Monthly Archives: September 2012

Music in PHV

As an elementary school kid at the time, I wasn’t exactly up on my pop music while living in Patrick Henry Village.  Sesame Street sing-along tapes notwithstanding, the first “real” band I remember really being interested in was Kiss…largely because a friend was very interested in them.  In fact, one year we got a Kiss makeup kit for Halloween but we never used it because it looked too hard to apply.  I should have mentioned that in my earlier Halloween post.

Somehow I got my hands on a few mix tapes, I think one from a friend and one from an older, wiser babysitter, which gave me a bit more of a glimpse into what was going on in the music world.  Below are some of the songs I remember from those tapes.  This isn’t specific to living in PHV, I know, but I thought perhaps this would help define the timeframe in which all my various PHV memories happened.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

PHV In-Depth #2: The High School…or is it the Middle School?

The follow-along map for this in-depth post, found here, is what I’ve always thought was the high school.  But in digging up info on the area I learned that this building is apparently now the middle school, and high school students are bussed to Mark Twain Village.  So either the schools have been reorganized since my time, or else I’ve had the wrong impression all these years and it was always the middle school.  All of those “big kids” probably looked the same to me anyway.

When looking at the map, the first thing that strikes me is actually the sidewalk that circles the building.  It was at least partially made of gray hourglass-shaped bricks which were particularly smooth under our bicycles, so it was a popular riding area.  We would challenge each other to try to ride all the way around the building without ever touching the handlebars, a trick which was easier to pull off on the nice, flat surface.  I recall this type of pavement being relatively unique around PHV at the time, but from digging up recent photos it looks like they’ve since used it all over the place.  I know the sidewalks generally didn’t have them at the time because I used to play the “step on a crack, break your mother’s back” game while walking to and from school.  Here’s a picture I found where these bricks are clearly visible, although they don’t look as fresh and clean as I remember around the school.

As you can see on the map, the school is one large central building with two smaller buildings to the west.  In between those two buildings, along the west edge, there used to be a dumpster area.  It was enclosed by a big metal gate that slid open and closed on a wheeled track, and usually this gate was left unlocked.  This was fascinating to us and we used to play there a lot, pretending that it was the gate to a fortress or secret base.  The garbage smell of the dumpsters inside didn’t negate the neatness of the gate back then.

There are only two occasions that I recall going inside this school.  If I remember correctly, there was a gymnasium in the southernmost of the smaller buildings and we wandered in through an open side door and found a basketball game in progress.  Also, I briefly took a judo class in a different gymnasium inside this school–at least I remember it being a second gymnasium inside the larger building–but I lost interest pretty quickly when I found that I just couldn’t flip my overweight partner even though everyone else in the class could do the flip.

It’s hard to tell on the map but just south of the southern smaller building, immediately across the circling road,  is a grassy area which is actually a small hill.  I remember a lot of kids sledding down this hill in the winter, which seems strange to me now because it doesn’t look big enough for that.  Maybe PHV is very flat and that was one of the few hills we could find.  I don’t think that the road with the white dashed line existed back then, so maybe this grassy hill was once bigger.

If you scroll the map a little to the west you can see a large concrete area with basketball hoops and some fading white painted circles on one end.  These white areas were actually tetherball courts.  Each circle had a metal pole in the middle, although it appears that all but two of the eight poles have been removed.  I also remember these painted areas being new and pristine.  Again, it’s hard to tell elevation from the map view but the grassy area on the north is actually a hill sloping down into the paved area.  Another fun thing we used to do on our bicycles was race down this hill into the tetherball area and then extend one arm and grab one of the poles.  You’d then rocket around the pole for as long as you could hold on.  I’m sure there were some wipeouts associated with this game.  If there’s one thing I remember about riding a bike as a kid, it’s that you were always crashing and bending your handlebars and then you’d have to brace the front wheel between your legs and push the handles back into place.

Scrolling the map further west, there are a couple of square buildings with central courtyards and a nice park-like environment surrounding them.  I have no idea what these buildings are, as they didn’t exist in my day.  From the look of them, I’d guess that they’re some sort of community center or maybe even more school buildings.  Back in the late 70s, this area was an empty field.  Sometimes people would fly kites here.  But if you traveled all the way back to the far end of the field, along the western edge of PHV defined by a long bushy hill, you would find the BMX track.  It may have been built as an official attraction, but I’ve always had the impression that some enterprising kids with shovels created it over time.  It was a roughly oval dirt track with a lot of ups and downs and some jumps.  Older kids would race around the track and get airborne in some spots.  Alas, it was a bit too demanding at my age.  I used to try to ride the track but wouldn’t have the strength to get my bike up some of the larger hills so I’d have to jump off and walk it.  But it was fascinating and always fun to give it a try on the relatively rare occasion that we strayed this far from home since our apartment building was not near the school.

To the northwest of the main school building are a pair of baseball fields.  These may have changed somewhat over the years, but I remember baseball fields being precisely in this spot because my Tee Ball team used to practice and play games there.  I don’t recall being a particularly good player, but I loved to don my red and white Mets uniform and wear my cleats.  I remember the coach or maybe one of the parents had a van–a big full-size van, back before anybody knew what a minivan was–and sometimes the team would meet at this field, pile into the van, and then take a ride over to Mark Twain Village to play an opponent.   Actually, I think that perhaps our uniforms were two shades of blue and we were known as the Blue Jays.  But I did play on a Mets team elsewhere — such is the life of an Army brat, mixing up memories of the many places you’ve lived.

