Uptick in drunken skirmishes reported outside Army garrison in Grafenwoehr
By MARTIN EGNASH AND MARCUS KLOECKNER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 13, 2017
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany — Drunken brawls are on the rise outside the Army’s garrison in this small Bavarian village, and local police have taken notice.
Assault charges spiked in Grafenwoehr, jumping from from 91 in 2015 to 154 last year, local police said.
Reiner Striegl, the Eschenbach police chief, said about two-thirds of the barroom brawls and street fights involved American soldiers.
Most of the fights took place along a single street outside the base, Alte Amberger Strasse, where local bars dominate the streetscape in an otherwise sleepy town.
During the past couple of years, the number of U.S. and NATO troops circulating through the area has climbed as allies intensify a training regime designed to contend with a more assertive Russia.
That has breathed new life into the local bar scene.
“Many soldiers are at the training area (during) the week, but then on the weekend they come to town and want to let off some steam,” Striegl said.
The Army, however, said that its statistics show the main culprits in 2016 were soldiers stationed permanently in Grafenwoehr, who committed 68 assaults versus only two by rotational troops.
“We are not rushing to judgment about the cause,” said Col. Lance Varney, U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria’s commanding officer, who added that most of the fights took place during the summer months.
One local bartender described the fights as more of a nuisance than a public safety concern.
“What happens is that some of the bars kick everybody out all at one time, then they’re all drunk outside, and already aggressive for having to leave the bar and walk back to base,” said Samantha Zachary, who works at Ed’s Bar.
“They almost never fight inside the bars."
Most of the altercations she witnessed while tending bar were not full-on fistfights but rather small incidents of inebriated aggression.
“They’re just drunk,” Zachary said. “We don’t really see any big fights. Just small skirmishes. People bump into each other and yell and things escalate sometimes. This is a small town, and it’s all concentrated on one street, so it seems bigger when it happens.”
Still, police are worried and have partnered with Army officials to get a better handle on the matter.
Army officials say they routinely meet to discuss how to handle off-post incidents and that such meetings will continue.
“Community security is my number one priority as garrison commander,” said Varney. “We recently had a very good session with many establishment and club owners, taxi services, Eschenbach polizei, and local governance to discuss how we collectively can take a more proactive stance.”
Local law enforcement officials said they plan to increase patrols in the area.