A Belgian Day-Trip: Remouchamps and Bastogne

A few weeks ago (read: October) Svenja and I wanted to get away from Trier for a day, so we headed off to the Caves of Remouchamps in Belgium.

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Nuremberg: The Restoration of Historical Buildings in Germany’s Gotham

What do you do with a 75 year old building that’s unsafe and of little practical use? What do you do if that building is a decay remnant of National Socialism, one of the darkest periods of human history?

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The city of Nuremberg (Nürnberg auf Deutsch) currently finds itself debating the question of what they should do with the Reichsparteitagsgelände to the south of city. According to a recent article in Munich’s Süddeutsche Zeitung, an estimated 70 million Euro would be needed to partially restore the Rednertribüne and designate it as an educational monument about the Third Reich.

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The Rednertribüne, as shown on information boards at the site.

Albert Speer, “First Architect of the Reich”, drew up the plans for large parts of the Gelände in the 1930s. Speer worked under the idea that Nuremberg would become the new capital for the Reich (Reichshauptstadt Germania), and the Gelände were to serve as the crowning glory of the triumphant Reich. Construction stalled however during the war, and today the empty structures remain as an unfinished yet colossal reminder of a different time.

The area has seen a variety of uses since the war’s end, and visitors can easily access the site via tramlines from Nuremberg Hauptbahnhof (remember to get off at the Doku Zentrum). A well-marked path snakes around the Coliseum-inspired Kongresshalle, which had it been completed  would have been twice the size of its predecessor in Rome. The path then takes you out across the massive concrete causeway – the Große Straße – flanked on either side by two artificial lakes, before ending in the Zeppelinfeld, the site of the Nazi Party Rallies so chillingly preserved in history textbooks the world over.

Nuremberg itself is a fascinating city. During our trip across southern Germany last spring I described it to friend Patrick by referring to at a creepy, dark place – which sold him on the city pretty quick! Nuremberg is known for a few things: its seat as a capital of the Holy Roman Empire, the rallies, the post-war trials, and not to mention a really beautiful Christmas Market (one of these things might not be like the others). I wouldn’t say the city itself is sentient, but if it were, I’d have the impression that it’s aware of its chequered past. This awareness gives Nuremberg a dark, downward-looking disposition, as if the city feels uncomfortable in the light, laying all its secrets bare. Add to this the mixture of medieval and modern architecture, and you get a sort of German Gotham, or at the very least something out of one of the darker, creepier German fairytales.

I’ve visited the Reichsparteitagsgelände twice, three years apart. Both times I’ve left with an impression of something unfinished rather than abandoned. There are signs of recent human use – for carnevals, for races, for children’s soccer games – all over the place, hindering any chance of seeing the place as a relic of a forgotten past. Instead you can almost see the Gelände as the toppled ruins of a distant empire, though I doubt that’s the express intention of the city.

The doors on the Rednertribune, tagged by Anti-Fascists, May 2013

The doors on the Rednertribune, tagged by Anti-Fascists, May 2013

But what can you do with such monumental reminders of the past? It’s a question Germany still struggles with today. For many people the idea of spending 70 million Euro on the renovation of Nazi structures seems not only insensitive but baffling in a time of school closures and cuts to social programs; others meanwhile fear that restoration will only serve to give Neo-Nazis a new rallying point. Few options remain: you can tear it all down and reclaim the space, or cordon it off behind a fence while letting it decay, perhaps the most fitting end for the story.

Enter at your own risk

Enter at your own risk

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Vimy Ridge, 10 November 2013

Vimy Ridge Memorial

Vimy Ridge Memorial

This post is somewhat late; for that, I apologize (an aside: why do I feel verantwortlich to a largely imagined group of readers?). I’ve not written anything for awhile – working two jobs will do that to a person, sapping away free time. I had however wanted to write a follow up to last year’s Remembrance Day post, which I re-blogged the other day. This year I returned to Vimy Ridge with Svenja.

When I went to Vimy last year heavy fog had surrounded the monument, obscuring it from view until you were practically underneath. This last weekend however the monument was hard to miss, it’s massive 10-storey pillars raising up above the ridge. The late autumn sun illuminated the white marble against the bright blue sky, clearly visible from the village of Neuville-Saint-Vaast below. What seemed like hundreds of French runners filled the streets and trails, no doubt taking advantage of the last days of sun before winter truly hit. The forest surrounding the monument teemed with people, giving the area a holiday-like feeling in a markéd contrast to what seemed last year like true desolation.