There’s one last odd PHV memory to note from this general area.  If you scroll the map east and a little south from the school, you can see a large building with a reddish parking lot.  These didn’t exist in my day, it was just an open grass and treed area between the duplexes along South Gettysburg and the highway.  But somewhere near the corner of South Gettysburg and South Lexington was an odd little stone building sitting off a bit by itself.   I recall there being a few doors on either side, as if they were separate storage bays, but these doors were significantly elevated off the ground.  You had to climb several concrete steps to reach a landing that ran the length of this small building.  There was open space underneath the landing, making it a good place to hide.  I think the doors may have actually just been recessed areas, as if they used to be doors but had since been permanently sealed with stone blocks.  I have no idea what the purpose of this building may have been, but my young mind always thought of it as something similar to a small train depot, where you’d climb up onto the platform to then board.  But if there were ever tracks running along here, there was no trace of them at that time.

But the odd memory is not of the building itself, but rather what we found there one day.  Now, there were a lot of snails in PHV.  If you went out early on a dew-covered morning you would find them all over the place, and pretty much anytime you could find empty snail shells without having to look too hard.  Perhaps this explains the escargot on the menu at the Officers Club.  One day our normal group of kids wandered over to this building and we found an enormous pile of grass on the landing, leaning against one of the recessed doorways.  Getting closer, you could see that several small alcoves had been formed in the grass clippings, and then we discovered that there were snails all over this grassy structure.  It appeared that somebody had ripped up a lot of the grass from the surrounding area and created some sort of snail hotel!  As we were admiring the handiwork, I recall another group of kids showing up and telling us in a somewhat threatening demeanor to leave it alone and they had made it earlier that day.  They were a bit older and we didn’t want any trouble, so we left.  But for some reason that odd snail hotel, and the time that must have gone into building it, has always stuck in my mind.

Categories: PHV In-Depth | Tags: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Field Trips

One of the most exciting things I remember about my elementary school days in PHV was going on field trips.  There was one main reason for this:  Castles!  But there were a few other types of field trip I recall as well.

The Castles

I remember taking bus trips to several different castles in the area surrounding Heidelberg, but unfortunately I don’t know the names of any of them anymore to look them up.  My memories of these castles have blended together over the years so I’m not sure if two memories come from the same castle or different ones, so what I describe will just be in general terms.

I recall one castle had a long spiral staircase to climb and our teacher said it was good luck if you counted each step…I want to say it had 99 steps but that could be way off.  I’m not sure if step counting was actually part of the lore of this particular castle, or if it was just a way for the teacher to get us to watch our step and not get distracted.

There was one castle where I particularly remember our bus traversing a scary switchback road to reach it on top of a mountain, and from our vantage point it always looked like the bus was about to topple over the edge.  I think this same castle is where they had a falconry show; I remember birds of prey swooping over our heads to grab a mouse from the hand of the trainer.

During these castle trips, typically the most interesting parts were things that weren’t officially on the tour.  For instance, the group would pass by a padlocked trap door at the base of a wall and all the kids would be speculating about where it led…perhaps the dungeon and torture devices were down there?  I think such fostering of the imagination was probably a more valuable part of these trips than actually listening to the historical trivia that the teacher or a guide might be rattling off.  I’ve returned to Europe once as an adult and toured several castles, and found that they still have the same effect on me.  Only now the historical information doesn’t seem so boring.

The one castle that I haven’t mentioned yet is the obvious one – Heidelberg Castle.  The main thing I remember about our school visits there was that we would have a picnic lunch on the large lawn just outside the walls, which you can see at the lower right of this Google map of the castle grounds.  I also remember running around on top of the giant beer keg found inside the castle.  How big was it?  Well, big enough to have its own Wikipedia page.  I’d forgotten that it’s called a Tun until I came across that page.

One isolated castle memory I have is of the class being in some sort of garden and there was a white Japanese bridge — the type that’s very steep on either end.  I remember being told that if you made a wish and then crossed the bridge with your eyes closed, the wish would come true.  So, one by one, our whole class made our way across.  I’m not sure if this memory comes from a castle garden or a garden not associated with a castle, but I include it here just in case.  The bridge was very similar to this one:

Ice Skating

Another common field trip in those days was to go ice skating at a local rink.  I actually don’t remember a lot about the skating itself, other than that the skates always seemed too tight.  I think we were advised to bring a second pair of socks on those days, which might have contributed to the bad fit.  The main thing we would get excited about was the opportunity to spend the Marks our parents sent with us to purchase pommes frites, also known as french fries (it’s pronounced “pom fritz” and I think is actually French).  Although at that young age we didn’t exactly have a lot of experience with this delicacy to draw from, to us these pommes frites were the best in the world.  Apparently Germans like to put mayonnaise on their pommes frites, but I don’t really remember us American kids doing that–I think we stuck with ketchup.  During our trip back to Europe as adults we did sample some pommes frites and I want to say that they are actually prepared differently and taste better than a typical American french fry, but that trip is also fading into memory so I can’t be certain.

