I just came across the following video, celebrating the history of Campbell Barracks and highlighting the closing ceremony. It’s sad to see the grass already overgrowing the sidewalks and the bushes growing wild. It must have been in a nearly-closed state for some time before this video was made.
This is a highly specific blog entry which might be lost on any readers who weren’t in PHV at roughly the same time I was, and still might not mean much depending on your or your parents’ musical tastes. But nevertheless, it’s tied to PHV and living in Germany for me, so here goes. There is some bonus trivia at the end for people who remember pop music of the late 1980s.
Being born at the tail end of 1972, I was too young to really be fully aware of the whole disco movement. I have vague memories of it, such as my mom taking disco dance lessons at a studio not far from Campbell Barracks, and I remember TV shows such as Solid Gold and Dance Fever, the latter being a game show where amateur couples would show off their moves and get scored (from 1-100?) by a panel of what I believe were celebrity judges. Witness this extremely cheesy TV commercial:
Later, upon returning to the States, I remember seeing “Disco Sucks” graffiti here and there, but I didn’t really have a solid grasp on the rise and fall of the disco scene until years after it had passed and I’d gotten older. So while I was alive during the disco fad, it mostly went over my head since I was still fairly young.
There are a handful of disco songs from my days in PHV which have always been half-buried in my memories. I could remember a few lines of lyrics or maybe the melody, but didn’t know what band performed them or what the song titles were. There are some isolated memories of Germany, such as wandering on a soccer field during a school field trip while the speakers blared similar music, that always bring these songs bubbling back to the surface momentarily. I’ve always assumed that these songs were big hits which anyone from that era would know, right alongside the Bee Gees and whatever else was popular at the time. A few years ago I set off on an internet investigation to finally identify these vaguely remembered songs, which disproved my original theory that they were Abba songs. Finally, I discovered that they were performed by a band which was extremely popular in Europe but virtually unknown in the USA: Boney M.
That name didn’t even ring a bell for me when I first came across it, but I definitely recognized some of their music — songs like Ma Baker, Rivers of Babylon, and Rasputin had been bouncing around in a dusty corner of my brain ever since my elementary school days at PHV. Take a listen to Rasputin in this unintentionally funny video, a song which was popular enough to inspire another band to name themselves Ra Ra Rasputin:
I learned that Boney M has a long and contentious history which I won’t bore you with here, but it turns out that I really only knew them from their album Night Flight to Venus, and maybe a couple songs from the previous album. It still boggles my mind that this band was never known in the US, because I remember some of the songs on that album being huge–HUGE–in my limited view of popular music back in PHV.
Now, before I can reveal the bonus 80s trivia, a little groundwork needs to be laid first. It turns out that Boney M was the brainchild of a German producer named Frank Farian. In fact, the male vocals in that Rasputin video above? That’s Frank singing, and the guy in the video is just a dancer, Bobby Farrell, who was hired to lip sync the vocals and be the group’s public front man. Bobby’s from Aruba, but you can clearly hear the German accent in the vocals. Apparently back in those days, lip syncing was fairly common and everybody knew it was going on but nobody cared.
So, after the disco era went away, Frank Farian decided to put together another group similar to Boney M but with more current music. He found a couple dancers who looked good on stage and were happy to lip sync vocals that were actually sung by others. This band became huge in the States and had several hits. But what Frank didn’t count on was that public opinion of lip syncing had reversed itself. When it was revealed that this band was lip syncing, there was great public outcry which spelled the end of this band’s dominance of the US charts.
Have you guessed this 80s band yet?
It was Milli Vanilli!
The elementary and middle schools at PHV held closing ceremonies recently, as part of the military’s overall withdrawal from the Heidelberg area. At this link there are details and a video.
Another of the military installations I visited while in Heidelberg was the AAF, or Army Air Field. As far as I can tell from searching around the internet, it didn’t have any name more specific than that. You can click here to see a satellite view of the airfield. I believe that this satellite image may already be outdated because the Wikipedia page for the US Army Garrison Heidelberg says that, as part of the Army’s pullout from the Heidelberg area, this air field has already been turned over to the German government and has been converted to a heliport.
