Story & photo by Carola Meusel
USAG Stuttgart Public Affairs Office
When driving or walking by a U.S. military installation in the greater Stuttgart area, a German might wonder what’s happening “behind the fence? “ A group of curious German visitors had the question answered during a tour of Panzer Kaserne Aug. 20.
The tour was organized by the Stuttgarter Zeitung newspaper and the U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart Public Affairs Office.
Every summer the newspaper offers an exclusive program for its readers, giving them an opportunity to visit sites and landmarks normally not open to the public, according to Martina Dittrich of the paper’s editorial department.
A total of 10,000 people applied for this year’s activities. Participants were selected by lottery. While many more applied, only 30 lucky people “won” the chance to spend several hours on Panzer Kaserne.
According to Dittrich, Panzer Kaserne was among the most favored places that people were aiming to visit.
The day on Panzer Kaserne started with an information briefing on USAG Stuttgart, its directorates, services and responsibilities.
Kathleen Cole, deputy to the U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart commander, welcomed the group and emphasized the “valuable connection between Ger-many and the U.S.” and how much Americans enjoy being stationed in Stuttgart. She was also happy to see many children included in the tour.
Since most participants were not familiar with the inner workings of the U.S. military, much less an Army garrison, the group had many questions about construction projects, the de-livery of American goods, military trai-ning and educational programs.
Some visitors were surprised to learn about many of the services, such as newcomer briefings or dental care, offered to military community members; others recalled memories of when the installation was open to the public.
Helmut Eisenlohr, a resident of Böblingen, shared a story from the past: In 1997, he invited American Soldiers to his home for Christmas. Back then, two Soldiers accepted the invitation. Eisenlohr and his family enjoyed celebrating with the Soldiers and said he would like to see this tradition continued.
Following the briefing, the group walked to the Galaxy Bowling and En-tertainment Center, the Panzer Chapel and then ate lunch at the Exchange food court.
While Sehne Bakery, Pizza Hut and Burger King are well-known to most Germans, Charley’s Sandwiches and Popeyes are not, and that’s where most visitors elected to dine. The younger visitors, such as Robin Mock, 11, and Fabian Mock, 9, preferred their favorite food: pizza.
Gabriele Fernsel certainly enjoyed the American lunch but did not expect the portion of fried chicken to be as large. Fernsel was accompanied by her husband Gerd and grandsons Julian and Philip, who were happy to take home the leftovers.
During a tour of the Exchange given by Gina Woodruff, the main store manager, some visitors said they felt as if they were in the U.S.
“This is exactly how I picture the U.S., although I’ve never visited the country,” said Felix Rodich, 19, of Waldenbuch, who attended the tour with parents Susanne and Otto.
“I frequently drive by the in-stallation but never knew what it looks like inside. This tour is very interesting and informative since I now have an idea of what’s behind the fence,” he added.
“The atmosphere truly reminds me of the U.S. as does the food and the people. Everybody is so very friendly and attentive,” Barbara Neumann-Kopal said. Her husband, Herbert Kopal, worked for IBM in Vermont, and they lived in the U.S. for two years. Today’s visit feels like coming home,” she said.
The tour continued at the Panzer Hotel where visitors were given a briefing in German by David Roach, the hotel manager, and concluded in Building 2915, where Tom Eishauer, the United Services Organization’ s Stuttgart manager, explained the USO’s mission and programs.
Andreas Mock, who was accom-panied by his wife and three children, said that “the visit was a motivation to plan for a U.S. vacation with family next year.”