In today’s Europe Spotlight, Stripes talks with Hilda Gritzbach, the volunteer U.S. Army gardener at the IMA-Euro headquarters in Heidelberg, Germany:
You spend a lot of time working on your garden (in front of IMA-Euro headquarters). Do you get paid?
I don’t want money. I want a little space where I can put my bike (and go to work on the garden). I do this for me and for you and for everybody. This is my nerve pill. And when I see my young boys passing through, they like it so much. Sometimes soldiers stop and want to give me 10 euro. I don’t take it but it makes me happy. I say, ‘Give it to the church.’
But how do you finance the flowers?
When I go in a park and see a flower, I take the seeds. I have lots of seeds already. And I worked in a shop; when they have flowers they can’t sell anymore they give them to me. It takes patience but, always, something wakes up. Most of the flowers, I take care of it. I bought 15 rose bushes and put them in, and Lt. Col. McNerney said, ‘Hilda, Wunderbar!’
What’s your favorite flower?
Alles. God made them. We should love them all. … The summer’s gone and the winter flowers are coming. How do you call … stiefmuttenzhen? Pansies! Wunderbar!
Why are you so cheerful?
My grandmother always said, ‘You have to like everyone.’ Even when they don’t like me, my grandmother said, ‘You must like them double.’ It helped me my whole life."
Do you remember the first time you saw Americans?
We were running on the bridge in Kircheim and the soldiers were putting candy down. I got my first piece of chocolate from a soldier. He came down from the truck. It was the first black man I ever saw. I can still see him coming down from the truck. I still see that face. I wish I knew his name. I brought the chocolate to my mother and she made the best carrot cake from it.
And then you went to work for the Americans. How long did you work for them?
All my life. And my husband, the same. An American boss is a good boss. A German boss is tough.
What is it that you like about Americans?
I loved them from the beginning. It’s hard to explain it. It’s the nature of the American people-friendly people. They never let you feel you’re just a kleine (nobody). American generals — they say, ‘Hi.’
How do you really feel about Americans?
I love my Americans. Kennedy said, ‘Ich bin ein Berliner.’ Hilda says, ‘Ich bin ein Amerikaner without an I.D. card.’
But some Germans aren’t quite as fond of the U.S. presence, are they?
The old ones do not forget what America did for Germany. If the Americans wouldn’t help Germany, the people in Berlin would have died from hunger. The Army gave the Germans so many jobs here. And shopkeepers — like the Hummel figurines — Germans don’t buy that stuff. Now there is a new generation … Those who say, ‘Americans go home,’ they’re the crazy ones.
So are you sad about so many soldiers being rebased in the United States in the next few years?
It breaks my heart. I hope I don’t live that long to see the last American go home.
Interview conducted by Nancy Montgomery.
Title: Blumenfrau (flower lady)
Day job: Volunteer U.S. Army gardener and marmalade-maker
Europe readers: Know someone whose accomplishments, talents, job, hobby, volunteer work, awards or good deeds qualify them for 15 minutes of fame? How about someone whose claim to glory is a bit out of the ordinary — even, dare we say, oddball? Send the person’s name and contact information to email@example.com.