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.


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.

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  1. Hi, we lived at BFV from 1973-1976. I was in 4-6th grade in the elementry school. The school was on Monroe street. I remember walking or riding bikes to the pool in Kafertal. On the way was a bakery, right outside of the post. I still remember the name of the street, “Wasserwerkstrasse” We used to pick up brotchens, or candy and sodas. I recall always going to the library on post, and reading one of my favorite books as a kid. I do not remember the name of the book but it had a lot of cool stuff to build and instructions on all kinds of games. Always Saturday matinees at the cinema! Playing marbles and baseball was big time. Lots of memories! 😉

  2. Thanks for the posting.

    In 1982 I was in Ansbach. Moved to BFV, in 1963-1966. I am a Cold War Army Brat Which means my Pa, was an Army soldier.
    And my Ma, was a Fraulein he met as part of the Occupation Army, in 1949.

    In order to finally be able to get married, he had gotten enough rank, to get permission, in the Winter of 1953, however, he was denied, so they hatched me.

    And on August 27, 1954, I was born in a German Hospital, in Mannheim.

    Thanks agin for your work in this original article. Hell kid, we might know each other. I lived on Columbus Street. Building F. Apartment 15.

    Out the kitchen and living room windows a vista view of the little league field. From my bedroom window and Ma & Pa’s.
    a vista view of the circular parking lot.

    In 1964, The Sarge ordered a 1964 Ford Custom Four Door, out of a brochure, at the BFV PX. 3 months later he took a train ride, to Bremerhafen, to accept delivery. While people of Peoria Illinois, were working at Caterpillar. And could buy a car any day pf the week. Or a color TV. 

    We had a case of C-Rats in the Ma&Pa bedroom, for evacuation purposes, should the Russians be coming. The first thing Ma lifted out of that box, was the coffee can and the cigarettes. That thing sat there for 3 years, with the lids ripped open. The cardboard container, dryrotted ripe to spontaneously cumbust.

    And all Dad could worry about was the MP’s wanting to do a cardboard box check. He was fanatical about his 201 file.

    Civilian kids are a joke. Army Brats rule. There is no life like that. In the USA, or overseas.


  3. I just turned 65, newly retired, and was debating travelling back to Europe particularly the Mannheim-Kafertal area. I, too, was an army brat and lived in BFV from 1956-1958. I had some unbelievably wonderful memories of base life – sports, first holy communion,  the school, “Honey”‘ our German maid who lived upstairs, the windows of the apartments Painted with incredible Christmas designs, and too many others to mention. Is it my understanding that the base where we lived is in fact not accessible? If anyone has details about the current condition of the area please let me know. Thanks.

  4. We were there 1970-1976, my family lived at 38 D Jefferson. So many fabulous memories of Mannheim and BFV. Halloween and the haunted houses in the basements. Movies for 25 and popcorn — a huge bag! — for 10 cents. Walking thru the fields to the pool. The playground on the other side of our court and I could still hear my parents calling. Trips all around Germany to castles, Garmisch, Chemsee, what an education for young children!!! And most poignant memory, the candy store we called “the German store.” My mom became friends with the ladies and they would come visit and bring more candy! I’ve dreamt about them and that store So many times!! BFV has always been such a special place in my heart. 

  5. I lived in BFV from 1976 to 1979 at 1 Grant Circle.  I was one of 4 boys – the Greene brothers.  Loved going to the German Store for brochen and candy.  Those strawberry things were amazing.  I remember skipping school and going to the Wertkauf and buying beer.  Also going to the crazy pool and jumping off the 10 meter platform.  Clifford Jack’s dad was my teacher and I remember playing poker with Clifford – good times.  

    Hanging out at MAHS and listening to the juke box while playing hearts with my buddies.  I lost my virginity on my last night in Germany, so needless to say the place and the girl hold a very special place in my heart.  

    I will be a little bit sadder, knowing that BFV is shut down and now completely vacant.  It was so alive and full of adventure when we were there.  Truely, there was no place like that and growing up there was a once in a lifetime experience.

