Promise made three decades earlier was kept

Staff Writer
Story City Herald

—by Bill Haglund

There’s an old saying that “promises are made to be broken.”

That may be true in many, if not most, cases, but a promise made 32 years earlier was kept while the world awaited what many feared would be the impending disaster of Y2K. People around the world feared the worst as 1999 turned into 2000. The main fear, of course, was a result in the practice of abbreviating four-digit years to two digits. That, of course, made “2000” indistinguishable from “1900.”

Of course, there were no computers in 1900, but computers had become an integral part of life 100 years later. Everything remotely connected to a computer would fail.

Fears were that planes would be grounded, communication would be disrupted the internet would fail. Doomsayers even predicted that countless numbers of Americans would die, our financial infrastructure would collapse and we would be thrown back into those not-so-wonderful (or were they?) days before computers took over our lives.

In reality, nobody knew what would or would not happen.

I didn’t care and I convinced my wife she shouldn’t care, either.

You see, I’d made a promise way back in 1968 and I intended to keep that promise, Y2K or not.

Uncle Sam sent me across the Atlantic in the final few weeks of 1966, to spend the final 15 months of my time in service. It turned out to be one of the best things that happened to me.

As a sports editor for the Fourth Armored Division “Rolling Review” - a newspaper published every two weeks - I had spent a considerable amount of time in downtown Nuremberg at the evening newspaper where “Rolling Review” was published. Because of the language barrier, my friend, the editor, and I spent two days every two weeks at the newspaper.

It was there that I met a man named Gunter, who was virtually the only employee at the paper who could speak English. He taught himself the language by reading American comic books, then later married a gal from Australia and began mastering the language.

After a few trips, Gunter asked my friend, John, and I to come downtown the following Friday and take part in his “Stammtisch.” Loosely translated “Stammtisch” means “regulars” table. It’s an informal group meeting held on a regular basis, often around a table. Meetings are not structured, but rather friendly and usually are held for a specific purpose and among friends. Gunter’s “Stammtisch” was a photographic gathering.

He admitted that he was a little apprehensive about asking two Americans to join his group, but later said it was “the best thing he’d ever done.”

John and I fit right in with the group. Every Friday night we traveled to downtown Nuremberg and met at a place called the Katrinenklause – a local “Gasthaus” – a German bar/restaurant, although the Katrinenklause was mostly a bar. We sat around the same table – room for the regulars who met there, a group of about 20 people before John and I joined them.

We became fast friends. We even began meeting with a few of the men on another night to ostensibly learn German and teach English. Really, it was just another way to socialize. Our German friends came to our Army post and watched me play baseball and to play a round of golf. We met them in parks to learn soccer and we went with them when they climbed a mountain in the Alps.

On our final Friday night meeting (I took a European discharge and moved to Sweden for the summer) in April of 1968, it was a happy-sad occasion. All the Germans had attended my “short timer’s party” at the American Hotel in downtown Nuremberg a week earlier and this, our final meeting, would take place at the Katrinklause.

During the gathering, there were many steins filled with suds, and many hugs. During the months of our weekly visits, a man named Manfred had become my best friend. In fact, Manfred went with me to Sweden on my first trip there to meet close relatives there.

On that Friday night – April 19, 1968 – Manfred said, “We must remain in contact and we must all get together again to celebrate New Year’s when the new century arrives.” It was then that John and I both made the promise to do just that.

And so, as December turned to January and 1999 became 2000, my wife Judy and I had braved Y2K and traveled to Europe. It was Judy’s first trip abroad. There were 22 of us in that 1967-68 “Stammtisch.” John didn’t return, but I wasn’t alone – 16 of the original 20 Germans attended the New Year’s Eve party – an excellent turnout coming 32 years after a promise had been made.

Judy fit right in, too. A little apprehensive to begin meeting strange people speaking a strange language, Judy immediately fit when a friend named Gerd approached and, in a heavy German accent, asked, “Chu-u-udy, do you rock and roll.”

The party lasted until 5 a.m.

(Bill Haglund is a retired staff writer of the Dallas County News and Boone News-Republican. He can be reached at bhaglund13@msn.com)