By Karl Weisel (USAG Wiesbaden)October 16, 2012
WIESBADEN, Germany - It began with a group of strangers touring a vacant U.S. military housing area near Frankfurt and ended with friends celebrating having made a lasting contribution to German-American relations.
Students from Wiesbaden High School, Frankfurt International School, Frankfurt's Gutenberg and Ziehen Schulen -- gathered in the Frankfurt Roemer on Oct. 6, German-American Friendship Day, to celebrate the completion of their eight-month-long UnderstandinG project. The cooperative effort between the city of Frankfurt, U.S. Consulate General and Grundstückgesellschaft Gateway Gardens brought the students together for a series of workshops to gain a better understanding of their shared history in Germany and to inspire them to create a lasting memorial using a former guardhouse in the Rhein-Main Air Base housing area as the foundation for their project.
"In the five workshops the students gained a deeper insight into the area's history," said U.S. Consul General Kevin C. Milas, adding that the memorial envisioned by the youths will stand as a historical reminder of the cooperation and friendship shared between the two nations -- "a gateway between the past and the future."
During the workshops the students had a chance to meet Berlin Airlift veteran Gail Halvorsen, tour Wiesbaden's Clay Kaserne and to hear from numerous representatives who shared personal anecdotes about the meaning of German-American friendship.
"There's no substitute for direct contacts and personal exchanges," said Milas, during the celebration in the Frankfurt city hall. "We want to share your ideas and experiences with each other."
The consul general pointed out the city of Frankfurt started the annual commemorative project in the wake of the terrorist attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. "Germany stands with us in opposing violence and terrorism around the world."
And while the United States may have been seen as the senior partner in the stand against the threat of European domination by the Soviet Union during the Cold War, "today we have a partnership based on equality and shared values," Milas said.
"You have gone beyond your individual horizons," said Uwe Becker, Frankfurt's city treasurer, thanking the students and creative coordinators Professor Heiner Blum and Steve Valk, who led the workshops.
As the "most American city in Germany" and home to the largest American consulate in the world, Becker said, it is important that Germans and Americans continue to celebrate the strong trans-Atlantic partnership that saw the rebuilding of Germany following the destruction of World War II, the aerial life line created to save the people of West Berlin during the Soviet Blockade and the strong defense of Europe during the Cold War. "Without the support of the United States, the reunification of Germany would not have occurred."
Surrounded by paintings of the historical monarchs in German history in the Roemer's Kaisersaal, youths stood to recite an original poem by Kayla Asha Hewitt titled "The Flowers of Friendship."
"This was a really good ending to the UnderstandinG project," said Wiesbaden High School senior Matthew Garcia. "When I started, it just felt like a student workshop, but now I have a deeper understanding of Germany and how Germans and Americans became friends."
"I think this was a fabulous and wonderful experience for them," added his mother, Edna, "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
Despite the intensity of the workshops, occupied weekends and having to carpool, the students learned to re-prioritize their lives, she said.
"I think I have a very clear understanding of the friendship and how it changed over the years," said Wiesbaden 10th-grader Jillian Sly.
"We've all become one big happy family during the project," she added, saying that members are keeping in touch through Facebook and other media."
"As parents, we want to give our kids different exposures and this was definitely a worthwhile experience," said Jillian's father, Michael, chief of the Engineering Division with the U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden's Transformation and Stationing Management Office.
Once the official part of the ceremony was over, guests were invited to take a look at the two proposed models for the German-American friendship monument. Officials said a panel of judges will meet in the near future to determine which of the two projects will become a reality.