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 (117)

Said this on 4-14-2012 At 08:37 pm

I haven't returned to Germany since I left there in 1972, but I have returned to West Point, the Military Academy where my dad taught for four years.  Unfortunately my husband and I couldn't go on base to see my old quarters, either -- there's a bus tour that goes through the public areas but no quarters.  My folks retired near the Army War College, and it's all locked down too, so most of the houses I grew up in are verboten.  So sad.  Still, the memories are great! 

william rowe
Said this on 2-17-2012 At 01:22 am

lived at 51f washington street 1989-1991

Roswitha Julin
Said this on 3-12-2012 At 06:57 pm

Thank you for your tribute to BFV Mannheim Käfertal. Your article really touched me.I was born in 1947 in Mannheim, raised in Viernheim, which means that I passed BFV many times by OEG Strassenbahn since I was a young child.

I always tried to imagine what was going on behind that big Sullyvan sign. When I was liitle in the early 50s I saw these big Military trucks passing by my parents house. We kids would run on the street and wave at  the GIs. You ask yourself what impact your stay in Germany had on you.

I can assure you that of course there has been an impact on the German children too. As for me I think it broadend my mind towards other people and everything that was not Viernheim. Maybe as a result of my being curious for anything different  than "home".

I live in Sweden for the past 35 years, but I`m always open to meet people from different countries.

Garland Byron
Said this on 3-15-2012 At 06:44 pm

I lived in BFV from 1954-1956 and I am so sorry to see that it has closed. My family loved our entire time there and the wonderful German people that we met. My father used the opportunity to take us all over Europe while we were there and this had a profound effect on how I thought about other peoples and the world in general. I went to a summer camp one year but someone neglected to tell me to change my clothes and when I came home I was quite ripe.

My family still reminds me of this. It was like a dream for a child and at this stage of my life it hardly seems to have been real but it was. The only difficult time was during the Hungarian revolt in 1956 and my father was on alert for many days and we hardly saw him as we hovered by the radio and listened to the news. I had the honor to visit that square in Budapest in 2007. Times change and sweet memories sometimes are all we have left. These were among the most wonderful memories of my life.

Colleen Taylor
Said this on 3-28-2012 At 09:14 am

I lived in BFV (17-F Jefferson St) from 74-79.  I believe I had the best possible childhood there.  I remember walking past the fence to the little German store where we would buy candy.  Sometimes we would walk down the streets of German houses just to meet the people.  I remember thinking how wonderful the German families were - the ladies were often outside greeting my sister & I.

When I think of Germany, all I have is love for the land and the people.

Thank you for sharing your memories of BFV.  Your article took me on a stroll down a beautiful memory lane.

Vann
Said this on 3-28-2012 At 09:31 am

Thank you Colleen, for your positive comment and echoing what most of us felt and experienced.

I tell people that growing up in a military family 
is where things are always changing, but some things
don't change much at all.

It is great that we and others were able to experience
BFV and the overseas life. 

Said this on 6-12-2012 At 02:01 pm

Colleen,

What a coincidence!!  We lived in 17-F Jefferson Street from 1970-73.  Your family must have moved in right after we left!  The bedroom my sister and I shared overlooked the playground with the big mushroom monkey bars.  It's a small world.  There were 6 kids in my family, so 8 of us lived in those quarters.

I remember the candy store, and the farmer with the delicious cherry tree.  We'd walk to the swimming pool (I think there were 7 pools) past the field of wheat (?).

