This week bigger pics
Tuesday 3rd September 2013, Germany week 114
Dresden (Apologies for yesterday, the camp site we were on had no internet.)
By December of 1944 the final chapter of WW2 were being played out. The Nazis were in retreat and Russian troops were seventy miles from Berlin, and yet in the February of 1945 allied command launched one of the most controversial bombing raids of the war, and bombed Dresden. In just four air raids 1200 allied bombers dropped 4000 tons of explosives and incendiary bombs and razed the city to the ground. The destruction was total. The death toll was higher than expected because the city housed refugees escaping from the advancing Russians. To this day the reasons for those attacks have never been made clear, at the time a number of reasons given by both British and American high command. Max Hastings the historian and author wrote: The bombing of Dresden was the first time the British public seriously questioned British military actions used to defeat the Nazis.
Dresden after the bombing
As I stood by the river Elbe, with the peel of church bells ringing out across the city, I found myself wondering, if back then, those same bells would have sounded a warning of the impending attacks. I looked up and tried to imagine what the sky must have looked like full of allied bombers. In doing so I gave myself goosebumps and was reminded that war crimes, and atrocities, are perpetrated by all sides in wars.
The Dresden Frauenkirche (Middle). The darker dots on the building are where the old stone was used.
Even today the repairs are very much in evidence. The rebuilding of the remarkable Dresden Frauenkirche church was completed as recently as 2004. Few building from the post war period escaped damage. I found myself questioning what this city might have looked like had it not been for the war. It would have been glorious in the extreme..
I came away saddened that so little has changed since those times. For me the fundamental lesson of WW2 has been missed. That being: no one person in a democracy should have the authority to plunge a country into military conflict. In the UK only The Queen has that power. This she exercises under 'advisement' from her Prime Minister. This power is given to royalty under an ancient monarchical law called “The Royal Prerogative”. There have been a couple of attempts to change this recently. It's been argued that Parliament alone should have this power. In 1999 a bill was introduced seeking to change the law. However, the Queen, acting upon advice from Mr Blair and under an even older archaic parliamentary law refused to grant her consent for the Bill to even be debated, so it was dropped. Two years later 'The Constitutional Reform and Governance Act' included a section that would have required Parliamentary approval before any armed forces could be deployed, but this too was dropped for the same reason.
And we laughingly call Britain a democracy?. It isn't. I personally think it's actually run along the lines of a Gentleman’s Club by the wealthy, powerful and influential. I shall come back to this topic but for today I will leave you on a slightly lighter note:
The street we performed on.
We had cycled into Dresden from the camp-site. While returning we both managed, through being mildly stupid and not looking where we were going, to get our cycle wheels caught in the tram rails. We both fell off our bikes at exactly the same moment. Had we spent a week practising this stunt I doubt we could have timed it any better and achieved it with any less drama. Picking myself off the ground, wishing it would swallow me up, I glanced around to see if any of the two hundred odd tourists had noticed, after all adults are not supposed to fall over. It's assumed, and rightly so, we've mastered the knack of staying upright, even on a bike. Seemingly no one had, either they didn't care or thought we were possibly two member of the Dresden Street Theatre Co moon lighting, so thankfully they ignored us. (Incidentally we were uninjured apart from our pride! Ed.)
Wednesday 4th September 2013, week 115, Germany
Get me out-ta here!!!
Yesterday we moved sixty miles west to the town of Colditz as we wanted to visit the famous Prisoner of War camp, Colditz Castle. In keeping with the whole security/prison/escape theme we had difficulty in finding the camp site, we sailed past the entrance twice. Eventually we found it sloping sharply off the road between some trees. It seemed well hidden. We then trundled along a narrow tarmacked track which snaked through a wood before depositing us at the front gate which stood wide open. At reception the door swung lazily open but it appeared abandoned. There were several parked caravans but they seemed both empty and permanent. I strolled around looking for someone but found no one. It was eerily silent apart from a woodpecker drilling holes in the wood beyond. Clearly, today, they take a more relaxed approach to security. Once camped we walked into town and the castle.
Now I'd completely misread the entrance price on their website. I thought it said four Euros each which, on hindsight, had I thought about it, would have been a bargain for an extended two hour guided tour of the famous Castle!, so when the young lady asked me for thirty Euros my knees buckled somewhat and I practically swooned as blood rushed to my wallet. Hazel quickly supported my arm. I then struggled momentarily as the aforementioned wallet refused to come out, a bit like wrestling with a fish on the end of a line. I reluctantly handed over thirty Euros and mumbled something about understanding why people would want to escape at these prices. Hazel dragged me away.
