Locals loudly complain about noise from Ramstein
HüTSCHENHAUSEN, Germany — On some days, the roar of huge military cargo planes flying to and from nearby Ramstein Air Base has toddlers at the Catholic day-care center scurrying for cover.
While the school in Hütschenhausen is about five miles from the U.S. military base, day-care worker Carmen Junkes-Mohr says the thunder from the jets is so loud it has brought the children to tears.
“After a while you try and get used to it,” Junkes-Mohr said. “But it’s not really the way you want to live.”
For more than 50 years, residents near the base have lived with noise of planes flying overhead. But with the closing of Rhein-Main Air Base near Frankfurt last year and the resulting shift of flights to Ramstein, some residents say the noise has grown to unbearable levels.
Noise sometimes drowns out weekday church sermons, breaks face-to-face conversations in midsentence and shakes house windows.
Some residents are so fed up they’re making their own noise by launching a campaign to fix the problem.
The issue has put local leaders in a difficult spot. Although residents are passionate about their concerns, the U.S. military employs thousands of Germans in the Kaiserslautern area and has an economic impact of $1.6 billion, according to the military’s 2004 figures. About 54,000 Americans are stationed at area bases, including Ramstein.
A committee consisting of local leaders, the Ministry of Interior and German and American military officials address noise complaints from the community and has come up with some solutions to make the area quieter.
Military planes began following a new “autobahn route” in 2003 to avoid flying above the city of Kaiserslautern. Last year, the Air Force built a “Hush House,” an indoor testing facility for C-130 engines. The group also is looking at changing the approach to one runway so that the flights do no affect communities.
But Christine Dick, who works at an antique shop in Hütschenhausen, said it is still too loud. She commutes from another town and has no plans to move closer to her job.
“If I had a house here, I’d go crazy,” she said.
Klaus Layes, mayor of Ramstein-Miesenbach, has heard more complaints about the noise from angry residents than he can count. Some people from the towns of Hütschenhausen, Spesbach and Katzenbach — over which he has jurisdiction — have called his home in the middle of the night to wake him up and give him an earful.
“They call me and say, ‘If I am up because of the noise, then you should be up, too,’” Layes said.
The gripes hit a peak when the new southern runway at Ramstein was finished and planes began using it in September.
That month, the base’s Host Nation Office — which documents and tracks noise complaints — received a whopping 685 complaints, according to an e-mail from base spokeswoman Erin Zagursky. The Air Force blamed the additional noise on an unusual weather condition in which winds from the east forced pilots to approach the runway from the west and fly over the three towns.
When the wind shifted back, complaints went down. By November, the office received 66 complaints, which is closer to the monthly average, according to the Air Force.
That still hasn’t silenced the most irate residents, who have asked for help from German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
While the German government has given out millions of dollars under a program to compensate residents affected by the noise, many residents believe the criteria is confusing and unfair.
Residents have used the money to soundproof their homes with better windows, creating a lucrative niche business in the area. But others are giving up and moving away.
“The problem is who is going to buy their house with all the noise?” Junkes-Mohr said.