I think I was only at the AAF a few times. I recall once at night we were waiting for a flight to come in and we walked around the T-shaped building to the north and looked at the fire trucks there–I was surprised to still see fire equipment at that exact location, at least as recently as that last satellite picture was taken.
I also vaguely recall walking through a long central hallway in that skinny central building, and I think one time we got to go up into the cockpit of a parked plane and look around. Another time we got to do a ride-along on a flight to another airfield maybe a few hours away.
But the main thing I remember about this airfield is the time that Santa came to visit. The airfield staff were hosting a Christmas party, I believe in one of the hangars to the south. There was a regular dinner/party for a while, and then they announced that Santa was coming in for a landing. A small airplane, which may have been a Jetstream C-10A because I know those were flown out of this airfield, came taxiing right to the party hangar and out climbed Santa with a big bag of presents! (Although that Wikipedia page says no C-10A’s were ever delivered to the US Air Force, I’m fairly sure I’m remembering the designation C-10 correctly so maybe the Army had bought some before the Air Force order was placed?) All of the kids ran out to meet him, and my most vivid and hilarious memory is of watching some kid jump up and grab Santa’s beard, pulling it down so you could clearly see the elastic strap holding it in place. Santa quickly adjusted himself and carried on, and as I recall he had a present in his bag for each kid at the party. I think we had to go up to the front to receive it as he called our names.
If you want to know more about the Heidelberg AAF, check out this page which describes it in exhaustive detail.
Below is another photo I found on the internet, providing a ground-level view of a particular intersection in PHV which conjures up a lot of memories for me. Many of these I’ve already detailed in my post about the elementary school, which is just out of the picture to the left, but below the picture I’ll briefly mention them again and add a few other details. This picture is from 1979 or 1980, which is exactly the timeframe in which I was living in PHV.
(I felt a little uncomfortable reusing this picture since it’s clearly a family photo, so I contacted the owner and got permission…and also learned that he worked with my Dad back in those days! Click the picture to link to the flickr gallery where I originally found this)
The first things I notice in this picture are the crosswalks. I crossed these streets many times coming and going from school and even got to be a crossing guard for a time, which I recall being a special privilege for good grades or something. I seem to recall thinking that jaywalking was a serious offense back then, so these crosswalks may as well have been bridges over a river.
Just behind those bushes to the right is where I had my ridiculous Battlestar Galactica-inspired fist fight, as described in the Elementary School blog I linked above. Behind those bushes you can see a blue VW minibus. That parking lot is where the big bus full of wooden nutcrackers and other trinkets would park, as I described in my Shopping blog entry.
On the left side of the picture you can see the sidewalk curving back into the distance, which is how I walked home after school when I didn’t have to go to Mrs. Taylor’s. Whenever I’m reminded of the “don’t take candy from strangers” lesson that we all hear as kids, I always think of this particular stretch of sidewalk for some reason — I must have first been told that lesson during my days of walking that sidewalk frequently. Similarly, when I hear the proverb “a bird in the hand beats two in the bush” I always think of the bushes next to that first quarters building on the left side of the road — I seem to remember coming across a bird’s nest in one of them during a walk home from school.
Off picture about 3 buildings to the right is where Mrs. Taylor ran a daycare center out of her apartment. When staying there after school, we were allowed to romp around the local area but were not allowed to cross the street at the left. One day I got into a bit of trouble and decided to hide out, and I thought I was being particularly clever by crossing the street and hiding behind the row of campers which was perpetually in that lot at the far left. I remember one of Mrs. Taylor’s teenaged daughters appearing around the front of that building at the right, clearly looking for me, but I’d outsmarted her by leaving the sanctioned area.
Also in that building at the right, I remember there lived an Asian woman (probably somebody’s mom) with some of the longest hair I’ve ever seen. I want to say it was approaching the backs of her knees, but I feel like my mind may have exaggerated it over the years. Not sure if that was more of a style back then, or was unusual even for the time.