The other thing I remember about the ice skating trips was returning to the class room.  There would always be a special brown bag lunch that day where you could invite a parent.  Everyone would sit on the floor near the radiators for heat, since everyone was freezing from being on the ice, and eat sandwiches and whatever else was packed into your brown bags.  I remember a fellow classmate used to bring peanut butter and banana sandwiches which sounded crazy, but I remember trying it later and thinking it was great!  I should really try it as an adult, just to see.

Bicycle School

One exciting field trip destination was some sort of bicycle/traffic school.  We started the day in a classroom, learning all about German traffic signs and right-of-way and all sorts of things like that.  Nothing too terribly fun about that.  But later in the day, we all got to go outside to where they had an elaborate reconstruction of various city streets.  It was essentially a lot of paved pathways that intersected in various ways and had all the regulation stripes and other painted symbols on them.  They had lots of bicycles too, so everybody got to use one.  I remember thinking it was great fun to ride around all of these streets and making sure you obeyed the real, functional traffic light and that you gave the proper hand signal when turning a certain direction.  As I recall, bells were required on bicycles–for children at least, not sure about adults–and using the bell properly was part of the training as well.  I think they gave the class some free time on the course where we were all riding at the same time and interacting with each other at stop signs, yield signs, and so forth, but then there was some sort of exam at the end where you went by yourself through a prescribed route to test your knowledge.  Anyway, I remember this mostly being play time, I don’t recall being worried about failing or anything.  In fact, I think us kids talked about how we’d like to go back there for another field trip.  I’m also remembering tall red flags on the back of every bike–I think this was another requirement of German law, and again, I’m not sure if that just went for children or if all cyclists had to have a flag to make them easier to spot.

The Worst Field Trip Ever

I don’t actually think this is the worst ever, but I remember another kid announcing this at the end of the trip and two women on the staff laughing about it as we boarded the bus.  We went to some sort of science center which, as far as I can recall, focused on human biology.  I remember a mannequin which was clear so you could see all of the arteries and veins, and I think they even had embryos in jars.  The tour ended with some sort of film, and then the door on the other side of the small theater led right outside to where the bus was waiting.  When we realized that the trip was over and we hadn’t done anything fun yet, that’s when it was pronounced as the worst ever.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Halloween in PHV

After moving back to the States after 4th grade, I always found trick-or-treating to be somewhat of a disappointment.  I think that’s because most of my early Halloween experiences were spent in Patrick Henry Village.   It’s possible that my memories could have become somewhat sugar-coated over the decades, but I think really PHV was a special place to be during this holiday.

Surely because of the high concentration of families with young kids, participation in Halloween was really high in PHV.  I recall that as you walked down the street, in all directions you would hear ominous music and haunting laughter as well as eerie lights and flashing strobes.  There was always something happening just up ahead which would make you urge your parents to walk faster so that you could experience the next thing.   I also remember smaller things in between the big attractions, such as a string tied from a 2nd-floor window to a tree on the other side of the sidewalk, and someone would slide a little tissue ghost down in front of your path just to give you a little scare.

The apartment buildings were generally set up with three entrances leading to interior apartments, and I don’t recall ever climbing the stairs to hit individual apartments.  My guess would be that in many cases the occupants of a particular stairwell (six apartments) would get together to plan how their entrance would be decorated.  I particularly recall one doorway where a witch bathed in purple light sat beckoning with a bowl of candy on her lap and I had to be convinced to approach her.

Each unit had a long hallway in the basement running the length of the building, and some buildings would turn this hall into a haunted house–enter through one end, exit through the other.  These hallways were lined with doors to storage areas, giving them ample opportunities to jump out at you or set up grisly displays for you to pass by.  The laundry room was also down there, and I recall this larger room often being turned into the main attraction of the haunted basement, or the place where you got your candy reward for braving the scares.

In addition to all the resident-created scares, I recall that there were official events happening in one of the buildings in the northern part of the village.   My guess would be that it was in the recreation center just south of the Officers Club, or at least I remember that building as a rec center.  In this building I can remember bobbing for apples and also searching for needles in a haystack, only the needles turned out to be butterscotch candies.

One year I chose a costume off the rack just because I thought it looked neat — it was one of those cheap plastic pullover sets with equally flimsy plastic mask that was held on by a rubber band and hard to breathe through.  It was a Martian, that’s all I knew about it.  I recall getting a lot of questions and confused looks from adults because nobody knew what I was dressed up as.  I actually had to dig around a bit to find the answer, since this creature comes from a film I’ve still yet to see: 1955’s This Island Earth:

From the Halloweens I’ve observed in other places I’ve lived, including my current neighborhood, it seems like a rather reserved affair where most of the time it’s just adults in everyday clothing sitting at the end of their driveway with a bowl of candy.  Houses that are actually converted into attractions–smiling ghosts and pumpkins in the window don’t count–seem to be a real rarity, and you have to travel to a dedicated haunted house to get any proper Halloween atmosphere.  Perhaps it’s just a sign of the times, since it seems to be becoming increasingly taboo to actually scare children on Halloween, but I think at least in part the residents and staff of PHV worked to make it a true experience and memory for their collective kids.

Since it’s been well over 30 years since I lived in PHV, I’d love to hear any confirmation of the experience I remember, and would be delighted to learn that this is still a PHV tradition today!