Said this on 7-18-2013 At 05:54 pm

Colleen,

Amazing! I think I lived on Jefferson Street too from 1973-1978 as the German store was out my front stairwell and across a field, I remember it fondly, the candy paper and sticks, candy strawberries and the incredible brotchen.  My best friend was a guy named Jim Gavin and my sister Debbie was best friends with his sister's, her name was Jeanine Gavin.  Clifford Jack was another friend, the two Cliff’s.  I was in elementary and middle school; so I would like to pose a childhood question; does anyone remember the playground swing thing that was shaped like a 6ft high bell/oval with a metal poll on top, the pole had two ropes attached with knots in each.  It was in a playground near the DYA/AYA.  All of the kids would wind the rope around the pole and then run and jump out into space hurling around the bell thing for 3-4 minutes ride while the world whirled around you and your friend.  The kids back then, me included could not get enough of that thing, we would play on it all summer long. What a kid’s paradise; building forts in the woods, or walking to the huge German pool past the fields behind Grant Circle.  Also, did anyone ever pick the crazy huge blackberries hanging out of the farmer’s fence halfway to the German pool. Ok, one more memory, the fantastic dances at the DYA during the height of the disco era, I loved how at least in my sheltered world, all of the races got along and I just loved and have always missed that diversity.

Christina Wert
Said this on 4-9-2012 At 01:54 am

My name is Christina Wert. I had lived in Mannheim, BFV for 15 years. To me, this was more than just a home, this was my life, this was my sanctuary. I woke up every morning, and I felt safe. I was a child in heaven. Taking the strauss to the Mall was a regular thing for me, or going to downtown Mannheim. Mannheim molded me, and shaped me into who I am today. When I found out that Mannheim was closing, my heart stopped. This was the most beautiful place in the World to me, and it's being taken away from all future possibilities. I remember my father's company BBQ's, I remember walking to the mall, going to the shoppette, I remember when they built the Skate Park on Washington St., I can remember them re-renivating all the housing, I was there before we had playgrounds, and I remember the metal poles at the end of the playgrounds pretty much WERE our playgrounds, I can remember when the "wood park" was dangerous, and then they tore it down and built a new one, I can remember before you needed ID cards to access base, and before they started putting scanners on ID cards, I can remember when we had fests and German's would over run our Commisary and PX...I remember when we had Baskin Robins, and all these other crazy places, and our power zone was on the other side of it, I remember when our commissary was where the PX is now, and the PX was smaller. I have lived through all these changes on that base, I even remember when they re-renivated our Theater and we couldn't have been happier that it was finally done. Ha. I can remember riding my bike for the first time, and sitting outside on the 4th of July waiting for that last firework to shoot out so my father, brother and I could go running for that flag,....We caught nearly every year for a while ha. I remember staying out all night every 4th of July catching "June bugs" haha. I remember wearing uniforms to school, man did I hate that, and I remember going to High School. I remember Mr. Porter most of all, he was my Algebra teacher, and the best damn Alegebra teacher at that, if he happens to stumble across this I hope he is aware of that. My whole childhood, my whole teenage-hood took place in Mannheim, there is so much more I could say, especially about places off base, but it's what took place on base that I wanted to share. I wouldn't take back my childhood for anything in the World. I miss my childhood EVERYday because of Mannheim. I'm joining the Military now, and I wish Mannheim were still open so that I could go back once more and at least say goodbye to a place so lively. I am at least lucky to have had so much of it. It will ALWAYS be a part of me that I will never let go of.

Said this on 4-14-2012 At 08:33 pm

I lived in BFV from 1969-1972.  I had Mr. Delage for 6th grade, he was a very important teacher to me and I wish I knew where he was today!  I also just worshipped Mrs. Busby the choir director at the high school, and I believe that I'm a professional musician today partly because of her.  We lived on Jefferson St;, Jackson St and for the last 18 months on Grant Circle.  I think about those days a lot! 

 

MaryAnn Donovan
Said this on 6-14-2012 At 08:04 pm

Lived in Feudenheim/Mannheim '54-'57,attended Heidelberg American High School...remember the "Teen Club" in Feudenheim...we lived "on the economy"..had my junior prom in the Heidelberg Castle...remember the "Wackleburg Gasthaus".

