A University of Birmingham expert is joining forces with British Army and the Bundeswehr to help strengthen bonds between German and British soldiers through his research into their shared entertainment history.
German Teaching Fellow Dr. John Goodyear has spent the last year uncovering the history of an abandoned British army theatre and cinema, operated by the Army Kinematic Corporation and known as “The Globe” in the north-western German city of Oldenburg.
The Black Country-born academic’s appeal for help researching the landmark building’s history prompted former service personnel serving in Oldenburg in the 1950s to come forward from across the UK to tell their stories of the army cinema.
Now Dr Goodyear is set to reveal the initial findings of his independent research project to a special audience in Oldenburg next month, with members of the Bundeswehr (German Armed Forces) attending.
His exhaustive research has taken him to archives in Oldenburg, Koblenz, and Freiburg in Germany. He also used archives in the UK - with the University of Birmingham’s Cadbury Research Library providing valuable information on voluntary organisations, such as the YMCA, which were attached to the British Army of the Rhein (BAOR).
Dr. Goodyear commented: “It was remarkable how much material was, initially unknown to me, actually on my doorstep. The research is not just grounded in sifting through archives; there is a very strong human element as well, not least trying to find survivors, now in their 80s, who called the Globe their cultural home.
“These service personnel spoke in glowing terms about The Globe and provided historical material - sharing photographs of the building, 1950s cinema programmes and film reviews published in The Quadrant, a military newspaper for soldiers stationed in Germany.”
After reading a newspaper article on The Globe, Major Peter Wright, a British Exchange Officer within Headquarters 1st Armoured Division contacted Dr Goodyear and discussed his presenting the history behind The Globe to the officers of the Division.
Headquarters 1st Armoured Division only recently moved to Oldenburg, from Hannover, and many staff did not even know that the British Army was stationed there.
Chief of Staff, 1st Armoured Division, Colonel Thorsten Alme will host Dr Goodyear’s forthcoming lecture on The Globe. He commented: “Learning from history is a key part of military life and we’re keen to expose the Division’s officers to the history of the city they now work in.
“We have a strong link with 3rd (United Kingdom) Division, so learning about British history, particularly when it links to Oldenburg, can only strengthen this bond. Dr. Goodyear’s presentation on the British Army’s time here and its legacy is an excellent place to start.”
Built in 1954 by the Army Kinematic Corporation (A.K.C.), The Globe acted as a cultural hub for officers and soldiers, many of whom were conscripted national service personnel, away from home for the first time.
Dr Goodyear’s cultural history of the historic building will also help to form a blueprint for future use of the 400-seat theatre. Volunteers in Germany raised 275,000 euros to buy the abandoned listed building and work starts soon on transforming the building, built at the Donnerschwee barracks, Oldenburg, in 1954, into a regional cultural venue.
Buying, refurbishing and restoring the building in line with historical building regulations will cost some 1.5 million euros. The Trust is seeking funding from grants, sponsors, donations and crowdfunding.
The British Army built and operated cinemas for troops stationed in Germany, but nearly all of these facilities built between 1947 and 1957, are either derelict or have been demolished.
Dr Goodyear’s research reveals that
- An in-town cinema requisitioned by the British Army and run by the A.K.C. was also called The Globe and handed back shortly before the military venue was opened at the turn of 1955/1956.
- The Globe was built by a German construction company, rather than the British army, and designed by a civilian architect working to British specifications.
- In 1955, nine A.K.C. cinemas were opened in the British-occupied zone. Four of these were built to a similar design as the Globe in Hameln, Nienburg, Verden and Minden.
- All A.K.C. cinemas in Germany were equipped with state-of-the-art equipment for anamorphic widescreen presentation with stereo sound.
- Originally thought of as just a cinema, The Globe was used for opera (La Traviata), a military lecture, as well as numerous films.
- British eyewitness are unanimous in their belief that the Globe was a “real lifesaver” and “morale booster” to “keep them in touch from home”.
The German Army took over the barracks in the late 1950s but abandoned the site in 1991, since when it remained deserted until redevelopment began in 2015. Following re-development of the Donnerschwee site to a residential quarter, there are now 850 apartments in the former barrack buildings, most of which have listed building status.