Road Trip From Berlin: Happy Liberation From The Nazis Day!

The 8th of May, the day of the unconditional capitulation of the German Wehrmacht, is finally a holiday in Berlin. We decided to take a road trip towards the East to visit some relevant locations in the area. We went to the honorary cemetery of soviet soldiers in Müncheberg, to Seelower Höhen, where one of the last big battles of WW2 took place and to Küstrin, where the Red Army crossed Oder River to close the ring around Berlin and initiated the end of WW2.

And again: We still learned something new.
Some years ago, a friend asked me, if I could take someone his buddy with me in my car to Hamburg. I was delighted, because I don’t like to drive alone and so I had a very interesting trip with someone I didn’t know before. The guy told me, he grew up in Eastern Germany and graduated from High School when the wall came down and he went directly to the United States afterwards. Clash of cultures and everything. Not only because America but also because of small town Iowa Christian environment. An adventure.
When he was asked about the Nazis – because every German in a foreign country is asked about the Nazis – his first inner reaction was something like “Wait. That’s not us. That’s the other Germans.”, but he quickly noticed, that something was strange about his inner dialog.
In Eastern Germany, kids at school and citizens in general were taught, that the Nazis are the people on the other side of the wall. The wall between the two Germanys was called “Antifaschistischer Schutzwall”, protective wall against fascism. And of course, while my (western socialized) grandmother in the 1980th still had a fearful expression on her face when she saw anything Russian, resulting from cruel wartime experiences augmented by western propaganda during cold war – Russians, in the eyes of Eastern Germans, were seen as saviors from evil.

History and education made, that Eastern German people today write thank you letters to the Red Army which liberated Germany from the Nazis. Which is of course completely true. But it is also true that the concerned Nazis may have been the grandparents of the authors.

There is no clear line between good and evil. The more you learn and know, the more it becomes obvious. You can observe it in everyday news. Black and white in history and communication – nothing is as untrue as that.

 

Müncheberg

DSC_6556DSC_6564DSC_6566DSC_6579DSC_6567DSC_6596

On Our Way to Seelow
DSC_6605DSC_6633

 

Seelower Höhen
DSC_6647DSC_6649DSC_6657

The landscape on the picture above is the battlefield of the fight between the Red Army and the German Wehrmacht from 16th to 19th April 1945. It was the last big obstacle for the Russians on their way to Berlin. Many lives were lost in this battle and in those last days of war. 11 days later, Hitler killed himself in his bunker and 8 days later, war was over. DSC_6655DSC_6640DSC_6635DSC_6669DSC_6693

 

On Our Way To KüstrinDSC_6707DSC_6873DSC_6865DSC_6698DSC_6633

Küstrin And Oder RiverDSC_6897DSC_6728DSC_6758DSC_6914DSC_6789DSC_6745DSC_6726DSC_6773DSC_6721DSC_6786DSC_6768DSC_6775DSC_6762DSC_6819DSC_6783DSC_6903DSC_6838DSC_6910DSC_6740DSC_6893DSC_6909

Ocean, Men, Beast and Blood

Trigger warning: this article may contain disturbing pictures. 

When reading Melville’s Moby Dick or when looking at the faces of the old Azorean whalers you can see those archaic, old stories made from blood and fight. Man against beast – this tales can be told one million times without losing its fascination.

This explains as well the ambivalent relation the Azoreans have with whaling. Like in most western countries whales today are seen as the peaceful giants of the ocean. For most of us a symbol of the fight for nature’s survival in times of man made destruction. But there is this other side, too. The fascination. The roughness of the sea. The fight. This very masculine raison d’être.
I saw the same amount of grief for both sides: for the friendly whales caught and slaughtered and for the loss of a cultural activity deeply rooted in the DNA of the Azoreans.
Maybe it’s comparable with the Spanish Corrida, where the unbelievable atrocity against an innocent animal stands against the loss of identification with elegance and manliness.

Who is still hunting for whales today?

