Skip to comments.Americans leave their hearts in Heidelberg [US Army leaving]
Posted on 06/08/2013 7:27:08 PM PDT by DeaconBenjamin
Americans have had a love affair with Heidelberg since Mark Twain visited the city. Matthew Luxmoore reports on the impact of the US Army's imminent withdrawal after 68 years.
The volunteer wearing the lion costume demonstrated impressive endurance, as he sat for an hour and a half with a plastic crown on his head before a packed gymnasium still humid from the rain that had only just stopped falling outside.
But someone had to do it. The symbol of the Heidelberg High School and the mascot of its many sports teams is embedded deeply in the hearts of its graduates, something made clear by the effect principal Kevin Brewers repeated shouts of We are Lions! had upon the audience he addressed.
The closing of the school after nearly seven decades was the first in a series of sombrely celebratory events accompanying the closure of the US Army Europe (USAREUR) headquarters in Heidelberg.
Brewer, who will finish his career at a small school in Englands Yorkshire Dales where he started as a teacher 25 years ago, was emotional.
When we close our doors the community will change. Weve been ambassadors for America in Heidelberg for all these years. People will miss us. Were better off having lived here and those whose lives we touched are better off as well, he said.
A sendoff in style
Heidelberg is seeing the Americans off in style, bringing to an end a relationship which began in 1945 when US troops entered the city and occupied a Wehrmacht base, today known as Campbell Barracks, on its southern outskirts.
The US headquarters are set to relocate to nearby Wiesbaden, as part of a larger effort to cut the number of American military personnel in Europe from 62,000 to 24,000 by 2015.
USAREUR Command Chaplain David Moran, a former HDHS student in the 1970s who led those present in a prayer commemorating graduates who had died serving in Iraq, said he understood why Washington was consolidating US bases in Europe.
Its sad, I will really miss this school. But it makes more sense to have bases closer together, sharing in the mission with Nato as opposed to running things in post-war Germany. Its a natural expectation, he said.
Baden-Württemberg Garrison Command Sergeant Major Kenneth Kraus believes it will take time for the local German community to grasp the change.
A time will come when many of them will miss us. Throughout the 68 years weve been here I think weve constantly effected positive change. Theres a rich and strong heritage in Heidelberg and US ties with the community are strong. Its like having a cousin, he said.
Many lives have indeed been touched by the American presence in Heidelberg, with the US Army having employed a large number of citizens from the local community.
Cultural and economic impact
Heidelberg Mayor Eckart Würzner said schemes are in place to assist former employees in finding work. Many are retiring while others have been relocated to bases in Wiesbaden and Kauserslautern.
The impact of the departure will be mainly economic, he said, with a drop in petrol and energy consumption among the effects expected.
We predict a loss of about 50 million a year. Were talking about 20,000 people leaving the region. Heidelberg is a growing and economically stable city so we can overcome this period, but it will of course affect us, he told The Local.
When asked about his feelings on the departure, Würzner admitted he really felt sad.
After World War II no-one in Heidelberg knew the way into the future. The US Army worked to educate the young generation about how democracy works. It gave Heidelberg a perspective and helped the city get back on its feet and on its way to democracy, he said.
The opening of an exhibition documenting decades of US involvement on Saturday in Patrick Henry Village, a military complex in southeast Heidelberg, was attended by many local residents who had either worked as US Army employees or have formed personal ties with members of the military.
The 33-year-old high school teacher Stefan Sell, who became involved in the US Army through an American religious group, believed the departure is being greeted by the community at large with indifference.
Little will change, people will simply get on with their lives. Some former barracks will be freed up to create much-needed accommodation for students, which can only be a good thing. But ties will mainly be broken on a personal level, as some locals have formed friendships with the US soldiers, he said.
Some controversy has surrounded the American presence in Germany, with anti-war demonstrations in the late 1960s and opposition to the use of German bases to support controversial involvement in Iraq indicative of growing anti-military sentiment across Europe. Several local parties have advocated US withdrawal in their campaigns.
Although some former army facilities will be returned to the city, most will be auctioned off by the state. Alongside a scientific exchange programme, Würzner revealed plans to open a Peace Center in Heidelberg to keep the transatlantic cooperation and the historical democracy movement going.
But the question for some is how Heidelberg manages to make up for what is seen by many as a loss in prestige.
This is the biggest single troop withdrawal since the end of World War II. When you go into the Pentagon you see seven flags, and under one of these the word Heidelberg. It was the European Headquarters thats now being closed, he said.
Well, we did try to get there sooner, but had a few difficulties.
I left my heart in Wiesbaden. And K-town.
We should simply bring the troops home from Europe. Stop enriching the economy of Germany with our money and blood. They can pay for their own defense.
Really too bad. I loved the Kris Kringle Mart there.
My parents were the first non-royal couple to be married in Heidelberg Castle. The Heidelberg Quartet played at their wedding and the only currency they would accept was a carton of American cigarettes. He was an Army Sgt. and she was a Red Cross nurse.
Oops — Fideler Bauer. Misspelled...
Awesome story. What year were they married?
I remember visiting that castle at age 7 back in 1972. (It’s amazing how much I still remember from that trip - 3 weeks, seven countries.) I was able to go back and take my kids there a couple of times while I was stationed in Europe from 2001 - 2008. It is really a special place.
Cool story. Magnificent castle. In addition to our time in Heidelberg, my mom & dad stationed in Stuttgart ‘49-51 as part of the occupation forces. Before I was a gleam in dad’s eye. ;)
I hear they shut down Ray Barracks in Friedberg some years ago too..Not too far from Heidelberg...I recall some really strange times there...
I also spent some time working in Heidelberg and several other places around Germany/Europe...Lots of memories..
What a nice story. Thanks for telling it.
Dragnet2 - 1st Bde, 1st Armd Div closed down Ray Barracks, Freidberg, in Sept 2007. I was by there and the Bad Nauheim housing area in 2008, grass was mowed but everything was locked up. The Bad Nauheim housing area was leveled and replaced with modern apartments in 2011. The leveling of the Friedberg housing area began last fall. There are 2 Facebook pages for Friedberg, one called Ray Barracks, the other is for 3rd Bde, 3rd Armd Div.
See also this website for dozens of photos of the now former posts in Germany. http://www.armykaserne.com/kaserne_photo_page.htm
There is also another website for USAREUR posts and units but I’ll have to find it again.
Thanks for the ping. This is the end of an era.
Check this out...
Mine is in Mainz. I have been back 3 times since they shut down, and every time I go back, the city is sadder. What memories I have of a wonderful time there. The markets, the shopping, the festivals... My parents met my dad’s first tour over there.
Nice! Mainz was my home base when I had my Eurail pass.