Life in Mannheim, Germany

Some military families hated going overseas, but we viewed it as an adventure. We were told we going overseas to Mannheim, Germany, but all we heard was, “. . . flying on two planes and jet to get there.”

We lived in Mannheim, Germany from 1962 until mid-1966. Looking back I realize we were in some ways shielded from what was happening in the rest of the world—the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Kennedy assignation, manned rocket launches—but we were in the middle of the Cold War, and at age 6 I didn’t really know it.

Playing Army
Neat rows of trucks, jeeps, tanks and other military equipment, was practically in our backyard, with a wire mesh fence between our “play” areas and that which we were forbidden to go near. Often we would play our favorite game, “Army”, where all of us would dig out our “gear”—helmet liners, plastic guns, pancho liners, packs, mess kits or anything to give the game more realism.

Our basement storage unit had all manner of Army equipment–from radios to large tents to other items in crates. We had only a vague idea of what they were and what they were for, and they were “off limits”, which of course made them something to try and get a closer look at when we could.

I remember we had regular “drills” or alerts, where the sirens would go off and we left the apartment buildings quickly, joining hundreds of other families in line to act out an evacuation.

We were also required to keep several cases of C-Rations (or was it K-Rations) in the apartment, in the event something happened. Occasionally, if a case was nearing the expiration date, Mom would let us open up some of the packages and sample the goods.

I don’t recall us ever discussing in great detail what would happen or what could happen if the Soviets decided to go to war and invade Europe through Germany. We knew our father spent much of his time in the field with his M-60 tank crew, mostly at the Fulda Gap area, and it was all very serious.

Around the base
While we did have some freedom to go to the PX, movie theater, the library and other ares of the complex, there were other areas that were definitely “off limits” and we knew that the strangely shaped mounds housed entrances to bunkers and tunnels, many left over from WWII, waiting to be explored.

If you did not speak or understand German, the only source of information was through the Stars and Stripes newspaper and AFN (Armed Forces Network) radio. In later years I would realize that these two souces were not the most objective news sources, but was widely available and did have some entertainment value.

Fast forward to the 1970s
We returned in the 1970’s for a second tour and I remembered how different it was. There were no evacuation procedures and while it was never talked about, we realized there would be no time for evacuation of dependents if WW III broke out.

It would be over in a matter of minutes and all U.S. Military bases were prime targets for the Soviets.

While the grim reality was all around us and we were living on the front lines of the Cold War, many of us were just kids, trying to make new friends in a new country and how we could get our hands on firecrackers and maybe even a stink bomb.

For most Military Brats, comic book trading and listening to X Minus One or Gunsmoke! on the radio made up for the fact we didn’t have any TV broadcasts over most of Germany.

To this day, while I like TV programs, I have a fondness for radio drama and reading books.

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  1. Vann, I spent 8 years in Mannheim (both on BFV and later in Vogelstang).  Best times of my life.  I was fortunate enough to attend all three schools on post, and met my best friend there.  I laugh when people who didn’t grow up brats talk about the games they played as kids.  For us, playing “soldier” took on an entirely different meaning, as we stared at M60s and later M1A1 battle tanks from across the fence off of Lincoln Street.  My father’s 2nd to last assignment was with the 1st CEC on Spinelli Barracks, and he’d often take me with him on weekends.  I got to ride around in more military hardware than most kids here in the States pretended about (I lost my last ear tube in a duece and a half!). 

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