Originally published in Currents April/May 2006
It all started in 1950 when I arrived in Bremerhaven, Germany as a member of a Red Cross group that was coming to Occupied Germany... It ended with my spending 20 years of my life in Germany and loving every minute of it. I was assigned to Bremen, Germany, which was occupied by the American forces and it was there that I met my husband who was in the shipping industry...
Life in Bremen was fun and interesting because it was all new... It was easy to be content and have friends then because we were a small community living in this occupied territory. This all changed for me in 1952 when I moved to Hamburg with my husband and daughter...
I found things very different than they'd been in Bremen... It was then that I realized what it was like to live and raise a family in a strange country. I was very lucky, though, for we were in the main industry of the city: shipping. It was easier for me to make friends for we had all the ships and ... the Germans ... were nice to us because we were helping them to rebuild their economy.
In Hamburg there were few Americans other than consulate people. Most were connected with oil and other industries which had offices there before the war. They often did not have family with them, as many had children in high school or college and so the wives stayed in the States to see to the children's education... My little daughter spoke fluent German so she went to the German Kindergarten. She had learned the language from the household help and her English from her parents. I took German lessons at the University of Hamburg so that I could shop and understand the social discussions which were taking place at most of the business affairs we attended. The Hamburg people have always spoken English, but were shy to do so, especially the wives. I felt, as I was much younger than they, that I should try to learn their language. It really helped a lot...
The American Chamber of Commerce had started a number of men's clubs in all the major cities of Western Germany. This was a way of helping the American business men coming to Germany to meet and learn from others how to work and do business in that country. They were supplying the Marshall Plan Funds to rebuild Hamburg, as well as many other very bombed-out cities... I often heard my husband and others discussing the new men who had arrived in Hamburg and attended the club luncheon, and I wondered about their wives. Some did hear about the German-American Women's Club, which built playgrounds in the bombed out areas of the city, and they would join this club to make friends. But it was luck to find someone to answer questions about your everyday needs. I talked to a number of people about starting a club for new arrivals to help them feel at home and answer their questions. Everyone thought it a good idea, but no one did anything about it. If someone had a question about something [she] would complain to [her] husband and he would call another husband from his list of American Men's Club members. They usually ended up calling my husband, who would call me.
So I decided ... to start a women's club to meet once a month for lunch and to help all the newcomers ... to increase their knowledge of Hamburg and ... to find things we missed. This meant doctors, dentists, hairdressers, and schools, as well as food and clothing and everyday needs. I was afraid that it might not work, but a lot of ladies had promised to come if I would organize it. I went to the American consulate and ... the lady in charge of citizenship section [and I] went through her files to find names and addresses of all the Americans who were registered at the consulate... After this I arranged to have the luncheon at the same club where the men met. Well, that was the first [meeting]and if I am correct it was January 1956. We had about 30-40 [attendees]. We did not pay dues and there was no newsletter. We got our husbands' offices to send out notices, and we had fliers put into the citizenship office at the consulate, so that when someone would come to register they would find out about us. Well, you know the rest of the story. Each new arrival brought new ideas, and so the club is the fabulous operation that you have today. We started with fashion shows, and from there they got the idea for the theater group. The AWCH was also actively involved in founding the International School. At that time it was so small it was having its classes at the corner of Harvestehuder Weg where the South African Consulate is today... We were a close group and some of us still remain close today.
It was a fascinating time. For 20 yeas we watched the Germans work day and night to rebuild a country which was in ruins, both structurally and economically. They deserve a great deal of credit.
Sincerely, Joan Fox
(taken from a letter from Joan F, founding member, written January 1986 in honor of the 30th anniversary of the AWCH, compiled by Becky T and edited and excerpted by Sus E B)