Behind those campers in the distance you can see a smaller white building, which is the building we used to climb up as I detailed in the Hedge Tunnel blog entry; I think it served as a concession stand for the track and football field which is out of view just to the left of it.
I know some of these memories seem random and highly specific, but you never know what might trigger a memory or draw a connection with someone else so I try to throw as much out there as I can.
Just a brief post to share this image of the Campbell Barracks entrance which I found online. I’ve briefly mentioned Campbell elsewhere in this blog; I remember it as mostly a place where adults worked but I’m pretty sure I visited a barber here at least once, and another time there was some sort of event where we watched the Disney film Darby O’Gill & The Little People (the banshee terrified me!). Both that and the barber were in a building toward the back of the facility.
At any rate, I always loved Campbell because of this entrance–it felt like you were driving into a castle. Notice the four large statues above the entryway; I think there were similar statues at Heidelberg castle? Click on the picture to go to the website where I found it.
Another thing that really stands out in my mind about Patrick Henry Village is the large number of playgrounds that were available. It seemed like there was a different playground for every few buildings. Scrolling around the satellite view it’s not quite that extreme, but I was able to count 20 different playgrounds at a quick glance. That doesn’t count the numerous soccer fields and schoolyard playgrounds. The building we lived in during most of our time in PHV actually didn’t have a playground nearby; it only had a simple sandbox. However, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, we had easy access to Behind the Fence which was probably the best playground of them all.
The playgrounds defined sort of a home turf for the kids living nearby. Each playground was unique in some respect, so when you felt the need for adventure you could just walk a short distance–perhaps venturing outside the carefully planned boundaries set by your parents–and have a new set of equipment to play on. I remember feeling like a bit of an outsider when playing at some other building’s playground, and it was easy to notice outsiders who wandered into playgrounds on your home turf.
Two playgrounds essentially defined our home turf, so these are the ones I will focus on although I think my descriptions probably apply somewhat to all of the playgrounds of the late 1970s/early 1980s. During our first stint in PHV, after school we would go to Mrs. Taylor’s apartment where she ran a day care for a lot of kids — so the big playground south of her building was essentially our home turf. And during our second stint in PHV, we lived just south of the smaller playground which was next to that bigger one. So the two playgrounds you can see in this satellite view are the ones I recall most vividly.
The first thing I notice in this view is that both playgrounds have been entirely overhauled since my day…not a single shred of the old play equipment still remains. And I think the playgrounds I remember still had a few remains of an even older set of playground equipment. In my day, the playgrounds mostly consisted of brightly colored plastic structures; they seemed very modern at the time. But the larger playground in the view above also had two old metallic swing sets, and also some metallic teeter-totters (or see-saws, or whatever name you know them by). I recall the teeter-totters having several layers of flaking paint and the wooden seats were cracked and sometimes one side was completely broken off so it wasn’t really useable. One cruel game on these teeter-totters was to get the kid on the other end high into the air and then suddenly leap off of your seat, causing them to crash to the ground with a painful landing. I think we called this a cherry bomb?
I found the following picture from 1968–four years before I was born–which I think might just be the larger playground that was part of my home turf. You can see teeter-totters, which may be the same ones I’m remembering, but there seems to be a big open area where I recall the more modern plastic structures being (click the picture to go to the page where I found it, there is some discussion following the picture).
Before I describe the plastic equipment I’ve been referring to, let me just take a quick aside to talk about the bench that the girl is perched on. This bench brings back a surprising number of memories, as I think this same style of bench was still common a decade later when I lived in PHV. You can see the rusted metal support pole, which is how I recall the teeter-totters looking. But it’s the gaps between the boards which really call to me — I’m pretty sure they were a known hazard because as you were playing on these benches, jumping on and off of them and who knows what else, it was possible to get your fingers wedged in between the boards and yelp in pain when they were suddenly bent backwards. Or maybe we would stick our fingers through the boards while waiting for the bus to take us the PX/Commissary area (which I described in my Shopping blog entry). Maybe we used to bunny-hop our bikes up onto the seat of these benches? I also remember meeting a friend at the playground and we both were toting small boom boxes with cassettes of Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler”, and we sat on a bench at the large playground–perhaps the very bench in the above picture–and took turns letting each other blare the song. And an older kid came by and complemented us on our choice of music, and that made us feel cool.
