By Karl Weisel (USAG Wiesbaden)March 30, 2009
WIESBADEN, Germany - Sixty years ago Germany was still reeling from the effects of a prolonged war in Europe. Against the backdrop of hostilities which brought Americans to the country to crush a fascist regime, a group of women joined together in Wiesbaden to raise cultural awareness and to bring Germans and Americans closer together.
The Wiesbaden club formed "to promote mutual understanding between the two groups by means of an exchange of cultural ideas and ideas on civic responsibility and to create an interest in community life."
While most of the members were Americans in the beginning because German women were too busy working and raising families due to missing husbands and sons killed during World War II, "as the years progressed, more and more German women joined," said Gisela Pasternak-Wagner, German president of the of the German-American and International Women's Club, during the 60th anniversary celebration March 12 in Wiesbaden's State Theater.
"What they founded was grounded in the true desire to help," said Patricia Fidler, international president of the club, adding that during the six decades of existence the focus changed from initially overcoming prejudice and raising cultural awareness to helping "improve the lives of others" through financial support and better understanding among the members.
Among the first projects the club tackled in 1949, according to club historical information, was collecting Christmas gifts for 5,000 needy Wiesbaden children and in January 1950 organizing a "March of Dimes" fund-raiser.
Over the years, with a reduced American presence in Wiesbaden following drawdown and transformation, fewer and fewer American members have participated and the focus of the club has broadened to include a more international mix of members, said Pasternack-Wagner.
But while the name of the club has changed to reflect the changed membership, that hasn't changed the overall focus of the club which still strives to bring people together to work together for the greater good, the club presidents said.
"Those who had an idea to found an organization to promote German-American friendship 60 years ago were looking toward the future," said Wiesbaden City Councilor Dieter Schlempp, speaking on behalf of Lord Mayor Helmut MAfA1/4ller. Schlempp added that the expansion to include international members was a response to changing times. With the expected move of 7th Army Headquarters to Wiesbaden from Heidelberg, the club can look forward to a possible infusion of new members, he said.
"While 1st Armored Division Soldiers were deployed ... I got a chance to see what this club does best," said Bill Wallace, rear detachment commander during the deployment. Wallace described how members of the American military community "had a home here" thanks to the support of their German neighbors. He also praised the interaction of club members over the years - "women who put aside their political and ideological differences" for the common good by "bridging cultures, raising friendships and selfless service."
Janet Graham, a Wiesbaden military community spouse, describing how she married her husband while serving in Hanau and lived through deployments in Baumholder and Wiesbaden as her husband deployed to Iraq, said she will always remember the strong support rendered by German neighbors. "My fondest memories will be of the overall friendliness of the Germans."
During the anniversary celebration members of the club invited representatives of various German and American charity and welfare organizations to the podium to receive financial support. Among those were members of Landstuhl's Fisher Houses and the U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden Holiday Assistance Program.
As in past years the club hosted a Spring Bazaar March 28 at the Wiesbaden Kolonnade (adjacent to the Kurhaus). Besides featuring the traditional flea market, the event included a raffle and German-American coffee house. "We're gearing up for the center point of our club - the Spring Bazaar," said Fidler, adding that everyone is invited to enjoy the bazaar and help support the club's ongoing projects.
For more information about the club visit www.derfrauenclubwiesbaden.de.