Best Beers and Infected German Women

Lars Best Beers Header

Recently a little gem appeared on the German list of non-fiction bestsellers. The book was small and decently priced. But still it was a bit striking to me that it had gained the status of a bestseller. Why? Well, the book is a German translation of the Instruction for British Servicemen in Germany 1944, published by the Bodleian library. What kind of book is it?

Whining for sympathy

June 6th 1944: 156.000 allied soldiers landed on the coasts of Normandy, ready to give the Nazi-armies their final blow. The famous D-day had not only been prepared meticulously on the military-strategic level, the allied commands were also concerned with the question how the very young soldiers should behave once they arrived on enemy territory. Nine and a half months after D-day, 30.000 British troops crossed the Rhine and entered Germany.1 Most of them carried a small booklet in their pocket, which would give them guidance in dealing with the local people.2

By reading this guide the soldiers were meant to prepare for what they would encounter in a country devastated by twelve years of tyranny and war:

You may see many pitiful sights. Hard-luck stories may somehow reach you. Some of them may be true, at least in part, but most will be hypocritical attempts to win sympathy. For taken as a whole, the German is brutal when he is winning, and is sorry for himself and whines for sympathy when he is beaten. So be on your guard against “propaganda” in the form of hard-luck stories. Be fair and just, but don’t be soft.3

Then a short outline of German history, industry, and geography follows. Most of the guide is concerned with the character and habits of the German people though:

The mixture of sentimentality and callousness does not show a well balanced mind. The Germans are not good at controlling their feelings. They have a streak of hysteria.4

The road to peace goes to the farm

Despite the stereotypes the official stance towards the German people is remarkably moderate. After all German troops had bombarded London and devastated Coventry in the years before. And besides that it was still debated what should happen to Germany and its people. The dilemma that was faced is illustrated by the foreword of President Roosevelt in the book Germany is our problem, which was written in 1944 by his Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau Jr.:

We shall not leave them a single element of military power- or of potential military power. (…) We bring no charge against the German race, as such, for we can not believe that God has eternally condemned any race of humanity.5

Roosevelt’s words must have been overheard by Morgenthau somehow: after the foreword he proposes some radical measures to “completely demilitarize Germany in the shortest possible period of time.”6 He states that the only way to prevent Germany to become a military threat again is to remove all heavy industry from the country, including most power plants.7 Morgenthau’s vision is to reduce Germany into a rural landscape dominated by small farms: “Germany’s road to peace leads to the farm.”8

Plans to punish Germany severely after causing havoc and mayhem in two world wars were widespread at that moment, also in Britain that had suffered from Nazi warfare. But Berlin had not been taken yet and there were more pressing problems that the soldiers had to cope with.

Beer is best

For example: German cuisine. Eating and drinking is a primary need for every human being, soldiers included. So the authors of the guide book bothered to give some introduction to the foods and drinks that the soldiers might encounter. Besides stating that German sausages are the best, one chapter starts with the sentence “Beer is best” and covers the subject of alcoholic drinks that are available.9

Whiskey and gin are of poor quality (unless imported from Britain), but there are many kinds of spirits called schnaps. The cheaper ones are guaranteed to take the skin off one’s throat.10

One other need that seems to be more peculiar for soldiers abroad is also covered: women. So advice on that topic is also provided:

Under the shock of defeat standards of honor, undermined by the Nazis, will sink still lower. Numbers of German women will be willing, if they get the chance, to make themselves cheap for what they can get out of you. […] Be on your guard. Most of them will be infected.11

The super race disease

The message is clear: the German people might seem to be nice and gemütlich on first glance but they still pose a threat. The same message is spread by the American film Your Job in Germany that was published in 1945 to instruct American soldiers. The film, directed by Frank Capra, was also shown to British soldiers that prepared to leave for the continent.12

Where Henry Morgenthau wanted Germany reduced to rural and pastoral communities, this movie warned the soldiers for the romantic landscapes and villages they would eventually encounter:

You’ll see some mighty pretty scenery. Don’t let it fool you. You are in enemy country. Be alert, suspicious of everyone. Take no chances. You are up against more than tourist scenery. You are up against German History.13

About dealing with the German people the movie states:

Trust none of them. Someday the German people might be cured from their disease: The super race disease, the world conquest disease. But they must prove that they have been cured beyond the shadow of a doubt before they ever again are allowed to take their place among respectable nations.14

“Leave the past behind us”

After the Third Reich was defeated, Germany was divided into four occupation zones under allied command. The American and British allied commands started with an extensive program to thoroughly re-educate the German people in their zone. In the meanwhile allied soldiers had affairs with German Fräuleins and were probably enjoying more than one glass of Schnaps. Well, I won’t judge that. The guys were young and had gone through many hardships. But I can’t help wondering whether the guide was of any help to them in coping with the situations they encountered.

As for the Germans: only three years after the victory of 1945 a new nemesis appeared on stage: the Soviet Union. The first chancellor of Western Germany, Konrad Adenauer, could now state that it was time “to leave the past behind us.” Germany became an ally in the emerging Cold War and the atrocities of World War Two were for the time being conveniently ignored.15
Of course World War Two could not be erased from the past, it would not take very long before the memories reared their head again.


Extreem luid & ongelooflijk dichtbij
Bericht uit Berlijn
Het bittere kruid
De zonderlinge avonturen van het geniale bommenmeisje
Lars Sanders

Lars Sanders

Lars Sanders studied history at the University of Groningen and specialised in the history of post-war Germany. Is addicted to fine prose and has a keen interest in representations of the devil and what Ian Kershaw once punningly classified as the lunatic fringe of politics.
Lars Sanders
Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrby feather

  1. J.Keegan, Normandy Invasion in Encyclopedia Brittanica: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/418382/Normandy-Invasion, last seen December 3rd 2014 

  2. J. Pinfoldt, Preface to Instructions to British Servicemen in Germany 1944 (1943, Oxford 2007) no page number available. 

  3. Instructions to British Servicemen in Germany 1944 (1943, Oxford 2007) 7 

  4. Ibidem, 29 

  5. H. Morgenthau, Germany is Our Problem (1944,) foreword on first page 

  6. Ibidem, 1 

  7. H. Morgenthau, Germany is Our Problem, 20 

  8. Ibidem, 48 

  9. Instructions to British Servicemen in Germany 1944, 38 

  10. Ibidem, 39 

  11. Ibidem, 40 

  12. J. Pinfoldt, Preface to Instructions to British Servicemen in Germany 1944 

  13. Your Job in Germany (1945) 2:16-2:33 

  14. Your Job in Germany (1945) 12:46-13:04 

  15. For further reading the excellent book by Norbert Frei, Adenauer’s Germany and the Nazi Past. The Politics of Amnesty and Integration (New York 2002) is recommended