One other quick aside — in the satellite view, note the grassy area just north of the large playground, where you can see a concrete picnic table and a few small trees. This used to be one of the major marble courts of PHV. It was just a barren packed-earth area with several pots dug into the ground, as I described in detail in my very first entry of this blog about the marbles phenomenon. We also used to play a game called Red Light Green Light here, although Wikipedia says it is more commonly known as Statues. One person would stand near the building facing the others. They would turn their back to the others and yell “Green light!” and everyone would run to try to tag that person. Then they would turn to face the other players and yell “Red light!” and everyone had to stop immediately. If they saw you moving after they declared red light, then you would be sent back to the starting line to try again. When someone finally reached the caller, they would become the new caller in the next game.
At any rate, back to the playgrounds. You’ll notice in the 1968 picture that the ground is all sand, and that’s how it was in my day as well. However, the current playgrounds appear to be covered with the soft rubbery material which is a common safety feature these days. At this point in my blog is where a rant about how kids today have it easy might be inserted. Anyway, it’s amusing that all of these playgrounds seem to have sand leaking from underneath the rubbery surface, as if the old playground is trying to reclaim its territory.
The first piece of modern-feeling playground equipment that I can remember is a tall red plastic structure shaped a bit like a wide, squat teepee but with a circular crow’s nest at the top rather than coming to a point. I think the railing of the crow’s nest was orange plastic. There were three openings in the sides so that you could go underneath, and there was nothing inside except for a metal pole in the middle. Essentially, this structure was a slide where you could slide in any direction. I was about to say that the only way to the top was to scramble up the sloped sides, using the humps of the three openings for aid, but as I’m writing this I remember that one side of the structure had a set of small steps molded into it. It was probably more fun to scramble up the slope, just like most kids will try to walk backward up a traditional slide rather than using the supplied steps.
Two memories of this structure stand out, and neither one is all that pleasant. The first is that the enclosed area underneath the structure always smelled of urine, and it could be hot in there during the summer. The second is that we boys would lay on our stomachs on the crow’s nest at the top and spit on the slide part, and then it would be a race to see whose spit could make it down the length of the slide first. No wonder little girls think that little boys are gross.
The other main plastic structure in the big playground was more complex. Like all of this equipment, the plastic was a hodgepodge of bright red, orange, and yellow pieces. It was a variation of the common piece of playground equipment which includes a way to get up, a few things to do while you’re up there, and a slide to get back down. The current playground has something very much like this, although it looks completely different. The structure I remember didn’t have a traditional staircase to get up — instead, it had a vertical plastic cylinder with a short doorway in one side. This red cylinder had circular holes at various intervals, and you would use them to climb up the middle to the platform above. I recall this not being the easiest feat, perhaps because I tried to use holes on both sides of the cylinder at once and my limbs were barely long enough for the task.
One side of this structure was rounded like a partial dome, and you could also climb up the outside using similar holes. Actually, I think perhaps it had some extruding bumps similar to handholds on a modern rockclimbing wall, because I seem to remember perching on the outside of this domed part with my feet strategically placed on the bumps in order to hold myself up. Yes, it’s becoming more clear now — there was also a slide area on this domed part, so you would climb up the bumps and slide back down. Because it was dome-shaped, the slide eventually became vertical and there was a very short freefall onto the sand below.
But if you took the cylindrical ladder to the platform, I recall two ways to get back down — a curving slide wound around another cylinder, and a large slide of polished metal wide enough for two or three kids to go down abreast. I think this slide may have had a ripple in the middle to make it a bit more interesting.
