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Reflections on Frankfurt American High

It seems as though adult memories of High School fall into one of two categories:  either we remember a wonderful time of growth, discovery and friendships...or a dismal, depressing quagmire of painful awkwardness.  For me, most of my experiences at Frankfurt American High thankfully fall into the first category.  So for some reason I decided this week to sort through my old photographs of FAHS.  When I saw what was available, I thought it might be fun to share them, and perhaps get in touch with some of the folks who participated in the FAHS adventure.  That was when I found out an informal 25th reunion for 1983 had taken place just a few weeks ago, and just a few hours from where I live in San Diego!  Something must have drifted through the air down from Vegas to stir up those old memories.

But back to the past.  The folks I've kept in touch with who attended Frankfurt American share a distinct sense that it was a special place.  From the postings I've read on sites like www.fahs.org, that sentiment seems common among many former students.  My own time in Germany had a profound impact on me.  The people I met, the culture I was exposed to, the mentors who prodded me and the friends I made all contributed to a worldview, identity and sense of possibility that continue to be part of my life.  Like many other students, living on the economy helped me appreciate the wonder, complexity and connectedness of the world more deeply than I had in the States.  I'm sure world events had something to do with this, too, since anyone living in Europe in the 1980s had a front seat view with historical significance.  Remember those "U.S. Out of Central America" protests?  The anti-nuclear missile march that turned into riot in downtown Frankfurt?  The terrorist bombings that resulted in GIs guarding our school and even holding some students at gunpoint while their backpacks were searched for explosives?  It was a crazy and exciting time.  And against this backdrop we had the usual convolutions of High School life.  The cliques and castes, the politics and infatuations, the achievements and disappointments.  But the most mundane rituals of adolescence were infused with a unique energy, a broader understanding of place and time and a heightened awareness of the forces at work all around us.  For anyone tuned in to these events, it made each day at FAHS a little bit larger than life.

Of course, we had some larger-than-life teachers with us as well.  Most of the instructors at FAHS seem memorable in some respect.  Perhaps they had a flamboyant personality, or a great sense of humor, or were incredibly smart, or had exceptional teaching skills...or all of the above.  But each had something unique to offer us.  And who else but the gifted and/or eccentric would exile themselves to teach rowdy teenagers at a military school overseas?  I can recall one experience after another involving various staff and faculty at FAHS that were entertaining and unusual.  A Russian language instructor who spoke thirteen languages and was shadowed everywhere by a bodyguard.  A humanities teacher who threw soaking wet sponges at inattentive students while grinning maniacally.  A staff member who hosted musical events in his home, only to have his guests discover him in a passionate embrace with one of the musicians.  A math teacher who seemed to get physically excited over difficult equations.  A music teacher who could persuade rebellious stoners to hum along with Verdi.  A fencing instructor who returned to drilling his students just a week or two after open heart surgery.  And so forth.  I could go on, but I'm sure you have your own list of entertaining happenings to draw upon.  These were quirky and wonderful folk.

Add to this environment the stunning, all-inclusive diversity of the student population, the sometimes bizarre but always interesting curriculum, the wealth of extra-curricular activities only available in Europe, and I think we had a synergy of factors that simply wasn't duplicated anywhere else.  Where could you have someone from Military Intelligence stop by to hypnotize your entire class?  Or take a luxury tour bus to school every day?  Or play hooky and hop a train to France?  Or drink really great beer, in a bar, alone, at age 16?  Or find...uh...cheap, high quality hashish in a neighboring park?  It really was as incomparable as it was inconceivable to someone like me when I first stepped off the plane in Frankfurt.  

On a more personal note, I probably would not have done well at a traditional High School elsewhere.  I had not really been in school much until 6th grade, and from 6th through 8th I was mostly in special needs programs, trying to catch up.  I found it extremely difficult to navigate the social and academic pressures of public school.  If not for the singularly varied landscape of FAHS - and a handful of amazingly generous and compassionate teachers who helped me navigate my time there - I don't think I could have stayed in school at all, let alone enjoyed myself so much.  Among those good people, the encouragement and mentoring I received from Geral Martin was particularly helpful to me.  Also, as you can tell from the theatre photos, Richard Smith had a major impact on my days at FAHS.  And of course Ms. Thomas, Ms. Johnson and Frau Langer also influenced me more than they probably know.  So many of the faculty and staff at FAHS left a lasting impact on my life, and I am deeply grateful to them.  I've even run into a few over the years.  First Mrs. Rotter when I lived up in Seattle, and then Mr. Haight right here in San Diego.  It was great to catch up and hear news of other FAHS faculty.  

So the pictures I've assembled here are meant to be a small "thank you" to all the students, teachers and staff involved in that remarkable experience.  They are divided into general photos and those related to theatre.  Where others took the photograph you'll see a credit in the file name (where you will also find the names of people in the photos).  In many cases, I couldn't confidently recall the names...so I would appreciate help with that.  I hope these images will bring a smile to your heart.  If there is enough interest, I intend to add more images in the future as time allows, including a section of pictures taken around Germany and on various travels during those years.

- T.Collins Logan, October 2008

 

 

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