President Clinton leaves Germany today after a two-day visit that marked the 50th anniversary of the Berlin airlift, when Western Allies kept the city supplied through the 1948-1949 Soviet ground blockade. But the celebrations don't include one aspect of American culture that's taken firm hold here in the wake of the US presence: square dancing.
The normal quiet of a Sunday spring evening in the German capital was broken recently by all the whooping and hollering down at the White Rose recreation center. Lofting from the basement windows are calls of "yee-hah" and "do-si-do," as dozens of feet slide across the parquet floor.
Due to the cramped, temporary quarters, the 30-odd T-shirt and jeans-clad dancers aren't outfitted in their traditional garb, including full petticoats for the women and Western-style shirts with bolo ties for the men. About 100 people in all belong to the Berlin Swinging Bears, just one of the city's nearly dozen square dance clubs. And while the caller gives such down-home instructions as, "Don't stop, don't slow down, keep on walking around the town," the music doesn't always inspire images of the American West. Some dancers do their best hyena impressions as they swing to "The Lion Sleeps Tonight (Wimoweh)," or clap and sing along to "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown." Square dancing was brought to Germany and other European countries by American military personnel after World War II. At first, Germans could only go to dances on US bases if they were invited by local servicemen or women. As its popularity grew, Germans began forming their own clubs. While square dancing remains centered in the US - the United Square Dancers of America counts 310,000 members -it has particularly caught on overseas in Germany, where about 12,000 dancers belong to 370 clubs with fanciful names such as the Ahrensburg Castle Ghosts and Funny Squirrels. …