"It Started with a Kiss" is the intriguing name of an exhibition about German women who met and married Allied soldiers in Berlin in the 1945-50 post-war years.
Inaugurated at Berlin's Allied Museum on Thursday evening, the exhibition offers a fascinating insight into life in the German capital when it lay in ruins, and Allied soldiers were banned from fraternizing with local women.
An order of this kind never gets obeyed for long. Berlin was teeming at the time with lonely war widows and pretty frauleins, some of whom were in desperate need of food and shelter after their homes had been bombed and their loved ones killed.
After years of war misery, it was hardly surprising that large numbers of German women dreamed of escaping their devastated city, and starting life anew as brides of GIs, or of British and French soldiers also based in the divided capital.
But Germans were still regarded with great suspicion by the Allied authorities and city walls plastered with "No Fraternization" posters offered little encouragement to Berlin women.
Berlin's female population found themselves portrayed in the most unflattering matter by allied officials.
"Beautiful? If you could see what the Doc sees you'd leave 'em alone. Don't be a dope with a dose" read just one of many scaremongering posters dreamed up by US propaganda officials between 1945-47.
Another poster printed by the US army featured a soldier in uniform approaching a German prostitute on a street corner. "Watch Your Step!" was the prim warning.
Given the degree of enmity that prevailed in those early post-war years, it looked as if GIs were doomed to be love-starved for lengthy periods. In reality, as the exhibition proves, it didn't take long before human contact was established and romances flourished -- despite the strict anti-fraternization decrees.
The first German women to obtain official permission to leave for the US with her lover was Annemarie Lauenstein (nee Heinke). At the end of the war, she was a ballet dancer, living in Dessau in the Soviet zone.
Her anti-Nazi father, arrested by the Gestapo in 1943, was liberated from a detention camp by US troops in 1945, but died shortly afterwards. It was during this time that Annemarie met her future husband Bob, who was running a military-controlled pub in Berlin.
With beer in short supply, he and several colleagues drove to Dessau for fresh supplies. There he met Annemarie Heinke who had been sent to a store with a letter her mother wanted smuggled to Berlin.
The couple fell in love and Bob Lauenstein later smuggled both Annemarie and her mother from the Soviet Zone to the comparative safety of West Berlin, then under British, French and US control.
Later, when she was told Bob's regiment was being recalled to the US, Annemarie challenged him, saying: "I thought we were going to get married?"
"Why not!" he replied.
At that time there was a ban on so-called German "war brides" entering the US, but the couple found a loophole in the system. They arrived in New York in October 1946, where a posse of reporters were waiting at the airport to interview her.
"I was terribly shy and could hardly speak a word of English," recalled Annemarie, now 82, in St. Louis, Missouri.
"My marriage was a very happy one. My husband was the president of a steel firm, and we traveled a lot to Europe," she said.
Two years ago Bob Lauenstein died from lung cancer.
"I miss him very much," says Annemarie.
Did she suffer from homesickness? Not really, she says.
"My whole family is here in America." She would have liked to make one final visit to Berlin, but that won't be possible, she says. "I am just not up to it anymore."
Annemarie Lauenstein may have been the first German-born bride to be allowed entry to the US after World War II, but soon thousands of other German-American couples were heading to the US. Some of their stories are told at the Allied Museum.
Anneliese Cofer who married her husband, David Cofer, in Berlin more than 50 years ago was at the opening of the exhibition.
Anneliese was only 16 when she reached West Berlin from Luckenwalde in the former East Germany.
"I wanted a real professional training which was not available in my home town," she explains.
She trained at the city's renowned Lettre Verein as a fashion designer. In 1951, aged 18, was introduced at a party to David Cofer, a lawyer, who was serving as a US artillery officer in Berlin.
"He was so polite. We've been together ever since," she says.
Her parents in Luckenwalde approved of their relationship but "were very sad when they heard we intended going to America together," she explains.
By that time the army had relaxed its orders on fraternization, but there were still bureaucratic hurdles to surmount. In July 1953 the couple married at a Berlin registry office in the city's British sector, followed by a church ceremony at the chapel in the then St. Andrews Army barracks in Berlin.
A cultural shock was in store on her arrival in America.
"In Bryan, a Texas township, the people were all Baptists and very religious. They disowned hard liquor. On my first day there it was 40 degrees and stifling hot, and there were no air ventilators."
But things soon looked up. "My husband's two sisters soon took me under their wing and in the 1960s my mother was allowed join us in the US, once she had become a pensioner," she says.
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