Tag Archives: band of brothers

Dachau, Berchtesgaden and headed home

After Friday night’s , Dan and I went light on breakfast Saturday morning. Besides, speaking for myself, I don’t think I could handle another sausage this soon.

Our first stop was the Dachau concentration camp.

"Work makes you free.:

I think we came out of it with mixed feelings. On one hand, it was a moving experience to walk on the actual site where so much evil was perpetrated. But on the other hand, the actual camp/memorial is fairly sterile. Much is simply a large open area of graveled ground. The museum is sparse.

The former administrative building, now a museum

The ovens inside the crematorium

The execution and crematorium area is landscaped and well groomed.

The crematorium

It is actually like a park. Maybe that is the idea. However, the sensory impact of Dachau contrasts sharply with some of the military museums, especially those with audio-video experiences, we visited last week.

By 11 am, we were on the road again, heading to the Bavarian Alps.

The trip was very scenic.

Along the road to Berchtesgaden

Most of our trip was through a country of rolling hills and small villages. We drove through Berchtesgaden and then up the mountain to Oversalzburg, which is actually the village where all the Nazi bigwigs had homes. Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest was not accessible.

Eagle's Nest is that little knob on the left of the photo.

Apparently the special shuttle buses don’t run for another few weeks. The restaurant was closed at the visitor’s center, but there was an interesting interpretive center, complete with Hitler’s underground bunker.

Dan (right) in the interpretive center

A tunnel in the underground bunker

The four of us at Obersalzburg (l-r) Poolman, Dan, Birdie and Ron

After a couple of hours at Obersalzburg, we stopped in Berchtesgaden. This is a pretty little resort town, but a bit on the touristy side.

Dan in Berchtesgaden

Birdie and Ron had a Berchtesgaden hot dog.

A Berchtesgaden scene. Note the Alps in the background.

It has a bunch of cafés, boutique stores and gift shops.

We headed back to Munich for our “farewell dinner” at the Hofbrau House, a famous, 400 year old beer hall. It was a fun time.

I think the band conductor has had plastic surgery to permantly put a smile on his face.

We were entertained by a Bavarian band, dancers (who looked very bored) and some guys with whips who came out and snapped them in time with music. The hall was filled with hundreds of people at long tables. The beer came by the liter. We all had wienerschnitzel  warn potato salad.

Dan and Poolman. Note the liter size beers..

On Sunday morning, we were out of the hotel by 8 am. bound for Munich airport.  That’s 2 am Savannah time. We didn’t land in Savannah, after three airline segments, until 9:30 pm. It was a long day. On the trans-Atlantic leg, I watched an episode of “The Big Bang Theory” and three movies.

The Tourist — Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie (Cute)

Morning Glory — Rachel McAdams, Harrison Ford and Diane Keaton (Pretty stupid, but I enjoyed it because of my TV news background. dAt one point or another, I “knew” everyone of the characters in the film. They just had different names.)

Red — Bruce Willis, John Malkovitch, Richard Dreyfuss, Morgan Freeman, Mary Louise Parker (Pretty good. I love Mary Louise!)

I got a good night sleep Sunday night and was back at work by late morning on Monday.

It was a fun and interesting trip, but I’m glad to be home. Two weeks is a long time to be gone for me.

Advertisements

Luxembourg to Munich

(It’s Monday, and we are back in Savannah. For the first time in several days, I have a reliable internet link. Here is a posting from Friday. I’ll try to post the trip’s final days later this evening.)

For Friday, April 8

In my entire life, I probably haven’t spent five minutes thinking about Luxembourg. Now I’ve spent the night there.

If I had thought about it, I probably would have envisioned Luxembourg as a set of bucolic, rural villages with lots of haystacks, ox-driven carts and buxom milkmaids in apron dresses. Not the case.

Luxembourg, at least Luxemborg City, is a bustling urban-commercial center, with serious central city traffic issues.

The view from our hotel window in Luxembourg City

Our hotel was right across the street from the train station.

Luxembourg City train station from our hotel window

Just getting the bus loaded with luggage and people was a challenge this morning.

Our only history-related stop today was at the Luxembourg American Cemetery.   It’s most famous resident is General George Patton.

George Patton's grave

Then we got back on the bus for the long haul to Munich.

We arrived in Munich in the early evening. We got settled into our rooms and Dan, Birdie, Ron and I took off to the central part of the city. Our hotel is nice enough, but it looks like the neighborhood around it has gone downhill in recent years.

The Drei Lowen (Two Lions) Hotel in on Schillerstrasse in Munich

We are only a block or two from the main train station, but our hotel is surrounded by strip clubs and mid-eastern gold buyers/sellers. Not the kind of place you go walking alone at night.

Somewhat surprisingly, within a couple of blocks, we were out of the rough section and into a wide pedestrian mall leading to the Marienplatz at the center of town.

