US Army aims to tighten ties with Stuttgart community, throws a big party for all
Stars and Stripes May 2, 2023
STUTTGART, Germany — Karin Eichstaedt was among the hundreds if not thousands of residents who poured into a U.S. Army-hosted party on the May Day holiday, allowing attendees to indulge their curiosity about American neighbors who are a mystery to many, despite a nearly 80-year mission.
For the Army garrison in Stuttgart, Monday’s festival was part of an effort to improve a relationship that had grown more distant over the years, a condition exacerbated by the security apparatus put in place following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
But with Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, there’s newfound solace in having American soldiers so close by, Eichstaedt said.
“I think all the people are interested to come, since for a long time we couldn’t come inside. And also the war in Ukraine,” said Eichstaedt, 80, at a garrison festival held in a recently refurbished fire hall. “I feel proud since the Army is here.”
The festival proved to be a surprise attraction. The outpouring of visitors clogged the roads around the garrison with cars and foot traffic.
“I would characterize this as a catastrophic success,” said Col. Matt Ziglar, who was amazed by the turnout.
Garrison officials estimated that between 1,000 and 2,000 people attended the event, which was held on Germany’s version of Labor Day. The holiday timing was likely one reason for the strong showing.
Festivities included displays of military vehicles, grilled hot dogs and American beer for sale.
Ziglar said he aims to recapture the kind of community connection that existed between the Army and area residents during the pre-Sept. 11 era.
In those days, many bases had open access, enabling Americans and Germans to socialize in places such as on-base clubs.
“The past demonstrated a manner in which we were absolutely ingrained in this community and society, and we ventured away from that,” Ziglar said. “But it’s events like this that show we can do these things, and people are excited for it.”
In the suburban Stuttgart town of Boeblingen, where the garrison has its headquarters, relations between the Army and the community have been tense at times.
A shooting range has been a point of contention in recent years, with residents complaining about the constant crackle of gunfire.
Ziglar said sound mitigation efforts by the Army have improved the situation, though complaints still come up. Improved relationships in general can go along way toward smoothing out differences, he said.
“When you have that partnership and you build that friendship, people understand inherently a little bit better what’s going on,” he said.
But for Eichstaedt, who lives nearby, the value of the festival and the Army in Stuttgart was intertwined with current events.
“We hope (more) war in Europe isn’t coming,” she said.