• Germany edition
 
Americans leave their hearts in Heidelberg
Photo: Matthew Luxmoore

Americans leave their hearts in Heidelberg

Published: 04 Jun 2013 11:08 GMT+02:00
Updated: 04 Jun 2013 11:08 GMT+02:00

The volunteer wearing the lion costume demonstrated impressive endurance, as he sat for an hour and a half with a plastic crown on his head before a packed gymnasium still humid from the rain that had only just stopped falling outside.

But someone had to do it. The symbol of the Heidelberg High School and the mascot of its many sports teams is embedded deeply in the hearts of its graduates, something made clear by the effect principal Kevin Brewer’s repeated shouts of “We are Lions!” had upon the audience he addressed.

The closing of the school after nearly seven decades was the first in a series of sombrely celebratory events accompanying the closure of the US Army Europe (USAREUR) headquarters in Heidelberg.

Brewer, who will finish his career at a small school in England’s Yorkshire Dales where he started as a teacher 25 years ago, was emotional.

“When we close our doors the community will change. We’ve been ambassadors for America in Heidelberg for all these years. People will miss us. We’re better off having lived here and those whose lives we touched are better off as well,” he said.

A sendoff in style

Heidelberg is seeing the Americans off in style, bringing to an end a relationship which began in 1945 when US troops entered the city and occupied a Wehrmacht base, today known as Campbell Barracks, on its southern outskirts.

The US headquarters are set to relocate to nearby Wiesbaden, as part of a larger effort to cut the number of American military personnel in Europe from 62,000 to 24,000 by 2015.

USAREUR Command Chaplain David Moran, a former HDHS student in the 1970s who led those present in a prayer commemorating graduates who had died serving in Iraq, said he understood why Washington was consolidating US bases in Europe.

“It’s sad, I will really miss this school. But it makes more sense to have bases closer together, sharing in the mission with Nato as opposed to running things in post-war Germany. It’s a natural expectation,” he said.

Baden-Württemberg Garrison Command Sergeant Major Kenneth Kraus believes it will take time for the local German community to grasp the change.

“A time will come when many of them will miss us. Throughout the 68 years we’ve been here I think we’ve constantly effected positive change. There’s a rich and strong heritage in Heidelberg and US ties with the community are strong. It’s like having a cousin,” he said.

Many lives have indeed been touched by the American presence in Heidelberg, with the US Army having employed a large number of citizens from the local community.

Cultural and economic impact

Heidelberg Mayor Eckart Würzner said schemes are in place to assist former employees in finding work. Many are retiring while others have been relocated to bases in Wiesbaden and Kauserslautern.

The impact of the departure will be mainly economic, he said, with a drop in petrol and energy consumption among the effects expected.

“We predict a loss of about €50 million a year. We’re talking about 20,000 people leaving the region. Heidelberg is a growing and economically stable city so we can overcome this period, but it will of course affect us,” he told The Local.

When asked about his feelings on the departure, Würzner admitted he “really felt sad”.

“After World War II no-one in Heidelberg knew the way into the future. The US Army worked to educate the young generation about how democracy works. It gave Heidelberg a perspective and helped the city get back on its feet and on its way to democracy,” he said.

The opening of an exhibition documenting decades of US involvement on Saturday in Patrick Henry Village, a military complex in southeast Heidelberg, , was attended by many local residents who had either worked as US Army employees or have formed personal ties with members of the military.

The 33-year-old high school teacher Stefan Sell, who became involved in the US Army through an American religious group, believed the departure is being greeted by the community at large with “indifference”.

Indifferent Germans?

“Little will change, people will simply get on with their lives. Some former barracks will be freed up to create much-needed accommodation for students, which can only be a good thing. But ties will mainly be broken on a personal level, as some locals have formed friendships with the US soldiers,” he said.

Some controversy has surrounded the American presence in Germany, with anti-war demonstrations in the late 1960s and opposition to the use of German bases to support controversial involvement in Iraq indicative of growing anti-military sentiment across Europe. Several local parties have advocated US withdrawal in their campaigns.

Although some former army facilities will be returned to the city, most will be auctioned off by the state. Alongside a scientific exchange programme, Würzner revealed plans to open a “Peace Center” in Heidelberg to “keep the transatlantic cooperation and the historical democracy movement going.”

But the question for some is how Heidelberg manages to make up for what is seen by many as a loss in prestige.

“This is the biggest single troop withdrawal since the end of World War II. When you go into the Pentagon you see seven flags, and under one of these the word Heidelberg. It was the European Headquarters – that’s now being closed,” he said.