The Castle today, as you can see, it's on the up.
Now for those that don't know, Colditz was a POW camp in WW2. It was originally a renaissance castle built by some chappie after Henry IV made him responsible for maintaining the defence of one of the border provinces of the Holy Roman Empire. - see I was paying attention- Anyway, much later, the Germans thought it would make an excellent escape proof prison mainly because it was built on solid rock. Bit of a miss calculation that, since, by the end of the war, it was riddled with some thirty odd escape tunnels. They only recently, during some building work, came across a tunnel exit by a exterior wall that no one knew of.
Now the second thing that really surprised me, the first, obviously, being the entrance fee, was the complexity of the castle layout. It is a maze of corridors, staircases, rooms, anterooms, more corridors and then even more staircases. In fact, so complex is the building that repair men, long after the war had ended, found a radio room set up by the British POWs, which was then "lost" again only to be re-discovered some ten years later. So after a hour of following around our guide I was impressed the POWs even found the front door! let alone escaped the building altogether.
The British officers Quarters
It was quite clear that the guide, a small German lady in her forties, had a sneaking admiration for the British and their ingenuity at fooling their captors, often making the guards sound like they were in Fred Karno's army, instead of the German army.
The British POWs boasted the highest number of escape attempts at around 117, of those only a small number were successful. In one, a British officer escaped to Switzerland and then cheekily sent the commandant of Colditz Castle a postcard.
It read: Dear Commandant, Thank you so very much for the accommodation provided, however, I could no longer stand the food. I do hope no guards have been packed off to the Russian front on my account. Yours sincerely.... P.S Could you possibly forward on my belongings to the Swiss embassy. Which, amazingly, the German commandant did. He also allowed British officers to pop into town and get a beer as long as they promised not to try and escape. The officers gave their word and didn't. It really was a different era then.
Unfortunately for Colditz town things are not going so well. When the wall came down and led to German reunification in 1990 two large employers closed. We were told the average age of the towns inhabitants is now 54 and I can vouch for that, almost everyone looked pensionable. A few shops stand vacant. There's an estate of five large apartment buildings, two of which are empty.
It would seem that the youth of Colditz, like the British POWs before them, have escaped for a better life elsewhere.
Thursday 5th September 2013, Germany, Week 115
Doh! them Germans.
Here's a question: Are the Germans anything like us Brits? Well to answer this I've prepared a queer mix of twenty mildly fascinating observations and assorted facts about the Germans and Germany. You decide. (Sticking your neck out here. Ed), Yep, don't I know it and we're just about to spend a few days with some.
1, Only half as many Germans own property than us Brits, most preferring to rent. And while you might query the logic behind that it's worth noting that since 2002 UK home repossessions have averaged 500 a week.*
2, They don’t jay-walk. They wait at crossings. Even if they have to squint to see the traffic because it's that far in the distance they still wait. Oddly, so do I now.
3, They are totally OK with you getting your kit off. Nudity doesn’t bother them a jot.
4, They are a candid race. If a German offers you something, he would feel you're questioning his motives if you asked 'are you sure'. He wouldn't have offered it if he minded.
5, They love a good rule and because of it, have for the most part, a law abiding society. It's reported that 80 percent of the crime in Germany is carried out by foreigners.
6, They do not see a need for conversational subtext. If you can't say something as directly as possible then don't bother saying it at all.
7, Here the Wurst (Sausage) is King. There are over 1,000 kinds. They’ll eat them for breakfast which in an event in itself, akin to a banquet. Not for them a bowl of Frosties. They empty the larder.
8, In Germany there is no part of the pig that cannot be boiled, shredded, fried, mashed, roasted, diced, minced and then eaten or, I dare say, worn. Pigs trotters are regularly on restaurant menus.
9, Here, even to his own surprise, David Hasselhoff is actually cool. Who says the Germans don’t have a sense of humour..
10, There are 1500 types of beer brewed in Germany. Cheapest I've seen is 54p a litre.
When it comes to motorhoming they like to be prepared.
11, They don't go in for Curtains. They use net panels or blinds. This is because curtains imply you may have something to hide.
12, The first article in the German constitution, written after the war, is that the governments prime responsibility is for the welfare and safety of it's people.
13, They still have cigarette machines in the street, that work.
14, Our Queens family name is Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, German. They changed it to Windsor to make it sound more British.
15, As of 2010, wind power in Germany provides over 96,000 jobs and provides 10% of the country's energy needs.
