Elvis in Germany

Elvis in Germany

by Jeana Coleman
Stripes Europe

Thanks to the Memphis draft board, Elvis Presley got the chance to spend a little time in Europe after he was drafted into the U.S. Army during the Cold War. His brief but not-so-boring tour of duty would end up being a pivotal point for both his career and personal life. He suffered loss, found love and touched the hearts of both young and old while serving his country in Europe. Taking a time-out at the moment his star was rising could have slowed his career irreparably. Instead, he would return to the States with an even larger European fan base, while gaining the respect from conservative countrymen not sold on the hip-shaking hoopla.  

Today, tourists and locals alike still love to visit his old haunts and reminisce about the days when Elvis was stationed at the former Ray Barracks in Friedberg, and made his brief home in the spa town of Bad Nauheim.

Join other Elvis fans as they retrace his steps from Frankfurt to Wiesbaden, and all places in between. Find out where he lived, met his future wife, Priscilla, and why the locals named a street after him. Then, take part in a fun festival that commemorates his death and celebrates his life in Germany when Elvis, the “King of Rock ‘n Roll,” transformed himself into Sergeant Presley.

From basics to Bremerhaven

Already a superstar when he was sworn in as a U.S. Army private on March 24, 1958, he had both a recording contract with RCA, a multi-film contract with Paramount, four completed feature films and several songs on the Billboard 100 charts. However, his entertainment career was temporarily put on “pause” as he fulfilled his tour in Germany.

After three days of in-processing at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas (which included his famous haircut), Elvis was bussed to Fort Hood, Texas, where he completed both basic and advanced military training. Tragedy struck, however, before he could complete training and ship out. His mother Gladys was diagnosed with an advanced case of acute hepatitis; she quickly succumbed and died Aug. 14. An only child, Elvis shared a special, close relationship with his mother, and her death devastated both Elvis and his father, Vernon.

In late September, Elvis joined another 1,170 soldiers in Brooklyn, New York, where they board the U.S.S. Randall, a naval transport ship, bound for Bremerhaven, Germany. They arrived on Oct. 1, and Elvis was stationed at Ray Barracks in Friedberg, Germany with Company D, 32nd Tank Battalion, 3rd Armor Corps, also known as the “Spearheads.” Not seeking special treatment or an entertainment assignment, he instead participated in regular duties like other soldiers, including driving vehicles for high-ranking officials and cleaning detail.

Off-post living

Although Elvis was on an overseas tour with the Army, he was not accustomed to being too far away from his family for too long of a time. Therefore, it wasn’t long before his dad and paternal grandmother, Minnie Mae Presley, arrived in Germany to live nearby. Elvis received approval to live off base and spent little time at Ray Barracks. Instead, he moved to Bad Nauheim, a cozy spa town a few miles north of his post in Friedberg. Initially he rented rooms at the then-Hotel Grunewald (now a private residence) and later rented a house at Goethestraße 14 that he shared with his family.

Love and courting

For several months, Elvis found time to travel to Munich then Paris, making new friends and creating a new wave of fans along the way. Nearly a year after his arrival to Germany, a mutual friend introduced him to a 14-year-old beauty named Priscilla Ann Beaulieu, the stepdaughter of an Air Force captain stationed at Wiesbaden Air Force Base. Elvis began a slow but steady courtship with Priscilla that continued throughout his tour in Germany and beyond, until their marriage seven and a half years later on May 1, 1967 in Las Vegas.

The G.I. Blues

RCA and Paramount Studios didn’t exactly wait around for Elvis to continue furthering his career while he was away. More than 40 songs were either released or re-released while he was on active duty. And, filming for his next movie, "G.I. Blues," took place on location in Germany with settings of downtown Frankfurt, Wiesbaden, on a river boat along the Rhine, and of the 3rd Armored Division Kaserne. More than 100 soldiers of the 3rd Division acted as extras for the movie. Elvis, however, would not actually be working on the film until he was released from active duty. The romantic musical comedy, starring both Elvis and Juliet Prowse, is the story of Tulsa McLean, an army specialist stationed in Germany who falls for a sweet cabaret dancer named Lili (Prowse). The film was released in 1960, its soundtrack nominated for two Grammy awards.

A town remembers

Although many years have passed since Elvis waved goodbye and boarded the C-118A Liftmaster for MaGuire AFB, the little town of Bad Nauheim remembers well the American icon. Every August, the town hosts a festival to both celebrate his life and mark the anniversary of his death on Aug. 16, 1977. Visitors can expect everything Elvis at the four-day event including concerts, vintage car and motorcycle exhibitions and parades, an Elvis filmfest, fan markets and more. For more information, visit www.bad-nauheim.de or call +49 (0) 6032 92 992 0.

For a blast from the past, visit the Stars and Stripes archives

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