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Don't miss...X
Left Right

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
German women fall short of equality
Still a man's world: women in Germany find it hard to rise as high as Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen. Photo: DPA

German women fall short of equality

Women in Germany are still underrepresented in leadership jobs and among professors, a new government report said on Wednesday. They are also paid less and remain unlikely to study science, technology, engineering or mathematics. READ  

The Local List
Five reasons to visit (and avoid) Oktoberfest
Photo: DPA

Five reasons to visit (and avoid) Oktoberfest

With just over 50 days to go until Munich's Oktoberfest starts, it is time to book your train/plane/horse to the world’s biggest beer festival. Or is it? The Local List looks at five reasons you should be making that trip, and five why you'd better steer clear. READ  

Visa chaos hits Bayern Munich's USA tour
Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. Photo: DPA

Visa chaos hits Bayern Munich's USA tour

Bayern Munich boss Karl-Heinz Rummenigge is among the club's staff and players who could not join a week-long tour to the USA on Wednesday because of visa problems. READ  

Dead TV star replies to SPD party invite
German actress Renater Küster with a statue of her late husband Dieter Hildebrandt. Photo: DPA

Dead TV star replies to SPD party invite

The Social Democrats (SPD) accidentally invited a dead TV star to attend its summer party. It got a shock when the veteran presenter replied saying, "I can't make it". READ  

Father killed in 'Cold Water Challenge'
The digger tipped over. Photo: DPA

Father killed in 'Cold Water Challenge'

A father died and five of his friends were injured on Tuesday night in western Germany when a digger fell on top of them during a so-called Cold Water Challenge. READ  

Huge Bavarian crop circle puzzles crowds
Raisting crop circle. Photo: DPA

Huge Bavarian crop circle puzzles crowds

A mysterious crop circle in Bavaria has attracted thousands of visitors since it was spotted in a wheat field last week. READ  

German siblings killed by drunk driver in Austria
Photo: DPA

German siblings killed by drunk driver in Austria

A ten-year-old girl and her 21-year-old brother were killed overnight in a road accident on the A1 motorway in Upper Austria, caused by a drunk driver who was driving on the wrong side of the road. READ  

Merkel: Russia sanctions were 'inevitable'
Merkel warned further sanctions could be imposed against Russia. Photo: DPA

Merkel: Russia sanctions were 'inevitable'

Strong sanctions imposed by the EU against Russia over its role in the Ukraine crisis were “inevitable”, Chancellor Angela Merkel claimed on Tuesday night, despite Germany's initial reluctance to get tough on President Vladimir Putin. READ  

Boy's body found in US Ramstein plane
A C-130J at Ramstein air base. Photo: DPA

Boy's body found in US Ramstein plane

The body of an adolescent boy was found in a wheel well of a US military cargo plane after the aircraft landed at Ramstein Air Base in Germany over the weekend, the Pentagon said on Tuesday. READ  

Have Your Say
Should Germany legalize cannabis?
Photo: DPA

Should Germany legalize cannabis?

A New York Times editorial on Sunday called for the US to drop its ban on marijuana, calling the strongly-worded law a "laughing stock". Should Germany follow the US states of Colorado and Washington and legalize recreational use of the drug? READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Photo: DPA
Analysis & Opinion
Have Your Say: Should Germany legalize cannabis?
Photo: DPA
Education
Germany's students fail to graduate in time
Photo: DPA
Gallery
Hamburg harbour lit up in blue
Business & Money
JobTalk: 'Application process is failing'
Photo: Bundesarchiv/Bild 183-S45825
Culture
Germany puts 700,000 WWI docs online
Photo: DPA
Society
This man wants to give all of us €12,000 a year
Photo: DPA
Education
Top university switches master's courses to English
instagram.com/gotzemario
Gallery
Germany's World Cup stars share their holiday photos
Travel
Plans unveiled for bike trail along former Iron Curtain
Photo: DPA
Gallery
The Local List: 12 best words in German
Photo: DPA
Gallery
German Bucket List: How many of these can you tick off?
Photo: Europeana.de 1914 - 1918
Gallery
A German soldier's life behind WWI lines
Education
Raising the bar for law & business in Germany
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
JobTalk: All you need to know about working in Germany
Photo: DPA
Features
The Local List Archive - Your guide to all things German
National
Share news tips with The Local Germany
Sponsored Article
Bilingual school turning education on its head
Sponsored Article
CurrencyFair: Why it pays when making overseas transfers
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

3,261
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd