The Cold War is history. But the coexistence of the military and civilian life that was so characteristic until around 20 years ago has left its mark on the region up to the present day. Barracks and soldiers were present in almost every town or district between Rhön, Main and Tauber until well after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Then from the mid-1990s onwards, the US soldiers withdrew completely and the Bundeswehr partially. What remained was a delicate and, above all, voluminous legacy: the real estate.
A legacy that brings both advantages and disadvantages to many municipalities. In some places, residential and commercial areas were created, while other areas are still waiting to be used today. The example of Würth from Bad Mergentheim (Main-Tauber district) shows that the conversion of military land, known as conversion, can be like winning the lottery for a city and its economy.
Millions of small parts leave the warehouse every working day
Drillberg will catch your eye when you drive towards the spa town with its 24,000 inhabitants. Lots of forest from which a gray block protrudes. This is one of the halls of the Swabian Würth Group. The size of the unadorned building is a clue that something like the screw center of Europe is here.
Because every working day, millions of small parts such as screws, nuts, hose clamps, small tools and other industrial supplies leave the halls on the Drillberg. The customers are located in numerous European countries. No wonder that the Würth logistics center is also known as the “largest high-bay warehouse on the continent”.
Mayor Udo Glatthaar (CDU) describes the fact that the global company set up a branch on the Drillberg in 1999 as a “stroke of luck”. The 143 hectare site was previously known as the Teutonic Order barracks of the German Armed Forces.
Up to 1,000 soldiers from Panzer Brigade 36 stationed in Bad Mergentheim withdrew in 1993. 500 civilian workers lost their jobs on the Drillberg. After 30 years of use by the military, a site lay fallow, which was to become one of the first conversion areas in the Main-Tauber district from the end of the 1990s. A show of strength for the city, which at the time was struggling with eleven percent unemployment and the general decline of the cure.
What Würth values about Bad Mergentheim
But the show of strength was successful: At that time, the Würth company was looking for a location for the young subsidiary Würth Industrie Service GmbH & Co. KG and its planned logistics center – the choice fell on the Drillberg. Today it is the address of Bad Mergentheim’s largest employer. 1,700 people have a job there, almost one in ten of them come from Mainfranken.
The Drillberg was attractive for Würth because “because no contaminated sites were found back then,” remembers Armin Rother of the choice of location. Plus points were also the “good motorway connection” and above all the fact that the former Bundeswehr building was well suited for the logistics center.
Rother knows the area and its history inside out, as he was stationed as a sergeant major in the Bundeswehr in neighboring Külsheim. Today, as a Würth employee, Rother guides up to 4,000 visitors a year across the site and through the small company museum to the military history of the Drillberg.
Bad Mergentheim benefits from high trade tax income
Rother likes to point out that Würth left the Bundeswehr barracks standing and only rebuilt them inside. A branched complex of up to 40 meter high halls with kilometer-long, computer-controlled conveyor belts and huge shelves has been added since 1999.
The fact that the once troubled Bad Mergentheim has got wind under its wings again with the help of Würth is also evident in the city’s finances. According to information from OB Glatthaar, trade tax income rose from 3.6 million euros in 1999 to 10.5 million euros in 2021. The peak value was almost 14 million euros (2011).
“We support further expansion.”
Udo Glatthaar, Lord Mayor of Bad Mergentheim, on the Würth expansion on the Drillberg
As usual, the city administration does not publish any figures for individual companies, but Glatthaar leaves no doubt as to the main originator of the cash blessing: “There is no doubt that the Bad Mergentheim business location has seen a very positive development overall over the past 20 years. Würth Industrie has also developed very positively Service made a significant contribution, of course. “
That is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future, on the contrary: The company says it plans to build four more giant halls on the Drillberg by 2038. There is enough space: Of the total area of 143 hectares, 80 hectares are still free. That corresponds to 112 soccer fields.
How Würth wants to increase sales
Once these halls go into operation, Würth Industrie Service will probably also have increased its sales significantly: it should be 666 million euros this year, and then one billion in 2025, according to the press office.
No wonder that Glatthaar sees a “success story of continuous growth” in Würth: “We support further expansion.” For the mayor, it is not a problem that he essentially only has one contact person on the Drillberg, since elsewhere – such as in Kitzingen – several companies usually settle on former military areas. In municipalities like this it is sometimes shown that such a small amount of marketing of conversion areas “can drag on for a long time,” says Glatthaar.
Mayor Glatthaar: Bad Mergentheimers are proud of Würth
The fact that the unadorned halls influence the cityscape at least from a distance is not an issue for OB Glatthaar. Rather, the church towers in the city center and the Teutonic Order Castle are still formative. “In the citizenry I perceive a certain pride in the largest high-bay warehouse in Europe.” In any case, many thousands of guests come to the open house. And the regular, guided hike through the woods up to the Drillberg is also very popular.
In the process, visitors also pass the no longer functioning tanks that Würth took over from the Mergentheimer Bundeswehr for exhibition purposes. For ex-soldier Rother, this is a symbolic bridge from the past to the present.
The permanent exhibition “Leadership Culture” in the Würth Museum in Bad Mergentheim shows, based on the Bundeswehr past on the Drillberg, how leadership in companies (using the example of Würth) and in the military are related. Guided tours of the museum (maximum 20 people) are possible on request: [email protected] or telephone (0 79 31) 91-0.
Conversion: Further examples in Mainfranken
Würzburg: Among the four areas used by the US Army until 2008, the former Leighton Barracks, which are now part of the new Hubland district, stand out. Mainly apartments, businesses and parts of the university can be found on the site. There are also apartments in the Lincoln Housing Area, according to the city council. The former US hospital on Mönchberg was converted into apartments and offices. How the Faulenberg barracks in the Grombühl district will be used on a long-term basis has been in the planning for years. At peak times, around 9,000 US soldiers, including families, lived in Würzburg. The former US airfield in Giebelstadt (district of Würzburg) is now used for private flight operations and as an industrial park.
Schweinfurt: With 12,000 military personnel including families and civilian personnel, the garrison was one of the largest US locations in Europe, according to Frank Deubner, conversion officer in the district office. The last Americans left the area at the end of 2014, leaving behind the Ledward Barracks, Askren Manor (Bellevue) and Kessler Field as well as the Conn Barracks near Geldersheim / Niederwerrn. This also includes the Brönnhof practice areas in Üchtelhausen / Dittelbrunn and Sulzheim. In total, it is about 26 square kilometers, which corresponds to 72 percent of the area of the city. According to Deubner, only a small part of the Conn Barracks is used for commercial purposes. The rest of the building has residential areas, refugee accommodation, a nature reserve and a FHWS campus.
Kitzingen: Marshall Heights, Richthofen and Corlette Circle as well as the Larson (today: “Innopark”) and the Harvey Barracks (“conneKT”) are the total of 313 hectares of real estate that the US military, who withdrew in 2006, left behind. What is special: The areas are not marketed by the municipality, but by private companies. As the city’s conversion officer Claudia Biebl further reports, 80 percent of the buildings in conneKT and 65 percent in Innopark are let to traders. One day, 3,000 people will live in the residential barracks of Marshall Heights. In the Richthofen Circle there are mainly restaurants and a horse farm.
Wildflecken: After the US Army withdrew in 1994, the German Armed Forces moved into parts of the properties around the large military training area in the Rhön. An area has become free in the Oberwildflecken district, where the 40-hectare Kreuzberg industrial park is now located. According to the municipality, 15 companies have settled there. About half of the business park is still free.