We teamed up with the Unknown History podcast on Quick and Dirty Tips to bring you their latest series based on Giles Milton’s Checkmate in Berlin. Episode 4 delves into social life in Berlin after the city fell to the Allies. It was exciting, profitable, and extremely dangerous. Read more below.
Berlin was in ruins when the Americans and British entered the city, with much of the center a charred and desolate wasteland. Yet makeshift bars and clubs sprung up within days of the arrival of the Allied troops: Roxy’s, Bobby’s, Chez Ronnie, Rio Rita, the Embassy, the Royal, the Blue-White, and Femina. Within weeks these clubs were attracting brisk business. “In all of them,” noted one British officer, “the drinks were expensive and the girls cheap.” And herein lay a big headache for army authorities – both American and British.
The extent of the problem was revealed by Wilfred Byford-Jones, a young British intelligence officer who only recently arrived in Berlin. He took himself off to Chez Ronnie’s and was astonished by what he found. “One blinked upon entering, after seeing the heaps of rubble, the jagged ruins against the sky, and the hundreds of homeless people.” The bar had a jazz band, dance floor, and an army of snappily dressed waiters. It was also equipped with starched tablecloths and newly upholstered chairs. But the real draw of the place was the abundance of young German women.
Byford-Jones knew that fraternization was forbidden. Allied soldiers were prohibited from talking to Berliners and most certainly banned from flirting with them. This latter offense carried the hefty fine of sixty-five dollars, a sum that led to the propositioning of Berlin girls becoming known as the “65-dollar question.”
“Do you know German women have been trained to seduce you?” read an army pamphlet issued to allied troops. “Is it worth the knife in the back?” The soldiers in Chez Ronnie’s ignored such warnings, just as they ignored the ban on fraternization. “Copulation without conversation is not fraternization,” they quipped.
Byford-Jones learned several new expressions that night, all coined by the Americans. A “frat” was a German girlfriend, while “to go fratting” was to pursue available women. A “frat sandwich” was an army-issued corned beef sandwich, appetizing enough to lure many a half-starved fräulein into bed. One British lieutenant contended that “corned beef was more precious than diamonds to Germans,” as were chocolate, cigarettes, and nylons, all available to Allied soldiers in almost limitless quantities. It made them lords of all they surveyed. A night with a German girl cost five cigarettes; twenty-five packets purchased a state-of-the-art Leica camera.
The ensuing breakdown in morality threatened to undermine everything that the British commander, Brigadier Hinde, had sought to achieve. He was prepared to turn a blind eye to overindulgence in the officers’ mess and accepted that high jinks were part and parcel of army life. But he expected his handpicked team to deploy a stiff resolve when exposed to the temptations of the flesh. He was to be sorely disappointed to learn of the scenes taking place in Chez Ronnie’s, where British and Americans alike were behaving with complete disregard for the rules.
One GI gave an exuberant account of his exploits, beginning with a blast against the army authorities. “Somehow or other we’d been led to believe that a German girl was fat and ugly, with fanged teeth, who beat her fist on Mein Kampf and shouted ‘Heil Hitler, I am a Nazi.’”
The truth was so very different. “When we came up against our first 19-year- old Rheinland blonde with blue eyes, pink cheeks, plaits, and very desirable, we were just clean bowled over. No one could help it, biology being what it was.”
To learn more about the history of World War II, visit Unknown History on Quick and Dirty Tips. Or, you can listen to the podcast below.