Not far from the front door of the place I called “home” for more than a year was an unauthorized gate.
Monteith Barracks, located in Furth, Germany, a western suburb of the historic city of Nuremberg, had been a German military post until it was taken over as part of the American occupation of the country in the years following World War II. None of us stationed there, with the probable exception of those serving in military intelligence, knew how many American soldiers were stationed there. For all we knew, it could have been fewer than 1,000, but more likely it was several thousand.
The main gate was only a few feet away from the highway leading to Furth. The highway ran past the main gate, then turned abruptly left at the base of an incline. There, at the point the highway turned left, was a gate in the fence. No doubt it was not an approved entrance and exit to Monteith Barracks, but it was one that was known, if not talked-about, by virtually every soldier on the military base.
Just outside that gate, also adjacent to the highway was an age-old German building. Inside was a business that brought a slice of home to many soldiers serving at Monteith Barracks, an honest-to-goodness pizza parlor. I use that term — pizza parlor — loosely because the product turned out wasn’t like the pizza we got at home.
Actually, and if truth be known, the pizza wasn’t very good. It was far too greasy, the crust could be a little crumbly at times, and the pepperoni wasn’t at all like the pepperoni we’d tasted at home.
But, it was pizza. Of that we were certain. That’s what the sign said in the front window and, by golly, that’s what it was.
From the big multi-story building I called home, the pizza parlor was very near. The unauthorized gate was perhaps 60 steps from the front door of “home” and the pizza parlor itself was perhaps 20 steps beyond the gate — less if you dared walk diagonally across the highway.
My fellow soldiers and I visited there often, or I should say those of my fellow soldiers and I who dared, visited there often. Not all of my fellow soldiers in the small public information office would actually dare to eat pizza from the establishment. One, in fact, never ate a single food product from Germany and he never, ever drank any water there. He wouldn’t even think of trying German beer because, well, the water naturally was German.
But, those of us who did visit the pizza joint would sit around sipping a German beer and dining on pizza when we all slipped out the back gate for a taste of home. Often, though, one of us would get a carry-out pizza to bring back “home” to share with friends.
After a few months at Monteith Barracks, the pizza began to taste a little better to us all. It wasn’t because of some new recipe, but rather that we’d become accustomed to the taste. It was, after all, pizza. That’s what the sign in the window said and, by golly, that’s what it was.
The pizza joint was virtually always on our minds. Even on those occasions when my Army pal, John, and I would walk the five kilometers to the Furth center and catch a trolley to Nuremberg, our path would carry us out the back gate and right past the pizza joint. Walking back after a night downtown, we’d also walk past the building, now long dark. The sign that said “pizza” in the window was still visible, even without lights.
The proprietors of the business weren’t German. I was told they were Hungarian. That makes sense, I guess, because I once stopped in a Hungarian restaurant downtown. I thought that would be a great place for some real Hungarian goulash. Boy, was I wrong. The Hungarian goulash I got didn’t taste anything like the Hungarian goulash my mother used to make at home and she was a wonderful cook.
So, why should pizza made by Hungarians taste like real pizza?
It’s been a half century since I last walked out the back gate for some pizza, but the taste is still there. I can’t compare it to any pizza I had before, nor any pizza I’ve had since. Yes, it was that unforgettable.
But, it was pizza.
That alone gave us a little slice of “home” as we spent our time overseas — even if the pizza didn’t taste like pizza. And, you know what? If I could find a pizza that was just like those cooked up just outside the back gate at Monteith Barracks, I’d eat it, if for old time’s sake and no other reason.
It was that unforgettable.
Bill Haglund is a retired writer for the Boone News-Republican and Dallas County News and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.