A breath of America

The Documentary

Since 1945 more than 22 million Americans have lived and worked in West Germany, most of whom were members of the US military.  In 1950, following the outbreak of the Korean Crisis and the Cold War, the US military arrived in the Palatine.  Within a few years the little hamlet of Baumholder with its 2,500 inhabitants became a military base for 30,000 American soldiers, while Kaiserslautern's 80,000 inhabitants were faced with some 40,000 G.I.s.  So the Western Palatine and Westrich Plateaus became the focal point of world history, for the American doctrine was: "World peace will be defended in Germany."

How did that affect towns like Baumholder, Birkenfeld, Lautzenhausen, and Ramstein?  How did Germans and Americans influence each other, how did they interact?  Why did the German Parliament in 1952 declare this region an "emergency facing moral decay"?

The confrontation between the easy-going American way of life with the rattled post-Nazi Germans was filled with frictions.  Conservative circles like church representatives complained about bars that were covers for bordels.  Actually, on payday in Baumholder, women from elsewhere regularly showed up in Baumholder's 40 bars and amused themselves with the G.I.s.  The bars, largely run by Jewish "displaced persons", were strictly segregated according to race - unofficially.  If a colored soldier showed up in a bar for white soldiers, there was trouble.  And there was even more of a ruckus if a colored G.I. went out with a German girl.  The white Americans and the Germans were of one mind: That is racial defilement.

While the white American soldiers were often homesick and ill at ease in the rural area, for Afro-Americans G.I.s stationed there, it frequently meant freedom from the racism and racial segregation that they suffered in the USA.

The film unravels a chapter in German-American friendship using archive material and interviews with contemporary witnesses from that time.  Their story is more relevant than ever today as American soldiers are about to be withdrawn from Germany.

This documentary will complement a three-part feature film on SWR about two young women from the Palatine, who fall in love with G.I.’s.

First broadcast

from November 24, 2021, Video on Demand; December 8, 9.45pm, in Das Erste

Produced by

SWR

A film by

Sigrid Faltin

Year

2021

Running time

30/45 min.

Team

Cinematographer: Susan Schenk, Christoph Schmitz, Jürgen Carle

Drone cameraman: Jac-Uwe Otto

Sound: Michael Kirn, Lena Kramer, Jasmin Vollmer, Markus Seifried, Albert Gratz

Shoot San Francisco

Producer: Heidi Knott

Cinematographer and soundman: René Jung

Shoot Poughkeepsie

Producer: Britta Reuter

Cinematographer: Zoran Drakulic

Soundman: Dennis Brioso

Editor: Nina Bärmann

Artwork: Edith Schwörer, Claudia Schlicht

Producer: Ulrike Frömchen

Commissioning editors: Susanne Gebhardt, Mark Willock


Online here

„We produce documentary films - it's real life that interests us.“
Sigrid Faltin, white pepper films

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