A Tribute To Benjamin Franklin Village Mannheim Germany

A Tribute to Benjamin Franklin Village, Mannheim, Germany

As I read over the June 1, 2011 edition of the Herald POST, which serves the communities in the U.S. Army Garrison Baden-Württemberg, it was a bittersweet experience. The article covered the deactivation ceremonies and contained some great photos and background on BFV. But as I read the newspaper, I was struck with a sense of both nostalgia and sadness.

As a Military Brat, I lived in Benjamin Franklin Village from 1962 to 1966, and for me and many others, it was our home—where we went to school, trick-or-treated, played softball, went to Saturday Matinees or the Snack Bar, or the library and PX.

Benjamin-Franklin-Village-2.jpg

I first learned about the closing of the U.S. Army Garrison in Mannheim from Prof. Dr. Christian Führer in late January of 2011.

Christian contacted me via email, regarding several articles he had found on Military Brat Life about the four years my family and I spent in Mannheim, living in Benjamin Franklin Village, and wanted permission to include some quotes from my articles in his book.

Christian wrote, "As a German national hailing from Mannheim myself, I have been involved in many German-American activities during the past thirty years, so the recent announcement of Mannheim's 2014/2015 closure nearly broke my heart, but also gave rise to this project. The project is non-profit endeavor with all proceeds (if any will be generated) going to the Fisher House Foundation - specifically, to the Fisher House in nearby Landstuhl that allows the relatives of wounded soldiers to be near their loved ones."

Christian was researching his book about how the U.S. Army Garrison and the many families and soldiers who came and went through the garrison were such an influence on the Mannheim community.

“My mother (who was 3 when the war ended) knew what a Hershey bar was, and you can’t find those here, because soldiers shared their rations with her and her family. It is astonishing to think about because Germany attacked the U.S., and here less than five years later, Soldiers are outside tossing pigskins to children, sharing their Cokes and were just generally very outgoing in nature,” said Führer. “The mentality of Americans seems to be, ‘We’ll weather through it all, as long as we stick together.’”

If you talk to any Military Brat who has lived overseas, our lives have been changed as we experience a different country, culture and people. And for me, while Benjamin Franklin Village was a large housing housing area and a microcosm of Americana surrounded by the rest of Mannheim, it was my home for four years, and our family's base of operation, with the German country side and many quaint towns and castles within just a short afternoon drive.

Late in May of 2011, Elizabeth Casebeer, with USAG Baden-Württemberg Public Affairs, contacted me to arrange a phone interview about a Military Brat's perspective on Mannheim and the closing of Benjamin Franklin Village for the Herald Post article she was writing, I felt a flood of emotions and I thought about what this meant to me and to others who had lived and worked in BFV.

"Our Town" Disappears—In Plain Sight

It is hard to grasp the fact that what was "our town" will be no more, even if the buildings remain standing for years to come. It is the idea that the housing area where thousands of soldiers lived, their children played and went to school, will be gone, but the buildings will still be there.

In the national news from time to time, I will read about a town that is devasted by flood or tornados, and almost without exception, the town is rebuilt and families who have lived there can return and continue their lives.

For military families, we all have a series of "home towns" and for many soldiers' careers, the places they called home continue on. But over time the world changes and the mission of the military changes along with it. Bases close, and garrisons deactivate.

Only Memories Remain

As I think about the concept of garrison deactivation, it is like remembering a friend or relative who has passed on to the next life and all you are left with are the memories of that person. The places we grew up, like BFV, while not alive themselves, were alive with soldiers, their families, teachers, chaplains, and everyone needed to make a community whole.

When I was a child and my dad was on leave, my mother would sometimes take us by the place where her home once stood, out in the country outside Decatur, Alabama. All we saw were trees and pasture land, as the old "home place" had been sold before we kids were born and the house my mother had grown up in was torn down.

Now I know what she was feeling as she took us by to visit, and why she stared over at familiar trees and even though the house was long gone, the land was there where she had walked, and played, and the fields where she had helped harvest crops and even to pick cotton.

The Bittersweet

It is a bittersweet feeling, knowing that another part of Germany which has been occupied for over sixty years, will be returning to Germany—that the cultural melting pot will be no more and that the interaction between the Americans living in Mannheim with Germans will cease.

From the playground between apartment buildings on Lincoln Avenue, past the fence topped with barbed wire, I could see the rows of jeeps, trucks and other green vehicles and trailers, which were always ready to respond to an alert, like silent, unmoving sentries. It is sad for for me to think that no U.S. Military children will grow up seeing and experiencing life at Benjamin Franklin Village.

While it is sad for me, I think it is a good thing for Germany—that Germans may raise their children without the sight of fences topped with barbed wire, in a country that is no longer divided into East and West.

An Americana Microcosm—Well, Sort Of

While BFV had its own schools, PX, library, hospital, commissary, theatre and everything a U.S. military family needed, as a six-year old, it was the world outside the housing area where English was a second language, money was totally different, and all the candy was in unfamiliar packaging. This was Mannheim, and the entire countryside outside Mannheim was filled with castles to be explored, as well as thousands of small towns with narrow winding roads, cobblestone streets and very friendly people who worked hard and loved living their lives.