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 11 Comments


Of course there were more places to shop in the city than what I describe below, but to my young mind there were three general areas:

Inside PHV

All of the shopping inside PHV centered around the parking lot you can see in this zoomed-in Google map.  The lot is so much smaller than I remember!  They would close part of it during Oktoberfest to raise a big tent for the celebration, which must have created traffic problems.

The long gray-roofed building on the west edge was the main shopping strip.  At the north end was Foodland which, as far as I recall, was a sort of mini-grocery store.  I think it had a more extensive selection than your typical gas station convenience store, but not everything you might need.   Right outside the Foodland entrance you can see some square umbrellas in red and white — I’m pretty sure this was a permanent hot dog stand in my time, and I also remember people selling pink carnations there for some occasion.

I don’t remember every store along this strip, but the next store I remember was for getting drinks — Coke, Pepsi, whatever else.  I don’t know why there was a different store just for drinks, and I seem to recall thinking it was unusual even at the time.  It was great fun whenever the truck came in to restock the drinks because they would set up this long track of rollers and then they would roll flats of soda from the truck directly into the store.  At the south end of this building was a sort of newsstand/bookstore, and I recall they had a selection of English-to-other-language books and I always thought it would be neat to get one of those and learn a new language.

Along the south end of the parking lot are two big buildings.  If I remember correctly, the one to the west was the bowling alley.  One year I joined a bowling league even though I was too small to really pick up the ball and used the between-the-legs technique.  Each team could pick their own name and I remember everybody getting a cool name except us — for some reason, the others on my team went with the name Keep On Truckin’.  I didn’t understand the reference at the time, and I’m still not sure exactly.  Wikipedia offers a list of possibilities and it seems most likely to stem from a 1973 hit song or a 1975 TV show which included Billy Crystal among the cast.  But my league days would probably have been 1978 or 1979 so those don’t exactly seem like fresh occurrences of the saying.

The other building was the movie theater — just a single screen, back before the era of the multiplex, and there were always two movie posters out front which we’d be sure to check.  The films we saw here included Herbie the Love Bug flicks, a couple Chuck Norris actioners (back before he was the punchline of a million jokes), and I think some Pink Panther movies as well.  One time we got to go up in the projection booth for a private tour.  I was probably too young to fully understand what I was looking at, but I remember it was neat to go behind the scenes like that.

I never had a good idea what the building at the north end of the lot was for, but I think it may have been some sort of dinner club.  I think I was only in there once, and I vaguely recall an open area in the center ringed by tables.  Perhaps it was a dance floor?  Across the street to the east you can see the church and I know the library was somewhere right around there, so perhaps it was the neighboring building?  Although for some reason I’m thinking that the library may have been in the basement of the church.  I remember a basement, anyway.  In that parking lot across the street I remember they would sometimes have fire engines or helicopters on display and us kids would have great fun climbing around on them to the extent we were allowed.

Other PHV Shopping

I remember two other shopping experiences inside PHV which you won’t see on the map because they were mobile.  The first was a long bus which would sometimes pull into a parking lot across from the elementary school.  I don’t know what it was called, but inside I remember they sold a lot of German nutcrackers in various sizes, and probably a lot of other German knickknacks as well.

The other mobile market was famous among kids at PHV, and we knew her simply as The Brotchen Lady.  Brotchen is German for a roll or small loaf of bread, and I definitely remember her selling bread and pretzels and things like that, but we kids knew her more for all the candy.  When we saw her coming in her blue van with a side that raised to form an awning and display her wares, we would all terminate whatever we were doing and everyone would run home to their parents to try to get a few Deutschmarks to buy candy with (Deutschmarks, or just marks, were the German currency before the Euro took over; a mark was essentially like a dollar, and a pfennig was comparable to a penny).  Actually, I’m just now remembering that she would set up her van and then start ringing a bell to announce that she was open for business.  We’d run and get money, and then we’d have to follow the sound of the bell in order to find the treats.

From the Brotchen lady we got candy watches, candy necklaces, candy cigarettes, the Lik-M-Aid Fun Dips which were sticks of candy which you dipped into flavored powder, Pop Rocks which were rumored to explode and kill you if you mixed them with soda, and who knows what else.  We were barely aware of the breads and other non-sweets that she sold, but perhaps our parents picked up some of those items.

Outside PHV

The other main military shopping area I remember us hitting frequently was the area with the PX and the commissary; I don’t know if this place had an official name, but you can see it on this zoomed-in Google map.  It was an odd triangular area with parking in the middle.  Along the east side was the PX, or Post Exchange.  I suppose this could be compared roughly to Wal-Mart, in that it carried a lot of things but generally not food.  It was a two-story building, and was unusual in that you had to climb a wide set of stairs right in the middle of the store to get to the top floor.  There was no escalator; I’m assuming there was an elevator but I don’t recall using it.  I seem to recall the second floor being largely dedicated to clothing.  I remember buying our first microwave oven here, which seems strange since I don’t really remember a time without microwaves, but Wikipedia’s entry claims that by 1986 only 25% of households had microwaves — that would have made us early adopters.

Further north along this building I remember an eating area, maybe a cafeteria.  My main memory of this place was that the non-smoking area was a joke since smoke from the other tables filled the whole room anyway.  I want to say that there was another, smaller eating area here as well…I remember it being more like a fast food restaurant in size.  My main memory of this second eatery is that of learning how to make a snake with your straw by sliding the paper down tight, and then placing a drop of soda onto the paper to watch it expand like an accordion.

