On October 7, 1958, a week after his arrival, Private Presley went to the army barber shop for a haircut. Karl-Heinz Stein was a German barber (Friseur) and the same age as Elvis (23). Although he would work as an army barber for 37 years, Stein spoke little English then, so he and his client had to use hand gestures and some translation help to agree on how to cut the King’s hair. According to Stein, Elvis was allowed to wear his hair an inch (3 cm) longer than other G.I.s at the time.
Elvis must have been satisfied; even after Karl-Heinz was transferred to another location on base, Elvis sought him out three times a month at Ray Barracks. An army haircut cost all of 35 cents in 1958. Elvis always gave Stein a dollar and told him to keep the change. Many years later, Stein had this to say about his regular customer: “Actually, he was an easy-going guy. No putting on airs, like he was some big star. An ordinary person, very polite, very obliging, a wonderful man, when I look back on it. It’s a shame he had to go so soon.” (Ja, an und für sich ein pflegeleichter Mann. Ohne Starallüren, ohne dass er sich so hervorgetan hat, ein ganz stinknormaler Mensch. Sehr höflich, sehr zuvorkommend, ein traumhafter Mann, wenn ich so zurückblicke. Schade, dass er so früh gehen musste.)
There are many ironies surrounding Elvis Presley’s drug use over the years. First, he never drank alcohol, so he never had to worry about mixing drugs and booze. In 1970, a decade after his time in the army, he went to the White House to meet President Richard M. Nixon. During this rather impromptu visit, Elvis received an honorary Drug Enforcement Administration agent’s badge. Some accounts claim he was stoned on drugs during his White House visit.
Elvis had already fallen into the trap of using drugs to help him cope with the pressures of fame before he arrived in Germany. According to Lamar Fike, “Elvis got his first uppers from what he stole from his mother.” Gladys was taking the appetite suppressant Dexedrine to help her with weight loss. Elvis came to accept such amphetamines as a normal, everyday thing.
But while he was in the army in West Germany, his use of amphetamines increased dramatically. According to those who were are around him in Germany, he obtained large amounts of “pep pills” by bribing an army pharmacist. He told his friends how great they were for staying alert and avoiding fatigue, and he encouraged them to use them – which most of them did.
According to Rex Mansfield, Elvis supplied him and others with a constant supply of uppers. After he stopped working for Elvis, it took him five years to kick the habit. Unfortunately, after his army days, Elvis not only continued his amphetamine habit, but moved on to abuse other drugs, including barbiturates and tranquilizers. We now know that his obsessive drug use was one of the main reasons for his premature death in 1977.
Elvis Tourism in Bad Nauheim and Friedberg
Many decades after the death of man who spent less than a year and a half living in the Hessian town of Bad Nauheim, the city of 30,000 capitalizes on that history. Every year since 2002, Bad Nauheim has hosted a “European Elvis Festival” to mark the anniversary of the King’s untimely death on August 16, 1977.
The Bad Nauheim festival features guided tours (in English or German), Elvis impersonators, Elvis films, a Cadillac parade, gospel music, spa visits, and other attractions. Neighboring Friedberg, where the Ray Barracks base was located, also joins in. In 1995 Friedberg dedicated its “Elvis-Presley-Platz,” beating Bad Nauheim by three years. (The Bad Nauheim “square” is really just a bend in the road, not a true plaza.)
In addition to year-round guided tours offered by the town, the local Café Bienenkorb (“Beehive”) still bakes a special chocolate cake like the original one that Bad Nauheimers presented to Elvis on his 25th birthday. Besides Elvis, Bad Nauheim is still noted for its effervescent salt baths, although the days when the spa town attracted wealthy international clients are long gone.
Elvis as an Expat in Germany
In some respects, Private Presley was a rather typical G.I. As an American in West Germany, he never learned any German beyond a few basic phrases. He rarely sought to sample the many things the German culture had to offer. A confirmed teetotaler, Elvis never tried the wonderful German beer (Bier) or sampled ein Glas Wein. (But he was a regular user of amphetamine “uppers.” See more below.)
Photo Gallery: Elvis in Germany Photos: Elvis Presley in Germany – Our special Elvis photo galleryElvis subsisted largely on a diet of Southern home cooking in Germany. As a soldier, he and his family had access to American food and other products at the base PX (post exchange). Although they did buy some food from the local markets, Elvis and his clan were not adventurous eaters. In a land with 200 varieties of marvelous bread, they ate sandwiches made with bland American white bread. Elvis’ daily meals (he rarely ate at the base canteen) were Southern fare served up by his grandma Minnie Mae – just like back home in Memphis. Even in the US, Elvis had been no gourmet, preferring the same menu day after day. That continued while he was in Germany. Even the other Americans sharing his house complained about always having to eat what Elvis ate. When Elvis was away, Elisabeth would cook other dishes, or she, Red and Lamar would go out and eat some real German food at a local restaurant.