The hunt for whales, was practiced from the early 19th century until 1984 when it was internationally banned. There are two occasions on which it is still allowed: indigenious hunt (subsistence hunting from traditional societies) and scientific hunt (for scientific research).
Today Denmark, Canada, Russia, St. Vincent and the Grenades practice indigenious hunt. Japan, Island and South Korea practice scientific hunt. Japan & Norway have rejected the moratorium and continue hunting. Of course there is a lot of bribery and intrigues going on on this matter. (But Norway? WTF? Those peaceful nature lovers? I guess I have to revise my image of the Norwegians.)

Today more than 2000 whales are killed every year. Around 1000 by Japanese ships for “scientific reasons”, 600 from Norwegian and Icelandic fishers and around 350 from indigenous people in the US and Russia.

Why were whales hunted anyway?

You might think, it was because of the meat, but everyone will tell you, that whale meat tastes quite disgusting, greasy and rancid.
No. Whales have been hunted because of there oils. In the head of a sperm whales you’ll find a liquid called spermaceti* which was used in the cosmetic industry. The massive amount of oil which was extracted from the blubber of the whale was used as oil for lamps. In fact, whales were hunted, slaughtered and “melted” to light up the cities of the 19th and early 20th century. The rest of the “material” was milled to flour and animal food.

*in the first place people thought it is sperm – therfore the name “spermwhale”
*in reality the 1,5 tons of spermaceti in the head of a spermwhale are used as kind of a radar system for the orientation of the whale

And on the Azores?

People on the Azores switched from making a business out of whale hunting with harpoons to whale hunting with cameras (aka “whale watching”) and the latter is much more gentle to the whales than the first. Watching a whale in the wilderness of the sea even makes people more conscient and let them become passionate fighters for the cause of the big mammals. At least my concience has been really triggered (although I have seen only very small whales :-)).

The whaling museums on the islands

There are some occasions on the Islands where it is possible to learn more about the whaling history of the Azores. We have been to three of them.

  • La Fabrica da Baleia (Horta/Faial)
  • Museu dos Baleeiros (Lajes/Pico)
  • Museu da Industria Baleeira (São Roque/Pico)

The most impressing one for me was the museum in Sao Roque. It is more about the processing of the whales and it is placed on the original “crime scene” where you can still see and even smell the atrocity of the handling of the huge whale cadavers. Same in Horta, but much more in its original state in São Roque. Additionally the great architecture of the museum in Lajes should be mentioned.

Impressions from the museums

La Fabrica da Baleia (Horta/Faial)

Museu dos Baleeiros (Lajes/Pico)

Remarkable in those pictures is the ambergris – amber – found in the intestines of sperm whales. There are several theories about the production of it. Sure is, that the hard parts of the whales favorite food (beaks of squids for example) is embedded in it. Some researchers think it is produced because of a metabolic disease, another theory say, that it serves as an antibiotic wound closure for the intestinal wall of the whale.

I always asked myself how the “vigias”, the men who sat in the watchtowers, communicated the position of the whales when having spotted one of them. The map on the picture in the middle shows that they used a system, which divided the area in small squares. I’m still not quite sure, how they used this kind of maps and I would be happy for more details.

Museu da Industria Baleeira (Sao Roque do Pico)

DSC_8390DSC_8425DSC_8429DSC_8434DSC_8445DSC_8454DSC_8418DSC_8414DSC_8384

On this last picture, you can see one of the ramps where the whales have been pulled out of the sea. As I have understood, most of the Azoreans today still have great respect for the bravery of the whalers, but the compassion and fondness towards the animal clearly wins.

 

Bucharest Palace of the Parliament

Palace Of The Parliament in Bucharest: A Mad Mans Castle

You know it before visiting the building only by seeing it from far: Romanias former socialist dictator and principal of this building, Nicolae Ceaușescu, was mad. Worldwide the second biggest administrational building directly after the Pentagon. 65.000 m², 5.000 rooms, 480 chandeliers, 150.000 bulbs, 52.000 m² carpets, 2.000 km of electric lines, 1.000.000 m³ marble from […]