• Germany's news in English
 

Americans leave their hearts in Heidelberg

Published: 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)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Teachers to strike nationwide from Monday
Photo: DPA

Teachers to strike nationwide from Monday

Teachers all over the country are expected to stike starting Monday, German education trade union GEW said, after negotiations with the wage commission of the federal states (TdL) failed to achieve results. READ  

EU court deals blow to US Iraq objector's hopes
Andre Shepherd at the European Court of Justice in June 2014. Photo: DPA

EU court deals blow to US Iraq objector's hopes

American soldier Andre Shepherd, who applied for asylum in Germany as a conscientious objector against the war in Iraq after going AWOL from his unit, saw a judgement by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) go against him on Thursday. READ  

Intersex person sues clinic for unncessary op
Photo: DPA

Intersex person sues clinic for unncessary op

Intersex person Michaela Raab is suing doctors in a Nuremberg court, who she said operated on her genitals and put her through female hormone therapy without having told her she was genetically a man. READ  

Greece bailout
Greece bailout passes with massive majority
Wolfgang Schäuble addressing the Bundestag on Friday. Photo: DPA

Greece bailout passes with massive majority

UPDATE:German MPs voted 542-32 in favour of extending Greece's bailout programme on Friday. READ  

German soars into ski jump top spot
Photo: DPA

German soars into ski jump top spot

Germany is a "Weltmeister" again, this time in ski-jumping. Severin Freund's 134-metre vertical jumps, and new world distance record of nearly 136 metres, ended the nearly decade-and-a-half wait for German ski jump fans starved for gold. READ  

Muslim Council says Jewish fears 'justified'
Muslims at prayer in Frankfurt's Abubakr Mosque. Photo: DPA

Muslim Council says Jewish fears 'justified'

After the president of the Central Council of Jews warned against anti-Semitism in Muslim areas of German cities, his Muslim opposite number agreed that 'these fears are justified”. READ  

Consumer rights office slams Facebook
Photo: DPA

Consumer rights office slams Facebook

The Federation of Consumer Protection Offices (vzbv) has warned Facebook over legal breaches in its terms and conditions, saying that its claim on the homepage that “Facebook is free and always will be” is misleading. READ  

Spoof hails Varoufakis: puts 'hell' in 'Hellenica'
Yanis Varoufakis, Greece's "Minister of Awesome". Photo: DPA

Spoof hails Varoufakis: puts 'hell' in 'Hellenica'

An offering that rehabilitates the much-maligned German sense of humour is rocking the internet with a searing spoof metal tribute to Greece's formidable new finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, filled with painful moments of self-mockery. READ  

This Week in History
Kafka's Metamorphosis: 100 years of perplexity
Franz Kafka. Photo: DPA

Kafka's Metamorphosis: 100 years of perplexity

100 years ago, Franz Kafka published The Metamorphosis, now seen as one of the most significant works of 20th century German literature. The Local speaks to the academic who has reinterpreted it for a modern audience. READ  

Nurse jailed for life for serial patient murders
Niels H. in court. The five murder counts against the former nurse may just be the start. Photo: DPA

Nurse jailed for life for serial patient murders

A male nurse who injected patients with overdoses of heart medication for the thrill of resuscitating them was on Thursday sentenced to life imprisonment on five counts of murder. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Features
Kafka: puzzling translators 100 years on
Business & Money
France or Germany: Which country really is the best country to work in?
Photo: Police
Rhineland
Student driver crashes tank into family garden.
Photo: DPA
Politics
There was a notable absence at the Anti-Semitism Commission
Sponsored Article
Tourist or lifer: what sort of expat are you?
National
How Dresden bombing still divides Germany, 70 years on
Sponsored Article
Are you an American expat? How to face FATCA
Photo: DPA
Gallery
Take a cute break with this gallery of baby animals
International
What's keeping UK expats from voting?
Photo: DPA
National
Terror alert at a new high. Should you be worried?
Gallery
The best regional foods TTIP opponents want to protect
Photo: DPA
Features
All you ever needed to know about Pegida
Photo: Shutterstock
Culture
This cosplayer did not think his plan through
National
Europe in statistics - from Spain to Sweden
Gallery
Top 12 German idioms
Culture
10 top tips for partying in Germany
Photo: DPA
Technology
What does the Chancellor see as the future of the internet?
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
JobTalk: All you need to know about working in Germany
National
Share news tips with The Local Germany
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

3,430
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd