30. August 2016

Spotlight: The US in Germany

Sie suchen Amerika hier in Deutschland? 
Kein Problem: Sie finden es, wo Soldaten 
gerne essen — nämlich in amerikanischen 
Esslokalen in Kaiserslautern und in Mannheim. Claudine Weber-Hof berichtet.

Silver diner in K-town

Saturday, one o’clock: The parking lot is full, the air loud with traffic. The second I enter Sam Kullman’s Diner on Mainzer Strasse, though, the noise of “K-town” fades away. Outside is a city in Rhineland-Palatinate, but inside is America.

I hear laughter and silverware clattering on plates as I breathe in the aroma of hot bread and hamburgers. The man behind the bar looks up from a tray full of drinks and asks, “You looking for me?”

I am. Jeff Everts, his name embroidered on his crisp, short-sleeved shirt, is the manager here. Behind him, silver kitchen doors swing open. A waitress races out, her tray heavy with burgers and fries. Jeff takes a step back to let her pass, then he shows me to my table: number 17, a red vinyl booth. We sit down with a couple of glasses of root beer with ice cubes — just like in the States.

I ask him how a native of Rochester, New York, came to work in Kaiserslautern, a city with a name US soldiers could never pronounce.

“I always wanted to do something like this,” he says. “I was drafted and came to Germany at the end of the Vietnam War. When I got here in 1973, there were 80,000 Americans in Kaiserslautern. Now there are about 40,000. We had our clubs and our gas stations, so you really didn’t have to speak German if you didn’t want to.”

Jeff learned German, though — and how. After spending a few years in the military police,he left the Army, married a local girl, had kids, and worked at his inlaws’ business. Then, 15 years ago, he saw Kullman’s Diner being built. He asked if they needed someone to manage it and was told that they did — under one condition: He had to start at the bottom. For three months, he worked in the kitchen, washed dishes, and cleaned tables. I ask him if he brought any experience in the food service to the job.

“Nah,” he says with a sheepish grin. “I was always on the other side of the bar.”