When American families had moved into Germany’s garrison cities, the spouses of the U.S. soldiers were confronted with the difficulties of the social and administrative culture of Germany. While the husbands were involved in their daily routine of duty, their spouses had to face the risk of an American ghetto in the recently constructed Housing Areas, which was not exactly helping their integration. When talking about the soldiers’ spouses situation of daily affairs, especially at the beginning of their stay, a later president of the Women’s Club called that a “bunch of problems”.
The situation in Augsburg - still severely damaged due to the Allied air raids - was, however, improved by people like Frau Vera Ohlenroth, an Augsburg citizen who took care of a small group of American women whom she met for conversations at the hotel “Weißes Lamm” in Ludwigstraße as early as in 1953. After Frau Charlotte von Hoermann returned to Augsburg from her US stay of several years, Frau Ohlenroth kindled in her the idea of founding a German-American Women’s Club. Already in February 1954, the first chairwomen, Frau Charlotte von Hoermann and Mrs. Molli Solomon (wife of BG Solomon) led the new Augsburg Women’s Club. For her efforts in regard to the foundation of the Club, Frau von Hoerman was later appointed lifetime Honorary Chairwoman.
Because of the American members’ permanent possibility of a deployment on short notice, no membership fee was requested. In the beginning, there were not even any fixed articles and lists of registered members. The intent was to have a carefree “friendly group” in the American sense of social life. The chairwoman always was the wife of the U.S. Military Community Commander or of another highly ranking officer. Because of the language barrier, activities were at first restricted to cultural and musical events that allowed a straightforward meeting of both cultures. Especially Augsburg’s Lord Mayor Müller supported with his well known engagement for the U.S. garrison also the Women’s Club whenever possible. His wife Anni as Honorary Chairwoman supported him in an active and representative manner.
Of course, the German-American Women’s Club was not devoted to military but to cultural and charitable activities. The contacts should also foster mutual understanding and acquaintance. Augsburg’s “Schwäbische Landeszeitung” reported on October 10, 1955:
“ In a charming and heartfelt womanly way, the German-American Women’s Club is practicing agreement between the peoples in the trifling everyday life of women. American and German women meet every month in order to get acquainted and to understand each other. The Americans say that these connections are a charming chance to get over the initial strangeness and to utilize the - usually relatively short - stay in one of “Old Europe’s” traditionally most hospitable cities for human encounters. The German partners more and more enjoy taking the opportunity to have a look at a strange, for the average European still mysterious, country thru the capricious glasses of its own citizens”.
During one of the first big charity programs, the club ladies collected garments for the Hungarian refugees after the 1956 Insurrection. And one afternoon in 1958, they even bravely participated in a regular basic parachutist training of the 11th Airborne Division in Gablingen, for which they received a diploma from MG Hugh P. Harris. In 1966, a big collection of garments for Vietnamese refugees was accomplished.
One of the first hours of the German-American Women´s Club: In the basement of the city´s Military Government (Prinzregentenstraße 8), American Marian Ledbetter is teaching female Displaced Persons sewing with a machine in 1955. For this undertaking she organized four PFAFF sewing machines. After their training, the DPs were even paid cent 25 per hour for the mending of clothing. The women from the DP Camps were happy about this practical, varied task. (Photo: via Andrea Hunt).
Ladies meeting at the hotel “Weißes Lamm”. Right: Lord Mayor’s wife Anni Müller.
3rd from left: American chairwoman, Mrs. Bernard Rogers (1961).
Tea party at the Augsburg Women’s Club.
Anni Müller, the Lord Mayor’s wife, visits at Mickhausen’s old people’s home and distributes small gifts (1966).
American at a Mickhausen sick bed. A ray of hope in the sad everyday life of an inmate.
Historical Photographs: 24th Signal Bn
The further development of the club was especially characterized by the peculiarities of the German-Bavarian culture. There were visits at a variety of places in the vicinity up to numerous cultural travels, music or dancing events, lotteries, conversations, fashion parades, wandering, art and crafts, diet, cooking & baking, asparagus menus, but also Thanksgiving, BBQ evenings and once and again dining-outs at good Augsburg restaurants. Soon there were different groups for the differing areas of interest, while one or other scheduled event had to be cancelled due to unforeseen maneuvers. In the 80s, there were even German-American art exhibitions. At a joined cake sale with the Men’s Club on the first floor of the Rathaus (town hall), the considerable amount of DM 4,235 was gained. Besides bowling, other sports became part of the club activities, too. Another early component of these intercontinental cultural activities was the student exchange program.
The integration of the U.S. families was now and then supported by the monthly booklet “GERMANY, A Guide to Living and Working in Germany” that informed Americans about the public and private structures of German life. Finally, the Club became also a member of the “Federation of German-American Clubs e.V.”, founded in Bad Kissingen as early as in 1948. Every other year, a new German-American chairwoman was elected.
