Story by Balmina Sehra
USAG Stuttgart Public Affairs
STUTTGART, Germany – The grand re-opening of the Panzer Firehouse lured thousands of local residents to come and peek behind the curtain of the American military presence in Böblingen, May 1.
The visitors flooded the firehouse, excited to see what’s behind the fence and reconnect with their fellow Americans. The event gave locals the opportunity to get closer to the American military and learn more about the history of the venue, which since its construction in the 1930s had been a German officer’s club, a bar, an American hotel, and now a firehouse and community center.
On the premise, visitors could purchase hotdogs, burgers, and some American chips, making the experience unique for many and nostalgic for some, like Thomas Fränzle who remembered when the American bases were guarded less heavily.
“I find it nice that the doors are open again,” Fränzle said. “My parents always speak of how we used to spend Independence Day with the Americans when I was a child.”
Fränzle is not the only person who remembers a time when socializing with Americans was much less complicated. “My children used to play soccer with the American children, and I have very fond memories of that time,” said Uwe Painke, Head of an educational organization in the local region.
But when the walls went up after 9/11, Painke said it felt like the Americans moved to another planet. “It’s like when you look at the moon, it’s close and yet so far away.”
It wasn’t just the firehouse the locals enjoyed getting to see up close, many enjoyed having a chat with USAG Stuttgart Commander Col. Matt Ziglar.
“I got to talk to the Colonel and told him that I thought it was good that they opened up,” said Painke. “I was amazed that he was so calm around all these people. Usually when you see a head of state or someone similar to that position they are surrounded by bodyguards, but he just mingled amongst the people which I really appreciated.”
Manfred Nagel and his brother Gerhardt also liked that Ziglar showed himself from a very approachable side that day. Their mother used to work in the kitchen of the firehouse right after the war.
“We came for the memories,” said Manfred. “It was our main priority to see the kitchen and Col. Ziglar took the time to show us around there, which was pretty exciting.”
Painke hopes the Firehouse grand re-opening is just the first of many cross-cultural events.
“I think any form of encounter between two nations is a good thing and I feel there should be more opportunities like this one,” he said.