More than just a bunch of posters

Story and photo by Helen Tesfai
U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern

When Otti Lesmeister’s husband Hans passed away, she kept his handmade posters in her attic, unaware of the historic and cultural value of his art.

This summer, Hans Lesmeister’s posters, which feature American events and tours during the 1950s and early 1960s, are on display at the Museum im Westrich, courtesy of the Center for Documentation and Exhibition of the History of U.S. Americans in Rhineland Palatinate. His wife attended the June 18 opening.

“It is unbelievable and a great pleasure for me to see these framed posters displayed here,” the 70-year-old widow said. “It makes me proud.”

Hans Lesmeister was the club artist at Flieger Haus Service Club, located on the former Landstuhl Air Base. He made ads for tours and events for Americans stationed nearby. He died in 2006, with much of his work stored in his office.
A year or so had passed when the Docu Center placed a German newspaper ad calling for pieces of American history that local people might have at home collecting dust. Otti Lesmeister remembered her husband’s posters that she stored in the attic.

“So, I thought well, call and see if they can use it, because I would have dumped them in the trash one day,” she said.

Michael Geib, the Docu Center director, went to her home in Ramstein-Miesenbach. One look at the artwork and Mr. Geib considered it worthy of an entire exhibit.
The posters are on display until September. A program will be offered in English on the evening of July 7.

At the recent opening, Jory Vanderburg, historian for the 435th Air Ground Operations Wing on Ramstein, said the posters are mementos of the strong relationship between Americans and Germans.

“Especially what the local nationals did, their efforts to put together something like the posters and to run the service club for the Airmen. To help coordinate and provide these tours makes our lives here a little bit more special,” Mr. Vanderburg said.

Silvano Wueschner, the 86th Airlift Wing historian, added that the posters also reflect the lives of people during post-World War II era in Germany, where some “Americanization” occurred because of the significant American presence in the Kaiserslautern area.

“To some degree, that generation formed some very tight bonds,” Mr. Wueschner said.

Speaking at the opening, Ramstein-Miesenbach Mayor Klaus Layes said the posters represent more than just a glimpse into the cultural goods for Americans.  
“It’s fantastic art,” Mayor Layes said. “It is also a glimpse into the work of a hobby artist.”

When Otti Lesmeister saw so many people viewing her husband’s work, she shook her head and smiled. At times, her voice trembled and her eyes filled with tears, as she thought of her departed husband.  

“It’s just the fact that he can’t benefit from it anymore, which makes me so sad,” she said. “I never thought, not even for a single moment, that it would become what it is today.”