Left: German-American cooking at home (1973). Right: Chairwoman elections (1981)
Chairwoman elections (1984)
Left: American Board (1984). Right: 30th Club Anniversary (1984)
On the agenda all the time: fashion parades
Essential elements of the welfare activities were regular visits at old people’s and handicapped homes as well as at orphanages in Augsburg and its neighborhood. Vice versa, there were Advent celebrations with inhabitants of old people’s homes at the Officers Club, Bldg 180, Sheridan Kaserne, too. Part of the social care were also repetitive payments in kind and monetary donations, e.g. in 1980 more than DM 1,700, spent in three digit amounts apiece to all kinds of institutions. The Club ladies moreover took permanent care of the Army Hospital at Flak Kaserne. Likewise graciously supported were needy persons and singles. In 1981, the considerable amount of DM 10,000 was transferred for the reconstruction of the famous, air raid destroyed, ”Golden Hall” in the town hall, a German-American Women’s Club contribution to the 2,000th anniversary of Augsburg’s foundation. There were about 100 official Club members listed at that time.
Documents also proof the intensive involvement of the Women’s Club in society activities of all kinds, e.g. ceremonies, changes of command, balls and traditional events. So, personal connections developed time and again. In 1976, a colonial style gala dinner because of the American Bicentennial Festivities was held in the Officers Club. In November 1984, a big gala dinner and dancing because of the 30th anniversary of the German-American Women’s Club took place at the hotel “Drei Mohren”, attended by BG Donald E. Eckelbarger and wife. The 40th anniversary of the Club was splendidly held as a Renaissance-Feast, featuring a dance of the historical houses, on Feb. 26, 1994. All in all, the Women’s club developed into an excellently organized cultural society that had to have its budget professionally administrated.
Left: Dining out at the “Fuggerkeller” restaurant (1984)
Right: German-American Women Fasching (carnival)
Left: Renaissance Dance of the Houses (1985)
Right: Frau Charlotte von Hoermann, founder of the Club (front, in the middle) (1987)
On May 16, 1990, the Augsburg Women’s Club even participated in world politics when representatives of the two Super-Powers, Dr. Anatole Ponomarenko, Soviet Consul, and Mr. James F. Jeffrey, U.S. Vice Consul General from Munich were invited for a discussion at the Officers Club at Sheridan Kaserne. Both guests answered questions in regard to world politics and Perestroika, especially, however, in regard to the political situation in Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The ladies of the Club were not even afraid to inquire the emancipation of Russian women. Probably for the first time in the history of Augsburg’s kasernes, the Flags of Germany, the United States and the Soviet Union stood side by side in the Lechfeldsaal of the Officers Club. Among the approximately 350 guests was also BG Creighton Abrams Jr. - VII Corps Artillery Commander with Headquarters in Bldg 101, Sheridan Kaserne. In charge of that epoch-making event was Mrs. Kathleen S. Pelletier.
Left: Mrs. Pelletier, Mr. James Jeffrey and Mr. Anatole Ponomarenko
Right: Dinner at the Officers Club’s Lechfeldsaal
Left: BG Abrams Jr. (left) and Consul Ponomarenko
Right: Soviet-American dialog at Sheridan Kaserne
The shadow of military reality overtook also the Women’s Club. With the beginning of Operation Desert Shield/Storm on January 17, 1991, public prayer services were held for the troops from Augsburg that had been deployed to the Middle East. At the same time, the support of the additional local soldiers that had to be on guard while outside temperatures were down to -16o Celsius, was pretty demanding for the women of the Club.
The ongoing troop drawdowns due to the German Reunification caused a nationality imbalance of the Women’s Club. So, the proportion of American women was reduced to only 25 percent in 1992. By the middle of the 90s it was again around 50 percent. Accordingly, there were difficulties in regard to the filling of American slots for the Club officials. The end seemed to be predictable.
For most Augsburgers who did not have a closer contact to the U.S. forces, the Club activities were almost unknown. The association, lasting for decades until post closure, shows the extraordinary variety of the term “America in Augsburg”. It created a special social life that, of course, changed during the years but is even nowadays maintaining some quiet contacts. Quite a number of Club members passed away in the meantime – even more so, they have earned the recollection of the posterity.
Origin incl. photographs: By courtesy of German-American Women’s Club unless noted otherwise.
Übersetzung: Heinz Strüber, Apr. 15, 2011
In Memoriam Mrs. Charlotte von Hoermann
On January 9th, 2013, Mrs. Charlotte von Hoermann, the founder of the Club, 105 years old, passed away in peace in an Augsburg nursing home. The urn with her ashes was laid to rest in the grave of her husband Adolf von Hoermann on January 30th, 2013. From 1947 thru 1953, she lived with him mainly in Raleigh, North Carolina. Then both of them returned to Augsburg. Major Rick Cervenka, USAR Field Artillery, Ret., member of the Amerika in Augsburg e.V. Society, paid his last respect to her, representing the Americans that once have been and still are in Augsburg.
Charlotte von Hoermann in Raleigh, N.C., 1948.
In the background, right: Rick Cervenka, member of the Amerika in Augsburg e.V. Society and the American Legion Dwight D. Eisenhower - Post GR 13.
Photos: Amerika in Augsburg e.V.