The smaller playground to the east had one main piece of equipment that I can recall, and it was clearly from the same manufacturer because it also consisted of red, yellow, and orange plastic pieces. It was essentially a set of modular tunnels, exactly like what you’d get for a pet hamster except they were opaque. There were tube sections and intersection pieces so that you could fit them together into any design, although at this playground the tubes were just formed into a square with an extending arm or two. The intersection pieces were your entryway into the tubes, as they had circular openings in every direction, including up — you could stand in one of these and your upper body would be visible.
As this playground also had a surface of sand, it inevitably made its way inside the tubes and you were typically crawling on sand while inside. These may have also had the occasional scent of urine, which is a little disturbing. But more than crawling around inside them, I remember playing “tube tag” on top of them. It was a dangerous game where you would essentially run around on top of the tubes trying to catch or avoid someone else. Each time you came to the end of a tube, you had to make a little leap to the next tube because of the open intersection piece blocking your way. It was easy to slip off of these rounded tubes or miscalculate a leap, and I’m surprised there weren’t more injuries than there were.
One amusing thing I remember about this smaller playground is that some older kids came by and threw a stink bomb against the tubes. I didn’t know exactly what that was at the time, but I think it was a small vial of horribly smelling liquid you might pick up at a novelty store along with chattering teeth or a handshake buzzer. I can remember this playground being completely abandoned for a few days until the stench subsided.
All the other playgrounds around PHV had similar equipment, but always put together in some unique way probably just to fit the dimensions of a particular location. So wandering around PHV, you could come across a lot of familiar-yet-new places to play, as long as the regular kids at that playground didn’t give too many angry glares at the perceived invaders.
But kids are notorious for finding things to play with that were never intended for that purpose, and two such things come to mind. The first happened in the grassy area between these two playgrounds, whenever we could get our hands on large cardboard box (perhaps gleaned from some of the dumpster diving I’ve mentioned elsewhere). We would lay down inside the box and just roll in order to move the box across the grass like a tank’s treads. I think sometimes we had multiple kids inside the box at the same time, and the last kid would have to roll fast enough to keep up or else be tossed around by the rising part of the box.
The other makeshift play item I remember has to do with the large field near the church and library which you can see in this satellite view. There is a huge playground at the southern part of this field now, but in my day the entire thing was just an open grassy field. For some reason there always seemed to be a few giant wooden spools in this field, like the kind you’d wrap large cables around. I don’t know if they were meant to be makeshift picnic tables or just decoration or what, but they were fun to play with. We’d tip them on their end and then try to roll them across the field. I think at least once we found one with some boards missing from the central column, so we’d try to climb in there as a great hiding place.
There are a few miscellaneous things I wanted to capture from the Officers Club area which aren’t mentioned either in my original post about the building, or in the follow-up where I’d learned that it has since been renamed the Village Pavilion.
The Ice Cream Shop
If we return to the Google Maps view, you’ll notice a clump of trees along the east side of the building, next to what looks to be a loading dock area. There used to be an ice cream shop right where those trees are, and I think you might’ve had to walk down concrete steps to get to the door. So maybe it was in the basement of the Officers Club, along with Der Keller? I only vaguely remember this ice cream shop at all, except for one thing — banana splits. This was the first place I ever tried one, and to this day I can’t have a banana split without thinking about that little hole-in-the-wall shop in PHV.
The Community Center
I don’t know if it was actually called a community center, but I’m referring to the building just to the southeast of the Officers Club. Google Maps actually has it labeled as a Network Service Center, so its use may have changed. During my time in PHV, this building was a recreation center. I recall that they had some sort of film event which ran over several weekends and, while I can’t remember what movies they might have been showing, I do remember that popcorn was available. There was also a room with several pool tables, and I remember knocking the balls around even though I didn’t really know how to play. I don’t think we visited this center too often, because I don’t recall what else may have been in there.
You’ll notice that there’s a large patio area in the back of this building, across from the rust-colored basketball courts. We went to the rec center once when this whole area was under construction, and the patio was just a big pit with exposed pipes, wiring, and who knows what else. Our parents left us at the rec center for a short time with only one standing order: do not go into that pit, because it’s dangerous. But the pit looked so interesting, and it even had a few pathways dipping in and out of it which must’ve been created by the construction workers moving in and out. So we had a great time running in one side of the pit and out the other on these paths, until we looked up from the bottom and saw our parents watching. That was the end of the fun for that day, I’m sure.
