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:
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.
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.