BAUMHOLDER, Germany – Seventy years ago this year, the U.S. Army took over control of the Baumholder Military Community from the French. Since then, as the post ebbed and flowed, so did the city outside the fence line.
In a 1945 agreement, the French occupied the post after World War II. The German army built the post and adjacent range as a training base in 1937. At the end of 1951, the Americans took over the post and soon began a large construction program, causing the population of the city of Baumholder to explode like a cannon shell in the nearby training area.
92-year-old Horst Teumer believes he is probably one of the last people left who remembers the German, French and U.S. occupation.
In 1951, the 22-year-old Teumer, was one of thousands of local nationals who flooded the post that December hoping for employment. He and his wife were given jobs in the post dry cleaners sewing and steam-pressing American uniforms, before Teumer learned enough English to sign on with the fire department in 1954.
“It was a one-room building,” Teumer remembered. “We had 24-hour shifts, so we slept on the fire truck.”
He retired as the chief of the Baumholder Military Community Fire Department in 1993.
By 1954, the BMC swelled to 4,400 local national employees and approximately 25,000 American service members and their families.
“We had a very rural city with about 2,800 residents and all of a sudden that city is overwhelmed by more than 20,000 U.S. Soldiers,” said Bernd Mai, host nation liaison with the garrison’s public affairs office and local historian. “Money flowed and changed Baumholder. We became a little metropolitan city.”
Today, many local national residents of Baumholder live in apartment buildings built by the German government in the early 1950s to house the influx of local national employees and their families. During its heyday, Baumholder had more than 30 bars and taverns and more than 20 restaurants.
The BMC has played a part in most world events involving the U.S. since its beginning, according to Mai. He points to the post-WWII Cold War when tanks from Baumholder would’ve been some of the first units into the Fulda Gap to stop a Russian advance. Other events like the Berlin Airlift, Desert Storm, 9/11 and Enduring Freedom meant troops and equipment were mobilized and put into harm’s way.
Teumer was in the thick of many of those events. His worst memory as a firefighter was when the Rheinlander Club burned down in 1965. While reminiscing, Teumer remembered it was the U.S. Army fire department that had the only ladder truck in the area. They were often called out for mutual aid to help surrounding fire departments with their ladder truck.
At that time the post was “open” and many of the town’s residents would come on post for dances and social gatherings.
Teumer recalls how that started to change when troops deployed almost immediately from the BMC for Desert Storm, and how it drastically changed after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
“Things changed that day,” Teumer remembered. “Today, many of the town residents feel blocked off from the post because the gates are not open.”
Teumer still lives near the BMC, surrounded by a lifetime collection of firefighting memorabilia. His hearing is not as good as it once was but his mind is as sharp as ever and his commanding voice fills the room.
He harkens back to the “old days,” when the BMC was full of American Soldiers and their families and the city of Baumholder was bustling.
The BMC was slated for closure in 2009 and the money for infrastructure was cut off. That decision was reversed in 2014, but those five years took its toll. Today, the U.S. Army plans to move troops to Baumholder from other parts of Germany. Buildings are being renovated and made ready as the time for more Soldiers and families inches closer.
“In 2015, the U.S. began planning for, and now has started the execution of, its infrastructure restoration and modernization efforts. The total cost of these efforts in the Baumholder Military Community are estimated at nearly $500 million and the work will continue for several more years,” said Jai Kim, BMC Deputy Garrison manager. “The strong partnership between the U.S. military and Baumholder area communities directly contributes to the well-being of the servicemembers and their families, military readiness and regional financial health. As we celebrate the 70 years of this close relationship, the future looks bright.”
Mai, a life-long Baumholder resident, agrees.