Every nation has a symbol by which it is identified. America has the bald eagle, Japan has the "rising sun," and Russia has the bear. For Germany, though, the symbol which seems to summarize that state's nationalistic impulses best would have to be the German steel helmet.

The steel helmet or "stahlhelm" had its origins in World War I, when trench warfare and its associated artillery barrages made the traditional "pickelhaube" obsolete in providing protection to Imperial soldiers. The Model 1917 German helmet had the distinctive high profile familiar to generations of movie-goers plus two lugs on the side of the helmet for mounting a face shield. The combination of the two give the wearer the initial appearance of a kind of Teutonic Frankenstein. It was nicknamed the "coal scuttle" due to its distinctive shape.

In World War II, the helmet was replaced by the Model 193x. This design had reduced height, but retained the distinctive German style of prominent ear guards. It was this particular style of helmet which saw Hitler's Third Reich rise and then fall within a decade. So distinctive is this piece of military headgear that the German veteran's organization is called the "Stahlhelm," reflecting its symbolic value to veterans. The museum has an example of both styles.

This symbol was so powerful that when the German Army was reorganized in 1956, the American "steel pot" was adopted instead of the older design. Ironically, though, the United States Army adopted a helmet made out of Kevlar in the early 1980's which has a distinctively "German" look, leading some to comment that US Army paratroopers in Grenada looked like they belonged to the old German Waffen SS!

Come and see this piece of history and others in "Granny's Attic," the Belhaven Memorial Museum.

Belhaven Treasure #11

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Diane K. Mason, HTML Editor 1998