This post will be more beneficial to those who are PCSing to Germany, or those who are seeking orders to do so! It’s a rare occasion when anyone is afforded the opportunity to experience both (Grafenwoehr/Vilseck AND the KMC) to discuss some of the differences.
Wow! It’s been five months since I’ve posted, the pandemic has taken its’ toll on all aspects of lives! This blog was supposed to be about “Exploring Europe via German”, but since early 2020 it has basically been about “Exploring Germany via Germany”! In that time since my last post we also PCS’d (relocated) from one part of Germany (Bavaria) to the Rhineland Pfalz area (The KMC).
I can’t rave enough about the beauty of Bavaria (Amberg shown above), but there are pros and cons about every location, and as far as I’m concerned, ANY European assignment provides an opportunity for which most of us will be extremely grateful.
The Kaiserslautern Military Community (KMC)
We are currently living in the KMC ; a community of Americans living in and around Kaiserslautern, Germany, supporting United States Armed Forces and NATO installations. There are numerous installations here, some small and some large. Some are referred to as Kaserns, Bases, Posts, and Barracks. Although all branches of the US military are assigned to the KMC, the installations are primarily operated by the Air Force or The Army.
There are approximately 54,000 Americans living here, including military service members, Department of Defense civilians and contractors, and their families. It is the largest U.S. military community outside of the U.S. Although many live in military housing on one of the bases, and many more live in small towns/villages surrounding the ancient Rhineland city of Kaiserslautern, the whole area is known as “The KMC”.
Due to the number of Americans living here, it is sometimes referred to as “Little America”, and most German restaurant and shop owners/staff speak English, and many restaurants offer an English as well as a Deutsche menu. This was far less common in Bavaria! However, don’t assume that means you don’t need to learn to speak Deutsche; throughout Germany (even here), most service workers who come to your home for installations or services probably speak very little English.
We lived in this area from 2008-2012. Although very little about the entire area has changed, what has changed since then is technology and our ability to easily stay connected with family and friends. The “separation anxiety” that was part of military life back then has vastly improved.
Aside from text messaging and WhatsApp/FB Messenger for free phone calls anywhere in the world, the numbers of FB Groups to follow will keep any newcomer advised of base or traffic concerns as well as all upcoming events (wine tastings, concerts, Christmas Markets). Of course, there were way more of those events before 2020, but if you’re headed to Germany, do a search on groups for KMC, Amberg, Landstuhl, Grafenwoehr, Vilseck, etc. Wherever you’re headed, there are groups of other Americans to keep you in the loop, as well as those who are PCSing in/out and have things to buy/sell!
By the time we left in 2012, unfortunately I knew only a couple basic words and one entire phrase in Deutsche. Fortunately, after living in Bavaria for almost two years, my Deutsche vocabulary (and certainly my understanding of it when spoken to me) has improved significantly, but I still have a long way to go! In spite of the fact that it’s not really required in the KMC, it’s a courtesy shown to our host nation to attempt to speak their language.
When living in Bavaria, we were a stone’s throw from Prague, Salzburg, Berlin, Nuremberg and Munich as well as Bremen and Regensburg. Sadly, Covid made those destinations off limits for most of the time we lived there (we did however, get to Nuremberg and Regensburg). Where we live now is much closer to France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland and the Netherlands and I hope to start exploring and sharing more of Europe in the near future.
As for the pros and cons, although all of Germany is gorgeous, I believe the KMC has more rainy gloomy days this time of year, where Bavaria gets a bit more sunshine. The towns in Bavaria put far more effort into beautification than the KMC; individual residents as well as the city administrators responsible for displaying plants and flowers year-round to maintain that look that we are accustomed to associating with Bavaria. I’m guessing that could be the result of more German citizens there than here; Let’s face it, for Americans with a temporary assignment (most are 3 years) are not going to be as likely to make yard maintenance and beautification a priority. In this part of Germany, many Germans own properties for investment purposes. Trust me! They can get at least twice as much renting to Americans than to Germans! While some may have mixed emotions about “the Americans”, their revenue is dependent upon us being here.
As in all cases, where there is more demand, there will be more supply; the Exchange at Ramstein AB is the largest Exchange in Europe
As in all cases, where there is more demand, there will be more amenities; the Exchange at Ramstein AB (in the KMC) is worthy of driving there from Bavaria a few times a year. It’s way larger/better than any in Bavaria! In fact it’s the largest Exchange in Europe. When it opened (2009) many other European military bases offered bus trips to Ramstein to check it out.
This is an outstanding tour of the Ramstein Exchange!
The Ramstein Bazaar (an annual event hosted by the Ramstein Officer’s Spouses’ Club) is also way larger than any of the Bazaars in Bavaria. It’s a four-day, shopping extravaganza featuring vendors from all over Europe. Again, with greater demand, comes a greater supply!
Another major difference is that in many cities in Bavaria, and especially if you live where there is a city center, your family can get away with only one vehicle because everything is so walkable; not just restaurants and beer gardens. You can walk to hospitals, doctors and dentist offices, pharmacies, butcher shops and bakeries. If the location for your new Bavarian residence is not restricted by school-age children who need to live near the schools, I highly recommend you opt for Amberg (my all-time favorite!!) or Weiden. When living in the KMC, unless you live in the heart of Kaiserslautern, your family is likely to need a second vehicle. Yes, it’s easy to get everywhere by train or bicycle, but some of the villages don’t have the amenities you are likely to want.
I don’t know that I should describe any of these as pros/cons……….they are just differences. I would have to say there are two major “Pros” (aside from my husband’s new job) to relocating to the KMC:
Our familiarity with the community …..no acclimation required. I didn’t have to try four different hair salons to find one I loved; I already had that connection from 2012! We had already established our favorite stores, service providers, and restaurants.
We still had friends living here! Dear friends! Friends with whom we have stayed in touch, who have retired here. This is not to imply we didn’t have friends in Bavaria, but those were new friends with far less history together. These are long-term friendships (they wouldn’t like me referring to them as “old friends”!!) that have withstood whatever the world has thrown at us since 2008!*
"Wherever we are, it is our friends that make our world" Henry Drummond
Whether Bavaria, the KMC, or any of the other US bases in Germany, there really aren’t any undesirable places to live; it’s all a benefit of being affiliated with the US military, and an opportunity that many others have not been afforded. So many Americans have never ventured outside of the US; lucky us!
BTW. The two military communities (Grafwoehr/Vilseck and the KMC) are only about a 3-hour drive apart, so wherever you are, venture out! Discover the best of both! Or get lucky and live in each before you leave here!
I welcome those from other duty stations in Germany to share your experience too!