The buildings along the north end of the parking lot are foggy in my memory, but I do distinctly remember an office of the Stars and Stripes, the official newspaper of the US Armed Forces, being here somewhere.  There are two stores I remember but couldn’t tell you where they were located — I’m thinking they also may have been along this north edge.  One was a video store where you could rent VHS tapes and perhaps even Beta.  The other was a store that sold grandfather clocks — I remember this store being way back in a back corner of a building and you had to twist and turn through a hallway to find it.

The only store I remember along the western edge was the commissary, essentially the large grocery store (as opposed to Foodland inside PHV being a small grocery store).  I don’t remember many details of the commissary except that it was long and skinny and I think perhaps the items were sold directly out of the cardboard shipping boxes.  In this, the commissary may have felt similar to a Sam’s Club or Costco today — more of a warehouse feel than a nicely decorated commercial store.

The other thing I remember about this area was the bus stop, as we would sometimes take the green Army busses to and from PHV and here.  In those days the bus stop was a partially enclosed wooden structure also painted green, and I remember a large map and timetable on the wall so you could figure out which bus you wanted to take and when it would arrive.  I see that the bus stop is still there, right in the middle of the parking lot, but it looks to be a clear glass structure now.

One last landmark I remember from this general area is a train bridge which you always had to pass under on your way to the PX from PHV.  It indicated that you were almost there, and I remember it because it had “Mercedes Benz” emblazoned on it in big letters.  I tried to find this bridge via Google maps, but I think it may not exist anymore!  It would have been southeast from the map I linked at the top of this blog.  This map shows where I think it used to be, but clearly there’s no bridge now.  But you can see how the road seems to dip down and then rise again, as if it were traveling underneath a railroad.


The other place I remember shopping, which was less frequent and more of a special occasion, was the Famila-Center.  I remember pronouncing it “Familia”, but in searching the internet it became clear that it never ended in “ia.”  I believe the large structure in the middle of this map is what used to be the Famila-Center.  If you zoom in, you can see that it is named Media Markt, but I found an article online indicating that one company was buying the other so I think this is correct.

As far as I can recall, the Famila-Center was essentially a multi-level shopping mall.  There was an open area in the middle where you could see all the floors, and in this open area I remember that there was a slab of concrete with little electric bumper cars.  You could slide a coin in the slot to bring a car to life for a certain amount of time, and then drive it around within the confined area.  I remember finding these electric cars many different places in Germany, so perhaps it was their version of the electronic horsie ride that you find outside of some stores here in the States.  If so, then the German version was much cooler. Here is the one picture of these electric cars that I’ve come across; this is from the website for Children’s Paradise which I described in a previous post.

Being of young age while we were in Heidelberg, of course the main store I remember in this mall was the toy store.  I never had Lego blocks growing up, but when people mention them I always think of the various Playmobil figures and maybe a few sets that we used to have.  I remember Playmobil being very big at the time; the line originated in Germany but has been exported all over the world including the United States.  For some reason, my strongest memory of Playmobil was clicking a figure onto a horse…maybe it was difficult to do and that’s why it stands out?

I also remember a second store where you could buy miniature knights in various armor and heraldry.  I seem to recall convincing my parents to buy us a few, and then sitting on a bench playing with them while the parents were in other stores.  I recall them being metallic and fairly high quality, perhaps like the one pictured below, although I remember them being more brightly colored.

Besides the toy store and the knight figurines, I remember that the Famila-Center was one of my first experiences with a covered parking garage and I always found it fun as the car wound its way up and down.  But above all else, the main thing I remember about the Famila-Center was that it had a drive-though car wash which I assume was the first I’d seen.  I remember always begging my parents to wash the car on the way out, because it was fascinating to watch the all the automated brushes and whatnot go to work as our car moved slowly through it.  I seem to remember this car wash being much longer than ones I typically see today, but I could be wrong.  Anyway, at the north end of the Famila-Center (or Media Markt) structure you can see a long skinny building running east-west…I’m thinking that this was probably the car wash.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

PHV In-Depth #1: The Elementary School

For this In-Depth post, follow along with this map of the Elementary School.

The Main Building

The school area shown in the map has changed a lot since I attended in the late 1970s, but is still easy to recognize.  In the middle is the main dark-roofed building, which I actually don’t remember much about since most of my years were spent in an outlying building I’ll cover in a bit.  The center of this building was the gymnasium, which doubled as the lunch room and had a stage for special presentations.  I remember being thoroughly embarrassed in this room when our class had to show our parents how we’d learned to belly dance.  My lunch every day included a pouch of Capri-Sonne, which doubled as a rocket launcher once you’d emptied it of juice.  Just blow into the straw to inflate, position the straw so that it’s only barely inside the pouch, and then slam your fist down to start the cafeteria mayhem.  After returning to the States I was shocked to find this same drink called Capri Sun and that Americans pronounced “Capri” with the emphasis on the second syllable instead of the first, and “Sun” didn’t seem right because it only had one syllable. To this day, my brain still thinks “CAPree SONnah” when I see Capri Sun on the store shelf.  In hunting an image for this post, I learned that Capri-Sonne actually originated in Germany in 1969 and came to America in 1981.

