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Germany

Losing "The Boys"

The planned withdrawal of thousands of US troops from Germany has many communities worried about the economic consequences. One place likely to be hit especially hard is the town of Baumholder in southwestern Germany.

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Still here, but not for much longer

Checking out the local newspaper, it doesn’t look like there's much going on in Baumholder.

"Three Side Mirrors Bent Again," is one of the headlines. The story doesn't list any suspects and certainly doesn't mention the possibility that US soldiers might have been responsible -- despite the fact that recently they've been going a little wild.

No one is afraid of the Americans, who, with 13,000 people, make up the town's majority -- the base has the largest concentration of combat arms soldiers outside the mainland United States.

Instead, most of Baumholder's 5,000 German residents are willing to show some leniency towards the young troops.

"The boys have been gone for a whole year and were under a lot of stress," Dimitri Panciera, the junior boss of Baumholder's ice cream parlor, told Deutsche Welle. "They're happy to be in a safe place. I'm used to things getting a little crazy here at night."

Welcoming back "the boys"

Welcome Home in Deutschland

A "Welcome Home" banner across one of Baumholder's streets

"The boys" have been in Iraq, 5,500 of them, and they just returned a short while ago after a year without alcohol, a year without women, a year of constant danger for their lives. A few "Welcome Home" banners can still be found hanging across the streets.

Now US President George W. Bush wants to withdraw "the boys" who stroll along Baumholder's Kennedy Avenue and don't look at all like the "fighting machines" people see on television -- even when they're wearing their camouflage gear.

Baumholders are worried: They've heard reports that the withdrawal is supposed to take a decade, but no one's willing to believe that. Panciera says he'll probably have to downsize the family business.

But of course he'd prefer the troops to stay.

"It's better if they're here and make a little noise at night than nothing happening here at all," he said.

A catastrophe

Volkmar Pees, who has served as mayor of an association of towns including Baumholder for 24 years, seemed a little more pessimistic.

"It would be a catastrophe if the Americans would leave without a replacement," he said.

Eckkneipe auf Amerikanisch

The "Corner Pub" is one of many bars catering to the Americans in the area

But where should the replacement come from? Town officials have already contacted the German military. But the Bundeswehr is also closing down bases and won't be able to fill the barracks and apartments that the Americans will leave behind.

Another major issue is the loss of jobs: 600 Germans work on the base. Attracting businesses is not an easy thing in this part of the country, especially not as Germany is still struggling to escape an economic downturn, Pees said.

That's why the community has to face up to the fact that it will lose about €20 million ($24.7 million) in annual revenue. That's how much the Americans spend right now.

Losing friends

But money isn't the only issue, Pees said. Friendships have developed over the years and the Germans worried along with American families about the spouses, parents and friends in Iraq. Before that, it was Kuwait. Before that, Vietnam.

"We offered American families to go on trips," Pees said, adding that groups toured the picturesque Mosel River region or went swimming together.

Vegas auf Pfälzisch

"Vegas" advertises with showdancing and table dance in Baumholder

A few places will miss the Americans even more: 70 bars in the area that offer "table dances" and "all you can drink" specials. Here, the lights will probably go out forever once the troops are gone. It might be another reason why Baumholder nights are a little crazy these days.

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