The DAZ was founded in 1995, as a successor organization to the Amerikahaus in Stuttgart. The history of these two organizations does not just describe the development of two local cultural institutions, but rather, along with the history of the other Amerikahäuser in Germany, it is a reflection of official German-American relations over the course of decades.
Here in Stuttgart, Zaren Wang, a civil employee of the US military government, opened one of the first – if not the first – American library for Germans, in Germany in 1946. At a time when the official occupation policy of the United States defined de-nazification primarily in terms of punishment, the library promoted democratic values through books and education. In the beginning, the American military government did not pay much attention to the reading rooms located at Neckarstraße 44, and provided only limited funds. Therefore, Ms. Wang sought and received donations from various German and Swiss institutions for the purchase of books and magazines. In those early years, the four reading rooms provided enough space for 20-30 library patrons at a time.
Zaren Wang’s idea led to the development of institutions that would be established throughout what later became Western Germany. Starting in 1947, libraries in Germany were officially funded and promoted by the American government. With this support, the libraries flourished, and evolved to become large-scale cultural institutions offering events open to the public, in addition to reading materials. These institutions – the Amerikahäuser – were embraced by the German public. Today, we can only imagine the meaning that the Amerikahäuser held for the German population right after the war. Many Germans remember them as spaces to not only warm the body, but also nourish the mind. Germans were also impressed by the idea of public-access libraries – with uncensored and unrestricted access to bookshelves and publications – a concept that they had not encountered up until then. At the same time, they appreciated the fact that the services provided by the Amerikahäuser were free of charge. This gift of the American people promoted a positive attitude over the long term toward the USA as an occupying power.
By the end of 1947, the Neckarstraße location in Stuttgart had become too small, and the library was relocated to a larger space in a building on Stafflenbergstraße. According to sources at the time, with the move to the new quarters, the number of library patrons kept growing until it had quadrupled. By 1947, users were making about 7,500 withdrawals a month. The library began holding public events, and added a vinyl record collection. By 1950, the library had been renamed, to offically become an Amerikahaus. In 1950, the new Amerikahaus moved again, to the so-called Lorenz Building at Charlottenstraße 9. According to a newspaper article, the Amerikahaus hit a new monthly record for visitors there in February, when 62,000 people passed through its doors. With that number of visitors, the Stuttgart location became the second most heavily frequented of all Amerikahäuser in Germany, after the one in Berlin. The high volume of visitors also led to personnel changes, and by 1950, the staff had grown to encompass 40 permanent employees.
The services provided by the Amerikahaus were also very much in demand outside of Stuttgart. In the 1950s, bookmobiles were making regular stops in 13 locations in Baden-Württemberg – from Künzelsau to Mössingen, and Neuenbürg to Geislingen an der Steige – to provide avid users with new reading material every three weeks. The library vehicles could each hold about 1,500 books, in addition to several racks of magazines. These mobile library services were especially popular with younger readers; half of the patrons were teenagers and young adults. In some towns, the demand was so high that permanent libraries were established.
Despite a constant and growing stream of visitors, the Stuttgart Amerikahaus ran into trouble in 1958, when the U.S. Department of State announced that it could no longer pay the rent for the Lorenz building. After exploring several ideas, the State Department and the City of Stuttgart agreed to join forces in financing the construction in 1961 of a new building on Friedrichstraße that would be occupied only by the Amerikahaus. In attendance at the ribbon cutting ceremony were former Federal President Prof. Theodor Heuss, Prime Minister Kurt Georg Kiesinger, and U.S. Ambassador Walter Dowling.
In 1995, the U.S. State Department decided to close the U.S. Consulate General in Stuttgart – and along with it, the Amerikahaus – for financial reasons. Local citizens and politicians, including then-Prime Minister Erwin Teufel and Mayor Manfred Rommel, advocated for the establishment of a new institution that would carry forward the work of the Amerikahaus, and offer the kinds of services that it had provided. Finally, with the financial support of the State of Baden-Württemberg and the City of Stuttgart, the “Deutsch-Amerikanisches Zentrum/James-F.-Byrnes Institut” (DAZ) was founded as a non-profit cultural and educational institute in Stuttgart on July 28, 1995.
The DAZ found a home at the „Altes Waisenhaus,“ or former orphanage, located in downtown Stuttgart at Charlottenplatz, in a complex that also houses other organizations of an international nature, such as the Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations, known in German as ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen) and the Welcome Center Stuttgart. Since its founding, the DAZ has been the first point of contact for anyone who is interested in U.S. politics, culture and history, and for everyone who shares an enthusiasm for the USA. It is also both a home-away-from-home for Americans residing in Stuttgart, and a place for networking and intercultural encounters. The DAZ fosters mutual understanding with services such as events, cultural festivals, exhibitions, concerts, and educational advising services.
Who was James F. Byrnes?
The German-American Center was named after James F. Byrnes, whose “Speech of Hope,” delivered in Stuttgart in 1946, is considered a turning point in post-war history. This speech marks the beginning of an era of constructive German-American relations and friendship after the end of the Second World War.
James Francis Byrnes was born in Charleston, South Carolina on May 2, 1882 and grew up in modest circumstances. Having left school at the age of 14 to work at a law office, he learned shorthand and became a court reporter in 1900. In his spare time, he studied law on his own, and he passed the South Carolina bar exam in 1903. The same year, he also became the publisher of Journal & Review, the local newspaper in Aiken, South Carolina, while simultaneously working as a lawyer. On his birthday in 1906, he married Maude Busch. In 1908, he was appointed solicitor for the 2nd Circuit of South Carolina.
In 1911, he was elected as a Democrat to the House of Representatives, and continued to serve his South Carolina constituents until 1925. From 1931 to 1941, he served the residents of South Carolina as a member of the U.S. Senate, where he became the majority leader. As a senator, Byrnes played an important role in helping President Franklin D. Roosevelt to get his New Deal legislation passed by Congress. Although he later criticized some of the president’s proposals as too radical, he remained in close contact with Roosevelt, and later played an important role in implementing his foreign policy.
In 1941, Byrnes’s appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court was announced by Roosevelt and confirmed by the Senate. However, Byrnes resigned after only 16 months on the bench, in order to assume the leadership of the Office for Economic Stabilization. From 1943 to 1945, he was director of the Office of War Mobilization. Since he had a great impact on the American economy in these roles, people began to refer to him as the “assistant president.”
In February, 1945, he was a member of President Roosevelt’s delegation at the Yalta Conference. In July of that year, three months after Roosevelt’s death, President Harry S. Truman named Byrnes as his secretary of state, and Byrnes attended the Potsdam Conference together with the president.
On September 6, 1946, Byrnes delivered his famous “Speech of Hope” at the Stuttgart Opera House. In this speech, he repudiated the Morgenthau Plan and, in its place, proposed approaches that were later incorporated into the Marshall Plan. These included allowing and facilitating the rebuilding of all of the sectors of (Western) Germany’s manufacturing industries, and welcoming the country as a member once again of the international community of states. He also gave assurances that the USA would station American soldiers in Germany for as long as any other occupying force remained there. This speech provided the blueprint for American policy towards Germany in the postwar decades, and substantially contributed to the stabilization of the country in that era.
Byrnes left the State Department in 1947, and returned to his law practice. However, his political career had not yet come to an end. Byrnes served as governor of his home state of South Carolina from 1951 to 1955.
James F. Byrnes died in Columbia, South Carolina, on April 9, 1972.
Although Byrnes is of great political importance to postwar Germany and Stuttgart in particular, he must still be viewed critically. During his time in Congress and also later as governor, he advocated racial segregation, opposed anti-lynching legislation, and fought labor unions. As Secretary of State, he was instrumental in Truman’s decision to drop atomic bombs on Japan.
When Byrnes was chosen as the namesake for the DAZ in 1995, only his impact on German and Stuttgart history was honored, without taking his political positions and his work as a whole into account. From today’s perspective, this blind spot in chosing the name proves difficult, so we would like to encourage critical reflection on James F. Byrnes. The DAZ has already organized several events on this topic and continues to engage with it.