By Karl Weisel, USAG WiesbadenMarch 14, 2012
WIESBADEN, Germany (March 14, 2012) -- By the time students from four local German and American schools complete this year's UnderstandinG project, they will have left a legacy for future generations.
The 2012 UnderstandinG youth project, a cooperative effort between the city of Frankfurt, U.S. Consulate General and Grundstücksgesellschaft Gateway Gardens GmbH (Gateway Gardens Property Management), kicked off Feb. 25 with a ceremony at the former Rhein Main Air Base housing area. Student volunteers from Wiesbaden High School, Frankfurt International School and Frankfurt's Gutenbergschule and Ziehenschule will work together to develop a concept on how to use the former guard house.
They were among German and U.S. leaders on hand to launch the "Gateway Gardens Guard House: A Gate Linking Past and Future" project.
"Gateway Gardens is one of the symbols of German-American friendship," said Peter Neumann, chief executive officer for the Gateway Gardens development organization. "Two-thousand-and-five-hundred people lived here who served on the air base. For that reason this location is very important."
Citing the some 15 million Americans associated with the U.S. military who lived in Germany in the six decades following World War II, many of whom passed through the "Gateway to Europe" at Rhein-Main Air Base, Frankfurt City Treasurer Uwe Becker said the project is a rare opportunity for German and American high school students to play a role in history.
"This will stand as a monument to German and American friendship," Becker said. "There aren't so many students who can say they helped build a monument to German-American friendship. This place represents history."
Since 2005, when Rhein-Main Air Base was handed over to the city of Frankfurt, development at the airport has progressed at a rapid pace. This has included plans for an entirely new city section, S-Bahn station, hotels, office buildings and other facilities on the site of the former U.S. housing area.
While almost all of the buildings which served the U.S. military community in the former housing area (some of which were constructed from the materials recycled from the destruction of Frankfurt in World War II, according to Neumann), the gatehouse has been preserved. When the UnderstandinG project is completed this fall, it will serve as "a visual representation" of the years 1945 until the present," said Becker, likening it to Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin "for future generations."
"Frankfurt is the most American city in Europe," said Becker, remembering those who served with V Corps and other units in the city and the service members who "gave their lives during the Berlin Airlift."
"This is the crossroads of Europe," said U.S. Consul General Edward M. Alford, recalling when he served with the U.S. Army as a private first class in the 1970s.
"We've come a long way since 1945. The symbolism of this place is remarkable. During the long night of the Cold War we stood together," Alford said, adding that many Americans trace their roots to Germany.
The UnderstandingG project is aimed at encouraging a continuous dialogue between German and American young people.
"It's important that we continue to learn about each other," said the consul general, asking the project participants to "observe and talk with one another. It will be projects like this and people like you who will carry us into the next century."
"I thought it would be really cool to take part -- helping build a piece of history," said Wiesbaden High School junior Matthew Garcia. "I've been living in Wiesbaden for three years. This gives me a chance to explore Europe a little more."
Wiesbaden ninth-grader Jack Whalen echoed Garcia's enthusiasm for the project saying he realized his parents, who lived in the Russelsheim area, shared a history with the vital mission performed at Rhein Main Air Base over the years.
"I think this is super," said Paul Molnar, former Rhein Main Air Base base closure officer, who served at the air base starting in 1967 before retiring in 1988, "seeing the children take an interest in history and building the bridge for future generations."
Guided by members of the project organization, the students will participate in a series of two-day workshops throughout the year providing historical context and creative inspiration where they will develop their final concept which will be unveiled during German-American Friendship Day, Oct. 6, at Frankfurt's City Hall.