The Temporary Housing
Again, I don’t recall what the official term for these were, but if you look to the north of the Officers Club, across the street, there’s a line of long two-story buildings. As best as I can remember, these were temporary quarters for people who were just moving in or out of PHV and either didn’t have permanent quarters yet or else had already moved out of them and were waiting to be shipped back to the States. I know we stayed in one of these buildings for a brief time, but couldn’t say which one.
The Day Care Center
There’s another line of two story buildings along the east side of the Officers Club, heading south almost to the main gate. In one of the first two buildings from the gate was a day care center which we went to sometimes. It was easily identifiable because of the life-size nutcracker statue standing by the door. Inside, I mainly just remember a long hallway running down the middle and a large room on one side which was full of cots for nap time. I also remember snack time, which included graham crackers. If you exited the hallway on the east side of the building, there was an enclosed playground which was the highlight of being at the center. From the satellite view I don’t see any evidence of a nutcracker statue or of a playground, so unless they’re hidden underneath trees I’d have to guess that the day care center is no longer located in that area.
Between the main gate and that row of buildings, there’s another building which has its own parking lot. I’m fairly certain that building didn’t exist when I lived in PHV, so I’m wondering if perhaps there used to be one or two more of those long two-story buildings in its place and one of them housed the day care center.
Of all the things I’ve mentioned so far in this blog, there was no greater adventure than going Behind the Fence. It didn’t have any official name, it was just Behind the Fence. Everybody knew what that meant, at least in our little corner of southeast Patrick Henry Village.
Unfortunately, Behind the Fence doesn’t exist anymore. Taking a look at this google maps view, it has been replaced by two additional baseball diamonds just south of the one that existed even back in my day at the end of the 1970s/start of the 1980s. That building in the lower left, where South Gettysburg Avenue curves from north-south to east-west, is where I lived for the majority of my time in PHV, so we had prime access to Behind the Fence. Perhaps there are people from other parts of PHV who didn’t even know this area existed.
That view is shocking to me because of how small an area it actually is. I remember Behind the Fence being a vast wilderness with several different areas or ecosystems, and it was like going on safari each time you ventured in.
In layman’s terms, Behind the Fence was an undeveloped area of land wedged in between PHV and the A5 autobahn. It was separated from PHV by what I recall as a barbed-wire fence. The only current equivalent in PHV I can find by scrolling around the google map view is this section in the northeast corner. Perhaps kids today are exploring that small wooded section, probably without the approval of their parents just like we usually did.
Point of Entry
From our building directly across from the area, gaining access was a cinch. There was a particular tree right up against the fence which gave you something to hold onto while you negotiated the barbed wire. Those barbs never stopped us kids, although our parents may have wondered about a few unexplained rips and holes in our clothing sometimes.
Once you crossed the fence, you’d find yourself at the base of a long hill running north-south. It was mostly overgrown, but intermittently you would find dirt trails leading to the top. So after conquering the barbed wire, the second obstacle was to climb the hill.
The only thing I really remember about this side of the hill is that we seemed to find a lot of snails here, particularly during wet conditions. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere in this blog, PHV was crawling with snails.
Once reaching the top of the hill, you’d find that it was flat and treeless. I think it was actually a maintenance road which was seldom if ever used, so it was overgrown with grass. This road gave you quick access to the north or south areas, but wasn’t as fun to navigate as the many foot trails criss-crossing the area. It also gave you a good vantage point to observe the field and the autobahn beyond. Given the road on top, I assume the hill probably started life as a man-made wall of dirt, perhaps from the construction of PHV, and had become overgrown in the years since.
One time we came out here with our dad and pitched a tent along this roadway and actually spent the night out there! I’m sure that was breaking some sort of law or ordinance, but we kids were oblivious to all that and just thought it was a grand adventure.
