Sunday, September 1, 2013

Life In The (not always) Fast Lane

SUNDAY, 9/1:

If the old axiom that says “a long day is a good day” holds true, then we had a REALLY good day today!

Today was supposed to be Loraine’s first research day of the trip, a long day, and it was on both counts.  We left Berlin bright and early, and before we arrived at our first destination we made an unscheduled stop at a place we’ve never been before, a Soviet/Russian WWII cemetery—

It was placed up on a hill during the closing days of the war, and since the Soviets controlled this area of Germany after the war, they just kept building it up, including a 40-foot high statue of a soldier crushing a Nazi tank.  I do have a picture of that statute with a bird sitting atop the soldier’s head.  Wanna see it?

As we left the cemetery site we were confronted by a rather large ceremony of some kind setting up, a ceremony complete with children’s choir and the launching of doves.  We had no idea what was going on; later, though, we figured it out.

Just a few miles from the cemetery we crossed the border into a country we’ve never visited before, Poland.  And I have to admit—it was, well, different.  Germany is very cosmopolitan, Poland isn’t, and going from Germany to Poland is kind of like going from New York City to a farm in Kansas—same continent, but worlds apart.  And that was apparent in several different ways, like cars that were older and smaller, villages that look a little more ramshackle and took a lot more time to drive through because of their unpredictable patches of cobblestone streets, and, of course, the language—

I have no idea what any of this said, and I have to admit that it worried me a little.  I mean, even in Germany a lot of the words & phrases escape me, even though German and English are sister languages.  But Polish?  That’s a whole ‘nother universe. 

However, I think I enjoyed being in Poland, at least for 7 hours.  The one place I think I liked the most was a town called (and take a deep breath there) Krosnie Odrzanskim, which is where we did a typical Jim & Loraine thing and stopped in a grocery store to look for chocolate. 

And you know what we found?

The grocery store was actually kind of interesting, as they were using a checkout computer that was running a DOS version of a program that must’ve dated back to, oh, the mid 1990s.  And since a few of the things we purchased didn’t scan correctly, the clerk had to tab down a list one item at a time to find what we were buying.  It’s a good thing she didn’t ask if we knew the price on them, because while we did know the price, we wouldn’t have had any idea what she was asking!

Krosnie is a typical Polish town, still trying to find its legs 24 years after the Wall fell.  While people are still living in old Communist-style housing, they’ve taken to decorating them with colors no self-respecting commie would approve—

We made two research related stops in the country, the first of which was the cemetery at the site of the former Stalag IIIC prison camp, where Sgt. Edward Aho of Marquette died in January of 1945—

He died under mysterious circumstances; he had been captured in France in 1944 and sent to this camp.  His mother received a postcard from him dated January 4th, 1945, and that’s the last anyone ever heard of him.  He could’ve been killed when the Soviets accidentally bombed the camp, he could’ve died while trying to escape.  No one knows; in fact, Loraine doesn’t even know if he’s buried at the cemetery—

There are eight long rows of bushes here, under which are buried countless unidentified POWs who died at the camp.  If Aho was indeed buried there, we brought him greetings from his home town.

Our other war related stop of the day was another prison camp, this one Stalag Luft III near Zagan.  If you’ve ever seen the movie “The Great Escape”, it was based on events that happened here.  In fact, a cottage industry has sprung up in the town based on the movie, especially the image of Steve McQueen riding on his motorcycle, but that’s not why we went there.  We were there because three crewmates of Elwood Norr, the guy Loraine wrote her book about, were sent there after the crash of their B-17 in 1944.

As you can see, because of the notoriety of the movie, parts of the camp still exist.  Like the one we visited earlier in the day, it’s out in the middle of nowhere, so by the time we got back into Germany, Tony’s rental car was quite dirty.  Oh, and speaking of Tony’s rental car, because we were running late, he was taking advantage of the fact there are no speed limits on the Autobahn to try and shave a few minutes off of our expected arrival time.  And you know what’s scary?  He was driving 170 kilometers an hour (like 110 miles per hour) and people were passing him.  One person, in fact, had to be going at least 200 kilometers per hour, because they just sped by.

Based on the way Tony’s knuckles turned white while gripping the steering wheel, I don’t know if I’d want to be driving when a driver like that came up behind me!

Now, you remember how I told you they were setting up for some kind of ceremony at the Soviet cemetery?  Well, as we were leaving Krosnie, the police diverted us away from our intended street because they too were holding a ceremony, one that I shot a quick picture of out of the window of the car—

We still couldn’t understand why they were holding these ceremonies until one of us figured out that Germany invaded Poland, the start of World War II, on September 1st, 1939.  You know—74 years ago today.

Some historical researchers we are, huh?

Tomorrow, it’s Loraine’s big day in Weissenfels.  We can’t wait.

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