16, The British frequently relived the 1966 world cup -they think its all over, it is now- , the Germans have long forgotten about it.
17, Adidas was founded by the Bavarian, Adolf Dassler and his brother Rudolf, not wishing to be outdone, founded Puma.
18,They don't trust white bread. German dark breads have the consistency of a house brick and coincidentally weigh about the same.
19, Donaudampfschifffahrtselektrizitätenhauptbetriebswerkbauunterbeamtengesellschaft, is the longest German word. Save you counting, 79 letters which is 678 points if playing scrabble.
20, Lastly: Germans have wonderful toilets. Many bowls have a 'shelf” so once you've done your doings you can have a good old poke around to check all is well or, dig out the whistle you swallowed the day before before flushing it away. Byyyyyyyyy
* National Mortgage Association figures
Friday 6th August 2013, week 115 Germany
I started the week off by talking about war so I'm going to finish on it and in the process see if I can upset a few more people. So if you're a single-minded military imperialist or a Syrian arms dealer (Not much chance of that. Ed) I’d go and do some finger painting as you won't like what I'm about to say.
I'm average, not especially well educated. I never took home a school report that didn't have: “could do better” stamped across it. So what I don't know would fill a library and what I do might, at a push, fill a pamphlet. However there are occasions when I believe I was either born out of my time, or dropped on my head as a baby. I say this because I have a tendency to approach life from an odd angle, regular readers of my uttering's may have noticed this.
At the age of nine I became a fervent anti militarist. This through watching a documentary about WW2 which showed the dead being bulldozed into mass graves. Watching that I had, what I now know was, an epiphany. I reasoned wars happened because mankind is a social pack animal. He finds it easier to follow than stand alone. Trouble is, he'll follow just about anything. Religious ideology, another’s view of justice, political or patriotic fervour and of course most dangerous of all, football. Now I'm not knocking those that follow but simply pointing out, as history has repeatedly proven, that following others can be fraught with danger. This because, quite frankly, no one knows, for sure, who's right and who's wrong about anything, even experts disagree so what chance us mere mortals? Obviously at nine I never reasoned any of that out, it was all I could do to copy my mates answers on a spelling test, but the seeds were sown.
Much later that seed grew into a solid contempt for all things war like. Now I'm not anal about it, countries should have an army if they want one but what I don’t believe, on moral and ethical grounds, is that it should possess first strike capabilities. Now that’s to say it's organised, armed and most especially financed in such a way that it's able to start a war. I'm suggesting it should be based on defence and counter strike. Of course this notion of a 'self defence only army', would have Colonel Blimp turning in his war grave, politicians would write me off as naïve and a great swath of the public would consider me a lefty, liberal do gooder!...... but that’s how it is, sometimes you just can't win.
But trouble is, I fancy, we've all been duped by those who hold power and by those that orchestrate and profit from wars into believing that military might is a necessity, as is the ability to start a war. Few seem to question the rationality or morality of that stance.
Throughout history the powerful have either financed or romanticised war. Words like valour, duty, patriotism, gallantry, bravery are used to instil a belief, in the poor sods that have to fight them, that dying on the battle field is in some way an honourable way to meet your maker, it isn't, unless you're killed defending your country from attack. But as a nation discovered, after loosing 58,000 young Americans in Vietnam, dying for a political cause is morally wrong and futile. The film: Born on the Fourth of July makes this point masterfully.
445 British solders have died in Afghanistan. Some may argue that’s the price paid to bring peace to Afghanistan. Trouble is, so far in the twelve year war, ironically named Operation Enduring Freedom, which makes dying in it sound like you died for a noble reason, has cost in excess of 23,000 lives. The bulk of which were civilians. Perhaps they're the ones we should ask about the 'price'. And yet, just like the Russians who fought and got nowhere before us, we too are getting nowhere. Many Brits didn't need the benefit of hindsight in seeing this as a disaster. Mr Blair and an outdated parliament took us into this war.
When it comes to the wholesale slaughter of mankind, humans are unsurpassed masters. Eighty million people were wiped off the face of the earth in two wars and we appear to have learnt bugger all. Once a year we're asked to remember the dead but shamefully ignore the lessons and continue heading down the military road. If we continue to separate morality from politics then we doom our children and grandchildren to make the same mistakes, and sacrifice themselves.
And here’s the kicker, as the yanks say: If the Bible turns out to be correct when it says: and the meek shall inherit the earth. I feel confident it sure ain’t talking about us.
Have a good weekend.