Monday, May 11, 2009

Return to the Old Country

When I decided to return to DoDDS and Europe in 2002, I was at the mercy of human resources at headquarters. But I didn't leave it totally up to them. I contacted all the principals I knew for whom I would like to work and I ended up in the smallest school in the best location in all of Europe: Bad Aibling, Germany. The principal there, Bob Bennett, created a position and convinced the superintendent that he had to have me there. It worked!

Picture the Bavarian Alps, between Munich and Salzburg . . . beer gardens, lederhosen, edelweiss, and Sound of Music . . . that's Bad Aibling! It was the most beautiful, enchanting, healthful place I ever lived, and I would have stayed there forever if I could have. Sadly, they were on the chopping block to close, which they did, just two years after I arrived. Sigh.

But, while I was there, I thoroughly enjoyed the unique experience of working and living in a special place. Bad Aibling is a lovely German spa town. Bad Aibling Station was a "listening station" for Army military intelligence and National Security. Top secret stuff. Bad Aibling School was a kindergarten through twelfth grade school all in one building, with a total of about 185 students. Of those, about eighty were in grades 5-12 and only forty-some in 9-12. We graduated four kids our last year. The school was so big and the population so small, we kind of got lost in it. The superintendent joked that, upon one visit, he thought they had closed Bad Aibling and forgot to tell him because he didn't see any kids in the hall.

The school itself was in one of the typical German military buildings from World War II, and the classrooms were like bowling alleys. It was two stories high and you could walk half a mile from end to end without going outside. We were well-equipped. I think at one point we had at least two computers per kid. There was no need for locks on lockers, and many kids just left their stuff hanging on hooks or on the benches in the halls. It was too small to have any sports but basketball, cross-country, and co-ed soccer. The whole school, grades 1-12 used to enjoy a week of instruction in skiing in the Alps every year (till the last, when the principal, not Bob, nixed it). We also did a whole-school Volksmarch in the snow and took the entire 6-12 grades to see the latest Harry Potter movie in English in Munich (that was two buses).

I had the coolest colleagues and made some lifelong friends there. We were so remote . . . I believe that (like Sicily) is what draws people together. When we went out for Christmas dinner as a faculty, everyone wore Bavarian clothing, which was very popular there with all of us. One person joked that no matter where we ended up next, we could probably each outfit an entire cast of Sound of Music at our next school! We enjoyed Munich and the Alps and Salzburg and Chiemsee Lake and Berchtesgaden to the fullest. The entire faculty rafted on the Isar River and drank beer and schnapps all day while the band played on. I ran, biked, or hiked the mountains nearly every day. Life was good.

Teaching in this tiny school was an adventure and a challenge. I started the AVID program, and by the second year, forty percent of the students in 6-12 were enrolled in it! Today, nearly every one of them is in college and one is going to Harvard. My second and last year there, I seriously taught kindergarten through college. How's that? I taught elementary art K-5, AVID 6-12, and AP English Literature. This was the first time I'd taught little kids, and, although I was nervous as heck, I ended up loving it and they loved it, too! Kindergarteners totally frightened me, but I got used to them, too. There's something special about teaching all those ages at the same time. It definitely gives you the bigger picture of child development and what education is all about.

The base got smaller and smaller as closing drew near. The commissary was only open a few days a week. The post exchange, already quite small, got smaller and everything was randomly on sale. I used to joke that AAFES would send all the weird stuff in their warehouse to Bad Aibling ("They'll buy anything there because they don't have anything!"). I owned more CDs than they stocked. Luckily, though, we could buy whatever we need in the German towns. Another benefit--my German finally got good!

Our last year was only marred by an insecure principal who turned vicious and vindictive. People still talk about her to this day. However, it also had the effect of drawing some of us closer together and, to this day, we are fast friends. DoDDS took care of us. We were transferred all over the place--Germany, the Azores, the Netherlands, England, Japan, and ITALY!


  1. Fun to relive those (mostly) great memories. Thanks for including our pics in your write up. I've enjoyed catching up on your career - great idea!


  2. This was fantastic and told the whole story. 5 years and I still miss it. No closeness like we had with the faculty, the kids, the parents, the church. I miss that. I miss the proximity to Munich, Italy, Salzburg, Innsbruck and the Alps. I'm happy in Hohenfels and Amberg where I live; but miss Bad Aibling. See you soon. Bobbyd

  3. Surely DoDDS will want to publish your blogs. They are such a wonderful account of what teaching can be all about and how that comes to fulfillment in the DODDS system!
    Mary Catherine

  4. I enjoyed seeing you there when I visited Susan----Terry had to close down the were a part of history! so many bases closed that I remember from even 1960 when I arrived as a 7 year old in Nurnburg...other places I lived that closed,,,,,Karlsruhe, Berlin,
    and probably others......sigh......but the memories live on and the friendships forged in remote places are strong. Enjoy those last days! Joan

  5. I enjoyed reading your blog, not because of the teaching aspect, but because I was in the Army Security Agency and was stationed at Bad Aibling Sep 1967 to Aug 1970. The area is beautiful, and I left a girl behind. I have always wanted to go back but have never had the chance. I could tell stories of the Sergeant Major's leaves, the "rabbit" hedgehog, the ghost in the barracks, the upside down car, and, of course, the "honeywagons".

    Thank you.