How I learned about the 4th of July

It was a warm summer evening. I was studying Electrical Engineering at the University of Erlangen in my native country, Germany. As usual, I worked on homework that evening. I sublet a small room on the third floor under the roof, and I had the window open because it was so warm.

All of a sudden, there is this ruckus going on outside. Crackling noises. People cheering. Loud booms. What the …?

I need to say that the house in which I lived was about two blocks away from Ferris Barracks, the American base in Erlangen. So I looked out the window, and guess what? There were fireworks, right there, in July! As a good German, of course, you know that the only time fireworks ever happen is on Silvester, aka New Year’s Eve. So what was going on?

So well, that was my introduction to the Fourth of July. At that time, I had had no particular exposure to America or Americans, and no particular reason to know about American holidays. Just like that, I only knew that “Halloween” was the name of a scary movie; that it is actually an alternate name of my birthday with festivities that have nothing to do with my birthday dawned on me only later.

Well, now I’ve been residing in the United States for more than 20 years, and I have participated in 4th of July celebrations most of those years. Yes, fireworks is definitely something that happens in July. One year, I believe I was on an airplane on the evening of the 4th, watching several fireworks from above. And with kids, I definitely know that Halloween pre-empts my birthday celebration.

Ferris Barracks in Erlangen is no more either. The American soldiers have moved away, and the land has been claimed for apartments, university and office buildings. No more watching tanks work themselves through the mud on the way to lectures. (Yes, the training ground was so close to the city.) Let’s hope it’s a sign for more peaceful times.