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 (113)

Said this on 9-4-2013 At 12:51 pm

hi, in Mannhiem in 70-72.  My brother was a cub scout   Maiden name is Gundt,  my mom was known as

Popcorn Lady for a Scout fundraiser.   loved playing, the only scary thing was once having to walk my sister to elementary school, cause so GIs had supposedly gave out drugs and called it candy.  I will have to ask my sister, but Lincoln is familiar.  we were close to a Deli, and I made money getting small things for moms in our apt.  They were the Moms with small kids and I was 11 or 12.  

dt,  my mom was "

Robert Ives
Said this on 9-19-2013 At 02:58 pm

John,

You and I had to have run in the same circles.  I too was a member of Troop 527 and spent time at Carl Benz Bad, in the cherry trees at the end of Lincoln Strasse, and a lot of time in Kafertal Woods drinking from the Wasser Werk fountain after a long bike ride along trail #7 or building forts in the old bomb craters. Even the Autobahn being shutdown in 73 during the OPEC embargo. Special memories were Halloween in BFV, playing marbles at the end of Linclon Str. across from my place at 25 D Jackson Str., all the psychedelic art in the AYA, and walking to school with a mandatory stop at the Lebensmittel between Jackson Str. and Grant Circle. I was there from 71-77. 

I honestly can say that growing up in BFV was the best time of my life and hold the fondest memories. I've been back twice, in 1999 and 2003, and was amazed at all the changes and overblown security.  Even when the Bader-Meinhof Gang was at it's peak, we never stopped living our lives. 

For me, memories of Voglestand, the Kaufhof, all the fests and castles, the school trips, heading down to Chiemsee or Berchtesgaden in the winter, and just being emersed in European culture is something I'll never forget.

Go Bisons!

carol gustafson
Said this on 10-9-2013 At 07:05 pm

John, you must know my brother , John Holmes. Your story sounds just like him! Carol Gustafson (Holmes)

Sonny Condon
Said this on 12-21-2013 At 04:53 pm

I lived in BFV from Dec 70 to Dec 73.  I was in troop 527.  I remember camping trips with the boy scouts.  I don't remember the scoutmasters name.  I was 10 when I arrived and 13 when I left.  I remember Kafertal & Vogelstang.  I was sorry to see BFV closed.  I was a Army Brat.  I Lived at 88E Columbus Str, next to the little Foodland store at the opposite end of the street from the PX.

Mike Montgomery
Said this on 2-21-2014 At 02:44 pm

Lived there the same years but was a little younger.  Alumni for Cub Scout Pack 313.  Remember those pomme frites and that 10m platform very well too.

 

Paul Taillon
Said this on 11-14-2011 At 07:02 pm

I  lived in B.F.V.  from 1974 thru 1976  and have memories from there that will last a lifetime. I went to  Darmstadt Career CTR. , enjoyed skiping afternoon classes at M.A.H. and riding the trains to adventure.

It is sad to read of B.F.V's closing  but so many of us will never forget our time spent there.

Paul Taillon Jr.
Said this on 11-15-2011 At 05:35 pm

I lived in B.F.V from 1974 thru 1976 and I had some of the best times in my life there.I'ts always sad to read about yet another base closing but memories of B.F.V.  will live on for quite some time for so many.

Go Bisons!!

Vann Baker
Said this on 12-6-2011 At 01:31 pm

Hi Paul, I went to Frankfurt American High School during the 73-74 school year (Class of 74), and we had some riders on our bus from Bad Nauheim who also went to the Darmstadt Career Center. I do regret not being able to have maybe two years at FAHS so I could have taken some courses there, but that is water under the bridge.

Glad you also had a chance to experience BFV as well.

Maybe one day we can get a group together to have a meetup there and go down memory lane.

Mike Sutton
Said this on 4-5-2013 At 04:02 pm

We could be brothers, except the Georgia part. 

