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Saturday, September 17, 2011

The slow death

For those associate with the military, force transformation (the shutting down and combining of base) is no surprise as TPTB been talking about it for YEARS. We've known they were happening for a long time, but until now, we've never experienced it. Mannheim, which is about 20 minutes away from us, and was an important industrial center for the Nazis was reached by the Allied ground advance (in this case the US 44th Infantry Division) into Germany in late March 1945, has officially closed its doors. There are still a few units and families there, but not for long. Heidelberg is next and it's like watching something slowly die as more and more services and housing areas are shut down.  Let's go back to the beginning for a short history lesson of this amazing place.

As part of the Nazi military buildup, the German 110th Infantry Regiment was activated in May 1936 and stationed in Heidelberg. The existing Grenadier-Kaserne (now Patton Barracks) was not large enough for the regiment. Accordingly, a new installation was built in 1937 on what was then farmland on the southern outskirts of Heidelberg near the suburb of Rohrbach.
The first Allied troops entered Heidelberg on the morning of Good Friday, March 30th, 1945, and the city surrendered without a fight. The Wehrmacht had left Heidelberg a day earlier but not before blowing up the bridges crossing the River Neckar, which in Heidelberg meant blowing up the old bridge.
The U.S. units that initially occupied GroƟdeutschland-Kaserne are not known, but by V-E Day, 8 May 1945, the headquarters of the U.S. 6th Army Group occupied the Kaserne.  The Kaserne was formally renamed Campbell Barracks on August 23, 1948 in memory of Staff Sergeant Charles L. Campbell, 14th Infantry Regiment, 71st Infantry Division, who was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross posthumously for extraordinary heroism. On March 28, 1945, two days before the surrender of Heidelberg, Staff Sergeant Campbell led a patrol across the Rhine River near Mannheim and was killed while covering the withdrawal of his patrol as it returned to the west bank with valuable information.

Here is a photos circa 1945 when the Americans took over the Kaserne:

Since that photo was taken, Campbell Barracks has grown by leaps and bounds.  The surrounding farmland no longer exists and is now covered with buildings.  Circa 1963:

 These photos were taken just a few years ago (and it don't even show the whole thing).  Look at the difference from the 1945 photo:

The areas across the street from the main gate (at the bottom of the photo) are mostly family housing (called Mark Twain Village), as are the few buildings you can see off to the top right.  This is the section I live in, though my building isn't in this photo.  There are also buildings not shown just off the left of this photo that were at one time also family housing.  Most of them are closed and have been turned over to the Germans.  They have been empty for years (they shut them down around 2006/7) and no one knows what the Germans will do with them.

This is a recent aerial view looking from the rear.  You can see all the buildings across from the main gate.  The smaller buildings are German houses.  The building I live in is just barely visible to the far left about 1/4 of the way from the top.

As of the end of 2012, all of Mark Twain Village, which has 708 apartments and houses about 2000 soldiers and family members, will be shut down.  All remaining families will be housed on Patrick Henry Village, which is about 3 miles away (and a complete ghetto, IMO).  Most of the building shown at the top of the last photo (across the street from the main gate) are completely empty with only 1 or 2 families left per building.  My own stairwell (there are 2 stairwell per building) is mostly empty.

By the end of 2015, the US Army Europe Headquarters, which has been based out of Campbell Barracks since 1952, will officially move to Wiesbaden, Patton Barracks, Nachrichten Kasern (where the hospital is), and Tompkins Barracks will also shut down and US Army Heidelberg as we know it will no longer exist.  Campbell Barracks has been a NATO base since 1993 and will continue to be so after the HQ pulls out.  There will still be a small contingent of Americans here for NATO.

Carved in the stone of the gates that flank the main entry of Campbell Barracks, there are 2 German eagles (one on each side).  Below these two eagles are 2 of only a handful of swastikas still remaining in Germany.  They are covered by the US 7th Army emblem, but if you look at them closely from the sides, you can still see the circle that goes around the swastikas.   I have no idea why they didn't chip them off like most of the swastikas in Germany, but it's interesting to know they're still there.  I tried to find a photo of them (with the emblems of course), but couldn't.  I'd go take a photo, but having a camera around the post is just asking for the MP's to pay you a visit. 

We've been to Heidelberg 3 times now and have incredibly fond memories of it. Both our boys were born here and it makes me sad to know that while we might visit it, we'll never again live in this amazing place.

Linking to:  Weekend Bloggy Reading


Tina said...

My sympathies with you - it's so sad to see a loved community disappear. I've never lived the military life, but I have lived in 2 towns that "lost" their Air Force bases. Both mourned their base for many years after, and natives still talk about "when the base was closed".

One was the town I was born in, and the base closed around the time of my birth (late 1950s). Someone posted a sort of timeline history that is a slice of life from mid-century America - technological achievements and polio vaccines, desegregation and a precursor of Legionaire's Disease: "Ardmore Syndrome"! Perhaps you will enjoy reading it: The Ardmore Air Force Base .

All the best in your new surroundings!

Working Mommy said...

the current pictures are amazing - the incredible transformation is really least you have wonderful memories of your time there.


Stephanie Bishop said...

I love the history photos and history of where you live and serve! Bless you and your family for putting up with so much change and transition!

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