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Wednesday, September 26, 2018

D-Day Through German Eyes by Holger Eckhertz

D-Day Through German Eyes by Holger Eckhertz

War is brutal, unforgiving destruction, formed by grand strategies, over which the men and women who fight the war have little control, and their efforts are mostly forgotten.  The personal experiences of those who fight and die is seldom in the history books, and not at all in the high school classroom.

Yes, Wellington beat Napoleon at Waterloo.  MacArthur and Nimitz followed different strategies in the Pacific.  Eisenhower was the Supreme Commander in Europe.  Patton was a great commander,who slapped a soldier.

But, what of the man in the trench, with dust in his eyes, while the man beside him has skin burned away and dies in the horrifying hell of being burned alive by white phosphorous?  How about irrational hate for an enemy whose bullets ripped your friend apart and left a bloody mess of what used to be a man?

We see old newsreels of the storming of the beaches at Normandy. We’re shocked at bodies floating in the waves and slumped in the sand.  But, it’s long ago and not personal.  You never knew your dad’s brother or your aunt’s husband.  They died in the war. The fullness of their lives limited to a bland statement.

I don’t blame the teachers or the writers of history books, who have compressed time and pages to make a good summation.  Even movies like ‘Saving Private Ryan’ or books like ‘Band of Brothers’, must of necessity leave out details in favor of painting with a broad brush and keeping the plot moving.

Sometimes an author gets it right, but often the work is fiction, like Norman Mailer’s ‘The Naked and the Dead’.  Another is ‘The Red Badge of Courage’ by Steven Crane, and a third is ‘Killer Angels’ by Michael Shaara.  And while novels pick up the flavor of men in battle, they are the voices of those men portrayed by fictional characters and created by the authors.  I’m not belittling these books and have enjoyed all three immensely.  But, Holger Eckhertz’s book is the real thing, unvarnished, with the smell of cordite and blood and the feel of truth.

To me, real history is personal and for the common soldier, sailor, Marine, or aviator, war is as personal as it gets.  But even more rare than personal history is personal history seen from the other side.  In D-Day: Through German Eyes, Holger Eckhertz shares interviews with German solders, both officers and other ranks, of what they saw and felt, their fears and tragedies.   He puts a human face on an implacable enemy, not to vilify, but to trace commonalities of fighting men, no matter the style and color of their uniforms.

“We crouched down there (in the chamber under the German bunker) and looked up at the roof over us, as the English up there began to set off explosions and smash our equipment…It was extremely hot and smoky in the chamber, and sweat ran down my face as I crouched there, wrapping a bandage around my wounded arm and looking (up) at the trap door….

…the thought of those incendiary grenades coming down into our confined space was horrifying.  Some of my men began praying, while others kept up a stream of muttered obscenities directed at the enemy, vowing a dreadful revenge for this humiliation.”

“…why would they (the English) want to burn us alive when we were protecting Europe?  What was the origin of this hatred?  I had no answer to such questions.”

Eckhertz takes us into the mind of the enemy, near the beaches, in the bunkers further back, into hand-to-hand combat and best of all into the mind of the German soldier, his thoughts, his fears, his sudden realization that this is it.  Not just a feint, not just a commando raid.  He looks though the heavy cement bunker’s machine gun slits and sees the sea alive with more ships and landing craft than he could ever imagine.  Unimaginable power.

This book is alive with emotion, dread, realizations, and all the personal horrors of war.  If you want a glimpse of D-Day as you’ve never seen it, D-Day: Through German Eyes is a book you can’t and won’t stop reading. This is the story of the German soldier, not another caricature of the hated Nazi, but a personal glimpse of men at war.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Flea Market: Flohmarkt

Flohmarkt (Flea Market)

It's Sunday morning and I'm already contemplating a Saturday on 13 October.   Flohmarkt, as the Germans call it.  Antique vendors.  The smell of roasting brats and fresh brewed coffee. Polite crowds, but so thick a stroller’s pressed from all sides.

The bite of the fall air.  Glassware sparkling in the sunshine. Baskets for every purpose and in every woven shape.  Old glass wine jugs so big your arms stretch to carry them.  Old clothes, military paraphernalia with forbidden symbols covered with tape, picture frames and arrays of secondhand tools spread out on the ground.  A good twenty acres of tented booths.  The sounds of active commerce in German and English, Russian, Italian, and Spanish. All of greater Europe well represented. Haggling?  You bet.

I'll do my best to see it all, but stop to gander and decide, and get too distracted to cover the whole market. Always happens.  My attention span only lasts an hour or two. 

Need a bicycle?  One vendor always shows up with a few dozen, from the mildly rust specked specimens with peeling chrome to the pristine examples with razor thin tires, ready for the velodrome.  What kind of a truck carries this the menagerie of pedal power?

I'll check out hand hewn wooden dough bowls from a century ago, perhaps buy a silver wine bucket, or a few ancient cigar molds I've been coveting.  On a Saturday past, I stumbled across  a restored wooden work bench.  Perfect for a dining room buffet.  Wanted $500 and I've seen some in the states not half as good, costing four times that much. Took too long to wander through the labyrinth of stalls trying to make up my mind.  Came back and found it again, but now it had a big 'verkauft', (sold) sign on it.  

