Congratulations on being stationed at USAG Bavaria Grafenwoehr! You’re about to live in one of the most beautiful regions of Germany. It’s a 30 minute drive from the Czech border, a 1 hour drive to Nuremberg, and a 2 hour drive to the Munich airport where you can catch flights to anywhere you want in Europe!
But even if you don’t travel every weekend, there is still plenty to explore throughout the area. There will always be an opportunity to try something new around Grafenwoehr and Vilseck. In other words: prepare yourself for the adventure of a lifetime!
About USAG Bavaria Grafenwoehr Germany
First, let me clarify any questions about Grafenwoehr and Vilseck: they are the same duty station and US Army base in Germany.
Where is Vilseck Germany?
When you look at a map, you’ll see that Vilseck and Grafenwoehr are two different towns approximately 20 minutes apart. The Grafenwoehr Training Area (GTA) connects them, which is why the whole base is called USAG Bavaria Grafenwoehr (also spelled Grafenwöhr).
But when you arrive, you’ll learn that the Vilseck community has its pride! It may have fewer accommodations than the Grafenwoehr Army base (Post), but Vilseck has a Dunkin’ Donuts and is home to the ACS office.
Staying sane when you first arrive
It can be a tough and isolating experience when you first arrive in Grafenwoehr, just like any other move. But what can make it especially difficult is not knowing the language and not being able to get around if you don’t have a car. Grafenwoehr is a tiny base compared to almost anywhere you’ve been stationed in the US.
If you’re stuck on the base for days on end, visit the Wild B.O.A.R. Outdoor Recreation Center. They have rock climbing, paddle boarding, BBQ grills, a restaurant, hiking trails, and more. If anything, it’s at least a change of scenery if you’re getting cabin fever.
And you should definitely take a stroll into Grafenwoehr itself! There are some great restaurants outside of Gate 1 and a small park up the road. Ask your sponsor for suggestions or to take you to their favorite spots. (Your sponsor is supposed to help you adjust, after all.)
Once you have a car, the possibilities are endless! But we’ll get to that in a bit.
Work Culture: What to Expect
If you’re a soldier PCSing to Grafenwoehr, your work schedule depends on your assignment (as always). 2CR is the largest unit permanently stationed at USAG Bavaria Grafenwoehr, and their work schedule is not enviable. As of 2020, you will be in the field or in Eastern Europe quite often.
If you’re with the rotational forces coming through GTA, you will likely live in the barracks at Camp Algier – sorry! But the Camp Algier Recreation Center offers some comforts from home, like video games, wifi, TV, books, and event programming. But if you want to maximize your time in Germany, I highly recommend becoming friends with someone who not only lives in the area, but also has a car.
As a military spouse, your work options are limited. It’s very difficult to secure a job off-post if you don’t speak fluent German, which means your options are either on-post opportunities or starting your own home-based business (HBB), which has a lot of it’s own nuances here anyway.
One thing to know is that even though you are on an AMERICAN Post, many (if not most) of the workers at places like Vehicle Registration, ACS, and the library are often German Nationals. Therefore, something to be aware of: the German work culture is very different from the American work ethic. You’ll quickly learn that lunchtime is for lunch (i.e. no appointments, meetings, or phone calls), and you will not find a single German working overtime. It can be refreshing but also quite frustrating when you need something ASAP, especially if you were in the field for awhile.
How to Live Your Best Life at USAG Bavaria Grafenwoehr
For some people, being stationed in Germany is hard because it’s completely different from their entire life experience. But if you can embrace what feels foreign, you will have a significantly better time! Don’t let these years go to waste because of your reluctance to try something new.
For others, moving to a Germany Army base was the last thing they wanted. It is far away from home (and the comforts of home) and family. While this is difficult, do not let this attitude take over and allow you to waste your time here. It may feel difficult at times, but it is SO worth it to have this opportunity.
Can I live in Grafenwoehr without speaking German?
Yes, you can easily survive your day-to-day interactions without speaking German. But how much English people speak often depends on what you’re trying to do.
For example, most people at local grocery stores and shops will speak English. But if you want to have a good time at your local Zoigl stub’n (a tiny pub with freshly brewed beer), speaking German will make the experience infinitely more fun!
It isn’t necessary to learn, but knowing German will make your life significantly easier, even if you just know some of the basics. And no matter what, Google Translate will be your favorite app – I recommend downloading it as soon as possible!
