By Larry and Joan Dolinski
Continued from update #36
Our last update concluded with a 24-hour Baltic Sea voyage from Helsinki, Finland to Rostock, Germany in the wake of the famous fictional character, Capt. Horatio Hornblower.
Thus began our visit to Central Europe. A good deal of our time in Germany threaded through territory that had been part of Communist East Germany. As we traveled through this predominantly agricultural area, there appeared to be a relatively low level of economic activity and, not unrelated, very low concentrations of population. In fact, in many towns we didn't see a soul on the streets.
Before showing up for our rendezvous with the Odyssey group in Berlin, we made a side trip to Leipzig which was historically a great commercial and cultural center (until it became incorporated into the former East Germany). It was the home of Johann Sebastian Bach and Richard Wagner. We visited both the St. Nicholas Church where Bach gave his first concert and the St. Thomas Church where he is buried. Our visit followed, by only days, the week of intense celebration associated with the 250th anniversary of Bach's death. Other musical notables whose careers had a close involvement with Leipzig are Mendelssohn and Grieg. Another footnote on Leipzig is that it has Europe's largest (and very handsome) railroad station. In fact, the only RR station in the world that is larger is Central Station in St. Louis, MO.
On the economic front, Leipzig had historically been the center for fur trading and the permanent location of the massive and all important Trade Fair which ran twice a year. The infrastructure for the Trade Fair allocated the ground floors in all the downtown business buildings for use as shops and restaurants, while the upper floors were used exclusively for the Trade Fair and were vacant for approximately 10 months of the year. What a blatant misuse of capacity from an operations management viewpoint! In any case, with the coming of the end of the Second World War and the subsequent partitioning of Germany, the Trade Fair moved to Hanover.
Berlin gives us extremely mixed feelings. It is a huge city (4 or 5 times bigger than Paris) which, after its nearly total destruction in the war, was rebuilt in such a heterogeneous fashion that the physical charm and architectural integration it once had is disappointingly gone, and exists only in old photographs which the tour guides were quick to show us at each of the major edifices we visited. Also it is painful to acknowledge the immensely sad events that took place there in relatively modern times, caused by the stark imperfections in their social and political fabric. But of course, because of all that, the city is strangely fascinating.
The most interesting activity we pursued in Berlin was "The Third Reich" walking tour. Among the many infamous sites of the Nazi period, it took us to the location of the Gestapo Headquarters and the SS Headquarters. Nearby we visited the now famous Plaza in front of Humbolt University. The University is known for its famous alumni (e.g., the Brothers Grimm, Karl Marx, Max Plank (a physicist whose research helped open the nuclear age), and a certain lecturer of renown (Albert Einstein). It has another dubious distinction. That plaza was the location of the great book burning of May 1933, presided over by Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, in which 20,000 "un-German" books were burned. A book was considered to be un- German if it was authored by anyone whose philosophy differed from Nazi philosophy.
Continued on Update #38
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