Czekia via Germany 2004

Thursday, May 20th

Driving southward through Germany. Fine roads, aggressive drivers, all as expected. Nice to be on the road again. We pass trucks from various European countries, including Poland and Czekia. The united Europe is a reality.

Friday, May 21st

After an easy and inexpensive stay in Leutsdorf yesterday, we find ourselves today in Beilagries, unable to find a hotel room in this picturesque town. This is a long weekend in a popular destination point for unimaginative working people from the Munich area. They move slowly, travel in packs and on package deals, with the same haircuts replicated on countless women. We spurn a hotel offering a room because we consider it too expensive for its slight shabbiness and the smell of cigarettes and cabbage; certainly it does not measure up to the day before. As a result, and quite unexpectedly, we find ourselves driving for an hour and half through neighboring towns and villages, stopping at more than a dozen of fully booked hotels.

In one small town we encounter an elderly Englishman on a fully loaded bicycle. He looks half dead from exhaustion. What possesses people at that age to push themselves to the limits of endurance? I do not understand that. The man does not speak a word of German. By now it is after 6 PM: late for being homeless in a foreign land. The local custom of not hanging out a sign stating VACANCY/NO VACANCY makes it more difficult to look for a place in this area because each time it requires getting out of the car and going to a reception desk. Still, for us it is not more than an inconvenience. But for a bicyclist with about 30 pounds of luggage attached to his racing bicycle this is a serious hardship. Poor man. Having no luck with finding accommodations, he asks us if we know of a place to stay overnight. Of course, we do not, and in fact we are his competitors. We leave him standing helplessly in front of yet another fully booked hotel.

Afterwards, I joke that it was reassuring to find someone in a worse shape that we were. We laugh at this grim and cruel joke and finally admit a defeat ourselves: we return petulantly to the hotel we had earlier rejected, hoping that the room is still available. It is. This time, having a room key in our hands feels like a blessing and we do not give the price a second thought.

The dinner is of suspicious composition, heavy and large, definitely forgettable. A nice and well deserved rest.

I like German bedding. Even the most modest places use linens made of fine cottons that look and feel hand-ironed. The pillows and comforters are filled with down or its excellent imitation. Instead of using top sheets, stretched and tucked under like in a coffin, Germans use duvets. It all feels luxurious, very clean, and home-like. I have never been disappointed with a bed in a German hotel. My only objection is that they do not use beds made for two people. The best we ever do is two single beds pushed together. This trip will have been no different. In every place we stay we have two luxurious beds.

Saturday, May 22nd

An easy ride to Munich. This is a lively city on this Saturday afternoon, despite the rain. The old center has beautiful and varied architecture. We meet with Chaim Szeinwald and his middle daughter Rebecca in a quiet café. He is jovial and at the same time controlling, leading our little group with determination and without much regard for our preferences. But our preferences are ill articulated, so it all works. We follow him to the famous and huge Beer House; it is really quite a place, earning – according to Chaim — a million dollars on a busy weekend. The conversation I a café ebbs and flows, sometimes more smooth than at other times. I like his daughter very much. There is quiet intelligence in her face and a feminine natural charm in hear demeanor. After two hours we are all ready to move on. Only then do I realize that my cousin drives a Mercedes Benz SUV.

By 6 PM we arrive in Kloster Seeon where the conference will take place. Extraordinary place. A thousand year old monastery, huge, sprawling, placed on a small island on a lake. It is hard to conceive of a more bucolic place, surrounded by the pastoral landscape of Bavaria. Church bells rings, water calms the senses, and the sky is clear at night in the sharp cold air that has descended on us since Friday.

