After 60 years, U.S. hands over Babenhausen
Stars and Stripes June 30, 2007
European edition, Saturday, June 30, 2007
BABENHAUSEN, Germany — Hundreds of keys marked with color-coded tags hung in a box near a desk where a series of documents were neatly arranged.
It was around 11 a.m. Friday and Sylvia Bechtel-Schneider was methodically working her way through the stack, carefully setting out sheets of paper for her boss and a German official to sign. Fifteen minutes later, after the last pen stroke, Babenhausen Casern — a U.S. Army facility for more than 60 years — had been successfully returned to the German government.
“It is done,” Quentin Walsh, chief of the Mannheim real estate office, said to a handful of people who witnessed the transfer from the last occupied office on post.
Located about 20 miles southeast of Frankfurt, the U.S. military community had been home to 4,500 Americans as recently as 2003, said Nola Maloney, the subcommunity manager for the past two years. By the time Maloney arrived, there were half that many, and soon afterward the Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 41st Field Artillery Brigade inactivated.
That departure was followed by more departures and soon Babenhausen landed on a base closure list. The last family left in late January; the last soldier bid the place adieu in March.
“The face of our presence [in Europe] is changing,” Walsh said shortly before the signing ceremony.
Built more than a century ago, Babenhausen Casern actually was occupied by French forces following World War I. The German army established a hospital on the premises during World War II, and, afterward, it was used by the U.S. Army as a cantonment camp for German soldiers. For a time, it also served as a United Nations refugee camp.
Babenhausen became a regular U.S. Army post in the early 1950s.
The first artillery unit to move in was the 36th Field Artillery Group headquarters. In recent years, some of the principal tenants were the 41st Field Artillery Brigade; the 1st Battalion, 27th Field Artillery Regiment; and the 77th Maintenance Company. Additionally, there were air defense artillery batteries on post.
“There’s a lot of history here from the U.S. side,” said Gary McGowan of the directorate of public works in nearby Darmstadt. “As we go, the community definitely feels the loss.”
Last year, the mayor of Babenhausen, Reinhard Rupprecht, estimated that Americans annually pumped about $500,000 into the local economy. While the casern, which covers nearly 400 acres, now becomes the property of the federal government, Rupprecht said long-term plans for the area would probably include a mix of housing and light industry.
The estimated value of the residual improvements to the property over the years is about $80 million, Bechtel-Schneider said. However, the figure will likely drop when German and American negotiators sit down to haggle over the final amount.
Whatever the figure, it is doubtful Bechtel-Schneider missed anything, given her staff’s thorough inspection.
“We crawled through every building,” she said, “from the roof to the basement.”