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European edition, Wednesday, September 26, 2007

BAUMHOLDER, Germany — The military police were on patrol, prepared to clear the streets of loiterers in the event that bar owners elected to shut down their establishments at 2 a.m. as city officials have asked.

But it was business as usual last weekend in Baumholder, where a collection of clubs continued to operate into the early morning hours.

If bars eventually decide to close at 2 a.m., or if city officials establish a closing time law that they’ve already discussed, Col. Robert P. White said he has agreed to assist the city by increasing courtesy patrols aimed at ensuring soldiers don’t linger around outside.

Meanwhile, White, commander of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, says there is no curfew in effect for soldiers. Nor is there a plan to institute one at this point, he said.

But leading up to last weekend, some soldiers were under the impression that a curfew was to take effect Friday, which required them to be off city streets by 2 a.m. On Thursday, Stars and Stripes published a story saying that the Army would establish the curfew, starting with the weekend. In the story, soldiers expressed mix feelings — ranging from support to resentment — about such an action.

White said talk of a curfew was probably the result of rumor and speculation connected to concerns being expressed by city officials about excessive noise downtown.

Baumholder Mayor Volkmar Pees, who was unavailable for comment Tuesday, has said the town is considering a law that would establish a closing time for bars in response to concerns among residents about excessive noise during early morning hours. In the meantime, Pees has asked bars to voluntarily shut down by 2 a.m., White said.

On Monday, Pees and White met to discuss the events of the weekend. White said he was told during the meeting that the city is still considering a closing-time law. A closing time of 1 a.m. from Sunday to Wednesday and 2 a.m. the rest of the week is being looked at, White said.

Local outcry over excessive noise and calls for earlier closing times began after soldiers returned to Baumholder last month following a lengthy field training mission. Soldiers will again be heading out to the field in October in preparation for an early 2008 deployment to Iraq.

In an effort to minimize the problems downtown, White said he intends to set up meetings with local business owners and city officials to address the concerns and look for solutions.

The problem with a curfew is it punishes a majority of soldiers for the indiscretions of a few, White said. “The majority are doing the right thing,” he said.

Instead, White said he wants bartenders to get more involved in helping to prevent problems.

“They know when a guy is hammered drunk,” White said. “If you (bartenders) see somebody out of control, help me out. Contact me.”

At this time, there is no plan to prohibit soldiers from visiting certain establishments, though “I will explain to them (the owners) that I have the authority to establish a place off-limits,” White said.

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