Some of Elvis’ dietary preferences were unusual, even for most Americans. His favorite lunch dish was known as a “goofy sandwich.” Elisabeth describes it thus: “This strange sandwich was made of peeled and sliced potatoes fried in grease with ‘burnt’ bacon. Each slice of American bread had mustard and slices of raw onions.”
For dinner, the menu was not much better. Grandma would usually fix Elvis his favorite peanut butter and banana toasted sandwich.
AFN Radio and the “bubble”
Besides a massive collection of records (and a rented piano), the Elvis household could listen to the Armed Forces Network (AFN) on the radio. Designed to make G.I.s feel at home, AFN played the same music the folks back home were listening to: rock ‘n’ roll by Bill Haley, Elvis, and others. For that reason, AFN was also popular with German listeners. But AFN was yet another factor that made it possible for Elvis and other US soldiers to live in an American bubble in West Germany – eating American food, listening to American radio, and hanging out with other Americans.
It was possible for American soldiers to break out of that bubble if they wanted to, but most did not. A few took advantage of the opportunity to explore and learn more about a foreign language and culture, but Elvis really wasn’t one of them. Even though he could afford to, and did travel to Munich and Paris, Elvis was not really the adventurous type. He preferred to be surrounded by his father, grandmother, and his American buddies. Even in Texas, he had brought his family along to live near the base, so he could continue enjoy the comforts of home. Thus, it’s not surprising he did the same in a foreign land.
The German contacts he did have were mostly superficial, and mostly feminine! His bilingual personal secretary, Elisabeth Stefaniak, was often called on to translate what Elvis was trying to say to one of his current German girlfriends, something she resented, since she was also supposed to be his girlfriend. (Elisabeth would later marry Rex Mansfield, one of Elvis’ buddies in Germany.) But none of the girls in Germany would have a real chance against the stepdaughter of US Air Force Captain Joseph Paul Beaulieu.
It was while he was stationed in West Germany that Elvis Presley first met his future wife, Priscilla Beaulieu. Although it is difficult even to count all the Fräuleins who played a major or minor role in Elvis’ life in Europe, everyone at the house in Bad Nauheim could tell from the start that Priscilla was different.
When they first met in Germany in September 1959, Elvis was 24 and Priscilla was 14 and in the ninth grade – a ten-year age gap. Priscilla Beaulieu was a strikingly beautiful, dark-haired girl who was also mature for her age – and had a mind of her own. Capt. Beaulieu had recently been transferred to Wiesbaden from Bergstrom Air Force Base in Austin, Texas. Priscilla was not at all happy about having to leave her friends in Texas. About the only good thing about the move to West Germany in her opinion was that Elvis was living in Bad Nauheim, only an hour’s drive away from Wiesbaden.
No International Concerts: It’s rather surprising to realize that, although Elvis was a global star, and many of his records went gold and platinum in foreign countries, and he had offers from Australia, Europe and Japan, he never gave any live concerts outside the United States, except for five shows in three Canadian cities in 1957. (For one possible reason, see Colonel Parker below.) When he was serving in West Germany, he was not allowed to perform publicly, not even for benefit concerts. Other than for a few movie soundtrack songs (“Wooden Heart”), Elvis also never recorded in any language other than English. – from www.elvis.com Colonel Parker: Elvis Presley’s manager, “Colonel” Tom Parker (1909-1997), was a Dutchman who came to America as a young man. In her book THE COLONEL, Alanna Nash claims that Parker may have murdered a woman in the Netherlands before he went to the USA. (His honorary Colonel title was bestowed on him by the governor of Louisiana.) Parker, who falsely claimed he was born in West Virginia, was a mysterious man who kept his past a secret. The fact that Parker was an illegal alien and unable to get a US passport, afraid of deportation, and afraid to travel outside the US for fear of being charged with his crime, is believed to be the main reason that Elvis never gave a concert outside of North America. It also explains why Parker, who was normally a real control freak, refused to go to Europe with his star client. The Colonel never even visited West Germany while Elvis was there for 17 months. Parker’s real name was Andreas Cornelis van Kuijk, something that even his own stepson did not know when he died in 1978.The Eagle Club in Wiesbaden
There are two different versions of exactly how Airman First Class Currie Grant came to introduce Priscilla and Elvis at the Presley house in Bad Nauheim. Grant was in charge of entertainment at the Eagle Club, an Air Force community center in Wiesbaden, and he and his wife knew Elvis through Cliff Gleaves. Gleaves was now living with the Grants in Wiesbaden.
