With the annual Oktoberfest in full swing right now, partying can hardly get much wetter than this. A Sanitätsunteroffizier (medic, left) enjoys a glass together with a couple of friends. The photo might actually have been taken somewhere in Bavaria, as a Munich address is written on the back of it.
Beer was and still is serious stuff in Germany. Every town of decent size had a brewery or two, and regional styles varied greatly. While in barracks or on leave, German soldiers had access to beer, but in the field it was pretty random whether they could get a bottle or two. Not being picky, Landsers (soldiers) drank what was at hand – wine, brandy, schnapps… For the soldiers’ part, Wehrmacht officers permitted and initially encouraged their charges to consume alcohol as a coping mechanism, believing it essential to good morale. This attitude shifted with the capture of France, when Hitler issued a statement proclaiming: “I expect that members of the Wehrmacht who allow themselves to be tempted to engage in criminal acts as a result of alcohol abuse will be severely punished.”
I don’t know if it was Hitler that Walter Kittel, a general in the medical corps, had in mind when he wrote that “only a fanatic would refuse to give a soldier something that can help him relax and enjoy life after he has faced the horrors of battle, or would reprimand him for enjoying a friendly drink or two with his comrades.” Officers would distribute alcohol to their troops as a reward, and schnapps was routinely sold in military commissaries, a policy that also had the happy side effect of returning soldiers’ pay to the military.
Did the men in the photo get the opportunity to share a bottle after the war? There are two names on the back on the photo, and another photo with two of them makes me think that those are the names of the men in question. The man in the middle is probably Karl Pillmeier, a barber living in Munich, born on 4 April, 1903 in Bad Abbach, Bavaria. He was killed in action on 12 October, 1944, and is buried in Solinka, Slovakia. The man with the newspaper might be Michael Apel, born on 27 January, 1909, in Trier. He fell on 2 April, 1942, somewhere near Chudovo on the Volkhov front. Of course, there might have been other soldiers with the same names, but the ages and ranks, and in Pillmeier’s case also the birthplace, seem to match.
Make beer, not war.