Part of Munich's central city area.

Munich's City Hall with a Glockenspiel. We did not see it perform.

We were all impressed with central Munich. The pedestrian malls, surrounded by historic buildings were great. Even after dinner, at around 1030 pm, it was hopping.

A string quartet (plus flute) playing late at night on the Munich pedestrian mall

We did some final souvenir/gift shopping and headed to a beer hall recommended by the hotel desk clerk.

We had a good dinner. We all had the same thing – a sausage sampler with sauerkraut and mashed potatoes…and of course, beer.

Birdie, Dan, Ron and Poolman

Bavarian sausage, etc.

We did have a little trouble with Birdie, who insisted in playing with his food and making “food sculptures.” It was sausage; use your imagination.

Tomorrow, we are off to Dachau and Berchtesgaden.

Walking in the foxholes

We got into the Novotel Hotel in Maastricht late last night — around 9:30 pm. Some of us scrambled for a bite to eat at the hotel bar. A mini-pizza was about the only choice, if you could get the attention of the frazzled and not-particularly eager barmaid. We had big lunch, so Dan and I said “screw it” and went to bed.

Today is another beautiful, sunny day in the Benelux countries, and by the time we are finished, we will see all three of them today. We started in the Netherlands; spent most of the day in Belgium; and will sleep tonight in Luxembourg.

One thing about this part of Europe is we can never be quite certain what language is being spoken. We started the day in Dutch, while in Bastogne, we encountered both French and German. None of us speak any of them worth a darn, so I guess it doesn’t really matter. Birdie has become an expert at dealing with waiters and shopkeepers by pointing and nodding.

This morning our first stop was the American Military Cemetary at Margraten, Netherlands.

The American Cemetery

We spent around an hour there and then headed to Bastogne. Dan commented how impressed he has been with the darn-near-perfect condition of the cemeteries we visited. There isn’t a stray piece of grass to be seen.

Our first stop in the Bastogne area was the village of Foy. (That was the village Easy Company of The Band of Brothers attacked in the episode “The Breaking Point.”)

Foy is not very large.

"The Gang" in Foy

Then we rode back towards Bastogne about a half mile to Bois Jacques (John’s Woods). This was the actual location of Easy Company during the Battle of the Bulge. We walked through the woods a few hundred yards to the exact position Easy Company occupied.

Treking through Fois Jacques

The foxholes are still evident. Very  cool.

Note the foxholes.

Dan in a foxhole.

We had one more sip of Birdie’s calavados brandy to commemorate the occasion.

(l-r) Ron, Birdie, Dan and Poolman

Our final historical stop of the day was at the American monument to the Battle of the Bulge, at Mardasson, near Bastogne.

From there it was back to Bastogne’s central square (McAuliffe Place) for lunch.

McAuliffe Place, Bastogne, Belgium

Dan, Birdie, Ron and I ate at Le Nuts Café. The restaurant is named for the reply the 101st AB Div acting commander, General Anthony McAuliffe gave to the German’s demand for surrender – not for the specialty of the house.

Some of our gang eating outside "Le Nuts Cafe."

(l-r) Poolman, Birdie, Ron and Dan

I had a Belgian version of a ham and cheese sandwich, but the other three guys all ordered a “croque a bleu,” which was essentially a grilled ham and cheese sandwich with additional cheese melted on top. I had some of Dan’s and it was outstanding.

As I write this, we are on our way to Luxembourg City for dinner and the evening.

Tomorrow, we hit one more American cemetery and then a long (600 km, 360 mi) drive to Munich.

Two museums and the search for the lost arch

Our day started cool and cloudy, but later warmed up to a nice sunny day. What a difference a day makes.

Our first stop was the Wings of Liberation Museum in Oosterbeek. This was the site of the British First Airborne Division’s drop and most of its fighting during the Market Garden operation. The museum is outstanding. It is located in the Harkenstein Hotel, which was the site of German General Model’s headquarters before the air drop, and then the HQ for the 1st Airborne Div.

Ron, Poolman, Dan and Birdie

In the front is the apparently obligatory US M4 Sherman tank, although there were none of these weapons involved in this part of the battle. (The British paratroopers had no tanks.) The museum had the usual artifacts, with a focus on the Dutch population.       Its crowning touch was an “Airborne Experience”in the basement.

A mock up of a British mortor crew in the Airborne Experience

This was almost like a Disneyworld walk-though experience with projected images and sound effects, as if you were a part of the battle. Very impressive.

The museum left me with two questions.

The first – why are the Dutch so willing to remember and commemorate this battle? The battle was a debacle for the Allies, especially the British airborne troops who dropped in Oosterbeek to seize the Arnhem bridge. They didn’t keep the bridge, and only roughly 2,500 of the 12,000 troopers escaped death or capture.  For the Dutch, this short-lived liberation went very poorly in the long run. After the battle, the Germans expelled all the residents from the city. The coming winter of 1944-45 was extremely difficult on the Dutch. Food was extremely scarce. More than 22,000 died of starvation or malnutrition.