The walk around the monastery takes us to the village and its sort-of suburbs perched on the side of a mountain. We see human wealth challenging nature. The most recent single family houses, several still under construction and expensive, cut deeply into the side of the mountain. To protect them from mud slides, vertical cuts into the mountain are supported by walls of huge blocks of rock. These blocks are entirely appropriate for building Egyptian pyramids. This brings a thought to my mind that this type of development is a sort of monument to human ingenuity, technology, and also arrogance in its belief that it can sustain this challenge to the natural order of things. But these local pyramids will not last thousands of years.

It has become very cold. The nights feel like it will snow. We are unprepared for that.

May 23-25. The Conference

It is intense, interesting, challenging. We interact with people from 8 AM to late into the evening. Impossible to maintain this tempo for longer than two and half days. The mild stiffness in my lower back tells me that I network a little too hard. I meet several very interesting and attractive women; something relatively new at European conferences, especially those organized in Germany. I like that, especially my fascinating conversations with Ruth from the UK. Later, Philip shows me a picture of two of us he had taken, and only then I realize that she shows her age. I am not aware of it when I interact with her because of this powerful light of intelligence and engagement that emanates from her.

Tuesday, May 25th

After the extraordinary intensity of the conference, we enter the quiet confines of the car with a relief. I would like to reach Czekia today, one of the two towns to which Tanya has directed us: Ceski Krumlov. Within an hour we are in Austria. Crossing European borders is still an amazing experience to me, although I have done it numerous times. All there is a deserted structure stripped of any identifying signs, which once housed border patrols, and usually a modest sign “Welcome to……”. So many human conflicts, pain and losses over these lines in the sand! The landscape in Austria is meticulously beautiful: rolling hills quilted with various shades of green and yellow and bordered by lines of trees, prosperous villages here and there. Sometimes we drive through stretches of deep forest that looks to me mysteriously. This landscape does not look like anything I have seen before. Too hilly and too neat to resemble Poland, too many picturesque villages to resemble rural Vermont. It is what it is.

We drive through Austria, the name of which in German is Osterrich (eastern empire). I never thought of the meaning of the name Austria. The road we take is the only major connection with Prague, and it is a single lane in each direction. I wonder how this road will pass the test of European Union with all its promise of commerce and prosperity. In Austria the car culture is different than in Germany. For one thing, there are very few Audis, BMWs and Mercedes Benzes, which dominated in Germany. Here, people are either not so interested in the power and comfort of cars, or simply cannot afford these German marvels. I am not sure what cars they drive, but they are mostly unremarkable.

The drive takes longer than we expected. At one point we lose out way because the road takes a sharp left turn and the signs do not warn us not to continue in a straight trajectory. We realize the mistake about half an hour into a winding stretch through a spectacular country. By then Philip is tired, the evening is rapidly approaching, and I am hungry and complaining. Philip makes an executive decision to find a guesthouse for the night. We find one in P….. We are the only visitors here tonight, and the landlady is very pleasant. We take dinner in a modest restaurant in the village. The sign over the front door announces that May is the dumplings month. I am in heaven: imagine, almost a dozen types of dumplings to choose from. That, and a green salad, can keep me happy for a long time. Philip watches me with mild amusement, the same way he does when I rave about some bread or another.

In the evening we take a long walk up the road leading through very steep hills and along a forest. This is a picture perfect place, with spectacular vistas from tops of the hills. Everything here is so perfectly maintained that it is creepy. Life should not be so orderly and so controlled. In people’s back yards the trees are neatly pruned and flower beds are perfect. The smell of freshly cut hay permeates the air of this bucolic countryside. This walk is a gift. The bathtub in the room is enormous and seductive, and I take a long bath. We sleep well.

Wednesday, May 26th

Over breakfast we talk about my writing one day a travel journal about breads of the world. Perhaps I will, since it occupies me so much. In the meantime, here is something about German bread. German bread is dark, dense, and on a dry side. It is serious. It builds character. On the one hand, it does not have sufficient flavor to be the meal in itself, but on the other hand it draws too much attention to itself to be simply a vehicle for delivering cheese and sausage into one’s mouth. I use this bread to prevent future hunger. It is good for sandwiches intended to meet food crises in my travels, when the timing of the next nutritious meal is uncertain. But I do not take if for the pleasure of eating. A notable characteristic of German bread is its lack of resiliency. Although it is dense and appears strong, it actually crumbles very easily in the absence of a horizontal base, its foundation. As I write these words I am beginning to believe that this bread reflects the German character. Oh, my prejudices!