My 4th grade class was near the northwest corner of this main building, on the first floor.  I think the teacher’s name was Mrs. Klar, or maybe Klarr.  Oddly, I don’t recall much about this large building other than the gym and that particular classroom.

The Outlying Classrooms

My 1st and 2nd grade years were spent in the T-shaped building with a green roof, in the upper left of the map.  There was probably a special name for this building, but nothing that I can conjure up.  There were exactly three classes in this building:  Ms. Stasovich’s 1st grade class in the north wing, Mr. Moore’s 2nd grade in the south wing, and then a 3rd grade class in the east wing.  I never knew much about that 3rd grade classroom since I lived in Texas for 3rd grade, but that’s a story outside the scope of this blog.  Now, these surely weren’t the only classes for those particular grades within the school system.  I don’t know exactly why we were separated out, but at some point I got the impression that it was part of an experiment to see if children would learn better in a smaller environment.  Perhaps I was a lab rat?

In 1st grade, at least once our classroom was visited by health professionals bearing the most foul toothpaste I ever recall coming in contact with.  If memory serves, it was a dark gray color and very gritty as if it were mixed with sand.  Right there in class, we were all required to brush our teeth with it.  It was probably the most traumatic experience of that year, and I remember much wailing and gnashing of teeth until one by one we kids would finally just get it over with.  I remember the stuff being so gritty that it felt like you were scraping the enamel off your teeth.  I can only assume this was part of some health program to ensure proper fluoride protection or something similar.

On some regular schedule, a special teacher would come in for an hour or so to teach us the German language.  I also remember doing some traditional German dances and similar cultural things during that time.  Alas, all that really remains of that language schooling is the ability to count to 12 before I have to stop and think about what comes next.  Once I’ve thought about it, I can count to around 100 close enough to be understood, although I’d probably still confuse “und” with the “y” I learned later during high school Spanish.  In fact, consulting this page on counting in German I’ve just discovered that I’ve completely mixed German and Spanish and would probably get some confused looks from native German speakers.

Another tradition in this outlying building was to bring all three classes together for a singalong.  I’m not sure how often this happened, perhaps monthly, but it was a great honor to be chosen as the person who stands at the front and flips the large pieces of paper containing the lyrics.  Among others, we used to sing Debby Boone’s You Light Up My Life and what we always referred to as The Coke Song.  And yes, those selections sound as strange to me as they probably do to you.

The Old Playground

On the map there’s an area in between the main building and the outlying building with some gray-roofed buildings and what looks like some temporary classrooms.  In my day, this area was a giant sand pit full of playground equipment.  There was a tall metal slide which always got too hot to touch in the sun, and we kids were more interested in sliding down the support poles like firemen than in using the slide itself.  There was also a large set of metal monkey bars which I’m sure were the origin of many bumps and bruises; I think such equipment is frowned upon these days?  On the sidewalks connecting the sand area to the main building, girls would be jumping rope and comparing their binders full of Scratch-n-Sniff stickers.  This was the era of the original Battlestar Galactica television series, and a friend and I used to run around this general area making up our own stories as Apollo and Starbuck, and arguing over who got to have Cassiopeia as his girlfriend.

To the east of this area is an odd paved section which I’m guessing is for loading and unloading school buses.  Back then, it was just a grassy area where kids would play soccer or do whatever else.  For some reason I remember having deep conversations about various Atari 2600 games in this area, perhaps while we were supposed to be playing soccer in gym class.

Behind the main building was a large paved area which served as basketball courts; it looks like nothing has changed in that regard.  However, I distinctly remember there was a large map of the United States painted on part of this concrete slab, and it used to be fun to go find the State you were born in and stand on it.  In fact, that might have actually been a class activity so that we could see where everyone hailed from.  That map may have disappeared under one of the many additional buildings that exist back there now.  Further south from this paved area was a second playground which my classes never visited much; it looks like it has been greatly expanded and now serves as the only playground for the school.

The Other Building

The only other building I remember much about is the one in the south close to South Gettysburg Avenue…it has a gray roof with what looks like a yellow outline.  My kindergarten class was somewhere in this building. All I recall about that class was that each table of 5 or 6 kids got to choose a name for their group, and ours was the Cookie Monster group.  What interests me more about this area of the campus is the crosswalk out front.  If you were lucky, you could be chosen to serve as a crosswalk guard for a week, and I got chosen once!  You get to leave class a little early to get ready for the rush of kids walking home, and you wore this brightly colored belt-and-shoulder-strap contraption.  You also got a handheld sign with a green Go on one side and red Stop on the other.  I don’t remember receiving any actual instruction on how to control traffic, but somehow we managed and it was an exciting duty.  This special duty also included something related to raising and lowering the American flag on the big pole outside of the main building, but I think an adult had to help with that.

A Few Miscellaneous Notes

On the other side of the crosswalk you can see a small patch of grass with a V-shaped hedge.  This is where I got into my first and really my only fist fight.  It wasn’t much of a fight really, hardly any contact at all, but I vividly remember the ring of spectators chanting for blood.  What were we fighting about?  I mentioned it already — it was to determine who got to have Cassiopeia as their girlfriend while playing Battlestar Galactica!