I lived in PHV from '62-'66, then came back to Washington state, but returned to Ansbach from '72-'74, (1974= 1st graduating class of Ansbach, which opened in fall of '73)

tanja moura
Said this on 12-6-2011 At 03:36 pm

I'm one of those "natives" that was fortunate enough to become an American Army brat through marriage of my German mother & American Step-dad.  We moved to BFV in '72 when I was 5. We lived at 20-b Washington street &  I remember being so proud to be allowed to live with the Americans! I loved my childhood there &  can say I helped build the middle school where they let all the local kids hand over bricks and bring in books! Thoroughly am enjoying reading everyone's memories. We were there 'til '77 & eventualyl made it to the states & have been here since!  I am hoping to get back to Mannheim to visit my german neighborhood in Gartenstadt and also hopefully the base at BFV.  So am I reading correctly, it will still be partially open til 2014/2015? I still have time!

T :)

Yvonne Wallace
Said this on 12-28-2011 At 10:11 pm

I've lived at BFV from 1970 to 1976 at 73 A Jefferson St.  I graduated in '75 and my brother in '76.  Tak about wonderful memories living on base and graduating......Will always cherish those times.

Said this on 6-12-2012 At 01:55 pm

Yvonne,

We lived at 17-F Jefferson Street from 1970-73.  I have several brothers and sisters that you might have known--David Smith, class of 74, Vicky-77, Mike-78, Steve-79.  I was class of 80, so you probably didn't know me.  I only went to the elementary school.  David didn't attend his senior year there, he left after his junior year.

Terry

Diane McCulloch
Said this on 8-23-2012 At 11:14 pm

You might know my older sister or my middle siste there names are Vickie and Kay.

Virginia Storath Andrews
Said this on 9-25-2012 At 05:09 pm

We also lived in BFV from about 1970-1976 at 51 E Columbus Street right across from MAHS and I too graduated in '76!  I cherish the memories we made living there and am saddened by the closure.

Denise cook
Said this on 2-2-2013 At 06:34 pm

I lived on Lincoln street, right before you turned onto Jackson street to turn left.

 

Said this on 3-14-2013 At 12:12 am

My name is Panis,I was an Army wife living in BFV in78,79,80.We had three children Dee,Melody & Joni Tilghman.My husband was SFC. Jimmy C.Tilghman, now deceased.He was a Mess Sgt.@Coleman barricks.We lived@ 36 E Washington,Strausse.Third floor, left hand side.Three years of growing up, while my husband did his military job,I did the wife thing,I raised our children.Years of joy I will always have in my memories.Germany was a beautiful country,how I would love to go back with my now 3 grown children,just for the memories!

 

Les Davaz
Said this on 8-29-2013 At 02:50 pm

I remember you from our graduating class.  Best wishes.  Les Davaz, Charlotte, NC

Said this on 1-24-2012 At 04:06 pm

Thanks for the memories! I lived in BFV as a dependent and as a solider. I went to Mannheim from 66-67, played in a local Band and had a great time! I later returned serving in the Army and my housing over looked the same field you described in front of the school.

John Kirkhum
Said this on 1-18-2014 At 11:58 pm

Mike, didn't you play guitar with the band "The Printed Spots ?"  I replaced The Boss Tweeds drummer (Last name was Limon I believe) in1967..I immediately recognized your name when I saw your post..

Regards

Said this on 1-25-2012 At 11:42 pm

My sister and I including my mother and father (a major at the time who was in Military Police Customs in Heidleberg) lived at Benjamin Franklin Village in Mannheim in 1956.  We went to school in the 6th grade down the street from where we lived at 65B on Jefferson.  I raised and lowered the American flag at the school as a member of the safety patrol.  I recall being in the Christmas pageant at the school and the "angel" was my first crush a girl named Suzanne Schultz whose father was a colonnel and lived in a two story single residence.  I was a boy scout and I rode my bicycle throughout the country side including down trails where tanks would practice.  The school had a food drive for the hungarian refugees and we went through BFV soliciting food.

Sadly when I returned to visit Manheim and Benjamin Franklin village where it was and open residential area with free access for Americans and Germans to come and go there now was a perimeter tall chain link fence with razor wire around the whole village and I was not allowed to enter the Village...so sad.  At that returning moment it was just a memory in my mind as it was gone forever never allowing me to return.

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