Reflections of My Childhood Spent at Camp King Oberursel, 1945 – 1950

Helga Russell – Ackermann, a former accountant and now retired, lived with her family at Camp King in Oberursel from 1945-1950. This is her story about how she, as a young German girl, got to live on an American base.

In the fall of 1945, I moved to Camp King Oberursel as a 9-year old German girl. How did this come about..?

It was because my father was an electrician and responsible for the electric system in the Dulag, which was the German forerunner of Camp King, and had the same mission. 

We lived in Frankfurt at the time, and the situation had become very dangerous. My mother’s business had burnt down and all the buildings around ours were gone as well. Oberursel was a desired place to go to, it had the reputation that it was spared of bombings, because of the American and British Pilots, who were held at the Dulag. And sure enough, only three bombs fell in Oberursel towards the end of the war, but one of them found their way into our back yard.  Fortunately, my dad learned of the newly built temporary shelters on Marxstrasse (later, a school was built on the same spot) and we moved with our remaining belongings. My grandparents, parents, and I moved into a house about the size of my current living room.

Due to his diabetes, my dad was a civilian, and at some point, there was the possibility of his getting drafted into the Volksarmee. When the German Army decided to move to southern Germany,  Oberst Killinger, Commander of the Dulag, suggested that my father should move with them to avoid getting drafted. We stayed behind.  By May 1945, the war was over and we saw our first Americans on the street. We had a curfew and were restricted to when we could go out. It was a very anxious time for my mother.But my dad managed to return by bike from Nuremberg one evening just before curfew.

Soon after, a jeep with four soldiers in combat uniform drove into our street, stopped in front of our house, and knocked on the door. It took a while to open it… All of us were staring at the soldier in the door.

My mother’s immediate reaction was “What do you want from us?”. He took his helmet off and said in perfect German “I am Captain Walters and I am looking for Mr. Ackermann. Camp King is in need of a person familiar with the electrical system. We asked for recommendation from the local utility company and they referred us to you. Would you be interested?” 

Dad said yes and they took him in the jeep to Camp King. The neighbors, who had observed everything, started speculating and kept the rumor mill running by guessing why they had taken my dad. At that time, everyone always expected the worst.

Now my dad was employed, and they picked him up and brought him home every day until they told him they needed him 24/7, and made him an offer to move us into one of the US-occupied houses on base. So, we moved into the “Heid’ House”, which is the second house on the left after the entrance. The entrance to Camp King at that point was a log cabin with a beam and not much else.

Of course, we were elated to live in a more spacious environment. We made ourselves feel at home by tending a chicken coop, vegetable garden and fruit trees in the back. If we wanted to eat, we had to grow it. A smart move on their behalf, the US Army had left the ‘Siedlungshof’ intact, which was an agricultural learning institute run by the University of Frankfurt, and it was also a very good source for supplies.

The students there had raised cows, pigs, chickens, rabbits, and horses. It had a chicken breeding facility and maintained large agricultural fields. The daughter of Siedlungshof manager was my age, and we became best friends. I gained an enormous amount of knowledge and experience, because of my time spent with them. I also had the duty of collecting dandelions to feed the rabbits, and also collected chamomile blossoms for tea, which grew along the Camp King road. Compared to today, Camp King had a lot of nature to offer.

Word got out that my mother, besides being an excellent hairdresser, was also a good cook. The GIs liked to hunt in the Taunus Mountains and their catch often landed in our kitchen. They also saw to it that my father was fed well in the mess hall. This also had its downside, since his diabetes reappeared, since he liked sweets.

The first house at the entrance was the ‘grey’ house which housed high ranking German individuals used for resources. Of course, they also made their way to our house for parties, particularly during carnival times. My parents, being very sociable, enjoyed their company. We had our little community made up of Americans and Germans who resided in Camp King.

Camp King Oberursel entrance
Camp King Oberursel entrance

The photo belongs to the Camp King archives, and I have permission to publish it. There is no correlation between Helga’s time spent there and the time of the photo taken.

Oberursel: 1950 – 1956

We lived in Camp King until 1950, when the house was needed, and we were assigned to another US-occupied house just south of the Teachers retirement home (now the Gehrig House), where we stayed until 1952. That’s the year my parents bought a newly built house on Usastrasse 54. I enjoyed that time since I got to know the families (refugees from eastern Europe) who were temporarily sheltered there. I learned counting in Russian, and a few other phrases useful for playing tennis and volleyball behind the facility.

I had started high school (Gymnasium or prep-college) and learned English. Of course, I had such an immediate advantage, since I could practice my new skills right at home. However, my English teacher was not that impressed, since I spoke American English, and she insisted on the British version.

I got married in 1956 and left Oberursel via Bremen, Bremerhaven, and then on to Ft. Hamilton Brooklyn, NY.

In 1962, we got orders to return to Camp King – this time with our young son . We were elated, I got to live back home again. We lived in 1049 B4 until 1965, when we returned to the States. Of course, my parents had been overjoyed that they could get to know their grandchild. My father was still working at Camp King and enjoyed playing babysitter.

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