Yet they commemorate this battle all over Arnhem and elsewhere in the area.

The second questions echoes historian/biographer William Manchester who observed that historians tend to glorify battles that result in heavy casualties.

For example, everyone knows about the Alamo, where all the defenders were killed. But how many people outside of Texas can describe the subsequent Battle of San Jacinto, that was a decisive and overwhelming victory for the Texans with relatively low casualties.

For history, it seems “the bloodier, the better.” And if it is a defeat (like Arnhem) even better still. Market Garden was a tremendous battle, but the other guys won.

From there, we went to central Nijmegan for lunch, only to find we were at the wrong place.

Oops! Wrong address.

Back on the bus and drive to a suburban resort hotel for an outstanding lunch of curry soup, steak with a Bordeaux sauce, fries, vegetables and ice cream sundae. It was not a rushed meal. We must have been there for two hours.

We had one more museum near where the 82nd Airborne Div drooped at Groesbeek.

We then went off in search of “the arch.” In the book Band of Brothers, there is a photo of Dick Winters standing in front of an arch.

Dick Winters in 1944.l

We ended up driving around for the better part of an hour looking for this thing. We finally found it, and the owners of the house were most gracious to allow us to tramp up their driveway for everyone to pose at the arch.

Poolman, Dan, Birdie and Ron at the arch

The arch is part of a 100 year-old farm house on a still-working farm.

We are on our way to Maastricht. Tomorrow we are on to Bastogne and the Battle of the Bulge.

Revisiting Operation Market-Garden in the Netherlands

It was a cold, blustery day here in the Netherlands. Overall, the weather had been pretty good. Several of our days in Paris were great, and the day at Omaha Beach was actually quite warm. Since then it has cooled off, but we have had no real rain to speak of.

When we arrived at the hotel last night, it was after dark, so we didn’t have any perspective of the surroundings.

The Lower Rhine from our window

It turns out we are right on the Lower Rhine. This is the view from Dan’s and my room window. It’s not that impressive a stream.

The hotel is quite nice – just about a mile out from the central downtown area of Arnhem.Th NH Rijnhotel, Arnhem

We piled back on the bus and drove south to the Wings of Liberation Museum near Son, Netherlands.

Arriving at the Wings of Liberation Museum

This is a small museum, but they did a nice job, especially using mannequins in historical settings.

That's Dan on the left.

It also contained a bunch of guns, planes, etc.

From there, we went to the farm where the 506th PIR (Band of Brothers regiment) was dropped on September 17, 1944, and we took a group picture in front of the house.

That's our guide, Steve, in front. Poolman behind him. Ron and Birdie, front row left, and Dan in the back left-center.

The only person missing is Laura, the travel agent, who was manning the camera.

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped in central Arnhem for some of us to exchange money at the train station.

Near the Arnhem train station

Here we saw very visual evidence of the Dutch’s love of bicycles. People ride them everywhere. Just look at this. This the main parking lot at the train station – no cars, but about a thousand bikes!

Need a bike?

For some reason, the John Frost Bridge, actual “bridge too far” that was the point to the whole battle, was not on our itinerary.

John Frost Bridge -- A replacement for the one destroyed in Oct 1944.

We had time when we got back from our bus excursion, so Ron, Dan, Birdie and I took a hike down to the bridge and (most of us) walked to the other side.

Birdie and Ron at a memorial near the bridge.

Me on the bridge

A view of Arnhem from the south end of the bridge.

We definitely got our exercise for the day, and we can use it.

Tomorrow, we visit two more museums in this area and then finish the day back down south in Maastrich.

It’s been a good trip, but I think everyone is feeling the fatigue. We have four more days of touring then a day of travel back to the US.

A day of airborne history

On Sunday morning, we awoke to a breakfast of ham, cheese, yogurt, fruit and pastries, The buffet included the Norman version of an apple pie and a custard pie. Interesting.

(By the way, click on any photo for a slightly larger version.)

We were off bright and early for a day-long tour focused on Utah Beach and the related airborne operations on D-Day.

"The gang" mounting up

Before we left, Dan and I went for a stroll in the central city area around our hotel.

Central Bayeux looks like the Hollywood version of an older European city. Dan said, he almost expected to see Belle from “Beauty and the Beast” to coming dancing around the next corner, singing “Bonjour, bonjour!”

The sun was just a coming up and the light was interesting. I took several pictures of the thousand-year old cathedral and some street scenes.

The Bayeux Cathedral

A Bayeux street

The Bayeux Cathedral at sunrise

Once on the bus, our first stop of the day was Ste. Mere Eglise, the first French town to be liberated by the allies in 1944, and what Steve (military guide) described as the airborne equivalent of Mecca.

