Life at Hohenfels, Germany: Part I
You’ve heard of Germany. You might have even heard of Bavaria.
But nobody…and I mean NOBODY has heard of USAG Hohenfels, that is, unless you have been one of the lucky few to get stationed in nowheresville, Germany.
USAG Hohenfels; the Army Post stuck smack dab in the middle of farm fields in a country thousands of miles away from “home.”
Hohenfels; where common items are often out of stock for days at the Commissary.
Hohenfels; where a community that is so spread somehow seems to still have an in your business, small town feel.
It’s easy to see at first glance why some people have called it “Hohenhells.” I mean, let’s look at the facts.
- USAG Hohenfels is one of the busiest training centers that the US Military has. That is great for our US Army, right? But it is hard on its families when spouses are in the field for days and weeks at a time.
- And considering that it is one of the few US installations that actually makes the military money, the garrison is only adding more and more training exercises instead of limiting them.
- There are days upon days. Nay, months upon MONTHS that the sun just simply doesn’t want to shine in Bavaria. Instead, you’ll get used to never leaving the house without an umbrella or raincoat.
- And then, in the summer, when the sun finally does decide to peak it’s head out, you suddenly miss the days of air conditioning. Yes, you read that right….NO. AIR. CONDITIONING.
So yup, I don’t blame you.
Right at about this point you are probably pouring yourself another glass of wine and calling your husband down the stairs to tell him he better pull some strings and get your family some new orders. NOW!
BUT RESIST THAT URGE!!!
Yes, it is true. Hohenfels has it’s rough edges, but it’s really not just Hohenfels. Moving to a new country, giving up your favorite US amenities and saying goodbye to family for an unknown period of time is is going to be difficult, whether your orders are to go to USAG Hohenfels, Grafenwhoer or Ramstein (“Little America”). But push past that tough exterior and you’ll be rewarded with the most amazing duty station you will have yet to encounter. In fact, start preparing for your new life in Germany by being knowledgeable about what is ahead.
So before reading on any further, I need you to make a choice.
You need to decide RIGHT NOW will you:
1) CHOOSE to have an open, positive mind set where you are open to new experiences (both hard and fun) and CHOOSE to make the most of your upcoming duty station
2) DECIDE even before stepping on that plane that Hohenfels truly is going to be a “Hohenhells” and nothing I, nor or anyone else, say will change your mind,
You chose #1 right?? RIGHT!? Good!
Then let’s talk about all the things that your duty station to USAG Hohenfels is going to do for you. First thing’s first. Have your read this book yet? No?? Why not!?
You may have seen all four seasons before, but Bavaria is about to make your filters on your phone obsolete. Head to the Alps not only in the winter but also in the summer and find peaks so awe-inspiring you’ll be channeling your inner Sound of Music in no time.
You’ll think you are in a painting as the colors in the fall change before your eyes.
You’ll wonder if you are in a fairy tale as you wander the cobblestoned streets as snow softly drifts down into your Gluhwein at the Christmas Markets. The photo below is LITERALLY in my “backyard” in Parsberg. I guess apartment living isn’t so bad when you’ve got a castle instead of a lawn!
While your allergies may take a hit in the spring, your eyes will not deceive you as the patchwork farm land rolls from every shade of green to bursting fields of yellow.
The Heart of Germany
And now I have a little secret for you that most people don’t realize. You know all those German stereotypes? Cmon, you know the ones…like when you envision people eating sausages for every meal, drinking beers for all occasions and men wearing Liederhosen?
These aren’t stereotypes. At least not in Bavaria.
It’s true, if you go anywhere else in Germany in your Trachten (traditional outfits of Liederhosen and Dirndles) you may get a funny look, but in Bavaria, you won’t even get a strange side eye. Oktoberfest is not just something of legend. In fact, every Bavarian town will have it’s own fest where you can “Prost,” dance on top of tables and chow down on pretzels and schnitzles just like the locals do!
No matter where you go in Germany, you are guaranteed an adventure, beauty and of course, good food! But, in Bavaria, you could not create a more “stereotypical” Germany culture if you tried! Which is what makes it so memorable.
Communities: On and off Post
Originally coming from a city and surrounding area with a population of almost one million, I had never known what it was like to live in a small town. I had never realized that there wasn’t much you could do that wasn’t known to just about everyone as fast as one could say, “Did you hear…”
But the beauty in this is that good news travels just as fast within this small community of Hohenfels. You can choose to buy into the gossip threads on Facebook, but you are better off being humbled by the way community members have learned to build one another up with praise and recognition. It’s not uncommon to have ceremonies where volunteers are thanked for their dedication or where a comment is posted to a forum saying “I just wanted to thank the stranger that….”
