For those of you into hopping flights--On 26 May I drove a rental car to Charleston AFB, got on a flight to Baltimore on an empty C-17 (empty C-17's take off like race cars and land like bricks), and was stuck in Baltimore overnight. Lot's of flights were leaving nearby Dover AFB but nothing was leaving Baltimore. There was not a cheap way to get to Dover. I checked for flights, trains, rental cars and buses before finally, with tears in my eyes, hiring a van for about $120 to ride for the one hour it takes to get from Baltimore to Dover. From Dover I had no problem hopping a C-5 to Ramstein AFB Germany. I arrived at Ramstein on Sunday afternoon about 1400 (that's 2:00 p.m.) local time, got my luggage, met a Zoomie doing a summer job in Germany, shared a taxi with him to the closest train station, and caught a train to Heidelberg.
Here is a useful travel tip I learned in Heidelberg, but it applies everywhere I went in Europe--there are ATM's almost everywhere that will take most bankcards and give instructions in English. This is convenient, and you get good exchange rates at a low fee. However most ATM's allow you to withdraw money from checking, but nothing else. It was in Heidelberg that I got my first indication of this--I could not check my account balance or transfer money from savings to checking. I had the same experience with every other ATM I tried in Europe. That's not a big problem if you know in advance, but I didn't. I had left most of my money in an interest earning savings account. I was able to get by without access to savings for a while, but in Lithuania I had to call my credit union in New Mexico and transfer money to checking by phone.
Back to the travel stuff. My first stop in Germany was Heidelberg. A pretty city, but it wasn't a real exciting visit. Germany is a big country with a lot to see, but since I also wanted to see a lot of the rest of Europe and didn't want to travel at a frantic pace, I limited myself to just Heidelberg and Berlin. I hadn't really planned on Heidelberg, but it was in the right general direction and I could get there early enough in the day to find a cheap room. I wasn't traveling with a rigid itinerary. Anyway, to see the Heidelberg page, click on:
Here's one of those tangents I mentioned in the introduction page. I chose Berlin because it more than any other city was a focal point of the most significant events of the twentieth century--two World Wars and the Cold War. For anyone who is unclear on this, I'll provide a very brief history:
Some historians mark the beginning of the twentieth century "era" with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and his wife, members of the Austrian Royal Family, by a member of an anarchist group in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914. The Austrian/Hungarian government responded with humiliating demands on Serbia, followed by a declaration of war when the demands were rejected. In Berlin, Kaiser Wilhelm II, also known as "that twit who replaced Bismarck", took actions which resulted in Germany declaring war on Russia, France, and Great Britain. These were done in support of Austrian/Hungarian Empire, which was an ally of Germany. By 4 August 1914 Germany was at war with three of the great powers of the world. while Austria-Hungary was at war with Serbia. Austria-Hungary had little choice but to follow their ally Germany into the first world war. With friends like these....
World War I was death, destruction, and disaster beyond anything the world had experienced. Estimates of the casualties from violence, hunger and disease run into the tens of millions. The Czarist government in Russia was weakened and overthrown, replaced by a brutally ruthless Communist government. I don't know if this is what Karl Marx had in mind. The Russian government under Lenin recaptured as much of the former Czarist Russia's territories as possible, creating the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The Soviet Union openly advocated and supported revolution in the rest of the world, causing a lot of paranoia in non-communist governments.
After the war the Austrian/Hungarian Empire was dismantled, creating new nations and stranding ethnic minorities, Germans, Hungarians, Croats, Serbs, Albanians, etc., in countries they had no desire to be part of. Germany was greatly reduced in size through loss of territory to France and the re-created Poland, and was also impoverished and left with a weak government that did not unite her people. The remaining great powers of Europe were weakened. The United States emerged as a new world power. The League of Nations was created to prevent war of this scale from happening again. It failed. The world economy collapsed, nations responded with protectionist measures that resulted in the economy falling further. Famine resulted in some places, and nationalistic "find-a-scape-goat" parties thrived, particularly the Nationalist Socialist German Worker Party, abbreviated to 'Nazi Party'.
The official start of World War II was the German navy firing on the Polish port of Westerplatte. Germany, in alliance with the Soviet Union, quickly captured all of Poland. Funny thing about the Germany/Soviet Union alliance--ideologically they were bitterly at odds, but they shared a mutual interest in conquest. Germany, in alliance with Italy, conquered much of Europe and north Africa, then turned on the Soviet Union. Seems there is a conflict of interest in having an alliance based on conquest. The war was more destructive than World War I. The countries between Germany and the Soviet Union, most notably Poland, were especially devastated. Planning and conduct of much of the war was done under Hitler's leadership in Berlin. Towards the end of the war Berlin was flattened by the allies. At the end of the war the United States and a much bloodied but still dangerous Soviet Union were the only great powers left.
The 1949 blockade of West Berlin was the event that announced the beginning of the Cold War; the competition between the Soviet Union led "east" and the United States led "west" for hegemony over as much of the world as possible. With the Soviet Union insisting, and true communists believing, that class struggle and revolutions in non-communist countries were inevitable, some form of conflict between eastern communism and western democracy was unavoidable. With both sides possessing nuclear weapons, keeping the conflict at the lowest possible level was essential. Berlin had the misfortune of being the starting point, the symbolic focal point, and beyond the front lines for the duration of this conflict. This Cold War prompted the "forgive and rebuild" approach taken towards former World War II enemies, shameless political alliances with any kind of despots or rebels who would claim allegiance to one side or the other, wars in Korea and Vietnam, numerous civil wars--some of which are still not entirely resolved, lots of destabilizing political intrigue all over the world, a frightening nuclear arms race, and many other actions of global impact. And its' official start was the Berlin Blockade. I'm sure the people of Berlin would have loved to have been left out of it.
In summary, I chose to visit Heidelberg almost at random; I chose Berlin because it had been the focus of the most significant hot and cold hostilities of the twentieth century. I wanted to get a sense of what this does to a city.
I've concluded that Berlin is a city best suited for energetic radicals and disciplined business men. Being neither I felt a little out of place. I'm not sure what I expected out of my visit. What I got was the sense that Berlin, while acknowledging its' past, is moving forward. The Cold War is over and Berlin is busy being an important part of the new Europe. It's a unique city in many ways, but a typical city in others. People were pleasant and polite, but also busy and aloof. Not everyone spoke English, but many people did, often saying they spoke only "a little" then conversing fluently. I enjoyed the beer, along with the pork knuckle, sausages and sauerkraut. I'm glad I went, but don't feel a need to return. There are other places in Germany to see, and I still need to do one of those Oktoberfests.