After climbing down the other side of the hill, you’d find yourself in a wide open area of tall grasses and weeds. They were taller than us kids, which meant that it didn’t feel wide open at all when you were venturing through it. There were trails crisscrossing the area; I don’t know if they were natural dirt areas, or animal paths, or created by all the PHV kids who ventured back here, but I recall using them to run through the tall stands of grass playing a sort of waterless Marco Polo game.
There was a foot path at the base of the hill, and it was known to pass through patches of the notorious Sting Weed. I don’t know if that’s really the plant’s name, but that’s what we called it. It carpeted the ground and had leaves that came to several sharp points. If you touched it, you’d get a stinging sensation and you’d have a rash-like bump which would last a few days. I’ve seen plants in the States which look exactly like my memory of Sting Weed, but they are harmless to the touch.
One day we were hiking this particular trail and, through horsing around, I ended up falling directly into a patch of Sting Weed. That put a quick end to our adventure that day. I remember the pain and want to say I was covered with this stinging rash from neck to foot, but it probably wasn’t that extreme. I remember my mom covering me in Calamine Lotion to try and ease the stinging, and we actually had dinner with neighbors that evening. I couldn’t really wear clothes because of all the lotion, so I went to the neighbors’ apartment in my yellow Big Bird bathrobe which I’d gotten when having my tonsils removed at the hospital in Heidelberg.
The other main memory I have of this field area is that there were a lot of large ant hills. There were red ants and black ants, depending on where within the field you looked. I remember one time another kid brought his dad’s shovel and scooped up an anthill of one color and dumped it on an anthill of another color, just so we could watch the red ants battle the black ants and see who was strongest. That sounds a little messed up to me now, but kids do crazy things.
I’m just remembering now that this area was also full of grasshoppers which we used to chase, and we’d freak out when one of them landed on us because their sticky feet just felt weird on your skin.
The North Wood
I don’t think we actually had a name for this area, and I think we ventured there less often because it was getting pretty deep into the wilderness at this point (and “deep” is clearly relative to your age and experience, if you recall how small this area actually is in the google view I linked at the top of this entry). This was an area of evergreen trees, and I distinctly remember the red-orange color of the ground due to the layer of pine needles covering everything.
A curiosity in this area were a couple small craters. At least, they looked like craters…they were perfectly circular and bowl-shaped and seemed oddly out of place. We used to run down one side and out the other. One of the other kids once said that they were bomb craters from World War II, and I took him at his word since at that age I really knew nothing about the war. I have since learned that Heidelberg surrendered peacefully to the Allies and was spared the bombing that devastated many German cities, so I’m not sure if the bomb crater theory holds water or not.
During one adventure through this area, we ventured down a trail between two tall bushes and found ourselves standing on the shoulder of the autobahn. Just a small strip of grass separated us from the cars zooming by. This surprised me because I didn’t realize how far we’d gone, but I didn’t have much time to take in the sights because there just happened to be a Polizei car parked right near the trail end, and two officers were on foot walking around the area!
I assume this was just coincidence, and that they didn’t actually get a report of kids wandering around near the highway. At any rate, my fight-or-flight response took over and opted for flight, so I turned and ran as fast as I could. My brother was actually on a parallel trail on the other side of the bush, so I yelled at him to run and he followed even though I don’t think he knew what we were running from at the time.
We flew through the field area and over the hill, which was not as tall in the northern area of Behind the Fence. We hopped over the barbed wire and found ourselves at one of the marble courts which were popular at the time (as I detailed in my first post for this blog). If you look back at the google map view of the area, this marble court would have been right about where you can see a small playground in a dark rectangle of soft ground material…in between the old baseball field in the north and the two newer ones to the south. The marble court would have been an irregular dirt area where the grass had been cleared away by legions of kids’ shoes as people played marbles there over the years. It may have been designated as a picnic area because there was a concrete picnic table right next to the dirt area; however, these picnic tables seemed to be deposited randomly all over PHV, so who knows.