Easy day trips throughout the area
Anyone will tell you that the best part of being stationed in Germany is the opportunity to travel! But traveling doesn’t always mean jumping on a plane and jet setting away (although you will definitely do that).
There are plenty of adventures to be had around Grafenwoehr and this is truly one of the best ways to start to enjoy your time being stationed in Germany. Weiden (25 minutes East) has a variety of restaurants and events making it a popular place to go. Many people who work on post (Americans and Germans) live in Weiden.
Amberg is also 25 minute drive from the post with all kinds of shopping and dining options. Plus, it has a nice movie theatre that occasionally shows original versions of blockbuster movies (finding the OV screenings is key!).
But if you’re looking for a way to really treat yourself, head to Pilsen or Karlovy Vary in Czech Republic for a beer bath! Enjoy a foamy beverage while you relax in a tub scented with lavender, hops, or even chocolate. It’s truly a unique experience!
Both towns are just an hour and a half drive from Grafenwoehr. But if you don’t want to drive yourself, MWR occasionally organizes day trips via bus. These organized trips are also great for people not sure about traveling out on their own yet or are overwhelmed with trying to plan a trip in Germany.
And if you’re looking for answers to specific travel questions, or want to browse recommendations from the community, the Wander in Germany: Bavaria tips and tricks group is perfect to help you plan. Bavaria Army Wife Travelers is also a fantastic resource for military members wanting general travel advice!
Finding a Place to Live: Graf and Vilseck Germany Housing
As of 2020, all service members will be assigned to government housing, which can be either on post or off post. Grafenwoehr housing on the base is limited and usually reserved for families or couples with pets. Additionally, unaccompanied E-6 and below are required to live in the barracks.
Private vs. Government Housing
In the surrounding villages, there are different kinds of homes you will hear about. A private leased home is one that is still leased through USAG Bavaria Army, but a local German owns the home. Government housing is still found in local villages, but the Army is who are basically the landlord.
If you have the opportunity to live off-post in private housing, you will need a transformer for some of your appliances, but it’s worth the opportunity to live in a bigger house! But, if you secure government housing off-post, you can use your American appliances without one. You can find transformers and other household goods in Facebook groups like Sell My Stuff, Netzaberg Buying and Selling, and Grafenwoehr/Vilseck Army Families.
Towns to Live In
Netzaberg is a popular choice for families because it’s built like an American neighborhood, and the middle school is in the same town. It’s basically like a little America, with mostly all Americans. But just like a suburban neighborhood, you’ll need to drive to everything.
If you live outside of Grafenwoehr or Vilseck, you may be able to walk to your local grocery store, butcher shop, and bakery! The Weiden and Amberg City Centers are popular choices for single soldiers and young couples. You can easily walk or bike to a number of stores and restaurants from your home.
Or, if you prefer a larger home in a quiet area, there are plenty of neighborhoods throughout Weiden and Amberg that will meet your needs as well.
Being American in Germany
There are certain rules you have to follow as an American living in Germany under the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). But it’s like living anywhere else: as long as you’re respectful of the local customs, everyone will get along just fine.
There are things you’ll have to get used to, like almost always paying with cash (credit cards aren’t as prominent here), packing your own grocery bags, and paying a deposit to use a shopping cart.
But there are also really wonderful things that you’ll miss when you leave, like buying a case of 24 beers for less than €20, wearing lederhosen on a Saturday morning at the ice cream parlor, so many amazing travel opportunities, and fresh pretzels every day!!
This is truly a unique opportunity, and I hope you make the most of it!
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^PCSing to Graf? Don’t Forget to Pin It!^
This post is a Guest Post from fellow Germany Vlogger, DT. Thanks, Daniel for helping everyone getting stationed at Graf and Vilseck excited about the travel opportunities both here in Germany and all throughout Europe!
Daniel Taylor is a US Air Force Academy graduate, veteran, and videographer. He’s been blogging about travel and living in Germany as an American since 2014. He and his wife moved to USAG Bavaria Grafenwoehr when she was hired to be a teacher at Netzaberg Middle School. They travel HARD, and they think you should too! If you want to learn more about life at USAG Bavaria Grafenwoehr, check out DT’s website DTV, subscribe to his Youtube channel, and follow him on Instagram.