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 Benjamin Franklin Village. But as I read the newspaper, I was struck with a sense of both nostalgia and great 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, and the many apartment buildings were where we ate meals, sometimes with our fathers present, and where we slept at night.

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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.

Benjamin Franklin Village 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 for some time.

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. Even though the house my mother grew up in 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 was still there.

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 their German neighbors will cease.

When I was a child, from the playground between the apartment buildings on Lincoln Avenue, past the fence topped with barbed wire, I remember seeing the rows of jeeps, trucks and other green vehicles and trailers–always ready to respond to an alert. They would sit there 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 as I did.

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 easily 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, while our family moved up the list for  quarters in Bad Nauheim, 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 I did stop by in Mannheim. I was traveling by train and while I did spend some time in Mannheim, I 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 one day find Lincoln Avenue again—and my way back home.

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160 Comments
  1. My husband and I met at BFV in 2003. He was a soldier and I was visiting my sisters family. We married and enjoyed living there from 2003-2006. We had our first 2 children there. We lived in the building just west of the high school. So many great memories. We would love to take our children back to that area someday:)

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  2. I lived on the top floor of a massive building that was connected to two other large high rises,everything and everyone else around this was German including a very steep slide that we had to walk uphill to get to I was a kid who lived at mina karcher platz in frankenthal right outside of mannheim from 1986’1989 it was without a doubt the best years of my childhood

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    • I lived on bfv. But I remember me and my friends use to catch a train to frankenthaul to a friend’s house and we use to get on that same slide. We lived there in the same time 1986 to 1989. I remember walking up that hill to get on that slide as a little kid. I bet now that I am grown it probably don’t seem big now, but then it was like one of the seven wonders of the world.

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    • After an exhaustive search on.google earth I have found where as a little boy I lived 67227 mina karcher platz in frankenthal/ludwighausen for anyone looking for where they lived with there families in west germany I would highly recommend google earth its free and amazing the nostalgic surge it gave me was truly amazing

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    • For anyone looking for where they lived with there families in west germany 1945_1991I would highly recommend google earth its free and amazing the nostalgic surge it gave me was truly amazing

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  3. Very, very nice article. I lived there in 1962-1963 who played Little League baseball and as a fifth grader had my most memorable school year since my favorite teacher, Mrs. Stramn, had one of the biggest impact on my life as a caring and loving individual.

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  4. In 1962, I was a 5th grader and had Mrs. Stramn. She was probably the most memorable teacher I had in my life with her kindness and support.

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  5. I lived in BFV between 1960 to 1963. I lived at 39 E. Jefferson and it was magic living there.

    The Christmas’s, the little league teams (I was a Chicago Cub), Saturday matinee’s for the kids (now that was fun), trading comic books and so much more.

    From the age of 8 to 10, I still remember my friends. There was Jeffrey Amos (I believe I spelled that right) who lived downstairs (I was on the 3rd floor), Gilbert and Tommy and a few others.

    Well, hopefully a few of those guys may remember me and drop me a line sometime if so,

    Lynnie Mullins

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  6. My name is Scotty and I lived on Columbus Ave right across the street from MAHS my brother is name Ray my girlfriend name was Jenny the BFV was my home and still is, loved that place and miss it My best friend was Terry Bankston,we lived there from 1963 to 1966

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  7. Hello, Pamela L Dechon here, I truly miss the base, My brothers Clay, Mark and my sister Hanni, we all lived there I believe 61-64 came back to the States in 64.We came back on a boat the “DARBY” We lived in the Officers area, #5 Grant Circle, and you are all right, being an ARMY kid made us think different then other kids in the States, made us feel different then kids in the States, at the Base we were all the same and, We took fencing lessons on the very top floor of one of the housing buildings, and the Germans were always such nice people, use to go to a little ZOO in the woods behind the housing area in the woods , rode our bikes there to see the animals, wild boars, deer, etc. And if asked I to was sad that the base closed, and will always be. Maybe I will be able to go back and walk the same streets. One can only wish.

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    • Hi Pamela, we came back from Germany in 1966 on the U.S.S. Patch. This was the icing on the cake to our Germany experience! About 9 years ago my wife and I went on a Carnival Cruise. It was nice, but the trip on the U.S.S. Patch will always stand out for me as the best cruise ever.

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  8. Please visit all of us from Mannheim at Facebook Mannheim Brats. Have a great day.

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  9. Thank you for this article and memories. We were in BFV from 1978 – 1981. I was raised a BRAT, but while in Germany, I was the mother to 3 young female BRATS. I was an umpire for the area military and DYA softball games, did some ACS volunteering and worked briefly for Blyle-Geck, a small women’s clothing store within the PX….but mostly stayed at home with my family.
    My little girls went kicking & screaming all the way to Germany, and then bawled all the way home when we had to leave. Those 3 years were the fullest/busiest most interesting lives we have ever lived. The girls played DYA softball, became little cheerleaders and made friends they still keep up with and so did I. We loved the housing and the tight knit community bond that was formed amongst us “away from home”. We ate the best food and had a favorite restaurant in Viernheim, toured the most beautiful countryside, mesmerized by buildings older than 200 years…something not seen in the U.S.
    I understand BFV will now be used to house Syrian refugees. What great homes they will have. I pray they treat it with respect, because the hearts of us that ran those streets throughout decades…are still there.

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    • Hi Paula, you are so welcome. I have several other articles about Mannheim from my time there in the early 1960s. It is great to hear from others who were at BFV before and after me and to hear they also had a great time there as well. BFV lives on!

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