As a child, living in what was called West Germany, since the Berlin Wall divided the country at the time, I learned about the history of Germany and World War II, and though we had ongoing warnings about unexploaded grenades, bombs and artillery shells, it was hard to imagine that there had so much destruction and bloodshed all around us.

In 1962, when I arrived in Mannheim, the city had been rebuilt and while there still was a danger of finding unexploded munitions from twenty years earlier, we saw little of the destruction of Germany during the war, except for a few historical sites we visited.

While we were in a sense isolated from German children as we grew up at BFV, Germans came and went daily, working around the garrison and some Germans sold door to door to make a living. From "starving artist" landscape paintings to encyclopedias, the large housing housing area with mostly stay-at-home moms were an easy target for salesmen. One of my fondest memories going with my mom to buy warm bread that from a nice Germany lady who drove through the neighborhood, selling out of the back of her small station wagon.

While my memories are from my childhood, I now realize that soldiers stationed at the garrison had a big impact on the local economy and that many friendships were made between Germans and Americans, and an exchange of our two cultures took place as Americans went off post and learnd about the culture around them.

Many soldiers married Germans and other European nationals, so it was common to hear several languages spoken besides English.  After a few weeks BFV was my home. Though at first so much of what I saw was very different from living in a surburban house in Columbus, Georgia, I gradually accepted the apartment buildings and the facilities provided at Benjamin Franklin Village as the norm.

I also learned that we were not in Germany to keep the Germans from returning to military power, but we were there because of a common enemy, the Soviet Union.

The impact of Living in Germany

I had no idea that growing up in Germany would impact my life in so many subtle ways.

All of the Saturday drives to castles and tourist attractions including museums and cathedrals, fueled my interest in art and architecture, and years later in college, while studying art, I could imagine myself back in Germany, looking around a 11th or 12th century cathedral and feeling the cool, stone walls that enclosed the space and created the feeling of heaven above.

In 1973, during my junior year of high school, my dad received orders to report to Friedburg, Germany. While I had spent four years at Fort Knox, and would miss my friends, I loved the thought of returning to Germany, my adopted country.

I lived for a few months with my family in Florstadt, Germany, awaiting quarters, and it was an interesting turn of events to be one of only four or five American families living in the small town. It was great to see how our German neighbors lived, though it was no surprise. Our neighbors worked hard, played hard, raised their families and tried not to worry about the Cold War heating up.

I have not been back to Germany since I took a vacation there 1990, and while I did stop by in Mannheim. I was traveling by train and while I did spend some time in Mannheim, but was not able to properly go down memory lane and walk around BFV. However, just knowing I was in Mannheim was a great feeling.

One day I hope to visit what was once Benjamin Franklin Village, and perhaps walk on the sidewalks I did as a child when going to the library, to school, or to the movie theatre and sometimes to the PX.

It is my hope that the City of Mannheim will keep a few street names the same as they are now, as a gentle reminder of the Americans who once were part of Mannheim, so I can find Lincoln Avenue—and my way back home.


Comments (128)

Joanne Taylor
Said this on 7-12-2011 At 05:12 pm

I too am a little sad at the closing of BFV.  I have so many fond memories of BFV and Mannheim and Germany in the 60's.  Enjoyed your story.  Thanks for the memories!

Rafael Vega, Jr
Said this on 6-20-2013 At 11:48 pm

I'm sorry everyone has moved on from BFV; it was the high point in my life as child, I still remember all of my friends from 1962 - 1965, Butch Mayo, Olivia Marino, and many others. Remember trading comic books?,ect I resided at 72 E Lincoln Street with my brothers Dennis, Eric, and Errol. Each one of us served in the U.S. Military only (2) of us got  the chance to return to beautiful Germany.  

Said this on 9-4-2013 At 12:44 pm

hi,  We were Army brats from 1966 - 69 in Kaiserlern and 70 to 72 in Mannheim.  Home in Tennesse twice while Dad was in Nam.  I was born in Tenn in 60, but my brother and sister born in Hawaii in 62,64.   Glad I found this website, now in Indiana     Marsha N

Karen Tomblin
Said this on 11-17-2013 At 04:19 pm

I lived at 72C Lincoln from 1971-1973 so sad to hear the housing area was closing.

 

Bob Hollingsworth
Said this on 2-24-2014 At 11:17 pm

I was known As "Bobby" Hollingsworth and was in Mannheim in '62 also. I remember the snow and the boyscout jamobree at the football field. Trading comics.....knock, knock...."Wanna trade" while sitting in the stairwells. 25 cents for a movie and the youth club. What a wonderful place and time. My brother was Steven. We liived just down the street from the base clinic. 

Bob Hollingsworth now 62yoa (LOL)

Terry Harris
Said this on 8-5-2011 At 05:33 pm

What a great article.  I spent 2 years at BFV from 1967 to 1969 when my father decided it was time to retire.  I read with with all those pictures going through my mind.  It was almost like I was there again.  I don't remember the street names as well, but I do remember we lived right across from the dispensery.  I can still remember the smells of the fresh bread and other pastries that were just outside in the parking lot.  I can remember the tank sounds from Sullivan that was in our backyard right across the fence.  Thanks for writing such a great article and bringing back those very fond memories.