    To all those that knew me and my brothers – we wish you all the best and will always remember the crazy good times at MAHS and BFV.

  6. Is this the Teri Taylor from Fort Hood in the 70’s

  7. Robert “Bobby” Sheets, I lived there 76 – 78.

  8. Im a army brat myself. My family lived in BFV from 79 to 83. I was only acouple months old when my dad got stationed back in the U.S. I’ve always wanted to visit the place I was born. Would’ve been nice to see the beauty of BFV before it turns to ghost town or tore down.

  9. My family lived at BFV from ’59 – ’63 at 50A Washington Street. We loved living in Germany so much Dad extended for another year. Reading the comments above brought back a lot of old memories especially trading comic books. Boy, what a simple life it was. Great, great memories…some were when the A&W stand opened, the trolley car, the girl scout hut, movies for a quarter and eating juju bees. The candy truck that came around and buying sour sticks! Great times. My sister was a candy strip at the orphanage in Kafertal. And Dad and Mom were active with the Mannheim Mixers Square Dance Club. So sorry to see BFV close but the old pictures are still there!!

  10. Hi Mike,

    Was Kevin one of your brothers? I remember playing basketball with him on a team that was coached by our dads: the trips to practice in the VW bus, your dad using an old coffee tin as a spittoon located between the two front seats. You may also remember the Gray boys (both 7 footers, Roger and Stuart “bigfoot”) who lived up the street on Grant Circle.

    Sad to see the old place closing down but, like you, I have many cherished memories:

    – the greasy burgers, Friday disco nights, spinning records in the small sound booth located off the dance floor, ping pong, billiards, and the “free” (rigged) pinball machine at the AYA
    – “Boogie Nights” and The Commodores playing on the jukebox in the MAHS student break area
    – playing basketball at the sports arena during lunch and then having to run along the OEG tracks to make it back to class in time – those Chuck Conners (and the baby powder they treated them with) that they had us check out just to play on the court

    All priceless!!!

  11. I lived in BFV, twice. once as a child, then as an adult serving in the military, our quarters were the third building from the school on the third floor, could see the school from the outside window. When I was there as a soldier, we lived one row over, two buildings behind, and my supervisor was living in the apartment we had when I was there as a child. Attended MEAS from 70–72 then MHS. My children attended MEAS from 88-91

  12. I was stationed at HHB 2/67 from April 1977 til July 1979. Have not been back to visit Mannheim/Sullivan Barr. since May 1984.

    Sad to hear BFV has shut down. We might need a revamped forward presence in light of Ukraine, ISIS, Ebola, etc.


  13. I lived at 56C Jefferson when my dad was stationed down in Seckenheim from 1977-1980. I went to MAHS as a freshman in 1980 (Go Bisons!) I remember when they tore down the old bowling alley and built the new one right next to the football field, and when they built the skateboard bowl near the dispensary. What great memories… Sad to hear that it’s been closed…

  14. Was at Coleman barracks in winter of 59,60. Assigned to the Army rifle competition (BAR man). Was in Bachelor Officers Quarters (BOQ).
    Tank road was immediately behind the end of our barracks building and Autoban was just beyond and above that. We went out of “our little
    street “onto a little larger street to the left and a church wasn’t far away and on the right. Further on and to the right was mess hall,barber shop etc. I have a picture of the sign (BOQ) as we turned into our compound. Was on the left on a stone base. Love to have any pictures of those barracks buildings. Seems they took us thru Lampertheim to practice firing range. Fond memories. D.

  15. Amazing! I think I lived on Jefferson Street (then Grant Circle) 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 named Jeanine. 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 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. He didn’t mind as long as we stayed outside the fence. My sisters, Debbie and Sharon and I would fill good sized plastic bags up on the way home from the German pool with the sweetest blackberries that I have ever had.

    As I moved on to middle school Clifford Jack and me, Stuart Grey, Nana Nelson and a bunch of us kids (Mannheim All-stars) went on to win the European (DoD) Basketball championship. Ok, one more memory, the fantastic dances at the AYA during the height of the disco era, I loved how at least in this beautiful sheltered world, all of the races got along and I have always missed the diversity and automatic acceptance of new kids that was palpable.