We get on the road at 9:30, earlier than I would choose for a vacation day. But we have a full day ahead of us. Soon, we reach the border to Czekia. They check our passports but not much else happens. Feels like the US-Canadian border. The landscape gets shabbier almost instantly. The villages are not neatly organized, houses need a coat of paint, nobody worries too much about some industrial artifacts scattered here and there.

Our goal today is to visit several small medieval and renaissance towns. Our first stop is in Ceski Krumlov. Beautiful but very touristy. It is disappointing to see that others have discovered it already. A couple of hours, an inexpensive lunch in a café, and we have enough. I buy myself a souvenir: a couple of hand-made wooden puppets. Time to go.

The next stop is Ceskie Budejovice. The main square is expansive. It reminds me of Krakow, but not as beautiful. Soon after that we arrive in Trebon. By now, the images begin to blend into each other. Similar pastel colored or red bricked renaissance buildings, old churches. We are doing too much for one day. These towns should not be looked at but rather taken in. We should stop for a day or two, but we do not have the time. And the evenings are so cold that we would not be able to stroll well into the night on the quiet streets, which is what one should to here.

My favorite town today is Tabor. This small Renaissance town is simultaneously undiscovered and renovated; a perfect combination. We arrive here in the early evening light, the best type for seeing buildings and their long shadows. We have dinner in a still warm fading sunshine on a veranda of a lively local establishment named Havana. The waiter is surly and makes no eye contact. It the coming days we will see many people in the Czech service industry who are made according the same blueprint as this man. They are decidedly unsmiling and ostentatiously uninterested in making any personal contact with their customers. We wonder whether this is a national character or simply a legacy of the communist past. My hypothesis is that it is the former, but this is only a hypothesis. I will have to ask Tanya about it when I return to Clark.

The menu in this restaurant is what I call a post-communist-small-town-cosmopolitan. The dishes seem to be taken from a random collection of menus from around the world. A dish described as Cuban-Thai chicken prepared in Chinese style sounds intriguing, but we have no courage to order it. In any case, I am in the mood for vegetarian cuisine, so I order spinach burrito. This dish turns out to be a mildly successful but otherwise familiar burrito without a sauce or spices, filled up with a pound or so of cooked spinach. I love spinach, so this is doable, but I must admit that I probably never consumed so much spinach in one sitting. Philip’s meat burrito is quite tasty.

From my table I watch four teenage boys slowly moving towards the center of the market square. One of the boys looks very drunk. They are practically dragging him. At some point one of the youths picks the drunken friend up and caries him in his arms towards the statue (or is it a fountain?) in the center of the square. They all sit down, and the drunkard instantly falls asleep with his head on a friend’s lap. There is something very tender about the way these friends take care of their young liability. I am very curious to know the end of this little story unfolding here, but it is time for us to move on.

We arrive in Prague at 8:30 and Philip, with his genus for orienting himself in foreign cities, finds the hotel in no time. We even find parking on the street. The hotel is a disappointment. It feels like a Motel 6 in a small American town. Except that we are paying European prices. It is further from the center than we thought. The electric outlet in the bathroom does not work; the night light misses a light bulb, and the rug of suspicious cleanliness. For a day afterwards this hotel bothers me a lot, but eventually I get over it.

Thursday, May 27th

To say that Prague is beautiful is a cliché, so I will not elaborate on this subject. Philip takes many pictures, and they will tell the story. It reminds me of Paris, but quieter, despite the hordes of tourists. Automobile traffic is much calmer, finding a parking space is a distinct possibility. The rush hours are not much different from the rest of the day. That is very enjoyable. We do not see bicycles in this city, and I wish someone has the foresight to introduce them before the growth in the automobile traffic becomes irreversible.

