TOKYO'S GINZA AND THE TWO GERMANIAS
Tokyo, 1958-1959. Both my roomate Boylan (photo, above, at the New Germania) and I loved to socialize with interesting people, something that was not very possible either on or near our post, North Camp Drake. He also had an MG-TD car that was ideal for Tokyo's crowded streets, and a lot of fun to drive. So we would frequently head down to the Ginza district, a cross between New York's Times Square and Fifth Avenue.
This was home to many clubs, bars, restaurants, theaters, and shops. Our favorite among these, at least at first, was the Germania. Located on the top floor of a small pre-war office building, this had long been a hangout for western businessmen, diplomats, spies, and even some military personnel. It was operated by a somewhat mysterious German gentleman named Bernstein, who came to Japan in the late 1930s and stayed on through the war. That's him on the left in the photo at the top of the page.
As its name implies, the Germania was a German beerhall, always with live music, good German food, tasty beer, and a fun crowd. I mentioned spies. Of course they were there, as we later discovered. Rumor had it that the guy playing the violin in the photo on the left was actually an agent of Czech intelligence.
In time, the Germania became a bit too popular, and sometimes we could barely squeeze in. So Herr Bernstein, kind soul that he was, opened a branch in a basement on the other side of Ginza. This he called the New Germania. For a while we patronized both, but then adopted the new place as our permanent hangout. It had a younger crowd, and parking was easy.
We went to the New Germania about twice a week from late 1958 to mid 1959, and had "our own" regular table there, which also seated several others. That's Boylan, myself, and some friends at "our" table in the photo above. It's lucky that our ties survived as other cravats frequently fell victim to some obscure German custom of snipping them off and hanging the remains from the ceiling. Or at least Herr Bernstein claimed that was the custom.
One night a rather unusual thing happened. We were at our table when an unfamiliar gentleman asked if he could join us. He introduced himself as a doctor from Texas who was over for an international medical convention. He seemed genuine enough, so we got to talking. It was only when he inquired as to whether we were in the U.S. military that Boylan gave me a kick under the table. So we went into our routine story: that yes, we were in the Air Force, stationed at Tachikawa, and worked in aircraft maintenance. He then said that he had heard something about problems with a new fighter, so we enlightened him with horror stories of equipment that didn't work, planes that were grounded, and so on. All completely made up, of course. We also made a point of memorizing anything about him, and later that night wrote it all down. The next day Boylan took this to counterintelligence, and we later found out that this guy was well known to them — as a Soviet agent.
But most of the people we met there were both genuine and interesting. Many worked in the various western embassies, and others were on business trips.
All good things must come to an end. Five years later, in 1964, I had traded a round-trip business airfare from jobs I was doing in Paris and Spain for an unlimited round-the-world ticket. This let me vacation in Japan after my European work was finished. As soon as I got to Tokyo, I looked for the New Germania. It no longer existed, but the old, original one was still in business. That night I went there. Alas, it was different, no longer a swinging place. And Herr Bernstein had passed away a while back.
In Tokyo haben wir's Germania — eins, zwei. gsuffa — Das ist zum Trinken und Singen da — eins, zwei, gsuffa — Dazu isst man die gute Wurst — eins, zwei, gsuffa — Das gibt dann erst den richtigen Durst — Ein Bier, ne Wurst. ein Bier ne Wurst — Und wer das nicht vertragen kann — Der ist auch in Tokyo kein Mann.
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