Over 5,000 miles to come and Hank#039;

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 6, 2001

When people native to Butler County think about travel distances to the Hank Williams Festival in Georgiana, they could not even imagine traveling a world away to get there.

But two well-versed fans of Hank Williams Sr. traveled over 5,000 miles to be at the gala event

to share with others their stories of how the Lonesome Highway traveler impacted their lives.

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Meet Manfred A. Reinhardt and Dr. Reinhold Gerstner. After flying from Germany to Atlanta, and then driving another 250 miles, Reinhardt and Gerstner landed at the 2001 Hank Williams Festival, and said they would not have missed it for anything.

Reinhardt, first secretary, head of administration at the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Den Haag (The Hague, Holland), and a member of the Lions

Club International in his hometown of Bavaria, said he grew up listening to the music of Hank Sr.

"I can remember when I was a small child in school, the ArmedForces Radio Service, with a transmitter in Stuttgart, played Hank Williams' music every morning on the Hillybilly Guesthouse' from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. n we would get up early so we could listen to it every morning before we went to school," said Reinhardt of his boyhood days in the early 50s. "We would send postcards to the radio stations in Stuttgart and Nuremberg, requesting songs n the radio people always complied.

"I have built an archive of information over the past 50 years on Hank Williams."

Reinhardt said he has been able to swap much information with others through the Hank Williams International Fan Club.

"I have belonged to the Hank Williams Fan Club for three years n I found out about the event on the Internet," he said. "This is actually my second visit to Georgiana."

Reinhardt, along with his 60-year-old friend Gerstner, arrived in Atlanta after a nine-hour flight.

"When we arrived, we drove to Montgomery n there we saw the Hank Museum they have. We then traveled to Selma, and Meridian, Miss. before coming to Butler County."

The pair stayed at the Day's Inn in Greenville, and were very much impressed with the local people and surroundings here.

"I have been very impressed with the hospitality and friendliness of the people here," Reinhardt said. "And the terrain is beautiful n there are so many green forests here, and life is so relaxed n I have been to the United States 15 or 20 times now, and this is the most beautiful area I have seen."

Gerstner, also an avid Hank fan, has been a lifelong friend of Reinhardt.

"We have been buddies since the schooldays," Gerstner said. "I have always liked Hank Williams' music, but I am also a very avid fan of Loretta Lynn, and I can't wait to see her perform."

Gerstner, 60 years old, lives with his first child, Hanna, who is now five years old, in Germany, but spends a great deal of time in the south of France.

"My daughter would like to have been here, but she is getting ready to start kindergarten next month," he said. "I would very much like to have her go to school here, though n I think the schools are better in America."

Gerstner said he too travels to the states frequently.

"I have a condominium in Naples, Florida," he said.

As Loretta Lynn sang her final, signature song Coal Miner's Daughter', Reinhardt and Gerstner bid their farewell, having made many new friends, and promising to correspond, and return to the event again each year, for they would be off for the airport bright and early Sunday morning to fly back to Germany.