Priscilla claims that Currie Grant had approached her one day when she was at the Eagle Club with her little brother. She says that Grant asked her if she would like to meet Elvis. Grant’s version is that Priscilla “boldly” asked him for the introduction. In any event, after Grant had met Priscilla’s parents and assured them that she would be well chaperoned (and Capt. Beaulieu had called Grant’s commanding officer), Grant and his wife Carol took Priscilla to Bad Nauheim for the fateful first meeting of Elvis and Priscilla on Sunday, Sept. 14, 1959. Priscilla’s parents had insisted she return home by 11:00 p.m. The next day was a school day, after all.[8,9]
After that first meeting, she arrived late back home in Wiesbaden, not sure if she would see Elvis again or not. But Elvis was totally smitten. Only a few days later she got a phone call from Currie, who told her that Elvis wanted to see her again. At Priscilla’s dad’s insistence, on their fourth “date” Elvis finally met her parents at their home. Soon Vernon and Lamar (mostly Lamar) were chauffeuring Priscilla back and forth between Wiesbaden and Bad Nauheim three or four times a week.
The two were often alone in Elvis’ bedroom, but perhaps because of her young age and their special relationship, they mostly talked and, according to most sources, never went beyond heavy petting. He promised he would not “harm” her, and they had to wait until she was older before they could go any further. Some sources cast doubt on that story, but in any case, Priscilla soon knew she wasn’t the only girl spending time in Elvis’ bedroom. However, she also knew that she was special to Elvis. She was also one of the few people who could stand up to Elvis and get by with it.
Of course, once the press got word of the Priscilla-Elvis relationship, they eagerly published all they could about the “16-year-old” girl (an error that Elvis didn’t bother to correct) who had captured the King’s heart.
Although she became the girl that Elvis left behind when he flew back to the US in March 1960, Priscilla and Elvis would stay in close touch and be reunited in 1962. They would finally marry on May 1, 1967 at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas. Lisa Marie Presley, their only child, was born on February 1, 1968. Their marriage ended in divorce in October 1973. Elvis and Priscilla remained friends until his death on August 16, 1977.
Elvis Goes Home
On March 1, 1960, Elvis held his final press conference in West Germany at the enlisted men’s club at Ray Barracks. This time it was even bigger than might be expected for the president. At 9:17 a.m., a uniformed Elvis walked into the room to face over 100 reporters and photographers. Elvis handled it all with his usual aplomb and charm. The hottest story to come out of his last news conference was his “16-year-old girlfriend.” All Elvis would say about Priscilla was that she was pretty and: “She is a very nice girl. Her family is nice, and she is very mature for her age.”
That sent the press into a frenzy, but Elvis went back to his house on Goethestrasse that evening to sign autographs. Priscilla stayed with him before returning to Wiesbaden late that night. The next day, Elvis stepped out of the house in Bad Nauheim for the last time. A drizzling rain was not enough to keep his fans away. Priscilla was back, but now Elvis had to bid her and his family good-bye. Vernon, Minnie Mae, Elisabeth and Lamar were flying back on a commercial flight. At Ray Barracks Elvis got on a bus with his fellow G.I.s for the trip to Rhein-Main Air Base and his military flight to Fort Dix, New Jersey, where he would be discharged. In the chaos at Rhein-Main, Elvis and Priscilla were prevented from saying a final good-bye. The photos of her waving farewell were actually taken before Elvis arrived for his flight.
When Elvis’ plane landed in Prestwick, Scotland around midnight for refueling, Elvis graciously signed autographs for about 100 fans at the airport. It would be the only time he ever visited the United Kingdom. Later, back in Memphis, Elvis would say he felt like a man who had been released from prison.
7. Sergeant Presley: Our Untold Story of Elvis’ Missing Years, p. 111
8. Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley, pp. 37-40
9. Private Presley: The Missing Years – Elvis in Germany, pp. 122-128
NOTE: Elvis, Elvis Presley, Graceland and King of Rock ‘n’ Roll are registered trademarks of Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc.
AT THE GERMAN WAY
- Elvis Presley in Germany – Part 1
- Photos: Elvis Presley in Germany – Our special Elvis photo gallery
- GW Expat Blog: Bad Nauheim and Elvis – A visit to Bad Nauheim, where Elvis lived from 1958 to 1960
- Mini Bios A-Z – Brief biographies of people from the German-speaking world
- Featured Biographies – More detailed bios of notable people from the German-speaking world
- Notable Women from Austria, Germany, Switzerland
- Famous Graves in Germany – Where are they buried?