We were in luck that day, because there was some heavy marble action happening…there was a crowd of probably 15 or 20 kids all gathered around to watch or participate in some game. We rushed to the picnic table and plopped down, and tried to act casual. No sooner had we done that, then the Polizei car appeared on South Gettysburg Avenue and screeched to a halt. The officers scanned the crowd of kids and watched the fence to try and catch the perpetrators as they emerged from the forbidden Behind the Fence area, but we’d been too fast for them. After a few minutes they drove off, and we were left to shake off the adrenalin from our brush with the law.
It actually would have been easier for us to escape them today than it was back then, because the entrances to PHV used to just be straight roads with a guardhouse, and I’m not even sure if the guardhouses were always manned. But apparently since the September 11 terrorism, security has been really beefed up at military bases and now the front entrance is a maze of speed-reducing curves which would have given us more time to scurry off.
The South Wood
This area, which butted up against the entrance/exit ramps at the southeast corner of PHV, was an entirely different biome than the aforementioned north woods. I recall it being very green and white, so I assume it was made up of deciduous trees instead of evergreens. In Germany I recall a lot of trees with white bark, similar to Aspens but without the requirement of being at high altitude. This is probably why I remember the color white. I think the ground was covered with moss or green grass.
The only real memory I have of this area is that we ventured there one time with our older neighbor who was decidedly more mischievous. He said it was a great area from which to throw rocks at the passing cars, and he proceeded to do so. I didn’t understand the impact at first, until I heard a thud and a screeching of tires as someone stopped to see what had happened to their car. This was another time when we fled Behind the Fence with all due haste, and I remember feeling a little horrified about the deed even at that age.
The Soccer Field
This wasn’t Behind the Fence, but I thought it was worth a mention since it was in the same general area. If you go back to the google maps view one more time, you’ll see that my old building has a small parking area on the south end which extends further back than the building itself. In my day, this was just a concrete slab ending where the building ends, where the metal dumpsters sat and where the coal truck could pull up to the small metal hatch (both of these things are described in my In-Depth post about a typical apartment building).
Back in the late 70s, there was a soccer field which extended roughly from the southern end of that apartment building toward the southwest, probably ending right about where that large square building begins — that large building didn’t exist back then. Besides playing soccer here, I also remember playing tee-ball or softball with a bunch of kids and parents. I’d only used wooden bats, but some other kid had a blue aluminum bat which he let me try. I remember smacking the ball with that bat and it going much farther than I could normally hit it. Somehow I ended up buying or trading that bat from him because to me as a 1st or 2nd grader it was just amazing, and I held onto it for many years. It may still be hiding somewhere in a box or closet.
I also recall us creating a strange obstacle course by taking the bottom of the goal net and throwing it up over the top of the goal, forming a sort of elevated, netting-walled tunnel. We used to challenge each other to try to navigate this cave from one end to the other, which is harder than it sounds when you’re really young and are still mastering the coordination of your own body.
One last memory of the soccer field is that I practiced learning to ride a bike here, borrowing one from a girl who lived in my building. I recall crashing into a goal post at one point and bending her handlebars, which of course she was furious about and is probably why this memory remains in my head.
Just a quick follow-up on one of my earliest blogs about the Officers Club. I just discovered that it’s now called the Village Pavilion and apparently it is used for conferences and large events. Here is the official site; clicking around on some of the links at the top reveals some pictures featuring the large chandeliers which I was pretty sure I remembered. The site has no mention of Der Keller, so I assume that bar/casual eatery no longer exists in the basement.
In addition, here’s a youtube video of a briefing covering the Army’s impending move from Heidelberg to Wiesbaden. In the first minute of the video you get a few views of what I remember as the formal dining room. The chandeliers are seen there as well, and I also noticed the restaurant-style double doors in the background with the circular windows. There’s even a glimpse of the tall curtains I remember being along the left wall. Looks like the grand piano has been moved elsewhere, though.
And finally, not strictly related, I found this page which has a picture of the dining room from the 1960s.
Maybe not such a big deal, but it was interesting for me to see the interior of this building for the first time in over 30 years and validate some distant childhood memories.