Club Ambiorix in building 308

Club Ambiorix in building 308 (Kat Nickola)

Club Ambiorix, as the Belgian bar is officially named, has been a hub for both the American and international community at Ramstein Air Base for decades.  

In the late 1990s there was a massive influx in the Belgian community stationed at Ramstein, with 150 personnel and their families. This included 50-70 kids who enjoyed Christmas parties and visiting Sinterklaas at the bar. They had bustling reunions for the July 21 Belgian National Day; even relatives flew in on military planes for the event. Club Ambiorix was the hub of the community, where they held farewell parties, spouse clubs, kid events and, of course, evenings to socialize at the bar. At the time, the bar also had a lunchtime kitchen that was popular with personnel from all over the base. 

I sat down with Lt. Col Erik Vandebroek, Project Officer for moving the Belgian National Support Element and First Corporal Chief (Ret.) Eddy Vereecke, who arrived at Ramstein Air Base in 1983, to learn the history of this base mainstay. 

The bar has always been a hub of activity for the Belgian population and a great place for anyone stationed at Ramstein to socialize and share in the fun. For years, the Belgian unit hosted a shooting contest, Challenge Picard. Initially, the goal was to raise money for the family of a colleague with cancer. Over the years, the event grew to an incredible size, with 800 contestants from across Europe and the aim of raising money for cancer research. Shuttle buses brought folks back to the bar afterward where they could celebrate both the winners and the donations that at one point exceeded €5,000. 

 First Corporal Chief (Ret.) Eddy Vereecke at Club Ambiorix

 First Corporal Chief (Ret.) Eddy Vereecke at Club Ambiorix (Kat Nickola)

Downsizing in the early 2000’s slowly changed the dynamic. The lunch café eventually closed. However, the bar continued to welcome people by starting Thursday evening open hours in 2008. At the time there was a large influx of American medical personnel coming from the U.S. on short tours. “They were looking for a place to go in the evening, and a few came here, and they ordered Belgian beer,” explains Vereecke, “And it exploded.” As the bar’s popularity grew, the Belgian bar evolved to meet the needs of the newest base population and again became an anchor in the community. At one point, even transport flights from the states were planned around Thursday nights. With renewed energy, the Belgian bar got busy and lively. 

“Some nights we had 300 people,” says Vereecke. They opened on Tuesday evenings to level out the attendance. The Belgian bar became THE place to go after work, and it was not unusual for a General to pop in for a drink. One evening, a bunch of flies buzzed in. Corks were aimed and popped; comically, someone shot down a fly and before long the ‘kills’ were being circled on the ceiling. Those victory marks are still there. 

COVID put a damper on things, but the bar recovered. It is a popular place on Tuesday and Thursday nights. People use it for special events, and it is still the go-to facility for NATO celebrations. American Airmen on their first tour overseas find it an especially welcome place to chat with the international population, try some Belgian beer and discover European culture. As Vereecke tells me about the Belgian bar’s heritage, a group of active-duty personnel have lunch at the outside gazebo. This place is woven into the social fabric of the military community at Ramstein, though few know its origin story.  

A Belgian bar with German beer? 

In 1975, a Belgian support unit moved to Ramstein Air Base. What was intended as a temporary assignment soon became a permanent fixture in the growing NATO community. Located in building 544 at the time, the Belgian personnel did not have their families and were essentially on a ‘remote’ tour. Something was missing. “Like Belgians have always been,” says Vereecke, smiling, “we need a place where we can meet.” So, they started a small bar in an office; a place to get together, have a drink and laugh about the day. 

The bar quickly became a gathering place for the roughly 60 Belgians stationed in the surrounding area. At the time, the bar served German BBK (Barbarossa-Bräu Kaiserslautern), a relationship that was established by leadership. [At this point in the interview, Vandebroek chuckles a little at having a Belgian bar serve German beer]. Vereecke was a driver at the time in the early 1980’s, frequently returning to Belgium for mail and other duties. He and the other drivers began bringing back bottles of Belgian beer to store in their breakroom refrigerator. “We thought, we don’t have to drink the German beer, we drink beer from Belgium.” He laughs, “but, after a while, nobody was sitting in the bar anymore, they were all sitting in our driver’s [break] room.” Some friendly banter with leadership led to a community survey about which beer was preferred: German or Belgian? I’m sure you can guess the winner. 

By 1988, the weekly support flights from Belgium carried Cristal kegs. The company even sponsored a couple of technicians to come help install a bar and the proper Belgian-style cooling system. The rest of the place was hand-built, and way too small for its popularity. Holiday parties spilled into the hallways. At one point during a large NATO exercise in the 1980’s the bar was open 24 hours a day, with bartenders running two shifts. The importance surrounding the social ties of sharing a beer cannot be overstated; beer culture in Belgium is, after all, listed as a UNESCO intangible cultural heritage. 

Lt. Col Erik Vandebroek, Project Officer for moving the Belgian National Support Element at Club Ambiorix

Lt. Col Erik Vandebroek, Project Officer for moving the Belgian National Support Element at Club Ambiorix (Kat Nickola)

Becoming Club Ambiorix 

The Belgian unit was moved temporarily down the road to building 519 in 1992. All the equipment from the original location was hauled over to this temporary spot, and the bar carried on. 

In 1995, big changes created a large Belgian community at Ramstein. The unit merged with another from the scale-down of a British base at JHQ Rheindahlen. The now 150 Belgians assigned to Ramstein could bring families and the community grew large. The influx from Rheindahlen also meant incoming support like a restaurant cook and two official bartenders. They were given space in building 308 and Club Ambiorix was built. The name reflects a historical tribal leader. Ambiorix defeated Julius Caesar’s army in 54 B.C. during an uprising against the Roman occupation of his territory in what is now Belgium. 

A lot of the construction of the new bar was taken on by personnel stationed locally, while the Belgian government took care of the basics. The brick bar structure was built by First Corporal Chief Philip Deprez and his father-in-law. A local carpenter built the wooden top. 

New, Central Location 

Replacing building 308, which houses the Belgian bar and three support units, has been 20 years in the making. According to Vandebroek, that is how long the nearby building expansion talks have been going on. Finally, things are moving forward with the first step: Moving the Belgian bar somewhere larger and more central to the community.  

Vadebroek and Vereecke at the new Belgian bar location

Vadebroek and Vereecke at the new Belgian bar location (Kat Nickola)

The bar will move this summer. “In the beginning it was hard to convince everybody that it was really going to happen. Because they all said, ‘They’ve been talking about it for twenty years… it won’t be happening,’” said Vandebroek.  

The Belgian bar will reopen in mid-July at its new location in building 539, near the NATO offices and across from the library and community center. It is taking over the space formerly occupied by the Brit Café. The plan is to continue the tradition of opening on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. The new location is a bright, modern space and has already been repainted. Much of the bar nostalgia will be brought over: the painting of Ambiorix, the awards and patches, and, most importantly, the ceiling tile from the fly-shooting incident.  

June 27, 2024 will be the final day for Club Ambiorix in building 308. It will open at 5:00 p.m., and the USAFE band “Touch ‘n Go” will be there to help celebrate the bar’s heritage and relive memories. It will also be a time to get excited about the new space where the Belgian bar can continue building community at Ramstein, a legacy that began way back in 1975. 

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Kat is a travel and lifestyle writer based in Kaiserslautern, Germany with a special interest in anything outdoorsy or ancient. She has a bachelor’s degree in geography from Penn State University and has been a travel writer for a long while. Currently, she is in the depths of an archaeology dissertation for a degree at the University of the Highlands and Islands.

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