MaryAnn

 

Teri Taylor
Said this on 7-5-2012 At 02:40 pm
I still have the feeling of not belonging in the world of civilians. It has bee over 25 years since my family rotated out of Germany (BFV), but has since stayed in contact with most of my classmates, boyfriends, and old teachers. Thank God for the experience that we had. So many don't get what we had and I'm glad for it. One Love BFV and Mannheim Germany, you are and will always be truly missed.
Said this on 7-7-2012 At 08:47 pm

Thanks so much for the article. My best childhood year was spent in Mannheim '59 to '60. I returned in 2005. All was changed...fences, barbed wire, barricades...just like between East and West Germany.  Thanks, 9/11. All that we loved was already ruined before the closing. Your article is a beautiful memoir.

Said this on 7-8-2012 At 12:32 am

We lived in Mannheim for many wonderful years, leaving when I graduated in 1976.  Used to live on 23C Jackson St, then we moved onto the economy.  I remember the wonderful hobby shop on Sullivan Bks, the "German" store between Jackson St & Grant Circle, and of course the path through the woods to the water works & little zoo.  Belonged to Boy Scout troop 313, transatlantic council.  Remember the PX & checking out the new toys.  I went back last year & have an album on FB of what BFV now looks like.  Still recognizable, but sad to see it largely abandoned, and most places closed.  Also, because of the terrorism threat, it is locked down extremely tight.  No more shortcuts from the end of Lincoln to Grant Circle or from Jackson St by that great Geman store.  However the memories will always be there!

Paul Pernak
Said this on 7-7-2013 At 09:00 am

i would love to look at the collection of pic on FB is it under your name?

Jessica Vasquez
Said this on 7-17-2012 At 08:43 pm

My family lived in Mannheim from  1977- 1980. We will miss you BFV!

Catherine Grundy
Said this on 7-20-2012 At 10:04 am

I am a military brat that lived on Lincoln Strasse in 14D Building 190, right beside the BurgerKing/Anthony'sPizza from 2004-2007. I remember the playground between the buildings and the fence over which you could see the jeeps (I remember losing a few toys over that fence too.) I remember the weird windows in the apartments along with the roll down shades(and the weird lightswitches). I remember the doorhandles (instead of doorknobs) that one of my cats learned to open. I remember standing in the line for the first night of The Incredibles at the theater (you could see the end of the line from my house). Being a military child and living in different places for a few years, it becomes rather surreal to look back and think about the places you've been. You can remember each one vividly yet you know you will probably never see that place again. I had always dreamed of visiting the places that I have lived after I had finished with school and had enough money in my pockets. Hearing that BFV had been shut down (only halfway through my Sophomore year of highschool mind) was quite devastating. Now, finding the few friends that I know still live over there (because they have a German family member mostly) will be much harder because they've all been scattered.

I will always keep BFV in my heart because it was the place that shaped me and my personality and dreams the most.

Michael Bauerle
Said this on 8-6-2013 At 08:53 pm

As a S/P 4 soldier @ Sullivan Barracks I lived for two years across the road from BFV. Spent many days over in BFV. Was there from '64 to '66. Was a Sercurity Police on the front gate of Sullivan Barracks and had a great service experience while there.

 

Dewitt Hardee
Said this on 7-21-2012 At 05:41 pm
Thanks so much for this wonderful article.  Mannheim (Funari Barracks) was my first duty station as a 2LT in 1992.  I was lucky enough to have a second assignment from 1998-2001 at Sullivan Barracks.  I retire in a month and it is sad to know that BFV is closed.  The good news is that I hope to take a military hope there in a week and hopefully I can take some good photos and walk the area. It will be a good closure to my Army career. 
Crystal
Said this on 7-26-2012 At 05:17 pm

OMG! So many wonderful memories!! I miss Germany so very much!

The candy store!!! I remember the "sour pickles" and those jaw breakers that came in the two pack, either sour or the not sour kind! Does anyone know the name of that store or where I might look online to buy those candies!!! :) Please let me know, I will be forever in your debt!

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