End of an Era: Army Garrison Leaves Mannheim vicinity after 66 years
June 9, 2011
MANNHEIM, Germany -- For many either in the military or married to it, part of the lifestyle is picking up and moving on when orders arrive. It never becomes easy, but for many who called U.S. Army Garrison Mannheim home, the closure May 31 was perhaps more difficult than those that came before.
This departure marks the end of the American military presence in the Mannheim vicinity where it has been a fixture since the end of World War II.
“It’s harder because people are not just leaving; the place they’ve called home is going away. I’ve had guys contact me to say they shed a silent tear when they heard the news,” said Professor Christian Führer, course director for marketing at Cooperative State University Baden-Württemberg Mannheim, who is writing a book about the U.S. military in Mannheim.
At age 16, curious about the odd license plates that once indicated American cars, Führer rode his bicycle onto Benjamin Franklin Village, thus becoming a fixture in the military community. Over the years, he has volunteered as a translator at the USO, attended and orchestrated events, participated in the church choir and as an usher and made friends wherever he went.
With the drawdown nearly over and the transition to USAG Baden Württemberg just about complete, Führer is one of many who are sad to see the end of a partnership with the city of Mannheim and the foreign military who have occupied parts of it since before many were even born.
It’s been more than 20 years since Vann Baker, the creator and editor of Military Brat Life and militarybrats.net, visited Germany. As the son of a Korean War veteran who later retired as a tank commander, Baker spent his formative years in Mannheim, from 1962-1966, and later, in Florstadt and Bad Nauheim.
Baker’s many memories of Mannheim include visits to a local corner grocery store, which sold gum, sour candies and other novelties like tiny firecrackers. One local lady made a daily trek to BFV to sell fresh bread from the back of her Opel station wagon, and another man managed to serve ice cream cones from a small container attached to the front of his bicycle, treats Baker declared have never tasted better before or since.
“Over the years I’ve talked with folks who mention the base they lived on overseas is now finally closed, and that’s a very strange concept to most people outside the military. Not having a specific hometown is unique to us, but in a way, that base is their hometown, and if nothing else, some aspects of our experiences (as brats) are extremely unique and sometimes difficult,” said Baker.
While the closure of the 1,260 acre base is a surprise to some, U.S. Army Europe began its downsizing and troop relocation in 2003. Rumors of a Mannheim shutdown were just a blip on the radar until not long ago, and many still choose to not believe it.
Despite comprising only about 3.5 percent of Mannheim proper, the space currently occupied by the United States under the Status of Forces Agreement will be returned to the city within the next four years, if not sooner. Lord Mayor Peter Kurz recently put it to his citizens to decide what happens to the buildings and land once that happens.
Mannheim hosted a farewell ceremony May 8, the 66th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day, which was when the Allies formally accepted the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany and the end of the Third Reich.
Soon after, U.S. servicemembers started being stationed throughout the country, and many did what little they could to help repair some of the colossal destruction left in the wake of World War II.
“My mother (who was 3 when the war ended) knew what a Hershey bar was, and you can’t find those here, because Soldiers shared their rations with her and her family. It is astonishing to think about because Germany attacked the U.S., and here less than five years later, Soldiers are outside tossing pigskins to children, sharing their Cokes and were just generally very outgoing in nature,” said Führer. “The mentality of Americans seems to be, ‘We’ll weather through it all, as long as we stick together.’”
The remaining servicemembers, families and civilians will either continue to work in Mannheim through the summer, or will be absorbed into the greater USAG BW community until a few hundred remain to finally shut the doors.
“In this situation, we say it is bitter sweet. While it may be easier to see the bitter more than the sweet, we’ll continue to act responsibly to ensure the community of Mannheim and our Mannheim city partners remain in the forefront of our actions,” said USAG BW commander Col. Bill Butcher.