Ever since I entered Czekia I have been playing with this language. I understand a lot of words and most street signs and menus, and I can easily imagine living in this language if necessary. The Polish roots are my main base but there are also Russian words that help. For example, the word for a book (as in the numerous bookstores we encounter) is very similar to the Russian kniga. Philip and I are fabulous travel companions for Europe. Except for the Spanish speaking countries and Hungary, we can manage with the language practically anywhere.

My immersion in Czech brings also a lot of past memories. I find myself searching for the signs of the communist past in this city. The system of electric trams is very familiar, and so are the little grocery shops in the neighborhood where we stay. Many buildings are recently renovated, and many are in the process of renovations. This frantic activity speaks to the flow of capital into Prague and to the faith the international markets have in its future. In my imagination, I remove the layers of fresh finish from the walls, the new windows, and the neat landscaping. I reach to the core of the personalities of these streets, just as they were until the 90s: monochromatic, grayish, peeling, potholed, somewhat decaying, not calling attention to themselves. Old ladies walking dogs, kiosks, people in their drab clothes.

I am also endlessly intrigued by the window displays of real estate agencies, and scan the prices of apartments. I try to envision who the winners and losers are in the transition to market economy. The real estate is expensive in Prague, similar to other European capitals. Those who bought their own apartments during the first years of the transition have been very lucky. What about those who did not? What about the children of life-long residents of this glorious city? Surely, they will not be able to afford these apartments. I do not realize how emotionally intense my encounter with the past Eastern Europe is until I start crying over some truly minor setback in our explorations. To me, Prague is not just a new European city to explore. It is also my own personal history.

We spend the day walking, talking, and moving from one café to another, one restaurant to another. I buy some presents. These are good buys: a tear drop made of Bohemian crystal for David to hang in a window, four very unusual decorated Easter eggs for Jim and Jacki, and Olivia, a graphic image of Charles Bridge, a hand-knitted black open work sweater for me. Philip buys wooden toys for Dunja. In the afternoon we explore the city from the perspective of the river in a rented simple rowing boat. What can be more romantic than that? Philip is a skilful rower, and in his hands we are able to enter a small canal where homes are built directly from the water level like in Venice. I wonder how they plan to protect themselves from the rising waters of ….. Two years ago Prague was seriously flooded.

Our last stop of the day is a glass of wine in a little restaurant near the river. We are the only customers tonight. The proprietor is a former émigré to Italy and the US, who has returned to Prague after 40 years aboard. I chat with her in Polish and English, and learn the ins and outs of apartment prices and living conditions.

By the time we return to our hotel it is around 11 Pm and I am exhausted. The days are gradually warming up, and we see more sun, but the evenings are still very cold. We wear multiple layers of clothing, and I took out my leather gloves.

Friday, May 28th

This is a day with a mission: the Jewish section, Josefov, and the castle. And more rest for me than the previous day.

We go on one of many guided tours that meet in front of the big clocks in the Main Square. We choose the tour of the Jewish quarter that is less populated. In fact, we are the only tourists to be guided by a beautiful 22 year old student of international trade. There are many very attractive women in this city. The blond hair and fair skin still dominate, inbred through centuries. One thing I like about these women is that they are about my size. In that respect, Prague reminds me of Lisbon, where people are also about my size. So different from the oversized Dutch!

Through our charming guide, whose name I do not remember, we learn that Jews settled Prague in the 11th century, three centuries before settling Poland. They came from the south and West, and had nothing to do with the expulsion from Spain. Trade and economic opportunities drove the movement. The Jewish star of David symbol has originated in Prague.