At the southern edge of the map selection you can see part of the track, which looks largely unchanged.  I think weekly, our class would come out to this track and run laps.  The teacher had a magic marker and she would put a dot on the back of your hand each time you came around, and I always took it as a personal challenge to get the most dots in class.  Then we’d go back to the classroom and record these dots on a big chart.  If what I hear about modern schooling is true, I’m guessing such a thing wouldn’t happen anymore because it would promote winners and losers.  Another great honor in those years was to be chosen to hold the marker and give everyone dots, although it was a double-edged sword because you didn’t accumulate any dots yourself that day.

Categories: PHV In-Depth | Tags: , , , | 8 Comments

The Volksmarch

One of the exciting events in my PHV days was going on a Volksmarch (people’s walk).  Since I was probably in 1st and 2nd grade during most of my Volksmarches, the details below may be sketchy.  But that’s a disclaimer that can be applied to this entire blog, so let’s jump into my recollection of these events.

A Volksmarch is essentially a non-competitive hike through scenic terrain.  A route would be set up in advance, and participants would just walk the route at their own pace.  I can remember marches through deep forested areas, cutting across farmers’ fields, skirting small villages, and sometimes following roads for a stretch.  It seems there must have been tremendous cooperation with the local community to set these routes up.

The standard distance of a Volksmarch was 10 kilometers (a little over 6 miles), but many of them offered longer routes which I think might’ve gone as high as 25km.  Sometimes the routes would share the same space for a while but then diverge, and it was always great fun for us kids to find the route markers and then inform our parents about which way we needed to go next.  I don’t recall ever seeing many people doing the longer routes, except for the occasional serious runner.  Maybe these longer routes were open to cyclists as well?

You had to register at the start of the route.  I don’t know if there was an entry fee or not, since that was something for the grown-ups to handle, but I remember that each march had some unique rewards such as pins for your Volksmarching hat or medals to display in your home — I assume these came at a price, if they weren’t included in an entry fee.  Oh yes, we had Volksmarching hats and walking sticks as well.  All we were missing were the lederhosen.


When you registered, you would get a card or booklet which needed to be stamped at various checkpoints along the route.  It was always exciting to round a corner and see the next checkpoint ahead, especially if they were serving food so you could grab a wurst with mustard!

One thing I recall about Germany was that they had a lot of playgrounds, sometimes built of high-quality wood, and sometimes in the most unlikely of places.  I know at least once we were marching through a forest and came across a large wooden play area, and of course we insisted on taking a break to run around in it for a while.  Although I don’t think this was part of a Volksmarch, I remember another wooden play area shaped like a American wild west fort complete with a set of Indian teepees nearby…and I remember this just being alongside a road not near anything.

As fun as these Volksmarches were, I do recall that 10km could get a bit taxing on the feet and maybe the last kilometer or so might involve a little whining that was absent earlier in the walk.  But knowing that a neat new pin or medal waited at the finish line was enough to carry us through.  For a time we had a cloth panel hanging on the wall with various Volksmarching medals pinned to it.  I also remember that we used to buy some sort of mint candy at the start of the walk, something very similar to Mentos if not exactly that, and we considered them “energy pills” which would help us get through all 10 kilometers.

A little while after leaving Germany, I remember doing a Volksmarch in or around Fort Polk, Leesville, Louisiana.  It was great to see the concept brought to the States, presumably by others who had served overseas, but walking through hot, humid Louisiana didn’t have quite the same charm as doing it in the German countryside.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 8 Comments

Children’s Paradise

Heidelberger Schloss (Heidelberg Castle) sits partway up a mountain known as the Koenigstuhl, or King’s Seat.  I’ll cover the castle in more depth later in a dedicated post, but for now I want to talk about the children’s park found at the top of Koenigstuhl.

You could drive to the top of the mountain, but the more interesting method was to take the funicular, or inclined railway.  In fact, there’s a Wikipedia page dedicated to it and several YouTube videos like this one — the best part of the video is the beginning, with the Aldstadt (old town) and Neckar River far below.  I remember the creaking of wood and slow side-to-side sway as the old car climbed up and down the slope.  It looks like in more recent years they’ve extended the track all the way down to the Kornmarkt (Corn Market) in the Aldstadt.

At the top of the mountain was a decidedly low-tech and relaxed amusement park called Kinder Paradies,  or Children’s Paradise.  It took some doing to track this down, in part because it seems to have since been renamed to Marchen Paradies, or Fairy Tale Paradise.  The renaming makes sense, based on my decades-old memories of one of the park’s features which I’ll get to in a moment.

When you first passed through the gate, the first thing you’d see would be a giant chessboard and pieces.  Large, but not so big so that kids wouldn’t be able to move the pieces around and play their own game.  Chess, in a kiddie park?  I imagine such an attraction would go mostly ignored in one of today’s super high-tech thrill parks.

The next thing you’d come across would be several glassed-in displays of various fairy tale stories.  You could press a button to bring the display to life–animatronic characters would move around as the story was recited over a loudspeaker.  But the stories were only told in German, which I’ve never been able to speak beyond basic counting and a few phrases picked up in class,  so I quickly lost interest in these once I’d seen the animations.  I suppose a lot of the attractions are fairy tale-based and justify the park’s name change, but these displays are the most obvious example.

The Koenigstuhl is heavily treed, and the park made use of that by having somewhat isolated attractions with forested footpaths connecting them.  You maintained a sense of being out in nature while strolling through the park.  In one area there was a large swing set and slide and basically all the standard playground equipment.  Like I said, low-tech.  There was a functional miniature train which you could ride around the park, and I recall that the train passed just above and behind this playground area.