And it is this small town mentality that makes you appreciate your neighbor, no matter how nosey they may be. Talk to anyone that has ever lived in Hohenfels and you’ll find out they have made life-long friends and “family” that have remained in their lives for years even after leaving. Afterall, living in a “small town” community thousands of miles from blood relations allows friendships to bloom and roots to grow deep. Drive through any housing neighborhood on a summer evening and find a group of people having a BBQ as the adults enjoy a German beer and their children run playing from house to house, as if we went back in time to the 60’s. Before long, holiday meals are gathered with friends and vacations are planned with those people that have been by your side since you met.
And it is because of this small town attitude that the members of USAG Hohenfels; the military, retired, civilians, contractors and even Germans alike have all become one another’s support system. Your neighbor, best friend or co-worker may be one of the few people you have in your close circle over here because we don’t have the luxury of family and life-long friends halfway around the world, so we create our own special “family;” the Hohenfels Family.
On the Economy
While life on post has it’s ups and downs, I’d be doing USAG Hohenfels a disservice if we didn’t talk about the community beyond the gates of the military installation itself, for it is actually one of the best parts about life in and around Hohenfels. The off-post community is comprised of village after village, connected by inter-lacing, winding roads through fields of yellows, browns, yellows and whites, all depending on the season. Each village offers a glimpse into true German life, while still being open and accepting of us Americans.
Attitudes Towards Americans
Who doesn’t love an American!? Oh, a lot of the world, eh?
Americans can often give a negative impression on people from other countries due to our loud and often abrasive attitudes. However, Germans in the surrounding areas of Hohenfels seem to always welcome us despite those short comings. Considering the Army presence has been around for quite some time in this area, Americans and Germans live quite harmoniously together in our daily lives. You will quickly get used to German mannerisms, and will realize that what may seem like a cold or distant worker at store is actually just how Germans are…until you get to know them.
A German doesn’t mindlessly ask “How are you today” as she scans your groceries, not because she is rude, but because in Germany, you don’t make mindless small talk. You ask how someone’s day is going only if you truly want to hear how they are feeling and what they have been up to. If you are open to learning even just a few basic phrases in German, there isn’t a local I have yet to meet that isn’t willing to help you. Whether you are lost and looking for directions or your oven broke and you need your neighbor to help call a repairman, the locals are hard working, down to Earth, helpful people.
While it is not to be demanded, or even expected, it is not uncommon to find English speakers at the restaurants and stores, even in the small, farm towns surrounding Post. In fact, I have found more often than not, that many want to practice their English with you (or are they just saying that because my attempted German was so bad that it was just easier for them to communicate in English!?)
Bonding and Connecting Together
Not only are the Germans TOLERANT of the Americans, but they have gone so far as helped be apart of the German/ American Kontact Club, where Americans and Germans can come together, celebrate both country’s holidays, teach one another about each other’s cultures, go on community outings and even trips and most importantly, make friends that they will forever remember and cherish.
Stepping Back In Time
As you wander through the cobblestones of each small village and town, you’ll find the 80 year old couple riding their bike up the hill to the grocery store, you’ll see children, as young as 5, walking themselves to the school down the street from their home all by themselves, you’ll breath in the smoky air from the wood burning furnaces in homes that quite possibly have stood there for hundreds of years and you’ll pop into a small “imbiss,” or snack shop, for a delicious homemade treat as you continue on down to the train station.
You’ll truly wonder if you have gone back in time, but the truth is that instead, you are just enjoying a piece of Bavarian heaven, where cars can go unlocked, garages can be left opened and children can walk freely without fear of rising crime rates.
Hohenfels Has My Heart
So yes, it is true, Hohenfels isn’t always all beer fests, schnitzles and traveling fun. There are long days when spouses are gone in the field, there are holidays when you long to be home with family, there are frustrating moments when you wish your business stayed within the confines of your own home and there are also shopping trips where you just wish you could get some damn pumpkin pie filling! But look beyond those small instances and open your heart to Hohenfels and you’ll be rewarded beyond belief.
And if you do find yourself in a few years clamoring to get on that plane back to the US… Just wait.
Just wait a few months after being back in America after your time in Germany. I have yet to meet a person (even one with a negative attitude WHILE at Hohenfels) that hasn’t commented after their PCS has come and gone for what they would do just for just some more time back at Hohenfels, Germany.
Maybe they regretted not traveling more.
Maybe they realized that the community was like none other.
Maybe they just miss being able to recycle every.single.item.
I don’t know, but what I do know is that Hohenfels will quietly steal pieces of your heart day by day. You may not realize it now, but one day, that same heart will ache to return to Hohenfels.
Next Week: What can USAG Hohenfels Offer You Part II (spoiler alert: it’s all about TRAVEL!)
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