Former GIs Describe their Lives in Germany
By Robert Potter
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About the Book:
Would his late Cold War bride have been happier—and better able to fight the cancer that took her in the prime of life—if the couple had chosen to live in Germany, rather than the U.S., after his military service in the 1960s? Decades after his wife’s death, the author remained haunted by that question. In a search for answers, he returned to Germany in 2017 and sought out former G.I.s who married their German sweethearts and elected to reside there. The result of that quest is this series of sixteen interviews with American expats and women who married G.I.s. The men we meet in these pages came from very different backgrounds, but they all experienced the challenges common to immigrants everywhere: learning a new language, adjusting to cultural differences, overcoming bureaucratic hurdles, and earning a living. Each story, recounted with honesty, courage, and humor, provides a unique, fascinating response to those challenges—as well as a detached lens through which to view American society today.
Robert Potter, a former GI, brought his German bride back to the US when his service concluded. Life here was very different, including laws that would not accept (and still don’t) German education and work experience in many professions like teaching and medicine. Robert and his wife had two children. Gerdi was unhappy in general, couldn’t procure work as a requirement of her visa, and eventually succumbed to cancer. Although Bob eventually remarried happily, he remained aware of men who chose to remain in or return to Germany after they had relationships or married German women. Eventually, Bob, with the help of his tech college writing students, put together an interview format for a project to record stories from ex-patriots to learn more about their situations. Bob found a group of expats who met regularly to discuss their lives and support each other. Several of these men and one wife agreed to meet Bob and be interviewed for this book.
I appreciated learning about what it’s like to move and try to adapt to a different culture and language. The stories included mostly those of servicemen who had done their time. The unbelievable issues with obtaining work permits and regulations, how much language to learn for what skillset, what kind of certificates to obtain for professional work or even unskilled labor was fascinating. Medical care seemed to be a big issue among the expats, as far as where to go for care and who pays. Most thought German medical care was superior. Some men had wives willing to live in the US for a time, and a few cases worked out quite well when the spouse was able and willing to retrain for a profession and get a US license to work. Getting visas and residency requirements were quite different though both countries seem regulation bound. Driving licenses and gun control were stricter in Germany. Voter apathy didn’t seem much different, nor did political opinions. The book was interesting and every person interviewed unique. Bob’s original quest regarding whether he should have chosen to live in Germany instead of having his wife emigrate to the US was determined to remain an open theory, though Bob finally found peace through reaching out to other veterans who may have learned something through sharing their own stories.