Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Pictures From Our Honeymoon in Germany: Nuremburg

Our last stop in Germany was at Nuremburg. We stayed in a fabulous hotel just outside the old walled city, so we walked around and took photos. 

St. Lorenz Church (St. Lorenzkirche), dedicated to Saint Lawrence, was built in during the 13th and 14th Centuries around the walls of an old Roman basilica. It was badly damaged during World War II and later restored.

Church of Our Lady (Frauenkirche) was built between 1352 and 1358 under the supervision of Prague's master cathedral builder Peter Parler.  Originally Protestant, Our Lady was taken over by the Catholics after Nuremburg fell to Bavaria in 1806.

I do not know which church this is (there were so many in the downtown area I forgot). But hey, it looks cool.

My wonderful bride and me enjoying dinner in old town Nuremburg.

The Palace of Justice off of Furtherstrasse where the Allied Military Tribunal held the Nuremburg Trials in 145-1946 for the top Nazi war criminals. The trials were held on the top floor where the four large windows are located.

Inside the courtroom.

The dock where the twenty-two Nazi defendants sat during the trials. It was eerie knowing that I was this close to where pure evil used to sit and defend itself.

The original benches used by the defendants during the trial.

What Nurumburg is most notoriuos for is the Nazi Party rallies. This is the remains of the Zeppelintribune grandstand, which was made famous when the giant swastika on the roof of the reviewing stand was blown up by the Allies in 1945. The columns on either side of the grandstand (shown in the second photo below) were torn down in 1967 because of deterioration.

A close up of the grandstand showing the speaker's platform from where Hitler gave his speeches.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Pictures From Our Honeymoon: Dachau

Unfortunately, Alison and I did not get to see any of Munich. We both came down with Maximilian's Revenge (who would have thought you couldn't drink the water in Europe) and spent our one day in Munich in bed sleeping. 

On leaving Munich, we stopped at the Dachau Concentration Camp (Konzentrationlager), the first camp opened in Germany in 1933. The camp was intended for political prisoners who would be used as forced labor in a nearby munitions factory. Over time, Dachau became the model on which all other concentration camps were constructed. By the end of World War II, Dachau had housed over 206,000 prisoners, 32,000 of whom were reported to have died while in camp. In an ironic but just twist of fate, following the war Dachau was used to hold SS officers waiting war crimes trials. 

The Jourhaus Gate building, the main entrance into camp.

The iron gate to the Jourhaus which bears the infamous motto "Work Makes You Free."

The main grounds of the compound. The outlines shown below are the foundations of the prisoner barracks.

The new crematorium, built in 1943. The original crematorium contained a two-chamber oven, which was not large enough to accommodate the deaths that were occurring through disease, starvation, and executions.

Three of the six chambers inside the new crematorium.

Although Dachau never served as an extermination camp, the crematorium did contain a gas chamber. It is believed this chamber may have been used to experiment on a limited number of prisoners.

Inside the gas chamber. 

Next and final stop: Nuremburg.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Pictures From Our Honeymoon in Germany: Wannsee

This villa sits at 56-58 Am Grossen Wannsee in the Wannsee suburb of southwest Berlin. It was here, on 20 January 1942, that SS Obergruppenfuhrer Reinhard Heydrich, head of the Reichssicherheitsauptsamt (Reich Main Security Office), chaired the Wannsee Conference. The conference gathered together the administrative heads of various government departments to ensure their cooperation in the Final Solution of the Jewish problem. By the end of the 90 minute meeting, the plans had been developed to transport the Jewish populations of East Europe to extermination camps as well as reduce the populations in occupied territories by 30 million people through forced starvation. A transcript of the proceedings survived, despite orders that all notes from the conference were to be destroyed, and provided considerable evidence against the defendants at the Nuremburg Trials. It's horrifying to read because these men discuss the elimination of millions of men, women, and children with the same emotional detachment as if they were talking about logistics for a corporation (puts what I write into perspective). Today the villa serves as a Holocaust memorial.

This is the main conference room in the villa where the discussions occurred. This was also the location where Kenneth Branagh's film Conspiracy was filmed.

Me standing the in the Wannsee Conference room.

After leaving the villa, we stopped at McDonald's to detox and lighten the mood.  The beer they serve at McDonald's helped.

Next stop: Dachau.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Pictures From Our Honeymoon in Germany: Berlin

The first stop on our trip to Germany was Berlin. Behind me is the Brandenburg Gate. The last time I was in Berlin (1984), the gate was behind the Iron Curtain and the only way to get this close to it was to travel into East Berlin. Now it's a thriving center of activity. They even have a Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks one hundred feet from me. 

Alison and I stayed not too far from Potsdamer Platz, the old government center of Berlin. Just around the corner from our hotel was the remains of the Anhof Railway Station, once the second largest train station in all of Europe. The below pictures are what the station looked like before World War II and in 1945 after having enduring the Allied air offensive against Berlin.