Phillip Luebke
Said this on 8-9-2011 At 03:20 am

I lived there from 1979 to 1981 (3rd - 5th grade). I enjoyed reading your thoughts.

tommy r. bailey
Said this on 8-20-2011 At 06:27 pm

MY FAMILY LIVED IN BFV JAN.77 TILL DEC.79. CANT REMEMBER ADDRESS. I WAS E-6 STATIONED COLEMAN BARRACKS AT C-2-67ADA CHAPARRAL. WONDERFUL MEMORIES.   TOM BAILEY

Said this on 2-25-2013 At 04:56 pm

I was an E6 at HHB 2/67 ADA in the FAAR platoon from 1975 to 1979.  I lived in BHV and later in Frankenthal.  I visited Mannheim and Sullivan three years ago and was shocked at how much had changed.  Hearing of the closure brings back a flood of memories.  I coached youth league football on my off hours and wonder from time to time how the kids are doing.

tommy r. bailey
Said this on 8-21-2011 At 05:18 pm

my family lived in bfv 1977 thru 1979. i was at coleman barracks with c-2-67ada chaparral/vulcan.

Christine Royer
Said this on 8-22-2011 At 12:27 am

I'm sad to read that BVF is closing. My family lived there from about late 1963-65. The address I remember best was 66C Jefferson St. Joe Namath's brother, John, lived in the apartment below us and I used to babysit his 3 girls.  After Dad was promoted to Maj. we moved into a duplex. Still have my Mannheim yearbook and sweatshirt- Go Bisons! My 6th grade teacher was Mrs. Lynde and my fave 8th grade teacher was Mr. Dove, science. After returning to the States, I kept in touch with 2 or 3 friends I made in Mannheim for many years. I remember going to the AYA after school and reading a lot since we didn't have tv! Movies I think cost 25 cents and popcorn was about 10 cents. It was 50 cents for a big, long movie like "Lawrence of Arabia". Used to take walks in the woods and see the bison, school mascot. I think I still have a picture of him somewhere! I have always been proud to be an Army Brat. What a great upbringing and way to see the world!

I enjoyed your story and recollections too! Thanks for sharing them with us.

 

Heather Waltz
Said this on 7-11-2013 At 08:45 am

Christine, I think I knew you!  I remember a Christine in several of my classes.  I had both teachers that you mentioned!  I lived in BFV, both on Jefferson and officers' quarters from 1962-65.  I definitely remember Mr. Dove and his black cape!  I was shy and always horrified when he made us stand up in class to answer questions!  So many wonderful memories of that time!  Such great experiences!  A few other friends were Melissa Childress, Lisa Carter, Ricky Bachelor, Forest Simmons, Angela D'arcangelis, Gina Griswold, Mary Teehan, Greg Johnston, and Mervin Conner.

Bob Hollingsworth
Said this on 2-24-2014 At 11:21 pm

I remember Mr. Dove and his wristlets. We all thought he had science fiction hands (reallly he was a competitive shooter and they were weights) I was the guy who hatched the chickens for the science fair. 

Bob Hollingsworth

Jeff Schriver
Said this on 9-2-2011 At 05:21 pm

I too lived @ BFV 1961-1964,  went to the elementary school, I remember being surrounded by other children who where friendly, open, lively and without troubles.  "brats"

 

harry wright
Said this on 7-21-2014 At 09:09 am

I was a dependent in Worms from 59-61 and Mannheim from 61-63 hoping to find old friends from that period.

Said this on 10-25-2011 At 07:20 am

I lived at BFV 75 -77 good memories lots of exploring the woods and the  farm just outside of the village. Freshmen year and sophomore at the high school were fun ,played football and skiping school to ride the starssbahn into downtown mannheim .

Jean King
Said this on 2-25-2012 At 06:28 pm

My husband and I were there about that time and lived in BFV also.  I believe it was Washington Street.  Do you  happen to remember  a young man called "Polar Bear" (nickname) in school ?  He lived in our bldg. probably about your age...

James Lomax
Said this on 10-31-2011 At 01:53 am

I lived there from 1994 until 1996 and I honestly can say that I miss the place and all the fun and memories that I have of BFV.. Great time WOW

David Strickland
Said this on 11-4-2011 At 01:48 pm

Thanks for the memories. We lived there from 1968 until 1970 and those were some of the best years of my life. I can still remember our address - 44B Lincoln street. I played little league baseball and joined the boy scouts too. I think the troop number was 527. Going camping back then was pretty exciting because ther was a lot of stuff left over from WWII that you would come upon out in the forrest around Mannheim. I made alot of friends there and I wish that I had been able to get back there for a visit.

Terry Harris
Said this on 5-18-2013 At 09:28 pm

I had posted a message earlier about my time at BFV.  I see that our times there overlapped.  I too was a member of Troop 527.  Scoutmaster was Brian Fitzsimmons.  His asst. was Ed Kibbe.  Yes, those were fun times. 

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