Popular German pub district parties on despite prior trouble
SACHSENHAUSEN, Germany — Welcome to the Kyalami bar, where the ghost of Pfc. Clint Lamebear still hovers over the party.
And it’s a good party at this tiny bar in the heart of Frankfurt’s Sachsenhausen pub district, a major girls-and-grog destination for young American servicemembers.
“Everybody in my platoon is here tonight,” said a soldier from the Freidberg-based 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry Regiment, who asked not to be identified by name. Around him on a midsummer Saturday night were maybe 30 soldiers and officers packed into booths of the Africa-themed pub, or elbow-to-elbow around the bar.
The reception for a stray reporter was friendly, if guarded.
“You’re from Stars and Stripes?” the soldier asked, introducing his brothers in arms, including an officer. “We love Stars and Stripes. You need a beer. And whatever you do, do not use our names or take our photos!”
They are partying on, merrily defying a three-year ban, the soldier and his friends admitted.
“Our commander put Sachsenhausen off limits,” he said. “Well, our old one did. We got a new guy, but he hasn’t said anything.”
Public affairs officials at the 1st Armored Division did not respond by deadline to requests to interview Friedberg commanders for a clarification on Sachsenhausen’s status. Neither the district nor individual bars are on the U.S. Army Europe’s off-limits list.
The ban dates back to Lamebear, though this current crop of 1-36 soldiers doesn’t even know his name or what really happened. “The reason [for the ban] is the guy who was killed,” the soldier said. “He was stabbed three times.”
Actually, Lamebear was beaten to death early in the morning of Nov. 16, 2002, 96 hours after the 18-year-old American Indian arrived at 1-36, his first duty station out of boot camp.
After he passed out at Kyalami, two fellow soldiers, Pfc. Andrew Humiston and Pfc. Jonathan Schroeder, led him to an alley about a block south of Kyalami and robbed him of 40 euros. Then Schroeder beat Lamebear to death with a board. Both soldiers were sentenced in 2003 to life in prison, though both will be eligible for parole in 2013.
After Lamebear’s murder, “command stopped [soldiers] from coming for 30 days,” said Jürgen Spoether, 47, owner of the Speak Easy, a biker-style bar a few yards from the garage where Lamebear was killed. “Then after the 30 days, they were all back,” Spoether said.
Lamebear’s death had little lasting effect on Sachsenhausen because his killers were his “friends” inside his company, says Spoether.
Still, the Lamebear murder happened against a backdrop of overindulgence. During testimony from Humiston’s and Schoeder’s courts-martial, witnesses described binge-drinking soldiers wandering club to club, fighting, drugging and casually engaging prostitutes.
Since then, there have been a number of incidents, including a March 2003 fight between soldiers from the Friedberg-based 1st Battalion, 37th Armored Regiment, 1st AD, and a group of Iranians, as well as drug incidents including one fatal overdose.
On a recent Saturday night, soldiers told Stars and Stripes reporters that they come to Sachsenhausen to drink, meet girls and “fight the Turks.”
Still, Sachsenhausen veterans label Lamebear’s murder and the fights as anomalies. Today’s soldier is better behaved than a decade ago, said Spoether, who’s owned the Speak Easy for 18 years.
Ten or 15 years ago, soldiers would come in droves on payday, spend more of their paychecks, drink more and cause more trouble, the bar owner said. When bars closed for the night, drunken soldiers would stagger to taxi stands, where they’d fight again.
Laid-back placeWith the U.S. military presence in Germany shrinking every day, it seems fewer soldiers are looking for trouble, and more for music, girls and what Spoether calls “Gemutlich,” German for congenial and friendly ambience.
Of the dozen soldiers interviewed for this article, all emphasized that a few incidents aside, Sachsenhausen’s two dozen restaurants and bars are laid-back — a place where all ages, races and nationalities mingle.
“One thing I’ve noticed,” said Pvt. David Huerta, 18, one of the few 1st AD soldiers willing to go on the record, “is that as long as you behave and keep stuff to yourself, you’ll have no problems.
“People are cool here if you’re cool.”
The tourists leave early, but Sachsenhausen soldiers keeps rocking till the 5 a.m. last call.
Soldiers stick around to meet German girls who want to meet American guys, drink free beer and have sex, said Sabrina Dertwinkel, a Sachsenhausen regular who lives in Frankfurt.
“The women here are awesome,” said the 1-36 soldier, who added that he and his buddies recently made a weekend of it, staying at the Holiday Inn within walking distance of Sachsenhausen.
‘Our’ watering holeSoldiers have a sense of ownership about Sachsenhausen, especially Kyalami.
“Every soldier has to go to Kyalami and have a Rhino Piss,” the soldier said. “That’s their initiation” — a drink that’s reputed to be the spillage collected on bar-top mats, but is actually a secret blend of rums, according to Sigis Smailis, 20, a Kyalami bartender and native of Lithuania.
Kyalami is often the last place soldiers party or the first place they come back to, Smailis said, displaying photos of two female soldiers in desert cammies wearing their Rhino Piss buttons, two hours before heading to Iraq.
Sachsenhausen exists to satisfy eternal cravings and needs: sex, relaxation, escape, companionship and wretched excess. It satisfies those cravings efficiently, with soldiers walking a few feet from Kyalami to O’Dwyer’s Irish pub to the Hard Rock to the Tropical to the Speak Easy.
And considering the tens of thousands of soldiers who’ve passed through her during the past 25 years, it does it relatively safely, Spoether said.
After all these years, Sachsenhausen “is still No. 1,” with a worldwide reputation, he said. But with so many people and so much drinking, no one can ever guarantee there will never be another Clint Lamebear someday.
“People kill people,” Spoether said, “not the area.”