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The Americans in Bremerhaven: Chapter 1 – The beginning

09.07.2012

Today´s view onto the American Church at the “Blink-Quarter”
For a period of nearly 50 years the American soldiers have embossed the picture of Bremerhaven. On 20th May 1945 the town was declared as occupied American area. When the Americans left “B´haven” in 1993 it was a sad  farewell for both sides.

The US army had become an important economic factor and a piece of identity. With around 4000 soldiers and their families purchasing power, jobs and very often friends were lost.

In fact it was the Scottish 51. Highland Division – meaning the British army  – who captured Bremerhaven on 7th May 1945 nearly two weeks before.  The town was at this time widely destroyed by air strikes but the port assets were more or less untroubled by the bomb blasts. Though it was decided by the Allied that the port of Bremerhaven should get an important function.

With it´s  surrender Germany became a quartered zone of allied occupation. The United States Armed Forces covered within this quarters mainly Hesse,  Bavaria and Baden-Würtemberg in the southern part of Germany but had a need of access to the sea for full supply of their troops by a so called “Mayor Port” in Europe.

The Brits holding the Northwest of Germany had already Hamburg. Therefore the Americans noticed Bremen and Bremerhaven as an American enclave in midair of  the British engaged area.

Bremerhaven as gateway to the North Sea became soon Americas most important European harbor.  As “Port of Embarkation” all American soldiers and their affiliates came to Germany through this town. Any piece of luggage, any vehicle was embarked and re-embarked through Bremerhaven. Crafts were retrofitted for the particular country of use. From 1947 to 1957 more than 10 Mill. Tons of goods, 3.5 Mill. persons and nearly 200.000 private vehicles were moved through the city. Even the US goods for the Berlin air lift during the Soviet blockade were landed and redistributed over Bremerhaven.

The four star general Charles D. Palmer recognized the co-operation with the city on the occasion of his visit in 1957. According to his impression the personal relation between Germans and Americans and the processing of supply traffic as well developed excellent especially in Bremerhaven.

Bremerhaven is from the American point of view the most acquainted town on the outside of the USA and their best port of supply in the world.

Even the first D-Mark bank notes were in 1948 imported to Germany via Bremerhaven. The bills printed in New York and Washington were delivered by ship in the context of “Operation Bird Dog”  to Bremerhaven. From here the 6 billion German Marks were transported in 23.000 boxes by eight special trains in a night and fog directive to Frankfurt before they were handed out to the general public.

Bremerhaven is the only town outside the USA in which all four branches of service were based. Besides the Army, the Navy and the Air Force the biggest allocation of Marines as an elite troop (the so called jarheads) within all American occupied zones around the world was  positioned here.

The presence of the US-Allies shaped the city very much. Thousands of jobs were created. Everything which is “hip” or “in” within America is at first in Bremerhaven before it spreads out to Europe. Street cruisers and the American way of life underline the townscape. Elvis Presley and the rock´n roll treaded the old continent here for the first time. Bremerhaven became the pen name for Hamburger, Coca Cola and Ice Cream.

Straight behind the quarter edge of Speckenbüttel lays “Little America” the Carl-Schurz-Casern”. In 1969 as answer to a growing worldwide protest against the Vietnam warfare the Americans concentrated all US facilities on one ground. Here the members of the US forces and their families found everything needed for urban life; cinema, theater, convenience restaurant, shopping facilities and various sports grounds.

Before that many of the devices were allotted over the whole urban area. The bigger part of the American life takes still place in Bremerhaven. The relation between Americans and Germans is as good as nowhere else in occupied areas abandoning perhaps Berlin.  There are two pure American residential areas in town, “Am Blink” and “Im Engen Moor”. Here we have houses which were built in accordance with the American needs. Typical is a floor ground with direct entrance to the living room.

The flair of an American suburb blows through the streets. There are an own school and an own church. American road cruisers and German luxury hardtops ascertain the street picture. In summer times there are barbecues in front of the door and during Halloween quarters mutate into creepy decorated areas. Many little goblins, elves and monsters are doing small time in the streets, collecting sweets at the doors and lurk didoes. A frequent bus shuttle at no charge directed to the barracks is available and the star-bangled banner is waving in front of the doors.

The liaison between “occupants” and  “engaged” is unencumbered. Actual everything could go on for ever, Bremerhaven profits by being Germany's American port. In 1982 at culmination of the “Cold War” when nuclear missiles where shipped via Bremerhaven demonstrations against the “Yankees” took place. More than 10.000 people, mainly coming from outside of the city, brewed through the town and fulminated against the Americans. Most of Bremerhaven´s residents eyeballed the scene skeptic. Their Americans are no “Yankees” at all but friends. Thousands of policemen partly on horses lined the crossings and guided the protesters through the   town.

A similar picture aroused again in the beginning of the 90s when the war commodities for the “Gulf War II”  (1990-1991) were shipped via Bremerhaven. Again ten thousand appeared and could again not count on the support of Bremerhaven´s citizens. To close is the belt and the friendship between the former opponents of war. One is “pro-American” of deepest beliefs. The joint of Bremerhaven´s people on the advantages is reflected in many things, i.a. during the German-American fair on the Philipsfield. The remembrance of typical entertainment, Hamburger and Ice-Cream whips  a tear in the eye or a smile in the face up to many of Bremerhaven´s folks.

When the “Wall“ on the boarder to the former GDR felt in 1989 the political power structure  of the world changed in sudden bursts. The “Cold War” is over, the “Iron Curtain” and the “Warsaw Pact” do not exist any longer. Bremerhaven´s citizens faded out the rumor that the Americans are going to leave; never ever they would give up “their” port but it appeared different. In 1993 the Carl-Schurz-Casern was closed and the Americans backed down and lots of civil jobs and much of the buying power was going with them. First and foremost something is leaving which made Bremerhaven since the end of the war somewhat remarkable – the American impact on life and culture. 

Bremerhaven lost after fisheries and shipbuilding another piece of it´s identity. New York´s German outskirts are closed – remembrance at and desire for it  are ´till today in the hearts of many existent . That the US-Army has shaped B´havens appearance can be seen in many places, i.e. about the water hydrants and signs in the living areas of the former barracks. Our municipal leisure homes were built on initiative of the Americans in order to offer leisure time activities to children and youngsters. Although around 4.000 US-Americans and their families left the town some B´haven friends from the good old times are still here.  - Marco Butzkus (transl. J. Bonholt)

Questions regarding this page?

Marco Butzkus Then please send an E-mail to Marco Butzkus
marco.butzkus at bit.bremerhaven.de
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