The original idea behind the founding of America Houses in German cities after World War II may well have been to propagandize the American way of life. But each has long since become a center of cultural cross-fertilization.
Originally, the United States government established about 30 America Houses in West Germany and West Berlin. They consisted of research and lending libraries, programs about the United States, and language courses.
Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, then studying at Hamburg University, and many others of today's political, business, and cultural leaders, learned or improved their English at an Amerika-Haus, or used the libraries to satisfy intellectual hungers caused by 12 years of Nazi rule.
At the end of the 1950s, however, the United States reduced funds for the program and started to close many of the centers.
But they discovered that in many cases the American centers have set their roots so deeply into the local community that they could not simply be withdrawn.
In nine German cities, local leaders insisted the American centers be kept open and offered to help finance them. Today, the American centers -- now known as German-American Institutes -- in Kiel, Hannover, Darmstadt, Heidelberg, Nuremberg, Regensburg, Saarbrucken, Tubingen, and Freiburg are binationally funded and directed, all active centers of German and American cultural exchange.
The United States International Communication Agency (USICA) continues to operate on its own the America Houses in Cologne, Dusseldorf, Bremen, Hamburg, West Berlin, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, and Munich.
Each Amerika-Haus and German-American Institute has a library of between 6, 000 and 12,000 books and subscribes to between 150 and 400 newspapers and periodicals. (Frankfurt gets the daily Christian Science Monitor.) The 17 centers and the library at the US Embassy in Bonn operate an inter-library lending service for their users.
Typically, in a recent year, the German-American Institute in Heidelberg hosted 98 lectures, 5 seminars, 17 concerts, 13 exhibitions, 32 English-language discussion groups, 100 film showings, and 41 videotape programs.
Sometimes, though, these centers become targets for anti- American violence, as during the Vietnam war, when angry student groups regularly threw fire bombs through Amerika- Haus windows.
But such violent episodes pale into insignificance compared with the positive influence America Houses have had.
The Amerika-Haus was not designed for the tourist, but a tourist who attends any program there will find his time w ell spent and the German participants well met.