By Susan HusemanFebruary 5, 2007
FRANKFURT, Germany - Wilfried Kastening had his first taste of chocolate thanks to an American GI.
"I was born in Berlin in 1941," said Kastening, a German businessman. "In 1945
my family had moved to western Germany. The Americans came through our village and an African-American Soldier gave me a chocolate bar - the only bar of chocolate I had for 10 years. My love for America started in 1945."
Now, 62 years later, Kastening was able to repay the gesture.
He invited 50 American children from the U.S. Army Garrisons Wiesbaden and
Darmstadt to the Theatre Unlimited Performing Company's premiere of "Seussical the Musical" Jan. 20 at the English Theatre in Frankfurt.
"I noticed that some Americans may not feel exactly welcome in Germany due to certain events," said Kastening. "And they may never really leave their bases and mingle with the Germany community."
Treating them to a performance of "Seussical the Musical," with its American
roots, was a good way to do something for the families of deployed U.S. Soldiers, expose them to a cultural event and thank Americans for what they have done for Germany, he said.
"He's always told this story of his first chocolate bar coming down from an American Soldier in a tank," said wife Astrid, who works in the business office of the Theatre Unlimited Performing Company.
"We were talking about the musical and we said this is such an American play we need to get American children there," she said. "Germans don't really know Dr. Seuss.
"I suggested that perhaps a German company might sponsor the tickets, and my husband said he would like to do it," she said.
"American families are usually here for only two or three years," Astrid said. "Very often these families do not get outside of their environment and we don't have the opportunity to meet one another. My husband was very happy to have this occasion."
"This is just beautiful," said Jewel Barrett, from Wiesbaden. She brought her 8-year-old daughter, Shantel, and her niece, Kiara Harrison, 6. "I really think this is awesome. The idea that a stranger would give our kids exposure to cultural events we don't get on the base ... from the bottom of my heart I thank him. This is a well-spent Saturday afternoon."
Caitlin Harris, 15, a U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden community member, stars as the Cat in the Hat. She is one of 37 performers from 15 different nations who appear in the cast.
"Caitlin got her drama start with the summer children's program at the Amelia Earhart Playhouse," said Carly Harris, Caitlin's mother and USO Europe director of operations.
Mary Tyler, a Wiesbaden School-Age Services employee, accompanied seven children and two parents to the musical. "The children are having a great time," she said. "They like Jo-Jo (one of the main characters)."
"We acted in a musical at summer camp," said Wiesbaden's Elise Tyler, 7. "We are very appreciative of the doctor who donated the tickets to us."
"We really want to meet the Cat in the Hat, Horton the elephant and Jo-Jo," said 11-year-old Asya Miller of Wiesbaden.
The children got their wish. After the performance the Americans were invited up on stage to meet the cast, Kastening and American Consul General Jo Ellen Powell, another of Kastening's guests, for photos and autographs.