May 8 2012

Today is VE Day as well as Mother's Day. It's a very sad day for some people here.

Today Ulli and I are drove out to the , where the rag tag elements remaining in the German army put on a sort of Last Stand to try to stop the Russians from reaching. It was a hopeless situation, but nonetheless thousands fought bravely and lost their lives in the defense.

What happened to , especially its women, when the defense was shattered is a tragedy that the women here carried throughout the rest of enormously difficult times without most of their men. It was the women who cleared the rubble and rebuilt the city.

The scars and the memories are fading as time moves on. When I lived here 20 years ago, right after the wall fell, you could really feel the war when you saw the bullet holes in the buildings, the mortar scars on the sidewalk and the wasteland of Potsdamer Platz. Now the bullet holes have been filled in, the sidewalks replaced, and huge, modern, soulless skyscrapers built on Potsdamer Platz.

The day was perfect yesterday - sunny, warm, and full of fluffy Linden seeds floating about looking for a home. Margit and I drove to Gatow field and walked around a hanger filled with planes and rockets from WW2. Then we drove through the woods back into the city, stopping at my favorite shop OG107, where a Russian sells fake and real uniforms and other military goods. After we chatted and I bought the coolest shirt-jacket that jumped out at me, Margit and I went to the Tower.

Even after best efforts to blow it up after the war two of the four towers where flak guns shot down Allied bombers remain. Each tower had a twin 128 millimeter gun. When they all fired the whole huge 5-story building would rock violently under the enormous recall of the guns. They would throw up a box of anti-aircraft fire so thick that no bomber who flew it could survive. And the bombers couldn't break formation.

It's a beautiful view of the city from the towers, which have been turned into a climbing wall. The two ruined towers were covered with rubble from the destroyed city and trees and other greenery were planted on top. But there are no information signs about what the towers really were, what was there, and their role in the war. Like so many other memorials in the city, even those dating from the defeat of Napolean, the remaining towers are covered with grafitti and the walkways completely covered with days, weeks, or perhaps even months of broken glass from beer bottles.

Despite 's partial but undeniable slide into debauched seediness as far as some of its memorials go, it's still a magical and fascinating city.

But today we left the city on the quest to see the final battle on German soil and find German war graves on the border to . What we found, and what I see tomorrow in Halbe, where tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians were slaughted while trying to reach the Americans, you'll have to wait to hear.




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