The Swearing Guide
I know a guide in Berlin who is a pretty interesting fellow. Robert grew up in East Berlin as the son of a fairly high-ranking East German bureaucrat and was 15 years old when the Berlin Wall fell. He spent a year of high school in the US; he earned a PhD in German history; his dissertation explored prostitution in concentration camps. He and a collaborator recently created an exhibition entitled Objects from the Concentration Camps, which pairs large black and white photos of objects from the camps with text that describes the objects; the exhibition is working its way around the world (and is coming to the US next year). Robert is married to a woman of Kurdish heritage who is a member of Germany’s Parliament.
So, I wasn’t sure what to make of his “Oh ****!” exclamation as we stood in the middle of a forest during a full-day tour of former military sites north of Berlin. The day seemed to be going well enough. We had visited the entrance to an old joint Soviet/East German military base that still had oh-so-wonderful Communist era art/propaganda that had greeted those who entered the base. Then, we had visited the site of an old Nazi model farm near Ravensbrück, complete with farmhouse with an idealistic Nazi quote engraved in wood that ran the length of the house; there was still a hole in the wood where the swastika had been cut out in an attempt to make the quote not-so-Nazi.
The next stop was an old Soviet military base at Neuthymen. There, we found the launch pads for mobile, truck-mounted short- to intermediate-range rockets equipped with nuclear warheads. We wandered all over the dilapidated, overgrown facility – exploring underground bunkers that are now used as bat habitats, a base theater with Linden trees growing up through its entrance (and a mid 1990’s issue of Pravda lying on the floor of its upper level), the mess hall, living quarters, a cheap Russian-made guard tower, etc.
As we traveled between the different places that morning, our driver Jurgen shared his story of growing up in the DDR (East Germany). It was a fascinating tale that included him requesting and receiving permission to leave the DDR; there were far too many intricate details to include here. He now lives in the former East Berlin once again… on a very East-Berlin-sounding road… Allee der Kosmonauten.
With all the above under our belt, we headed to the force de resistance for the tour. At Dannenwald, the Nazis had built a large network of bunkers in the forest for storage of ammunition. The Soviets found the site to be quite useful for this purpose and had stored ammunition there, too. A road of pre-fabricated porous concrete typical of Soviet military facilities leads to the site. Interestingly, a new, large metal arm/gate had been placed across the entrance to the road on the day we arrived. Robert groaned. “It looks like we’ll have to walk.”
So… we walked. About 20 minutes into the walk we passed a big pile of broken concrete, old rebar, and other debris. “Every time I come to places like this, they are demolishing something.” We hung a right to head to the bunkers. After a few minutes, Robert looked a little perplexed. “They should be right here.” Then the exclamation.
The pile of debris we had passed? It was made up of the former entrances to the bunkers, which had been demolished and replaced with dirt/sand. The railroad track that aided in carrying munitions from bunker to bunker? Gone. “It was here last fall when I visited. Really.” We wandered around to see if we could find a single remaining bunker. No luck. They were all destroyed… only ventilation pipes sticking out of the top of each former bunker hinted that the mounds had a prior purpose.