Darmstadt says farewell to Black Forest friends
July 10, 2008
DARMSTADT, Germany - U.S. Army Garrison Darmstadt, which closes next month, marked 20 years of camaraderie with the Association for the Promotion of German-American Friendship during the two organizations' last exchange activity.
The get-together, held June 24, was highlighted by vivid color, high spirits and an abundance of goodwill. But it was also bittersweet, with it being the final time that this group of friends would gather in the Black Forest.
The association began in 1988 as the brainchild of Herr Werner DAfAPrflinger, who at that time served as a member of Germany's parliament, the Bundesdag. DAfAPrflinger had befriended a Soldier who suggested that more U.S. servicemembers should learn more about the southern part of the Black Forest. That idea prompted DAfAPrflinger to consider how to promote German and American exchange.
When DAfAPrflinger shared his idea with friend and local Bonndorf Mayor Peter Folkerts, he volunteered to support the program using local resources and facilities. An old school building in nearby Boll was converted into an international friendship center to house the program, complete with overnight facilities, a kitchen and a large hall with a stage.
As the partnership progressed, Folkerts, DAfAPrflinger and a growing number of members formed a formal relationship with USAG Darmstadt, under the then leadership of Maj. Gen. James Cercy and Col. Darrel McFerron. The association began hosting Soldiers stationed in Darmstadt and introducing them to German culture, cuisine, landscape, hospitality and Fasching in the Black Forest.
During the past 20 years, the association has expanded its programming by hosting sporting events, cultural exchanges, lectures, discussions and other activities focused on preserving and expanding a partnership between two nations.
The association worked closely with the Army's Child and Youth Services program to host camps and outings in Bonndorf for American youth and developed an affiliation with the Darmstadt Kontakt Club to host pumpkin carvings, Thanksgiving celebrations, gospel concerts, band performances and other activities for German youth to learn about their American counterparts.
In 1992, Peter Folkerts died in a plane accident. In his honor, the International Friendship Center was renamed the Peter Folkerts Haus. After Folkerts death, his wife Regina dedicated herself to his labor of love, as she and DAfAPrfinger continued the association's mission and programs - along with more than 250 members devoted to German-American friendship.
Regina Folkerts describes the experience as "an adventure" that began with the first Soldiers visiting her family home many Christmases ago.
Saying goodbye, she admitted, stirs up a "mixture of feelings" because the friendship was still budding after 20 years. And because it was growing, she said, "you cannot lose it, except now the people will be gone."
DAfAPrflinger echoed Regina's comments when bidding farewell to his Darmstadt partners and thanking them with gifts of flowering plants and local beer.
"Our years of friendship were so wonderful," he said, "that a formal farewell is difficult to accept."
Instead, DAfAPrflinger encouraged association members to see this parting as a way of building bridges toward the future, adding that despite the end of the Darmstadt partnership, "every American that is in Germany is welcome here, particularly Soldiers."
Lt. Col. David Astin, commander of USAG Darmstadt, said he and his wife, Jong Un, will miss Germany and the company of their Black Forest friends. "We will always have another place to feel welcome and call home," he said.
Astin presented the association with a framed photo of the USAG Darmstadt flagpole at Cambrai-Fritsch Kaserne and presented personal gifts to DAfAPrflinger and Folkerts for their devotion to the association, before the three cut a final traditional Black Forest cake together.
After the formal program, attendees enjoyed a colorful buffet, music, laughter and shared memories.
Even the youngest American attendees, Jonathan and Thomas MacDonald, the 11 and 9-year-old sons, of Maj. Lonny MacDonald, provost marshal for USAG Stuttgart, Germany, enjoyed the event, calling it "really, really fun."
MacDonald said he brought his sons because during his time in Darmstadt, he and his wife made several friends. "We wanted to come back and see them," he said. "We always come back every time we are invited, and every time we have a wonderful time."
For her part, Folkerts hopes that the friendship programs continue, despite the closure of USAG Darmstadt, and encourages other communities to take advantage of the International Friendship Haus and the hospitality of the Black Forest.
"We hope it continues, not to change people," she said, "but to continue an idea."