Dhe decrepit furniture truck across the street bears the inscription "International Removals". But that's just a stupid coincidence. In the "Big Emma" there is no sense of departure. It's Tuesday night, and the restaurant is just starting to get cozy. Fireplaces flicker on flat screens. The tables are filled with small groups of young men with short hair.
A few families put their noses in the bilingual menus. A specialty of the house is a huge Schnitzel rag, whose meat weight is noted in two units: one kilo – 35 oz. To wash down, there is a 3-liter tankard of draft beer. The clientele of the fat Emma, it seems, like it lush. As she is used to from home.
Although everyone is civilian for security reasons. But as they emerge from the pick-ups in their khaki shorts and polo shirts, they are recognized like this: Americans. Soldiers from the Air Force Base, a few hundred meters away, who made this 8000-soul village in the West Palatinate world-famous: Ramstein.
"During the week, we have 70 percent of Americans here," estimates plant manager Andreas Hausmann. The 130 beds owned by the company's two hotels, America and Stalking, were mostly occupied by relatives or former members of the armed forces and companies working for them. "In the end, you always land here with the Americans." Hausmann, a native of Ramsteiner, tells how he frightened himself as a child from the roaring low-flying aircraft.
Today it owes its existence to "the airfield", as the overpowering neighbor here is called by many. "If the Americans were not," says Hausmann, "we would all be dead. The whole region – suddenly a social hotspot."
Largest employer in southwestern German regions
Since US Ambassador Richard Grenell spoke about a possible withdrawal of US troops from Germany just over a week ago, the question of the consequences in Rhineland-Palatinate is being discussed again. The remark aimed at increasing German military spending. Thousands of German workers heard in it the threat of their employer with the termination.
The US forces stationed in Germany are a welcome shield against external threats for most Germans. In some regions of southwestern Germany, on the other hand, they have a very different meaning. They are the biggest employer there.
The American flag blows next to the entrance door, a man sprays his off-road vehicle in the driveway with the garden hose. If the semi-detached houses were not uniformly ocher yellow, it would look like in every American suburb. "It's a big city with everything you need to live," cries Ralf Hechler enthusiastically. Amazingly unmolested, the mayor of Ramstein has been waved by the checkpoints.
"It's still my property," he whispered at the checkpoint with a smiling sideways glance. Now the 47-year-old turns in his old Opel on the Air Base, past family houses and sports facilities, cinemas and a gigantic shopping mall with everything, a G.I. including Käthe Wohlfahrt branch.
"You shop, visit restaurants, pay rent"
Hechler drives past major construction sites, where the Americans are building new schools and one billion euros for a new major hospital. On the construction pictures many German names. "The companies from the region get the full order books," says Hechler and hopes: "Who builds so much does not want to move away."
The place Ramstein acts compared to the giantism of the Air Base like a small cleaner fish on a whale. Many houses were built only because of the US presence, the hotels in the village count 70,000 overnight stays a year. Hechler's big brother runs a restaurant, in the fourth generation. Mother Hechler served the then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Saumagen and sends with 82 years at Christmas still 20 cards overseas. "And get as many back!" In Ramstein one lives for a long time with the Americans. And from them.
"Aircraft Carrier of the West. Little USA … "David Sirakov, director of the Atlantic Academy of Rhineland-Palatinate in Kaiserslautern, knows a few nicknames for the state that pays its bills. In Rhineland-Palatinate, he reports, live 57,000 Americans, and thus far more than in any other state.
US forces are a relevant economic factor here. "Most of the soldiers live with the family outside the bases," says Sirakov. "They buy, visit restaurants, pay rent." The disposable income of soldiers, civilian employees and indirectly employed people as well as construction investments – all this adds up to an economic power of 1.7 billion euros. Lots of money for areas where there is not much out of the woods.
7200 German civilian employees work in the country on the bases. In addition, there are 14,500 jobs that indirectly depend on the US military. The big politics can quickly have concrete consequences for the little man.
Britta Ostermeier-Schmitt and her husband Heinz, 40 and 47 years old, set off every day from Katzenbach, eight kilometers away, to the Ramstein Air Base. She works there as a Facility Service Assistant, he "at the front," as he jokingly calls the front desk of the Airman & Family Readiness Center, which looks after social concerns, for example, of newly arrived soldiers. Son Hagen, 20, has also been in the car since last year.
Pirmasens is the menetekel for Ramsteiner
He is training as a water treatment technician at the Air Base. "The Air Force is a great employer," says Heinz Schmitt, who rang in the evening sun with his wife in the beer garden of the restaurant "Paradox" the closing time. Once a month they sit here in large groups with 40 to 60 people, at the German-American Stammtisch.
"Over the years, many friends have emerged," says Britta; Heinz even considers getting the German and American flags tattooed. "We are already very much defined by the Air Base," says the cook. "She is a great opportunity giver."
That at some point they could no longer belong to the Air Force family seems inconceivable to both. "These messages already occupy one," admits the father of the family. "We have seen in Pirmasens what a deduction means. That would be very bad, the collapse for the whole region. "
Pirmasens has become a kind of menetekel for what could bloom the Ramsteiners. 10,000 US soldiers left here in the 90s with man and mouse. This left behind huge fallow land and the highest unemployment rate in the country.
"People are already thinking," says Tom Meschkat, who is responsible for more than 3,000 civilian employees in the Kaiserslautern Military Community. Many started as helpers and worked their way up. Two thirds of employees are over 50 years old. "When the Americans move away, there are hardly any job alternatives for many." They only have loyalty to the US employer – and the hope that it is mutual.
Manuel Römer, 38, is a trained engine driver. But he did not find a job after the apprenticeship, at least not in the West Palatinate. Instead, 18 years ago, he started as a warehouse worker at the "airfield". "The main thing to come in," his father advised him, as a painter every day had taken the way through the woods to the Americans. When the junior started there, the September 11 attacks were two months behind. "The atmosphere was pretty tense," he recalls.
"There is no plan B"
9/11 was the third crisis for the base after the bombing of the RAF in 1981 and the flying day disaster in 1988. After each one, the air base closed more strongly. Nevertheless, Römer always felt encouraged. The Americans sent him to training, in the end he took over the IT management for an area with 200 employees.
In 2020, the father of a 13-year-old daughter wants to make his specialist in order to have something presentable outside the Air Force world. Nevertheless, he does not want to believe that he has to change his employer: "There is no plan B."
Mobility is part of the essence of the military. Nobody knows that better than the Sweeney brothers. US flags, stars, big letters in red and blue: If you drive from the Air Base to the town of Ramstein, you can not miss the "Used Car Guys". The Irishmen David and James Sweeney operate a used car trade at the entrance to the village.
Their clientele consists of 99 percent US soldiers, for whose vehicles they do not charge VAT. In addition, most cars have American papers. "You can just take her home," says James Sweeney. A possible withdrawal of the troupe is for them no abstract threat, but a familiar scenario.
"Twenty years ago we opened our first store in Heidelberg. Then the location was closed. We went to Mannheim – also closed, "says the Irishman with a grin. Will the Sweeney brothers have to move to Poland soon? "We do not hope so," he says. But probably they would.
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Army (t) North Atlantic Treaty Organization (tp) Trump (t) Donald (b.1946) (t) Grenell (t) Richard (United States Diplomat) (t) Military (t) Armor (t ) United States (t) Ramstein Air Base (t) Air Base (t) Checkpoint (t) Career (t) Pirmasen (t) Overseas (t) West Palatinate (t) Hotel America