Later, at an Italian deli, I sat in the sunshine with friends, nibbled some fragrant, green olives , chatted with the wait staff that always yell out, the Americans are here,  and drank a couple of grapas to ease the pain of loss.

See, a Flohmarkt walks the line between the lottery and the craps table.

Now, grab a coffee from a coffee cart to stave off the chill, and while you sip, how 'bout we stroll down the Flohmarkt's memory lane together.  Gander at a few photos, pine about lost treasures, and while we chat, my mind will be on Saturday, 13 October and the next roll of the dice.

P.S.  As usual, my artist friends are welcome to use any and all of my photos for inspiration.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Rammelsbach, Germany

You enjoyed the fest, but how about the town?

What about the town of Rammelsbach?  You may well ask, but I don’t just ask, I wanna know!  The crowd for the two day Framer’ Market estimated at 30,000, while the town itself has only a population about 1600.  Often we visit a festival town for a day, drink some wine, eat some würst and forget as soon as we hop in the car and realign our GPS for home.

How many pages of history are we missing as we nonchalantly trod the cobblestone streets, passing rows of hewn stone buildings? Guessing we’re walking through centuries, without a backward glance.  Idly walking is not enough for those with high intelligence, inquisitive minds and a deep thirst for knowledge.  By that of course, I mean me.  Can’t answer for you.

Need a quick look without all the blather?  Skip to the bottom for a summation.

Time to give Rammelsbach a closer look, which means a closer looks at war, pestilence, the surge of armies and the woes of peasants as through the ages the town evolved into the pleasantly quiet village it is today.

Population has remained pretty steady for more than a hundred years.  Wasn’t always so.  As in much of this area, over the centuries Rammelsbach has had it’s share of conflict and disorder.  Martin Luther and the Protestant reformation for one, with local Lords insisting their people follow them and become Catholic or Protestant.

When the Thirty Years War hit (religious war 1618-1648), devastation of central Europe followed.  Proportionately, it might have been the most destructive war in history, with over 8,000,000 dead from the war itself, plus the plague, starvation and other by products of such a lengthy conflict.  When the Thirty Years War came to Rammelsbach, only one woman survived.

Today, about 60% are grouped under Protestant and less than half that percentage are Catholic.  Churches for each date to 1954.

But I’m such a quick thinker I’m getting ahead of myself.  Let’s take Rammelsbach and flip even more pages back in the dusty tome of history.

There’s evidence the forces of the real Roman Empire were here and to step WAAAAY back, stone axes of the type used by people of the New Stone Age have been found near by.

Now see what I’ve done?  I have to explain the NEW Stone Age to my three faithful readers.  And, because I know all three have the attention spans of scared rabbits, I’ll keep it simple.

Speaking of attention spans…….now where was I?  Oh, NEW Stone Age.  It’s also called the Neolithic Period and dates from about 10,000 BCE/BC until about 2000 BCE/BC.  Sometimes referred to as the first technology period, it was characterized by development of farming and lasted up until the metal ages (Copper, Bronze, Iron).

The Founding

Founded about 790 C.E./A.D., for centuries, it was the property of the Abbey of Saint-Remi in Reims, France. Later on it was the property of the county of Palatinate-Zweibrüchen.  It was mostly a Catholic town until 1588, when Count Palatine Johannes declared Calvinism to the truth and the light.

Rammelsbach is part of an area known as the Musikantenland, named after wandering musicians who roamed the vicinity from around 1850 until the First World War.

Until the middle of the 19th Century most villagers earned a living through agriculture and many of the single roof farmhouses you see in the surrounding area date from that time.  “Hey,” you ask as you ponder, “Don’t all houses have a single roof?”  Ok, sport, then let’s call them simple roof houses, usually with a on each end and no offshoots for extra rooms or garages. Drive through any German village and you’ll see plenty. Drive through France and you’ll see plenty, too.  Take another look at the background buildings in the top Photo.

In 1819, Rammelsbach had only 30 houses.  A stone quarry opened in 1868, although some quarrying took place from the middle ages. After the opening of the quarry, a growing population followed.  Built about 1901, there’s a Steinbruchstraße, or Quarry Street. At one time the quarry employed more than 900 workers, men and women, often working side by side.  These German women are TOUGH folks.  Now, due to mechanization, it only takes about 30 folks to do the same job.

The Quarry from a Wikipedia 1998 photo

Now let’s move forward a step and talk about the Second World War. Nazis in Rammeslbach? Not many.  Even after Adolph took over the country, less than thirty percent in Rammelsbach voted for him.

What’s Rammelsbach like today?  Primarily a bedroom community.

That's a thumbnail that covers the highlights, but slow  and impatient readers may want a summary:

1.    New Stone age people lived in the vicinity.
2.     Romans were here.
3.    790 Rammelsbach founded – agriculture primary industry
4.    Town owned at various times by France and Germany, was at one time Catholic and then Protestant.
5.    Thirty Years War (1618-1648) wiped out Rammelsbach.  One woman survived.
6.    1858 Stone Quarry opened – became the primary industry
7.    Majority of the population did not favor Hitler
8.    Today the population is about 1600 (and fairly steady the past hundred years)