Cold War, hot nights

Radio at its most exciting: “Payday“

Von Oliver Jungen

12.03.2011 / Frankfurter Allgemeinse Zeitung

Friday was payday in the Hessian town of Gelnhausen. “That was the worst thing that could happen.” A brigade of American soldiers got their wages and wanted nothing more than to blow them on music, booze and girls. These were the hot nights of the Cold War. But that wasn’t actually the worst. The Russians could march in at any minute. NATO feared that they would arrive via the Barbarossa city of Gelnhausen, so a hundred and fifty seven nuclear warheads had been prepared to blast the entire area, the “Fulda Gap”, to Hell. Several thousand American GIs were there to keep the Russians at bay until the final apocalyptic nuclear strike could be launched.
So they were cannon fodder, this brigade in Gelnhausen, in which the subsequent American Secretary of State Colin Powell was also briefly stationed. What was life like under the shadow of this double death threat? (“You don’t come here as a tourist, you come here to die”) Just great, if you’re as insouciant as Americans characteristically are. “I never heard anyone say he was scared of the Russians”, says former GI Stephen Summers. “It just wasn’t talked about. Never.” The question in Bratwurst Country was more likely to be, “Where are we going tonight? Where’s the party?”. Now the party’s over, the military doomsday scenario has evaporated, yet the ‘clash of cultures’ has still hardly been dealt with. The huge social experiment of stationing hordes of young Americans, many of them African-American, who imported music, dance styles and nonchalance to over two hundred points in Germany, was, despite all the problems that sexual needs, for example, brought with them, also a crash course in cosmopolitan living.
How these parallel societies lived together in the prospective frontline town of Gelnhausen, how some profited from the Americans (“a mix of profiteering, chumminess and boozing”), how irresistible these tank gun-cleaning athletes seemed to some, how dangerous to others (those grandmothers who had been fed up with the Americans since 1945 when troops of them polished off their preserves during the occupation of what had been the loyal Nazi town of Gelnhausen), what happened to the children of those relationships, and what friendships developed, can all now be heard in this outstanding radio feature by Rimini Protokoll, who are justly famous in theatre and radio circles.
Three artists create solo and joint projects under this label. Helgard Haug is one of them. She produced “Payday” together with her sister Heike Haug for a special reason: they both grew up in Gelnhausen. The voice montage is not only fast-moving; it’s illuminating, very funny, and has a uniquely captivating form. The way the statements mesh together in alternating half-sentences brilliantly portrays that interweaving of cultures, generations and political movements that was so formative for all barracks towns after the Second World War.


PAYDAY (Hörspiel)