June 20 2012

My trip is so long, and so much has happened in the world while I've been on it, that time is starting to take on a lost, dreamlike quality.

First, my good friend had a baby (yay Chasa and Nate!), and I didn't see the email until 24 hours later. And the Old Bolds had a picnic, and I missed it (shucks!). The weather finally turned into summer here, and the lines between "work" and "vacation" are starting to blur.

Charley and I had a wonderful talk with the JG2 pilot, Christoph. I don't know why, but every time I speak to the man on the phone, and this time in person, I forget some of my most important questions. I got his email address, though, so I'm sure we'll work it out. After speaking with him for
three hours we went to Wiesbaden, which is absolutely gorgeous, and had lunch. It was pouring.

Then we went on to the archives in Ludwigshafen, where I picked up some copies they had made for me of the reports from the Jan 7 44 bombing. Then we drove into the Vosges mountains. They were dark green and verdant, thick with blooming foliage, and wisps of raining clouds floated in their midst. They made quite an impression on us.

After some time on small, winding roads we took a chance and pulled over at a small, heidi-like mountain inn. Not only was the food absolutely delicious, we had wonderful rooms (fluffy white towels, mmm) at a very reasonable price. The next morning the sun finally made an appearance and then decided to stick around some, and we made our way to Wingen sur Moder, in Alsace, where the 70th and the 6th SS fought in January 1945.

After a much too-short visit with a local historian couple, we had to go to
Strasbourg to return our tiny Peugeot (to avoid a $250 drop off fee for Germany). In the morning we caught the TGV to Karlsruhe, only one stop, and rented a much bigger car (station wagon) for 2/3 the price of the tiny Peugeot. Go figure.

We had the whole afternoon to make our way to Stuttgart. Of course we went to the little park and zoo in Karlsruhe, and like kids, took a boat ride around the lake and enjoyed taking pictures of the ducks, geese, and pelicans. Then we arrived in Stuttgart where we joined a local WW2 veteran, Gerhard, on a tour of the city and dinner at a real Swabian restaurant.

The next morning Charley's tank commander from Africa, Ego, joined us, and I felt so amazed to be spending time on a huge balcony overlooking the city in balmy weather while they talked about war experiences. Gerhard is a sprite 86, and fought in the Battle of the Bulge, Hungary, and Vienna, before reaching the Americans at the end of the war. He had a diary which he kept throughout, beautifully written. He read to us from it while I scanned in his pictures, then I passed on lunch so I could scan his diary as well (naturally!).

Soon it was late afternoon, and we went to Ego's house where his wife Ursul had an amazing cake ready for us. My goal was to get dozens of letters of his from the Russian front to his parents scanned in. As we sat outside in the heat in their beautiful garden, Ego kept pulling more photo albums out and binders full of letters, his, his cousin's who fell on the Russian front, his sister's...I couldn't scan any faster, and I barely scratched the surface.

When we checked our chocolate supply later in the car we found the bar
packaging had become bags that held hot, inedible, thick liquid. And it's
not cheap anymore - 5 bars was a $25 supply.

The next morning we drove along the Rhine, a real treat for Charley, who has travelled lots more abroad than at home, and arrived in Remagen. First we saw the remains of the famous bridge the Americans first used to cross the Rhine. Then we sat outside and enjoyed the sun while eating lunch. After lunch we met a 16th Panzer Division veteran at his home overlooking the river and recorded his war experiences and scanned his pictures.

We then drove to Charley's friends near Bonn, where more wonderful food and wine awaited, and I dropped exhausted in bed. Charley had a small room in the ground floor where the black lab and small, adorable mutt visited him at night. Because we had nothing planned for the morning, I stayed prone in my basement lair until 11 am. It's getting harder and harder to get up at all, but I know how important this work is, so I keep pushing onward. Charley has been a good trooper throughout, but it's clear a rest day is soon in order.

That afternoon we spent five hours with a 16th PD gentleman who actually successfully escaped an American POW camp and returned to Germany during the war! His story and pictures were so interesting we could have stayed much longer, if his wife hadn't helped us move along a little faster. (Ok, it was 8 pm when we left!)

Leaving Charley's wonderful friends in the morning, we stopped at a modest and quiet Waffen-SS man's house in the Ruhr area in the afternoon. He had fought near Wingen sur Moder and has reconciled with those 70th men I interviewed in Paris. He had a very successful career, and after our talk  took us to a stunning restaurant overlooking the river.

After lunch we pressed on to Hannover, where we visited briefly with Guenther, Charley's very good friend and Knight's Cross holder. We had
dinner at Guenther's and then came to a guesthouse to lay our heads down for the night in two tiny rooms. Although I've interviewed him twice before, we have another interview planned with Guenther after breakfast.

Then it's on to Hamburg in the afternoon, and a chance to flop into a bed in Charley's attic apartment as soon as we get there!

With love from Germany!



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