Until the 16th century the Jews were quite well integrated in the Czech society, but with the onset of Reformation and the counter-reformation the religious freedom of this land ended. Prague Jews were forced into a small ghetto area, where they resided for the next four centuries. The population and housing density became so high within the Ghetto walls (erected by Jews to prevent pogroms) that there were no real streets, only small spaces separating houses. The dead were buried 6-12 deep on top of one another. Presently, there are 11,000 gravestones in the cemetery that has approximately 100,000 bodies. This explains why the grade of the cemetery is much higher than the land surrounding it. In order to prevent population growth, in each family only the eldest son was allowed to marry. If others wanted to marry, they had to emigrate. This discovery sent Philip and me on a long deliberation about the lives of these families. Where did the emigrants go? Where did they find their brides? What about the daughters in these families? We need to investigate these questions.

In 1848 the restrictions on the Jews were lifted. Those who could afford it moved to other parts of Prague. Many were able to do that. The empty homes became soon inhabited by the poor gentiles from the area. The abysmal sanitary conditions became a major threat not only to the population of Josefov but, through epidemics, to the rest of the city. As a result, during the 1860s the entire Ghetto was erased, except for the synagogues and the cemetery. There are 5 synagogues in this small area, one of which serves the remnant of the Jewish population in Prague. The others are museums. There are 13,000 Jews living in Czekia right now.

We learn that Hitler planned to use this area as a museum of vanished people. This is why the ancient cemetery and the synagogues were preserved.

In the afternoon we visit the grand castle. It is a long and lovely walk up and down. We have no interest in entering interiors. Each of us has seen many castles in our lives, and even more churches.

The couple of hours before dinner we spend in the hotel room. I sleep, which refreshes me tremendously, while Philip spends time in the neighborhood internet café. I feel that I have pushed myself too hard during these two days in Prague. I cannot be on my feet 7-8 hours a day, as I used to in the younger years.

On the way back to the city we realize that during these two days we have actually figured out this city. Or, to be more correct, Philip has. He has an uncanny ability to orient himself spatially. After two days the street corners are familiar to me, but Philip knows what trams to catch and where. It is good to travel with him.

Saturday, May 29th

I wake up stiff and achy. My lower back hurts, something is not right with a tendon in my left thigh, and despite the long sleep I still feel not rested. In the future we must stay in hotels in the center of cities so that I can be a tourist in smaller doses. It is tiring for me to just go on and on, both physically and mentally. I need afternoons in a hotel. Mentally, I review various previous trips. I remember the long weekend in Paris two years ago, where we also had a hotel distant from the center. I was also tired then. Four years ago in China I always used the afternoon to write and stay still, either in a hotel or in a café, while Sylvie tirelessly “sniffed” around the city with camera at hand. Even then, I remember being amazed by the amount of energy she had. I guess I always needed some moderation in my tourist pursuits, but with age the adverse consequences of overextending are more acute. We both make a note of it for the next time, especially Philip. I also make a note that I will have to give up fashionable shoes for something more touristy.

The behavior of the hotel staff gets worse. This morning they run out of bread by the time we get to breakfast, and the woman tells me that with angry frustration. Although the impatient attitude of Czechs is not new to us by now, her rudeness takes me aback. Our complains make their way to the hotel’s guestbook.

I have a hypothesis about this Czech behavior towards customers. The Czechs equate polite customer service as somehow degrading. They are too proud for that. Perhaps this is the legacy of class-less socialist system. They also see frequent smiling without a “funny’ cause to be false. These are just my hypotheses, but I think that I am pretty close to the reality in my intuitive explanations.

OK, so this is how they are. I can get used to it. Perhaps it is less stressful to a person to be that way, instead of putting on a façade of everything being wonderful. On the other hand, I have repeatedly seen men helping women on trams with their babies and their carriages, and young men usually give a seat to their elders, including me. But at the same time I wonder how they will adapt to the market competition of their new expanding economy and the demands of international customers who are used to a different service. The answer comes partially from the look of this city on Saturday morning, at least in our non-touristy neighborhood. All the commercial businesses, including tiny grocery store around the corner, are closed. Never mind the global economy, and never mind the potential for profits. This is a weekend, and the Czechs take their time off. I like this attitude.

