual? Even this cannot be evaluated in any archive or newspaper report. Nowadays, enquiries produce only vague, albeit impassioned memories: It was wonderful, it was super, oh yes – and the Ami Ice Cream! Just delicious!
American facets amidst an almost typical German fairground. (Photo: AiA).
1992: Lord Mayor Dr. Peter Menacher (2nd from left) with COL Terrence (right). (Photo via USMCA Augsburg Public Affairs Office).
The Volksfest before last in 1997 (left), and a small Ferris wheel at the final Fest in 1998. (Photos: AiA archives).
Aerial photo of the fairground at Bürgermeister-Ackermann-Straße. On the left, the former High School. (Bing Maps).
Still in 2007, the fairground was a landmark for naming the location of other events. (Photo: Earl Bonenblust).