We toured the airborne museum. It was very well done. It included an authentic Douglas C-47 transport, set in a scenario as if it were being loaded on June 5.

Douglas C-47

The C-47 (military version of he venerable DC-3 civilian passenger aircraft) was the plane on which our father served as a navigator in Italy.

From the airborne museum, we walked across the street to the “eglise” (church) of Ste. Mere Eglise.

Ste. Mere Eglise

If you recall the movie, “The Longest Day,” this church figured prominently in the movie, and apparently, it was actually shot here on location. Paratrooper John Steele, played by Red Buttons, got caught on the steeple. To commemorate that, the church still has a dummy and parachute hanging there. It’s kind of cheesy, but effective.

The inside of the church is lovely.

The altar area

There are two stained glass windows that commemorate the liberation, one with the Virgin Mary and the other with the archangel Michael, both with paratroop images in the design.

Stained glass of St. Michael. Note the parachute above his head and the logo of the 82nd AB to the left.

We had a very traditional French picnic with baguettes, pastries and drinks, purchased from a nearby shop.

The picnic.

I had a foot-long, fresh baguette, stuffed with chicken, lettuce, tomatoes and mayonnaise. The French pastry was great. I topped it off with a Diet Coke, or Coca-Cola Light, as they say here. The price came to just five Euros, or about seven dollars. If they opened stores like this in Savannah, they’d drive Subway out of business.

Poolman, Dan, Ron and Birdie at Ste. Mere Eglise

After lunch, we drove to Utah Beach. The museum there is closed for renovation, so to be honest, there really isn’t much to see there.

Nearby, however, we had special access to Brecourt Manor. This is the Norman dairy farm featured vividly in the second episode of Band of Brothers. Then Lieutenant Dick Winters lead a small group of paratroopers to successfully destroy a battery of German artillery that was threatening the troops coming ashore a few miles away. This is private property and not normally accessible to tour groups, so this was a treat. The start of our mini-tour was amusing. The short dirt ramp to the cow pasture was completely covered in cow manure. Everyone spent the rest of the afternoon wiping their feet and picking at their treads with sticks.

Birdie, working his way through the dung.

Steve led us through the pasture (“Rule one – don’t disturb the cows!”) to the adjacent pasture where he outlined the operation.

Dan moving under a fence from one field to the other.

Steve explains it all.

Cool stuff.

Our next stop was Ste. Mere du Mont. We had our picture taken in front of the World War I monument, in the same location as a group of 101st troopers had their picture taken on D-Day. That photo is included in the Band of Brothers book.

Poolman, Dan, Ron and Birdie in front of WW I monument.

Our final military history stop of the day was La Fiere, a crossing over the Merderet River that was the scene of some heavy fighting involving the 82nd Airborne on D-Day.

Merderet River at La Fiere

Close by is a chateau and a B&B. We got to talking to the American woman who owns the B&B. She suggested we walk over to the chateau, saying that the owner is a nice guy and he has a bunch of old souveniers he has collected from the area. The chateau owner,  Yves Poisson was most gracious. He pulled out an old reserve parachute he had.

The parachute at La Fiere

He also showed us some of his collection of battlefield artifacts.

We returned to St. Mere Eglise and had a very nice dinner at the John Steele Tavern.

As we walked down the street to dinner, we passed a vivid example of one of the differences between European and US culture – a condom machine on the sidewalk of one of the town’s main streets.

When you just can't wait.

Sometimes I guess you just can’t wait for the pharmacie’ to open.

Over dinner, Birdie continued his European version of the “Blue Collar Comedy Tour.” Dan and I had left our window open in our hotel room, and Birdie and Ron started discussing whether we would have pigeons in our room when we returned. Birdie assured us that if we did have pigeons when we returned, there were no two better people on the European continent to handle the problem than Ron and himself.

“For pigeons, we are like ghostbusters!”

Birdie said he really hoped we did have pigeons in our rooom, because he wanted to use the rocks he collected from Omaha Beach to kill them. Then he said he would cook them overnight on the steam radiator.

“I think if we put a towel down to collect the drippings, we’ll be fine. God knows that radiator gets hot enough.”

Birdie has had a continuing theme of cooking birds in his hotel room ever since Paris.

Fortunately for both us and the Norman pigeon population, there were no birds in our room when we returned.

We got back to our hotel in Bayeux fairly late, and after updating this blog, we hit the sheets for another early day tomorrow.

It’s late here

We had a very good day of traveling and touring today. However, it was a long day and it is late here in Bayeux, France. I don’t have time to do a full post. I’ll catch up tomorrow. Suffice it to say, we did shots of Calvados (Norman apple brandy) on the sand at Omaha Beach.

More details tomorrow. Good night!