Places | Natives & Neighborhoods

Children of ‘The Cloud’ and Major Tom: Growing Up in the ’80s Under the German Sky

In the sky you could watch history happen as though on the world’s most massive TV, and history’s wreckage could rain down on you at the park with your friends.

My grandparents’ house lies on the Betzenberg in Kaiserslautern, in a quiet section of town. The Betzenberg consisted of suburban 1960s constructions—heavy, dark buildings among towering trees. And above it, the rumbles of another world entirely.

We listened for differences, distance, altitude. It only occurred to me later how perverse it was that my grandparents, who lived through the bombings that had laid Germany’s cities to waste, had placed themselves (by choice or by chance) into the flight path of planes that had to trigger their fight-or-flight response with each flyover. Something about their mode of acute listening had transmitted itself to my parents, born during the air raids, and then to my own generation.


Tail unit of a U.S. Navy Lockheed P-3C-120-LO Orion at Ramstein Air Base, 1984/photo by Cobatfor via wikimedia

Earth below us, / drifting, falling, / floating weightless, / calling home.

photo by Thomas Hawk/flickr

Christiane F,

photo by Cobatfor/wikimedia


EC-130H Hercules over Sembach Air Base, 1987/photo via wikimedia

The Last Children of SchevenbornFalloutThe Cloud,Schevenborn

photo at Ramstein Air Base by Master Sgt. Keith Reed/wikimedia