A francophone traffic warden waved us into the overfilled parking lot. The number of British license plates surprised us. Our walk to the monument took us around the back lower side, overlooking the low ground beyond the ridge. Down below, I explained to Svenja, the four Canadian Divisions had spent the night of 8 April 1917 in tunnels dug underground to protect the soldiers from German artillery fire. At 5.30 a.m. on 9 April 1917 the Canadians emerged from their refuges and proceeded up the hill towards the heavily fortified German position atop the ridge. A rolling artillery barrage cleared the way for the Canadian advance, a well-rehearsed glide of 100 metres every 3 minutes. The artillery and infantry had to keep in close time with one another, lest the blunderous mistakes of the Somme be repeated. At the Somme the British artillery either fell too short amongst the advancing troops or moved far too quickly, giving the German soldiers time to re-emerge from their cover before the advancing British arrived.

The ceremony began at 11 a.m. Two groups of veterans flanked the tomb, French on the one side, Canadian on the other, while the buglers and piper atop the monument looked down upon the assembled crowd. We remained silent as the wind whipped the flags into a frenzy, and the dignitaries arrived. Just like the veterans the dignitaries were a mixture of French and Canadian. A few short speeches were given, then a benediction from a French Canadian Catholic priest. Bilingual Canadian student guides from the monument read the Act of Remembrance, after which the buglers announced the Moment of Silence, their bugles sounding warped by the cold. When the two minutes were over the piper played “Flowers of the Forest.” The dignitaries laid their wreaths, and the national anthems – Canadian, Royal, and French – were sung, with La Marseillaise receiving the most gusto.

The ceremony hardly lasted an hour. Afterwards everyone slowly filed up the side of the monument, before walking along the long path to the parking lot. Some walked in contemplative silence, and some hurried, shivering, to their cars, while others still stopped to take photographs.

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On Remembrance

I’d like to take a moment to re-blog this post from last year, about my Remembrance Day trip to the Vimy Ridge Memorial.

I went again this year, but I don’t know if I’ll finish a new post in time. There seems to be a lot more talk this year about the role Remembrance Day plays in our collective consciousness. People have begun asking questions of that suitability, and I’m struggling to form my own opinion on the debate while overseas in Germany, which gives a person an interesting perspective on it all.

Tylor in Trier

First, a caveat: What follows is a lengthy and rambling thought piece on what Remembrance Day means to me, with specific reference to the impact of my current location and context on that. For most people this will likely be very boring. Nevertheless, I feel it’s important to think about and share thoughts on a day like this. If you’re just interested in what I’ve been up to, the following will likely suffice: I went to the Vimy Ridge Memorial with my travel companions on the way back from Belgium to Trier. It was cold, rainy, and above all, moving. I’m glad I got the experience.

I promise I’ll try to write shorter and more entertaining posts in the future. Like I said though, I think this one is important.

Now, if you’re still with me, I’ll go on with the boring stuff!

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HMS Triconmalee and Hartlepool

Her Majesty's Ship Triconmalee

Her Majesty’s Ship Triconmalee

HMS Triconmalee, one of the few preserved early 19th century warships, can today be found at the Hartlepool Maritime Experience conveniently located in metropolitan Hartlepool, The Middle of Nowhere, in the county of Durham.

There’s something rather sordid about Hartlepool, with its empty-looking 19th century warehouses and terrible road networks which seem only to bring you from one ugly strip mall to another. If strip malls aren’t sordid, especially those in Britain, then I don’t know what is. Today Hartlepudlians (has there even been a more fitting name?) are better known as “Monkey Hangers”, a term of questionable offence. This refers to the legend that the wise people of Hartlepool hanged the pet monkey off of a shipwrecked French warship as a spy.