  16. Hey Glenn,

    I remember you. We played basketball together and I think that my dad was the assistant coach to your dad for one of the All-star teams that we were both on. What great memories. I just posted a comment and noticed your comment. What a surprise. I have always had fond memories of everyone from back then. I hope that you are doing well.

  17. Mike,
    I think we lived across the street from you in Grant Circle. I had two sisters, at that time in 6th grade Debbie and 4th grade Sharon. I somehow remember this super cool party that you had with the Eagles (Hotel California) and other great music blasting into the backyard during a block party. I played allot of organized basketball and baseball.

  18. I have spent most of my childhood and much of my adult life in Germany and the USA- Illinois.
    As a child and young adult until I entered the convent, I was Barbara Garlock. I lived in Benjamin Franklin once in the mid 60’s to early 70’s. I also have wonderful memories of Germany. Having grown up bi-lingual and my German family living in the city, I always felt like I had the best of both worlds. I more less spent all of my grade school years in BFV- other than the time my father was in Viet Nam. After my father came home again, we lived in BJV again.

    I lived on Columbus Street across the street from Foodland. In the summer I remember baseball games and picnics in the big field between the housing. Behind the fense was the highway and the German area of Vogelstang.I remember a little dirt lane with three little holes between the houses where we played marbles. That was a favorite pasttime. On Saturday afternoon we attended the Children’s Matinee and maybe afterwards went to children’s bowling.

    I remember some teachers: Miss Siros, Miss Mershon, (grade school), Mrs. Spencer in 7th and 8th grade for biology and chemistry.
    After the 8th grade, my father retired. I went to a German school for a year, but then we returned to the USA, where I finished high school and went to university and became a German and English teacher. I have taught in Catholic schools in USA and Germany, but always my memories stir back to the years at BFV.

    In the early nineties I walked down Columbus Street with an American friend who also attended BFV and later studied in Germany and married a German man.

    I can say, we had a good life there.

    I also remember having to leave the building during bomb threats, but I also remember never being frightened. Today I understand, that the situation was handled very professionally.

    For those interested, BFV is being partly used for the incoming war refugees from the Middle East.Actually a tradition of freedom is continued in this way.

    Thank-you for opening this blog to be able to express memory lane.

  19. At the moment 6000 refugees live at BFV. In the other American garnisions it’s the same. Only Coleman barracks are an active garnision. Anybody know the restaurant “Benjamins American Diner”? This restaurant is near bfv, a great place to eat American food.

    Best regards from Mannheim


  20. Thank you everyone who has posted a comment. I had no idea that this one article would be so widely read and would cause so many other former BFV residents to write about their own time there. It is great to get more details, especially from those who lived there later on. BFV was like a giant quilt and each of us is a small piece that’s been stitched in.

    If anyone would like to write about the last days of BFV when it was being handed back to Germany and what it was like to be there for the ceremonies and the reactions of the Germans I would love to hear from you.

    Again, thank you all for you comments and it is comforting to know that we have a great collective memory that will live on. –Vann

  21. 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…

  22. 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.

  23. Dear Vann Baker ~

    I’m a Mother who was there with her three sons, Don, Jim, Mark and we lived on Washington Street from 1962 ~ 1965.  I’m writing a book on the “Military Family Life” not the “shoot ’em up”.  People in my writing class are amazed at the life we lived???  We tho’t it was normal.

    Found you doing some research.


  24. 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)

  25. 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. 

  26. 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.  

  27. 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.


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

  29. I lived in bfv 1965-67 we lived on Lincoln av don’t remember the address
    My sister was deb Cressy
    We went to aya on weekends

  30. Mike I know we know each other and John kirkhum. I remembered Matt Carter was lead guitar and I think you replaced roger Whitaker in the band when he went back to the states. The aya was a blast.
    You probably remember marsh ruffin , little short girl red hair. I dated Matt sister Lisa.
    Don’t remember much more!!!!!!!!
    Mike Cressy

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