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Hans "Tom" Tuch
Wiesbaden, Frankfurt, Munich, Berlin, Bonn

I joined the Foreign Service in Germany in 1949. I had been working at a bank in Stuttgart, and my friends at the Consulate advised me to go up to Frankfurt and apply. I went and was sent to talk to a woman who was in charge of the Amerika Haus program. I didn't even know what an Amerika Haus was. When I arrived, I was met by her deputy, who told me that she was busy. He asked me to wait and offered me some reading material on the coffee table. I noticed a paper about the Amerika Haus program and I read the whole thing. When my interview began, I was asked how I would set up an Amerika Haus and I just racked my brain and went through that paper, point by point. The director, a formidable lady, hired me on the spot.

By the end of the war, the cultural infrastructure of German cities had been destroyed. With the military occupation, United States authorities began to establish Amerika Häuser in various cities to serve as cultural and information centers. Each one had a library with music programs, lecture programs, children's programs and English teaching facilities. In my view they did a lot to help Germans emotionally and culturally reestablish their society. For instance, in each Amerika Haus there was an openshelf library where people could pick out their own books, check them out, read them there, or take them home. These were the first such open libraries in Germany, and this in itself had a democratizing effect on people. The directors of the university libraries in Frankfurt and Berlin were so impressed with the concept that they rebuilt their own libraries on the openshelf system.

In 1951, there were Amerika Häuser in every major city in Germany about 25 in total. I became the Amerika Haus director in Wiesbaden and after five months was transferred to Frankfurt, where I remained as director until March of 1955. For me, that was a very satisfying time. I was a junior officer, yet I had a staff of 55 people. I had a program of nightly lectures, discussions and concerts. I had a huge English teaching program, a children's theater program and a youth library. People just swarmed into the Amerika Haus. I often thought that what I was doing for a salary was really what I was doing for fun.

I came back to Germany in 1980 as the Public Affairs Officer in Bonn. By then, the relationship between our two societies, especially between the younger generations, had changed. In the early 1980s, we had the question of the deployment of intermediate range nuclear weapons (INF) in Germany and there was the peace movement to contend with. To improve the longterm relationship of our countries, we felt that we had to concentrate our efforts on youth before they entered the universities. The result was the German/American Congress/Bundestag teenage exchange program, whereby each Congressman or member of the Bundestag could nominate a teenager to spend a year in the other country. These young people would live with a host family, attend high school and become integrated into the community. We felt strongly that total immersion at that age would be the experience of a lifetime. These young people would not necessarily be uncritical, but whatever opinions they formed would be based upon experience, not on hearsay.

Hans "Tom" Tuch came to the United States from Germany in 1938 and served in the U.S. Army during World War II. His career with USIS included positions in Germany, Washington, D.C., Russia, Bulgaria and Brazil. He served in Germany many times.

From: A Vision Fulfilled. 50 Jahre Amerikaner am Rhein. United States Embassy Bonn, 1949 - 1999. Edited by Christine Elder and Elizabeth G. Sammis. Published by United States Embassy Bonn. © Department of State, 1999.

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Updated: August 2001