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The sign above Baumholder, Germany's Wagon Wheel Theater says it all. The base theater was closed because of structural damage, but officials hope to reopen it sometime this year when renovations are completed.
The sign above Baumholder, Germany's Wagon Wheel Theater says it all. The base theater was closed because of structural damage, but officials hope to reopen it sometime this year when renovations are completed. (Seth Robson / S&S)

BAUMHOLDER, Germany — The on-base movie theater here was closed after inspectors determined the roof might collapse.

Lt. Col. Derek Rountree, U.S. Army Garrison Baumholder commander, said that a routine inspection of the Wagon Wheel Theater, built by the Nazis and now used as an Army and Air Force Exchange Service movie theater, showed that the truss was no longer structurally sound.

"It’s the original truss," Rountree said. "We were going through the entire theater as part of an inspection when we were notified it was unsafe, and then we immediately shut down."

In the late 1930s, German troops watched flicks at the theater. U.S. forces took over in 1953, and since then, American movie stars have been shining on its big screen.

The Wagon Wheel Theater will undergo structural improvements, Rountree said, getting a new truss system and roof. Costs are estimated at $650,000. Officials hope the theater will reopen sometime this year.

But in the meantime, Rountree is working toward having movies shown at Baumholder High School’s playhouse in the Wetzel housing area.

"That has a lot of the kids happy," said Principal Danny Robinson, "because they can now walk to the movie theater."

But before the first film flickers at the playhouse, the seating and sound system must be refurbished. Rountree and AAFES staff plan to have the remodeled 200-seat playhouse open by late March.

Brian Smith, the main store manager for AAFES in Baumholder, said the projector has already been moved to the playhouse. They are also installing a new screen.

"It’s a big morale booster," Smith said. "We’re going to have a grand opening to get people fired up."

Rountree said base funds will be used to improve the playhouse, which normally would not have been possible because it’s a Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe school that has its own budget.

"We took something that could have been bad," Rountree said, "and made something good."

Robinson said that the high school will have priority use of the playhouse when it is needed for school plays.

Rountree said town hall meetings, once held at the Wagon Wheel, will now take place at the Rheinlander club on Smith Barracks.

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