The other attraction that stands clearly in my memory is a giant caterpillar ride.  It was essentially a series of large green balls suspended from ropes, with the largest ball in front and getting smaller toward the back to form the caterpillar’s body.  They were all hanging from a circular track, and there was a long rope at the front of the caterpillar.  Kids would climb aboard one of the balls and then the only way to get this ride to do anything was to get someone–presumably a parent–to pull the rope and move the caterpillar around the track.

With low-tech attractions like this, I suppose the park was more of a super-playground than an actual amusement park.  I don’t recall anything that required a park employee to supervise except for the train.  It sounds quaint, maybe even dull, but I remember having a lot of fun here.

I found the official site for this park here, but it is only available in German.  If you click on Rundgang and then the resulting links, there are pictures of various attractions.  It looks like very little has changed since I was last there over 30 years ago, and there’s something nice about that.

BONUS: If you look at this zoomed-in Google map view you can see the old chess board near the entrance!  Then you can zoom out to see other attractions peeking through the trees, or scroll to the left to see Heidelberg itself.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Army pulling out of Heidelberg

Just a short note about some recent news.  In looking up information for this blog, I discovered that the Army will be removing their presence from Heidelberg and nearby Mannheim before the end of 2013.  Patrick Henry Village will likely become privately owned at that point.  Here is an article discussing the move; it doesn’t mention PHV specifically but I’ve seen references elsewhere which include it.

A little sad, perhaps, but it doesn’t change anything as far as this blog is concerned.  I haven’t lived in PHV since 1981 or 1982 and my only other glimpse of it was in 2000 when our bus passed right by it on the autobahn.  But the memories of my time there remain strong, and remain untouched by its current status.

Categories: Uncategorized | 3 Comments

The Officers Club

The Officers Club in Patrick Henry Village served at least three purposes that I can recall, each of which I’ll describe below.  It was on the south side of the loop formed by San Jacinto Drive (I only know the street name by consulting this Google map), which was in the north half of PHV and what I considered the “fancy” side because it had private homes on tree-lined streets instead of the stark apartment complexes I was more familiar with in the south part of the village.  A classmate whose father was a General lived in one of these homes, so I assume they were all reserved for higher-ranking officers.  It was also the “commercial” half of the village, as all the various shops were found there.  But I’ll go into those details in a different post.

I don’t know if the name “Officers Club” can be taken literally, meaning that only officers were allowed in, but if so, then maybe for some readers I’ll be shining a light into a mysterious building.  I suspect that, at least for the Bazaar I describe below, the building was open to all.  At any rate, here are my recollections of this multi-purpose building.

The Restaurant

When you first walked into the building, you’d find yourself in a large open room with a tiled floor.  I have a vague memory of a large, fancy chandelier.   I seem to recall a small stage in one corner of this open entry room, so perhaps dances were hosted here? Restrooms were along the right wall, and I only remember this because of the shock I experienced when my mother took me into the women’s room and it had both a couch and a bed!  Men’s rooms never had anything like this, and still don’t in the places I frequent.  At the time I took this to mean that all women’s rooms were much more fancy, although now I realize that the Officers Club was just a high-class joint.

Off to the left were the wide doorways leading into the restaurant itself.  My memory is that this was a very long and elegant room with white tablecloths, tall windows with heavy curtains, and more chandeliers.   At dinner there would be live music from the grand piano which I think was near the center of the room, and I recall escargot being on the menu — which I’m sure I remember due to my horror and refusal to sample it.  Brunch was a less formal affair, where I recall listening to Wolfman Jack‘s gravelly voice on the piped-in radio broadcast while in the buffet line.

Der Keller

In a hallway outside the restaurant was a staircase leading down with a sign which read “Der Keller,” German for “The Cellar.”  Descending these stairs was like entering a cave; I recall it always being somewhat dark with red-tinged lighting down there.  Der Keller was a more casual eatery; I suspect it was more of a bar than a restaurant but I was probably too young to make the distinction.  We would always get the pepperoni pizza there, but the pepperoni was so spicy!  A friend taught us that if you put a dab of ketchup on each disc of pepperoni, it removes the spiciness.  Nonsense, I’m sure, but we fully believed it and dabbing ketchup on the pizza became a tradition there.

The Bazaar

I don’t know how frequently this event occurred, but sometimes the Officers Club would be converted into something like a flea market, although as I recall it included a lot of high-priced, quality items instead of the secondhand junk you might normally associate with a flea market.  The large entry room, as well as several additional rooms deeper into the building, would be filled with booth after booth of merchants selling various things.   I recall oriental rugs, large paintings, freestanding grandfather clocks, all sorts of things.   I’d guess that at least some of these booths were German merchants from the surrounding towns?

And there were also toys.  Looking at rugs and paintings and other “grown up” stuff would quickly bore most kids, but I recall being excited to go to the bazaar to seek out the booths with the fun stuff.  We built a decent collection of small rubber Smurf figurines through repeated visits, I think a few years before they became well known in the States.   Our collection might have been worth a little money today, if the site is any indication.

Overall, the Officers Club was probably more significant to an adult’s experience at PHV than it was for us kids, but it is still a source of many memories from my youth in that fairly unique community.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 12 Comments

Blog at