We drive a lot today, taking a northern route towards Germany. This time we skip Austria. About 50 kilometers north of Prague we stop at the Terezin labor camp. This is a grim place, left mostly unchanged by the retreating Germans. The visit simply weighs me down but for Philip it is a very moving connection with the Nazi past. He has not been exposed to that side of history on an emotional level, only through learning facts. And not all of them: he never heard of this particular camp.

After two hours or so at Terezin we are glad to be on the road again. The landscape is very green, and very sparsely populated. We pass deeply forested areas and well tended fields. Occasional village with red shingled roofs. Germany is really a large country.

Passing through Dresden we get a brief view of the mostly destroyed and rebuilt city. It makes good impression on us, with its wide boulevards and well preserved central cultural area, which seems to have musea and performing art centers. But I do not want to walk today, so these boulevards make no sense for us. After a brief stop at a café we move on.

The overnight stay is in another guesthouse in another roadside village. The owners are warm and very hospitable. This is a couple in their late thirties, and they clearly love this place. We later learn that they had bought this guesthouse only four years ago. It is lovingly decorated by the woman in the Victoriana style. Every corner and surface area has some knick knacks: stuffed animals, dolls, decorated boxes, plants, porcelain figurines, lace, and so on. It is both tacky and comforting. The woman exhibits pride in her decorating skills.

After dinner Philip takes a long walk in the area while I write. I am tired and my back is worse that in the morning. My cozy German bed feels wonderful when I finally decide on an early rest.

Today is Philip’s birthday. If we were home, we would probably go out to dinner and make it into a holiday. But we are on a holiday, so it is different. We just give each other this certain special warmth.

Sunday, May 30th

The morning breakfast is a feast of meat cold cuts, chesses, eggs, and fine bread and butter. The bread we have been eating on the returning trip through Germany, far more north than in the earlier days of the trip, is different, and I like it more. It still has the sense of purpose and determination, and strong character, but also more resilience and more taste. It also is more moist and chewy. Increasingly, it resembles the best of Polish bread. I am happy.

It is getting warmer every day.

Today we do not make stops in villages until later in the afternoon when it is time to look for longings. The way we do that is to get of the highway, follow the smaller roads for a while, and then get off onto even smaller roads that are not marked on a map. Sooner or later something turns up. Today we first have an unsuccessful attempt at a large monastery, converted into a retreat house for delinquent boys. All the doors are locked, and thought there are signs of framing, no one is around.

We have better luck in the next village of Wewelburg. This is a center of bicycling tourism. We encounter numerous signs on the streets about directions, destinations, and distances, and we meet groups of bicyclists. Pandenborg is the closest larger city, apparently beautiful, where this tourism congregates. Something to make a note of for the future.

We like the room in this busy guesthouse. It is spacious and the slopping ceilings between the small dormers impart a cozy atmosphere to the room. The Victorian and semi-antique bibelots (similar to yesterday but more self-constrained) magnify this atmosphere. There are only 3 or 2 rooms here altogether, with most of the business coming from the large restaurant downstairs and outside. The room’s windows face a quiet back yard, where a fast moving stream creates a calming sound. I like it here, especially because I crave rest and try to improve my aching back. I actually fall asleep while Philip takes dinner in the restaurant. The room order of bread, butter and cheese is enough for me.

Just as the evening settles into this pastoral land, we make a shocking little discovery. The castle was the crown jewel in Himmler’s SS empire. He ordered its renovations in 1933. The castle was converted into an elite academy for training the most promising young SS cadets. Himmler’s vision was to build up the area surrounding the castle into a futuristic SS city and an intellectual and cultural center of Wagnerian proportions. The architectural sketches show concentric circles of structures around the castle built into the slopes of the hills surrounding the valley in which the village is located. It was never built. In 1944, on Himmler’s orders, the interiors of the castle were blown up.

