Abandoned British military theatre to become cultural hub for German community, with the help of Black Country-born university academic
It was built to provide entertainment for British troops stationed in Germany in the 1950s and help keep them connected with home.
Now an abandoned military theatre and cinema is being brought back to life with the help of a Black Country-born university academic who is hoping to unlock the mysteries of its past.
Volunteers in Germany have raised 275,000 euros to buy The Globe, built on the site of the Oldenburg-Donnerschwee barracks in 1954, and plan to transform the building into a regional cultural venue.
Dr John Goodyear, who grew up in Rowley Regis, is searching for people who served in Oldenburg between 1945 and 1958, as he writes a cultural history of the building which will also help to form a blueprint for future use of the theatre.
“There were once 66 of these British military theatres in Germany and this is the last of its kind in the country. The Globe has a very special history as it was built for the British Army to entertain troops with films and theatre and inform them of what was happening at home and abroad with news reels.
“The building was also used to train soldiers before it was taken over by the Bundeswehr in the late 1950s after Germany became part of NATO. The site was abandoned in 1991 and the building was left to decay, with nobody taking care of it.
“A few years ago work began to turn the former barrack buildings into social housing but The Globe was left empty. Then last year a group got together to actively save it,” he explains.
The origins of these theatres like this one lie in the First World War and the creation of the first Globe at Gobowen, Shropshire, in 1916.
Spearheaded by Basil Dean CBE, a leading light in the British Government’s Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA), the theatre sparked the spread of similar facilities around the world. Globe theatres hosted many of Britain’s best loved performers entertaining troops, including comedians Arthur Askey and Spike Milligan, singer Gracie Fields and actor Laurence Olivier.
The Globe in Oldenburg, which has listed building status, has an auditorium seating 400 people and facilities to operate as a theatre or cinema.
GLOBE Theatre and Cinema Trust (Kulturgenossenschaft GLOBE) aims to preserve the building as a historical monument and create a cultural venue for cinema, theatre, festivals and more.
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 crowd-funding.
Artist and senior trust member Michael Olsen said: “Given today’s political situation in Europe and the wider world, remembrance of the Allied liberation armies’ contribution to free Germany of fascism must be maintained and deepened. We have to be immensely grateful to the British Army for their honourable service. The Allied victory forms the basis of peace and prosperity enjoyed by Germans today and, in Oldenburg, the British contribution stands out.”
Dr Goodyear, who has recently returned to the West Midlands after working in education in Germany, including founding the Academy of English in Oldenburg, described The Globe as a ‘fascinating’ building. “From an Anglo-German point of view, it’s a very interesting.
“The entire interior of the building is British in design but the outside is German. It’s a part of history that isn’t told as much. Most people know all about the Second World War, how it started and how it ended, but they don’t know so much about occupied Germany in the years that followed,” he says.
The 37-year-old is particularly keen to hear from people who were stationed at the site while The Globe was being built as well as those who visited after it opened. “With the Worcestershire and Staffordshire regiments, there may well be people who served in Oldenburg in this area. I would love to hear from them about their experiences of The Globe and the barracks. “
As well as tracing ex-soldiers from the British Army, Dr Goodyear also wants to talk to former members of the German Services Organisation – military personnel, who, after the war worked with British Forces to provide logistics support. He is also trying to track down Canadian and Danish troops stationed in Oldenburg between 1945 and 1948.
Dr Goodyear, a German teaching fellow at the University of Birmingham, said: “It is the human dimension which will breathe new life into the theatre and help to create a vibrant cultural hub. By talking to service personnel – both German and British –who experienced The Globe in its heyday, we can reflect the building’s past in its future.”
Following completion of the research project, Dr Goodyear, who has previously organised Wolverhampton’s Anglo-German Service of Remembrance and Reconciliation, plans to publish a book, in German and English, on the history of The Globe.
Former military personnel who served in Oldenburg and would like to contact Dr Goodyear can call 0121 414 7503 or email J.Goodyear@bham.ac.uk