Hohenfels German-American fest falls victim to budget cuts
HOHENFELS, Germany — An annual German-American festival dating back decades is the latest casualty of the U.S. defense budget squeeze after the Army post here canceled the popular event due to spending restrictions.
“It’s terrible,” Bernhard Graf, mayor of the nearby town of Hohenfels said Monday. “It’s terrible for us, because more than 40 years, every year, [there was] the festival.”
A similar festival, known in German as a Volksfest, is still scheduled to be held in August at an Army post in nearby Grafenwöhr, although a spokesman for the garrison said he cannot rule out its postponement or cancellation in the current fiscal climate.
“I can’t guarantee anything,” said the spokesman, Michael Blass.
U.S. military commands worldwide have been urged to cut frills and non-mission-essential tasks after $46 billion in defense funding cuts went into effect this month. The department could announce 22 days of furloughs for civilian employees in the weeks ahead.
Hohenfels garrison commander Lt. Col. John J. Strange Jr. said his decision, made last week, was shaped by broader Army restrictions on spending, overtime and the use of volunteers in furloughed positions. Meanwhile, soldiers were needed for training being held at the same time, he said.
“The restrictions on overtime and the restrictions put on us by sequester really preclude the use of volunteers,” Strange said.
This year’s festival was scheduled between April 26 and May 1, leaving planners little time to analyze recent Army guidance on the budget cuts, which went into effect on March 1, Strange said.
Tens of thousands of visitors attended last year’s festival, Strange said. Most were Germans from surrounding communities and villages. About 2,000 people toured the training area inside the garrison, which covers about 40,000 acres of fields, forests and rocky outcrops used for maneuver training.
“There’s definitely a loss there,” Strange said. “We grieve that loss, but it’s not going to halt our partnership effort.”
Another Army garrison, in Ansbach, also canceled a planned German-American festival last week due to financial reasons, garrison spokeswoman Connie Summers said.
said The Hohenfels Volksfest has been an annual event for more than 40 years, said Strange and Graf. Strange said he hopes to bring it back in 2014.
But Graf said he was skeptical the event will ever return. He said doesn’t understand the reason behind the cancellation, and he wishes Strange had told him earlier of the possibility instead of waiting until last week.
If the annual event were to end, locals would lose an opportunity to experience American culture and customs, Graf said. And the U.S. Army’s commitment to the region would be brought into question.
“The damage is higher for the U.S. Army than for the Germans,” he said.