“I’m heading to Texas,” said Irmtraud Goettel, 64, who runs a hotel and open-pit barbecue restaurant with her husband. Longhorns are mounted above the bar, a reminder of her granddaughter, who’s about to graduate from college in the Lone Star State.
“You know what I do in Texas?” Goettel said. “I like to pop open a big can of Natural Light” — much better than German beer, she said — “sit on the back porch, fire up the grill.”
Among her customers, she said, Americans come out on top.
“The Americans are easier,” she said. “They go out twice a week. The Germans go out maybe once a month, and it’s a little party.”
The presence in Europe
In 2004, Baumholder was on the chopping block but was saved after heavy lobbying from the German government. Now, some take solace in American vows to stay open for the time being.
“For sure, the American people will spend less money here,” said Peter Lang, Baumholder’s mayor, who retired from the German army in 2008 after a 28-year career. “My hope is that the U.S. Army troops will have the chance to stay here longer.”
Lang is working with Schwerdtner, the council member, and others to build a museum about the German-American relationship that is slated for completion in 2014, and they hope to draw American tourists who were once posted in the town. He’ll also travel to Washington in May to lobby to keep the base open.
The American forces in Europe say they serve an important presence, as the international mission continues in Afghanistan, tensions between Israel and Iran rise, and questions about reform linger in Russia.
“Europe is the hallway to all the rooms of the world,” said Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, the commander of U.S. Army forces in Europe. “Europe serves as the hallway to Africa, to Russia, to Turkey.”
And the presence of American troops in Europe reminds countries that are reining in defense budgets of the importance of maintaining adequate forces, Hertling said. Long a pet peeve of many Americans, who think that European countries count on the United States to bail them out if they get into trouble, lagging European defense spending has dropped even more during the financial crisis.
“Being part of the club means more than standing up an army. It means building alliances and working together before there’s a threat,” Hertling said.
Among Germany’s top ranks, few are mounting a serious effort to oppose the American cuts, which they recognize as similar to their own major reforms in recent years, in which the size of the military was sharply cut back and the draft was eliminated.
“The impact will be moderate,” German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere said last month after the cuts were announced.
But in Baumholder, many worry that these cuts are not the last.
“Miami, here I come,” said Kiefer, the tattoo artist. “For the area around here, it’s probably going to be bad.”