A local academic has produced a documentary volume about the Nazi history of the castle. The book, published within the last decade or so and richly illustrated, is remarkably free of commentaries, judgments, or personal reflections. The author has just produced a condensed and meticulous archive. No effort was spared to include as many factual materials as possible. Blueprints of building renovations, letters among various officials, photographs of work in progress at different stages, posed and unposed photographs of life at the Academy, its staff and visiting dignitaries, are all there. This careful attention to detail, thoroughness of research, and emotional distance from the subject matter gives us a creepy feeling about this book. The author has re-enacted the behavior of the great Nazi executioners.

We take a walk to the castle, which has been converted to a hostel, and is full of young athletic German families. This is a very nice place to come for a vacation, with a lovely view. Tomorrow we shall come back to the museum.

On the way back to the guesthouse we recall the names of the Nazi leaders and their fates. Herman Hess, Hitler’s deputy who served out his life as a prisoner of the Allied forces. Goering, the genius of propaganda. Adolph Eichman, the evil designer and implementer of the “final solution”, a perfect bureaucrat with no blood on his hand, who was a master of euphemism, including referring to people as “units”. His capture by the Israeli in South America (Argentina?) in the 1970s came back to our minds. Making discoveries like Wewelburg with Philip is incredible because we both have similar interests and, despite our different origins, have the types of knowledge that complement each other. We are truly on the same wavelength.

Monday, May 31st

On this last day of the trip we begin with a little walk around the guesthouse. It is an unspoiled example of small scale agriculture as one can imagine. A stream runs through pastures and crop fields, woods border the meadows, train tracks follow the river and a small bridge, sheep and poultry unhurriedly move around. Just like I remember from my youth, except that there are no signs of poverty or disorganization. The walk is refreshing. After that we visit the museum next to the castle. It turns out, not surprisingly, that the labor for the castle’s construction came from a small labor camp, created on the edge of the village for that particular purpose. Until 1943, when the camp was dismantles and the prisoners absorbed into larger concentration camps, close to 6000 prisoners went through it. Only a few hundred survived long enough to be transferred at the end. Most of the prisoners were German resistance fighters and political dissidents, and Russians. The rest consisted of the usual multiethnic European mosaic.

The exhibit calmly tells us the story of these people and of the camp. We discover that the camp was never dismantled after the war, but instead during the 1950s the useful buildings were turned to other uses. Photographs taken over time show how the main building, which during the war served as both the main gate and the commander’s quarters, was later converted into a handsome one family house. The same was with the camp’s kitchen building. The museum employee gives us a small map of the village with directions to these landmarks. Of course, we go looking for them. They are easy to find. The owners of the main building, a middle age couple, are standing in the garden when we arrive. Philip asks them if this was a former camp building, while I carefully watch their faces. No changes in their expression, no change in the demeanor towards Philip. Just a confirmation of the facts.

Right next to their property we find a small open grass area with a stone triangle marking what once used to be the roll-call area for the prisoners. The sign is in German and in Russian. As we looks more carefully at the commercial buildings in this neighborhood it becames very clear that these are former camp barracks converted to some small industrial facilities: storage, light manufacturing, etc. Nothing gets wasted in this town!

So this is how the past and present weave through each other in the modern Germany. In my angry note in the guest book of the Museum, provoked by the thrifty and practical reuse of the camp buildings, I note that in a few days of driving through Germany and former Germany we have encountered, without looking for them, five camps: Mauthausen, Terezin, Dachau, Buchenwald, and now Wewelburg.

After leaving the village, we dedicate the rest of the day to driving home. We arrive in Voorschoten at around 7 PM, always glad to be home.

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