Sunday, July 23, 2017

Photos from Point Alpha Museum at Fulda

Here are more pictures from my visit to Point Alpha on the former East-West German Border at Fulda.

всегда на страже: Always on Guard

M60A3 Patton Tank

Summary description

Car used by East German/Soviet patrols

The Marshall Plan Helps Europe

A Soviet observation tower

Soviet submachine gun

The fence

Collapsible stock AK47

Photos from Eastern Block Revolts

Soviet Propaganda Posters

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Going to Fulda from the East

One of eight local trains I took for the trip from Berlin to Darmstadt

My first visit to Fulda in 40 years was from the East. It was such a strange feeling to approach the border from the East. The last time I went to Fulda was in a tank on an alert. That was the 70s when the Soviet Union still existed. In June, I was a tourist on a train, one of eight trains as it turned out. The most direct route from Berlin to Darmstadt passes though Fulda.  

When I left Berlin to travel to Darmstadt, I was beginning a 267-mile that would have been much better if I did not have the bike. I rode on eight trains and took almost 13 hours to get to cities roughly as far apart as Washington, D.C., and Bridgeport, Ct. A few days later I went to Berlin on an express train in just under four hours.
The Inter City Express ICE train

But the interesting thing compared to the American rail system is that I could make the trip on all local trains.  In fact, I could and did change the trip. In Berlin, I had a schedule of six trains that would get me the entire distance in eight hours. Then I missed train three. So I went to the next large station and got a new schedule. A total of eight trains. But no gaps. Just one platform to another.  
In America, only on the east coast do regional trains link together at all. For example the trip from Bridgeport to Washington, D.C. is only possible with buses or a long taxi ride. There is a 31-mile gap between Newark, Delaware, and Perryville, Maryland. And there is a 1.5-mile gap between Grand Central Terminal and Penn Station in New York. That gap can be traversed on two subways, or a walk. Assuming two subways it would take eight trains, plus two buses or another form of transportation to cover the distance. Amtrak could also cover the distance without gaps, just as the express trains in Germany. 
After this trip, I returned to the Border Memorial at Fulda for a visit. But approaching Fulda from the East gave me a feeling I won't forget.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Jody was a Draft Dodger

When I was in basic training in 1972, we sang when we marched. We sang about the terrible food, the training, about killing the enemy, but most of all we sang about Jody.

Jody was the mythical Son of a Bitch back home who was screwing our girlfriends, driving our cars, eat our food, emptying our meager bank accounts and, in the worst version, alienating the affection of our dogs!

The current Army no longer sings about Jody. I wrote about that after attending a full-time Army school four years ago. The songs would embarrass eunuchs now they are so thoroughly emasculated. The story on the New York Times "At War" blog is here.

Recently I was explaining Jody to a non-military friend. I said, "Jody was a Draft Dodger. When I was in basic during the Vietnam War, we knew Jody got a deferment."

And now, if those sergeants are still alive, they are in their 70s and voted for Trump. Who ever thought you could sell those Vietnam War veterans a Chicken Hawk.

I would not have believed it then. I still have a hard time believing it now.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Jerusalem: The Youngest 5,000-Year-Old City I Ever Visited

Jerusalem: 5,000 years old and the youngest city I visited in my 20-country tour. When I flew to Israel after a month in mostly Eastern Europe, I expected Jerusalem to be the spiritual pinnacle of my trip. It was quite the opposite.  Jerusalem is youthful, growing, vibrantly alive. Surrounding places thousands of years old are new apartments, stores, hotels, clubs, couples in love, groups having fun, people arguing, people haggling, and old people here and there like rocks in a stream bed with the wild current of life swirling past.

In the Old City are warrens of streets of stone, closed to traffic, alive with people: restaurants, shops, stores, clubs, every manner of business line tiny streets and the streets that don’t allow cars.  The streets are also filled with young people.  Soldiers are everywhere and they are young, the proper age of soldiers. Young men and women with automatic rifles laugh in cafes, read on buses, stare at their phones at tram stops and takes selfies in cafes. The soldiers you see everywhere look like soldiers should: young, strong, and tough.

In cafes and restaurants, groups of young people fill the tables. They also wait on the tables and cook the food. When I bought bread or coffee or a sandwich, it was a young person who handed me my order. The hotels I stayed at had people in their 20s on the desk.

By contrast in Belgrade a lovely cobblestone street ascends toward the top of the main hill in the city. Along that street is restaurant after restaurant with live music and lovely gardens. The waiters, the musicians, the diners are mostly older people. The scene is beautiful on a summer night, but very different from Jerusalem. Belgrade draws the best people who want to stay in Serbia, including many young people. But the city, like so many in Europe, is old and getting older. Jerusalem, like New York, Paris, London, Beijing, and other world cities draws young people from everywhere.

Jerusalem also draws tourists from everywhere. Retirees from America, across Europe and Asia flock to the Old City. But on the steep streets of Jerusalem, the tourists walk from stand to stand in the market or shop to shop then stop to catch their breath. Young people bump past and stride up and down. When the vendors in the open-air market shout, young people shout back.

Even the Orthodox are young. In America, the enclaves of Orthodox Judaism are home to an aging population. In New York City and in my hometown of Lancaster where there is an Orthodox Shul, the strictly observant Jews are older. Outside my hotel on a closed street in Old City Jerusalem, one of the outside tables at the closest pizza place had a table with a dozen young Orthodox men staining their white shirts with sizzling pepperoni pizzas--and laughing at each other when they did it.

Many people told me Tel Aviv is a young city, more vibrant, more secular. I can't say because I never left Jerusalem and so did not see the rest of the country. But the youth vibe of Jerusalem is my most lasting impression of a very ancient city.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Holocaust Deportation Memorial in Paris

At the east end of Il de Notre Dame in the center of Paris is a memorial to the 200,000 people deported from France to death camps by the Nazis during World War II.  A park covers most of the east end of the island. At the very east end it narrows to a point. The memorial is below the surface of the island pointing in the direction of the deportation: east to Auschwitz and other death factories.

Visitors walk down stairs to an open space with sheer walls, then enter chambers with memorials to the dead. The chamber that points east is long and opens to the Seine through a Barred window. I took a boat ride later in the day and looked in from the outside instead of out from the inside. Either way telescopes the view and focused my mind on the point of the memorial: that two hundred thousand people were ripped from the the land the loved by a racist pig Hitler. 

We should never tolerate a racist in a position of power in our country.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Holocaust Memorial in Berlin

Even though I knew the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin would confront me with some of the feeling of people disappearing, the reality was eerie. I sat at the southeast corner and looked at the square block of randomly shaped stone in front of me. Between the uneven stones were uneven pathways. The pathways were sometimes a few feet lower than the stones they passed between, sometimes they were twenty feet lower.
As people walk through the narrow paths between the stones, they appear, disappear, reappear and disappear again. Heads pop up 50 feet away then they are gone. I did not know the people in front of me, they just appeared and disappeared. Kids seldom showed up. So I would see a man walking and then see two little heads for a moment. Then those heads would disappear. Then the father would disappear.

Here is a video that will let you see what I saw.