The Reichstag, the old parliament building in Berlin, only a few minutes walk from the Brandenburg Gate. Stalin gave the task of taking Berlin to two of his best generals, Marshal Georgi Zhukov commanding the 1st Belorussian Front and Marshal Ivan Koniev commanding the 1st Ukrainian Front. The victor would be the first front to storm and capture the Reichstag.

This view of the Reichstag was taken from Moltke Bridge that the 1st Belorussian Front's 3rd Shock Army used to cross the Spree River as it stormed the Reichstag. You can still see bullet holes on the bridge. The 3rd Shock Army captured the Reichstag on 30 April, shortly before Hitler committed suicide.

Hermann Goering's Ministry of Aviation, one of the few Nazi-era structures to survive the war intact.  This structure used to reside in East Berlin and was used by the Soviets as an administrative building. Today it's used as a backdrop for movies, including Tom Cruise's Valkyrie. The wall in the foreground is a remnant of the Berlin Wall. The railing in the very forefront denotes the location of Heinrich Himmler's SS Headquarters. All that remains of SS Headquarters is the foundation and a few of the basement rooms, which are visible in the second photo. 

The Reich Chancellery, which was just down the street from the Ministry of Aviation, was the seat of government and Hitler's office. The Reich Chancellery, and the Fuhrer Bunker behind it, were heavily damaged by Allied bombing. After the war, the Chancellery was torn down (with the red marble used in the subway station across the street), the Fuhrer Bunker was covered over, and the entire are remained isolated in the no man's land between the Berlin Wall for decades. This is what the Chancellery looked like in 1940.

 This is the area today. 

Underneath the grounds behind the Chancellery sat the infamous Fuhrer Bunker where Adolf Hitler lived underground for the last six months of his life as the Reich crumbled around him. After the war, the Soviets buried the Bunker so it would not become a shrine to Nazism. When they erected the Berlin Wall, the Bunker existed as a mound of dirt inside no man's land. With the collapse of East Berlin and the tearing down of the Wall, the Bunker was dug up, completely destroyed, and a residential area built on the site. Below is a photograph taken after the war showing the exit stairwell for the bunker (the box-like concrete structure on the left) and the air vent for the complex (the conical tower in the center). The bodies of Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun were unsuccessfully cremated in the darkened area to the right of the tower.

Below is the same view today.  The stairwell would be in the center of the photo.

Me standing at the spot where Hitler and Eva were partially cremated.

Last but not least, the Berlin Flak Towers. After the British RAF first bombed Berlin in 1940, Hitler ordered three flak towers to be built to defend the city. Each had walls over ten feet thick and enough room inside to serve as air raid shelters for up to 10,000 people (during the Battle of Berlin, close to 30,000 lived inside each tower). After the war, the tower at the Berliner Zoo was completely destroyed, and the tower in the Friedrichshain district was mostly destroyed. Only the flak tower in Humboldthain remains partially intact.

Next stop: Wannsee.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Pictures from Our Honeymoon in Germany: Wewelsburg

Over the next few weeks I'll post some of the pictures Alison Beightol and I took while on our honeymoon to Germany in mid-November.  However, let me explain in advance for anyone who notices a preponderance of Nazi-related photographs.  Alison and I are avid World War II/Cold War history buffs, and this period of history figures prominently in our books (see Alison's portrayal of Reinhard Heydrich as a vampire in Blood Beginnings and my upcoming series of novels detailing officers from the OSS battling Nazi occultism).  So it was only natural that on this trip we saw many locations linked to the people and events associated with Nazi Germany. 

One of the places we visited was Wewelsburg Castle in Westphalia in the northwest, the location chosen by Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler to be the center of the SS occult activities.  The castle was constructed in the early 17th century but eventually fell into disrepair in the 18th and 19th centuries.  In 1924, Wewelsburg became the property of the local district, which turned it into a cultural center and began renovations that fell off after a few years.  Himmler leased the castle in 1934 with the intention of converting into a center of SS ideology and research.  One of the fields of research that was followed was the occult. 

The focal point of the castle's occult studies was the North Tower.  On the ground level (just inside the doorway) is the Obergruppenfuhrersall, which referred to the original twelve highest ranking SS officers (obergruppenfuhrers). The Obergruppenfuhrersall contains the Black Sun, a dark green sun wheel built into the marble floor.  Himmler envisioned this tower as the center of his SS and Germanic empire. This room also gave credence to the unsubstantiated legend that Himmler was hoping to develop his a Grail castle with his own dark version of the Knights of the Round Table.   In the basement is the Vault, a former cistern that was converted into some type of commemoration room with a sunken center; twelve pedestals, each with its own wall niche, placed around the perimeter wall; and the Black Sun centered in the ceiling.  Himmler never divulged what the Vault would be used for (which is great, because now I can make up what I want for my novels).

This is the Vault.  You can see the sunken floor and some of the pedestals between the paintings (the paintings were added by the museum to detract from the eerie aspects of the room).  The reason this picture is so poor is because I had to take it covertly because photography is not allowed in this portion of the castle.

 This is one of the original twelve chairs emblazoned with SS runes from the Obergruppenfuhrersall.

 And this is a close-up of the SS runes.

 Next stop: Berlin.