Kaiserslautern residents celebrate American culture

by Maj. Paul D. Baldwin
3rd Air Force Public Affairs

Football cheerleaders lined the stairwell and greeted the nearly 700 community residents as they entered the town hall for the celebration. Greeters handed out jelly beans while people visited information booths.

The 50 U.S. state flags decorated the auditorium, and a large American flag served as the backdrop on the stage where films highlighted landscapes from the coast of California to the New England shoreline. American music played in the background while another film showed interviews by Americans living in the community.

To an outside observer, this scene appears to be a gathering of Americans in “any town USA.” And although English could be heard here and there among certain groups, most conversations were in German. This was not an event in the U.S., and the majority of attendees were not Americans. This was a celebration of American culture in Kaiserslautern.

The event Nov. 16 at the Fruchthalle in downtown Kaiserslautern celebrated America as part of the city’s 2011 theme entitled “Year of Internationality – Integration Through Knowledge.” Festivities included booths by American organizations and German-American clubs, films about Americans living in the KMC, jump roping, square dancing, and musical performances, including the U.S. Air Forces in Europe Band Wings of Dixie and a children’s honor choir from Kaiserslautern Elementary School.

The city’s yearlong effort was to introduce local residents to different cultures and to gain a better understanding of the people from various nations who live in the area.

Kaiserslautern has more than 100,000 residents, and a portion of that is made up of people from 124 different nations, said Andrea Oliver, director of U.S. Business for SWK (City Works) and event organizer.

The interviews, performances and lectures showed Americans here developing life-long connections to Germany and the community.

“Kaiserslautern has a very large population, and while we realize that the basis for the American presence here is mostly a shorter term presence, there are still a lot of stories to be told about Americans who have chosen to stay here in Kaiserslautern and really integrate themselves very deeply in the local community,” Oliver said.

Lt. Gen. Frank Gorenc, 3rd Air Force and KMC commander, attended the celebration, representing the nearly 50,000 Department of Defense civilian and military personnel and their families living near Ramstein and other nearby military installations. The KMC is the largest group of Americans living outside of the U.S.
“The majority of Americans live inside the Kaiserslautern area,” Gorenc said. He added that about 85 percent of the Americans live off base.

With the majority of Americans living alongside Germans, Oliver said she believes integration is essential to building mutual understanding.

“The event was made for the citizens of Kaiserslautern and for them to learn about the rich cultures that live amongst them. Many of (the German residents) have no chance of learning about (Americans) unless you have a neighbor from America,” she said. “So, this is really intended for the citizens and (to) broaden their horizons, and to help them help our fellow citizens integrate themselves.”

Gorenc said Americans are thrilled to be partnered with Germany, and he understands the importance of integrating Americans within the KMC.

“We have many programs that help integrate the Americans, but we also partner with the local community often times to help that integration,” the general said. “In the Kaiserslautern area, the German-American Community Office is really the focal point for that integration. That office is the first stop on one of the tours that we bring Americans to, and the purpose is to help the integration of Americans, to help understand the customs, and certainly to help understand all the normal everyday things that Germans do that Americans don’t necessarily do. It’s very, very helpful.”

Throughout the evening, guest speakers described experiences of integration, from American business people who chose to stay in the area, to a recently married German and American couple. The stories detailed why they chose to stay in Germany and what challenges exist considering cultural differences.

A common interest by the audience was which language was spoken inside the home. Often, it was a combination of English and German depending on the situation. Laughter erupted from the audience when one of the speakers said learning and speaking German was a challenge because local German residents primarily respond in English.

Another crowd pleaser was a performance by the Pikes American football team cheerleaders, as well as the interview with the coaches, an American and a German, who led the team to an undefeated season.

The evening concluded with a rope-skipping show by local teens and pre-teen girls, who dazzled the audience with difficult multi-person and multi-rope routines for nearly 15 minutes.

Edward M. Alford, U.S. consulate general in Frankfurt, appreciated the city’s hospitality to Americans living in the area.

“I think it’s a wonderful statement by the people of this town,” Alford said. “To make a special effort to recognize the culture and learn more about it, I really salute that.”