CHIEMSEE, Germany — The Lake Hotel at the Armed Forces Recreation Center at Chiemsee felt more like Heartbreak Hotel as the facility closed its doors for good Tuesday. Hearts hung heavy as visitors checked out for the last time and the staff members went through their final routines.
During the past 58 years, AFRC Chiemsee has served 1.5 million U.S. Department of Defense employees, retirees, NATO servicemembers and families.
“We knew it was coming eventually, but we didn’t know it was coming that soon,” said Tim Bartlett, conference technician at Chiemsee. “We understand the decision ... but it’s still hard to take. It’s hard to tell guests that, too.”
In June of 2000, Congress approved the consolidation of all AFRC resorts in Europe into the facility at Garmisch. A new hotel is currently under way as part of that plan. The closing of Chiemsee was scheduled for fall of next year, however, declining guest numbers forced the facility to close early.
The facility has a rich history and has seen closure before. The Lake Hotel was built under Adolf Hitler, opening its doors in September of 1938 and was the first rest facility on the autobahn. The hotel’s time as a center of rest and relaxation was short-lived, however.
During World War II, the Lake Hotel served as a German army hospital and in 1945, AFRC commissioned the resort as a vacation area for servicemembers and their families.
The resort’s first closure occurred in 1994 when the area was going to be given to the German government in exchange for the estimated $29 million needed to renovate the facilities at Berchtesgaden. The final price tag of the renovation proved to be too costly and the hotels at Berchtesgaden were eventually closed and Chiemsee was reopened.
Many staff members came back to work, and like the guests, feel that they were given a second chance to enjoy the beauty of Chiemsee’s lake, campgrounds and hotel.
Hilde Haljiti was one of those staff members.
“It was great. I liked it,” Haljiti said of her 19 years working at Chiemsee. “I learned English here, I met a lot of people — all over, it was a good experience.”
David Burger, who worked at Chiemsee 10 years ago and was back for the final weekend, said he is sorry to see it close.
“I think it’s the biggest mistake they’re making,” Burger said.
Brian Trzaska, who grew up spending his vacations at Chiemsee, agreed.
“I’ve been coming here for 20 years, ever since I was a little kid,” Trzaska said. “It’s just a beautiful landscape. Here you get the whole package, the lake, the mountains ... right off the autobahn. It’s easy to get here.”
After the last guests checked out at 11 a.m., a closing ceremony was held on the grounds of the Chiemsee Lake Hotel.
Richard LeBrun, AFRC resorts in Europe general manager, thanked the staff members for their commitment and local ties they developed over the years. John McLaurin, deputy assistant secretary of the Army, said that it was the people at Chiemsee who made the difference.
“We understand your economic reasons,” said Bavarian ministry official Hartmut Osterburg. “We hope that we will be able to find a solution for this marina,” referring to possible future uses for the resort.
Troop deployments were a major factor in the declining numbers, LeBrun said.
“Our market base was dramatically reduced within the last six months or so and there just was not enough market to support keeping the facility open for the following year,” LeBrun said.
Once AFRC has sold or disposed of the resort’s furnishings and equipment, the facility will go into the hands of U.S. Army Europe’s installation management agency. The transition is expected to take four to five months, and it will be up to USAREUR to decide what the final disposition will be, LeBrun said.
Despite the emotional attachment and longstanding ties with the local community of Bernau, LeBrun insists that the closing of Chiemsee will benefit servicemembers and their families.
“I am confident that we are doing the right thing for future generations by constructing this hotel,” LeBrun said of the new facility in Garmisch.
“In fact, all of the aspects of a consolidated AFRC are really positive. The soldier will be better served in [the] newer facility, with far more programs and variety in a far more comfortable facility.”
As far as what USAREUR decides, Bernau’s mayor, Klaus Daibler, hopes that the resort will continue to remain there.
“It is possible that the community of Bernau will buy [it],” Daibler said, “because we want the marina and camping. It’s very, very important for our community.”
Because of its historical significance, the Lake Hotel is protected and very little can be done to change it, said Bernard Schulz, Bernau tourist department director.
While the future of Chiemsee is still undecided, one thing is for certain — the memories created at the lakeside refuge will remain in the hearts of those who have experienced its beauty.
As the farewell boat cruise returned to shore, Sonja Lindner said, “I was lucky enough to work here. It was really a great opportunity for everybody, not just the soldiers, but the employees as well.”
“I’m going to miss this place very much,” said Erika Herbst, a frequent guest. “They’ve closed down the end of the rainbow.”
The new resort at Garmisch ...
A new hotel at Garmisch, to replace the Von Steuben and General Patton hotels, is under way and is expected to be complete in one year. There will be no distinguished visitors rooms. The hotel’s amenities will include:
¶ 268 standard deluxe guest rooms, with two queen beds.
¶ 40 junior family suites, which can accommodate up to six people. Chiemsee had four of these suites, the current Patton Hotel at Garmisch has five suites.
¶ 10 loft-style, split-level suites.
¶ Indoor swimming pool (a first at any AFRC Europe resort).
¶ Outdoor jacuzzi.
¶ Spa, fitness center and sauna.
¶ Attached conference center.
People wishing to make reservations for AFRC can continue to do so by calling DSN 440-2575 or civilian 08821-72981. Reservations also can be made by logging on to the AFRC Web site at: www.AFRCEurope.com