This is the Bavarian town where US troops are life and soul
Grafenwöhr: When the United States announced last year that it would be withdrawing troops from Germany, shockwaves rippled through the country — but nowhere more than in the Bavarian town of Grafenwoehr. For the town located on the edge of the most important US Army base in Europe, hope was revived in November by the election of Democrat Joe Biden as the next US president.
But much remains at stake for the community known as “Little America”, whose prosperity has depended on the presence of US troops since the end of World War II 75 years ago. “Grafenwoehr is nothing without the US soldiers,” said Piri Bradshaw, whose parents run an Irish pub in the town centre.
Establishments like this have become the life and soul of Grafenwoehr, where traditional barbers stand alongside tattoo parlours — not to mention the many bars and restaurants that were doing a roaring trade before Covid-19 came along.
“Imagine, we have seven supermarkets — far too many for a town of 6,500 inhabitants,” Bradshaw points out. But someone has to feed the 40,000 soldiers and their families who live in and around the base.
The US set up a permanent base near the town after the defeat of the Nazis, but the country’s overall military presence in Germany has declined from some 200,000 soldiers in 1990 to 34,500 today.
Even a small reduction in troops would have “serious” economic consequences for the town, according to Grafenwoehr mayor Edgar Knobloch. “The base provides employment for more than 3,000 civilians in the region,” he said.
In addition, the troops spend about 660 million euros a year in the local community. And the base does not only have economic value. “Three generations of US soldiers have followed one another here, sometimes even from father to son,” said Ploessner.
They include the King himself, Elvis Presley, who did most of his military service in Germany. During his time in Grafenwoehr, Presley even gave a private concert in a bar — the only one in Europe in his entire career. The town museum has lovingly recreated the scene with the original piano and a plastic Elvis.
The presence of the US soldiers permeates every aspect of cultural and social life in the town. “We celebrate US Independence Day like the Maibaum,” Ploessner said, referring to a popular Celtic Maypole festival in Bavaria. “There is a real understanding between people here,” adds Knobloch, with some soldiers even returning to settle in the area after they leave the army.