But one doesn’t go to Hartlepool for the flourishing arts scene, no. Rather, one goes for the Triconmalee, a ship laid down in 1810 and completed in 1811 in India. Hardwood shortages in Britain brought about by the increased naval armament of the Napoleonic wars and the blockade of Baltic ports had cut off the trade of many of the supplies crucial to shipbuilding, leading to the Triconmalee’s construction in India out of local teak-hardwood. HMS Triconmalee’s long career is almost entirely devoid of any glory with no significant actions that I know of. Still, had the Triconmalee come into combat with the King’s Enemies it’s very likely she wouldn’t be around today for us to enjoy and to stave off the boredom a trip to Hartlepool would otherwise entail.

For me the vessel has somewhat more importance: during one of her less noteworthy commissions in the 1850s she was stationed in Esquimalt, on the Pacific Station. Her presence gives the name to Tricomalee Passage between Saltspring and Galiano Islands near Victoria.

Now, I’m not one for the romantic fetishization of old stuff as “History”, but I did have a pretty cool feeling standing on the Triconmalee’s quarterdeck. Just think of it: over 160 years ago she swung gently at anchor in Esquimalt Harbour, in those early days of B.C.’s colonial history. Cool, eh?!

I thought it was pretty cool

I thought it was pretty cool

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Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Sunny, cheery Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Sunny, cheery Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Enough other folk have praised the remarkably well preserved medieval town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber. I don’t have anything more to add re: its beauty, besides that it reminded me a lot of Luxembourg City, though far less cold.

No, what has stuck with me after visiting Rothenburg ob der Tauber isn’t its old buildings, but rather something which happened at its Bahnhof, a 10 minute stroll from the town. For what seemed like that entire trip chum Patrick and I were on, we had been doing our best to avoid atrocious weather. Indeed, the threat of rain in Berchtesgaden made us abandon our plans for a bit of hiking in the Alps in favour of a few days in Nuremburg, a city arguably far more suited to rain and seasonal affective disorder.

Rothenburg meanwhile is at least slightly cheerier than Nuremberg

Rothenburg meanwhile is at least slightly cheerier than Nuremberg

Rothenburg ob der Tauber lay about halfway between our starting point of Heidelberg and our goal in Nuremburg, so we decided to stop along the way for an afternoon. After seeing the town we ambled back to the train station, arriving just in time to buy a beer before the weather system we had been doing our best to avoid finally broke. From one moment to another the heavens opened in one of the strongest and most torrential downpours I’ve ever seen.

Thankfully the train platform had a roof, so we sat on two plastic chairs nicked from the nearby Döner Shop and watched the rain as lightning flashed across the sky.

Absolutely brillaint

Absolutely brilliant

 

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Kloster Andechs: Beer, Schweinshaxe, and a Bavarian Monastery

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Travellers finding themselves tiring of Munich’s metropolitan hubbub would do well to consider a day-trip out to the scenic Andech Monastery of Kloster Andechs.

From Munich itself you can travel with the local train service to the town of Herrsching, a journey of not great consequence (read: I don’t remember how long the journey takes). Buses run from the Bahnhof to the Kloster’s lower parking lot, but more adventurous guests should consider ambling out through the village by foot. Along the way you can catch a glimpse of some of that gorgeous Landschaft so typical of Oberbayern (Upper Bavaria): rolling green hills, yellow fields of rapeseed, and that breathtaking blue sky. From the ridge you can even see the Amersee – Lake Amer – in the distance.

Well, you can kinda see it.

Well, you can kinda see it.

Adventurers that we were, we opted to tramp out by foot. It certainly felt like the right thing to do, even if my travelling chum Patrick had a game foot. Generally our rule of travelling seems to be that one should always travel in the style of Mark Twain: ramble along by foot when pleasant, seek alternative transportation when not, and at all times do your best to make erudite cultural commentary. Tja, the former two are much easier than the latter.

But why head to Andech? You’re sick of churches, are you? I understand how you feel. Europe can get a bit much, and one can only see so many churches and memorials to old dead white guys. Kloster Andechs has some more, however: Schweinshaxe and beer! Absolutely famous. It’s said the monks brew the beer themselves, and that the pigs are fed on spent mash and hops. Still, they don’t want you having too much fun!

The interior of the Monastery's Beer Hall

The interior of the Monastery’s Beer Hall

Basically, be careful not to have too much fun

Basically, be careful not to have too much fun

Patrick approves!

Patrick approves!

Prost!

 

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