top of page

Sommers Retire in Germany

When I retired from the USAF in 1987 after a 28-year career, I was assigned to the Warrior Preparation-Center at Einsiedlerhof Air Station, Germany, located very close to

Ramstein AB. At the time we already lived in our own home in the vicinity of Ramstein. In 1987, my German mother-in-law lived about 10 minutes away from us and was approaching the age of 90 years and, more importantly, she was in need of care. My wife, being the only child, felt a strong moral obligation to be near her aging mom. We therefore decided to stay in place.

When the value of the US dollar dropped significantly against European currencies in the early 90s, I started working as a German language instructor for adult continuing education on Ramstein AB, in order to maintain our living standard. It was a Non-Appropriated Funds (NAF) position and authorized me total logistical support (such as buying in BX and commissary or purchasing tax-free gasoline) under the Status Of Forces Agreement (SOFA). I resigned from this job a couple of years ago, because of health concerns and other issues. Under normal circumstances, US military retirees, whether living in or just visiting Germany, do not enjoy this privilege. Unfortunately!

(My Opinion–The US Department of State does not represent retirees’ interests or even consider military retirees during SOFA negotiations. These retirees had already paid their dues, when the SOFA agreements were negotiated between the US and Germany.)

We really like this area of Germany and its excellent and central location within Europe. In addition, nearby Ramstein AB, the most active European hub of AMC flight activities, provides ample Space-A opportunities to travel throughout Europe and beyond.

Our most distant Space-A flight a couple of years ago took us to Okinawa, Japan with intermediate stops and short pleasant stays in California, Hawaii, Guam and Japan proper. When traveling within Europe, our luggage never exceeds 30 lbs per person and our trips are routinely planned before or after school recess. If our destination is NAS Rota, Spain, for example, and that scheduled flight is overbooked or gets canceled, we simply take another flight elsewhere (Plan “B”) and wind up unexpectedly in Sicily or Crete. Lovely! Great! From there we try to get a hop to Rota, Spain.

Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we don’t. We always enjoy exploring the local area, spending time and eating delicious meals in the Mediterranean region, regardless where our travels take us. In the past four years, we have been stateside five times and outside of school breaks, there has really not been a big problem catching a military hop out of or going back to Ramstein. Thank goodness this perk has not been taken away from retirees and the price continues to be always right! Another benefit of traveling Space-A is the ability to meet so many unique and charming travel companions.

There are disadvantages as well, when it comes to living in Germany. Hours of operation for stores and businesses are simply non-existent on Sundays and local holidays. During normal operating hours, store employees are most of the time not as service-oriented towards customers as in the US.

Goose bumps run down my back now when I get gas at the local pump for the equivalent of approximately $9 per gallon, since retirees cannot buy gas on the base. It goes without saying that I am driving a small economy car with low gas consumption. We now sort of miss the prior privilege of shopping in the BX and commissary. We experienced no such retiree curtailment when visiting Italy, Greece or Japan. Why?

The German language sometimes presents a problem to some retirees living here. This problem can be solved, however, by signing up for language courses offered on or off base. In this respect, I consider myself fortunate as I was a German/Russian linguist while on active duty and have a good grasp when it comes to understanding other European languages.

Another disadvantage living in Germany, possibly throughout Europe, comes to my mind with respect to senior citizens. When traveling by bus, train or plane, or when visiting a museum, national park or theater, senior citizens are not offered a reduced rate, a perk enjoyed by many older people throughout the US.

We are trying to enjoy the best of two worlds as we are aging and there are definitely pros and cons, when it comes to living in Germany as a military retiree. We are blessed by having American friends here and stateside as well.

CMSgt Albert Sommer, USAF, (Ret) and Lilo Sommer Ramstein, Germany

Reprint from Nov-Dec 2012 • Volume 42, No. 6


bottom of page