Troops on R&R are priority at Edelweiss Lodge
GARMISCH, Germany — The new Edelweiss Lodge opened Wednesday and was quickly used by vacationers, conventioneers and others connected with the U.S. Department of Defense.
But operators of the $80 million resort in the Bavarian Alps pledged unwavering support for another set of customers — troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and ones on rest and recuperation leave.
“We serve all facets of military travelers,” said Christopher Forbes, an Edelweiss spokesman. “But our main focus is on family leisure travel, especially for junior enlisted troops.
“We do not have a [separate] mission for distinguished visitors or special quarters or accommodations for them.”
The 330-room lodge had a “soft” opening on Wednesday and staff will use the next month to iron out any kinks. Its formal grand opening is scheduled for Oct. 30.
A number of rank-and-file servicemembers were able to book rooms at Edelweiss for the opening week.
Army Chaplain (Capt.) Richard Garbey of the 7th Corps Support Battalion in Bamberg, Germany, who was helping host a “single soldiers” retreat at Edelweiss, said the hotel should “roll out the red carpet” for troops returning from deployment.
Garbey noted that since October 2003, the nearby Von Steuben Hotel was used exclusively for troops on leave.
“It was very low-key and very accommodating,” he said of the Von Steuben. “You felt welcomed when you came in, like the whole place was just for you.”
The Edelweiss “is going to be a change,” he said, referring to the plush accommodations and uniforms worn by the staff. “They just need to be extra sensitive to our needs.”
Garbey said he knew of a soldier in Bamberg on R&R leave who was unable to book a room this week at Edelweiss. Forbes, the Edelweiss spokesman, said the soldier must not have identified himself as being on leave or else Edelweiss would have made room for him.
Sgt. 1st Class Richard Strong of 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, in Schweinfurt, was on R&R leave from Iraq and was able to get a room at Edelweiss.
He hoped to make the most of it.
“I just need someplace good to relax and enjoy my two daughters [ages 3 and 7],” Strong said. “We already went through the [choice of] tours and picked out some stuff” for his wife, his daughters and himself to do.
Retired Army 1st Sgt. Chuck Elkins said he was flown to Hawaii for five days of R&R when he was serving in Vietnam.
On Wednesday, Elkins, who was visiting Edelweiss with his wife, said he hoped to meet some troops on R&R from Iraq or Afghanistan.
“It kind of gave me faith that the Army wanted to do right by us,” Elkins said of his five-day leave. “That’s why I decided to stay in.”
Edelweiss was built to replace several aging vacation sites operated by Armed Forces Recreation Center Europe. One of them, the General George Patton Hotel in Garmisch, closed Wednesday morning at the same time Edelweiss opened its doors.
The Army used a 30-year, $80 million note to build Edelweiss, which is located behind the George C. Marshall Center. The Zugspitze, the highest peak in Germany at nearly 10,000 feet above sea level, is one of many scenic backdrops.
Good to know
• One sponsor can reserve up to three rooms at a time, thus enabling one Department of Defense ID card holder to host three rooms of people at Edelweiss.• Edelweiss policy is to never turn down servicemembers on rest and recuperation leave or block leave. If no rooms are available, management will ask other guests, starting with conventioneers, to vacate their rooms for the R&R or block leave troops, according to Edelweiss spokesman Christopher Forbes.• Rooms are cheaper for people of lower rank.• Information: civilian (+49) (0)8821-9440; www.edelweisslodgeandresort.com
— Charlie Coon