The Pearl Harbor Memorial

There is still oil leaking from the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor…

The Arizona was one of the ships stationed at Pearl Harbor when the home of the US Pacific Fleet was attacked by hundreds of Japanese planes 77 years ago, during World War II. On that Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, the “date that will live in infamy”, as President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously said the next day when he asked Congress to declare war against Japan, 21 US warships were sunk or damaged, and more than 150 planes on nearby airfields destroyed. More than 2,300 Americans lost their lives.

Most of the ships were repaired and returned to service.  For three battleships, however, the destruction was too substantial. One of them was the USS  Arizona. 1,177 sailors and Marines were killed when she was attacked, over 900 of them could not be recovered and remain onboard. In 1962, a hull was placed on top of the shipwreck, but not touching it, to commemorate the crew, and other service members killed in the attack. The hull today is part of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument. It is currently closed for repairs until March 2019.

USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor

When I was visiting the memorial seven years ago, the feeling of German collective guilt was very present, just  like when I would visit Hiroshima many years later. In a war, both sides lose.

“Never Again”, was what I was taught in school. Never again, the Germans must be the ones starting a war. Never again, there must be discrimination, xenophobia, and aggression.

Today, there is a fear that this historical mission is fading. That the lessons of the past are lost in history books, dying with those who lived to tell the story. Last week was the first time no USS Arizona survivor was present when officials commemorated the anniversary of the attack.

Therefore, it is even more important to preserve memorials like the ones in Pearl Harbor, and keep the memory alive by listening to the stories of those who’ve experienced history.

Hiroshima & the Atomic Bomb – Never Again

Hiroshima Peace Memorial (Genbaku Dome)

Visiting Japan made it painfully clear to me how much of Japan had been destroyed during World War II. Many of the ancient shrines, temples and buildings made of paper and wood were burnt to the ground as a result of American air raids. I had the impression that the Japanese have made great efforts to rebuild most of them since the war. One of the ruins, however, they preserved: The Atomic Bomb Dome in Hiroshima.

Atomic Bomb Dome

The atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima by Americans on August 6, 1944. The war between the two nations began one day after the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor, 77 years ago this week, on December 7th, 1941 – “a date which will live in infamy”, as President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously said when he asked Congress to declare war on Japan.

The building that is now the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, and since 1996 on the UNESCO’s world heritage list, used to be the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall. It was the only structure left standing after the bomb exploded.

The toll the nuclear explosion took was devastating. It not only killed tens of thousands of people instantly, many more died and suffered because of the radiation in the years afterwards. Reading about it in the history books is one thing, but seeing the remains of the dome, and visiting the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum a completely different story. It is not for the faint-hearted. The story of pain, suffering and destruction is told through belongings of the victims, painfully drastic pictures of injuries, and testimonials of the survivors. It is a warning and a reminder that this must never happen again.

Former President Obama visited Hiroshima in 2016. The memory of Hiroshima “must never fade”, he said. Many people still suffer from the consequences of the atomic attacks not only in Hiroshima, but also in Nagasaki.

In May 2016, President Barack Obama wrote in the Hiroshima Peace Park guest book: “We have known the agony of war. Let us now find the courage, together, to spread peace, and pursue a world without nuclear weapons.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kyoto – Enchanting but Expensive

Kyoto, the old capital of Japan, is a beautiful city with many shrines and temples, and, of course, the Imperial Palace.

It was also the most expensive place to stay on my trip – book early, would be my advice, if you want to get a room in a hotel downtown. And be prepared to stay in the tiniest room you can think of – even if you book the “bigger” one. Mine was 151-sq-foot (14-sq-meter) but I think that included the bathroom. It felt especially small, since you still have virtually every convenience you can think of in a hotel room in there, from water heater to iron to humidifier (no closet, though). Be flexible, is all I can say. Literally.

It is worth it, though.

If you are still jet-lagged and up early – why not take walk or take the bus to the Yasaka Shrine at the end of Shijo Dori Street before the city awakes. You can explore the huge complex, with one temple more beautiful than the other, on your own. The colors are stunning in autumn.

 

On your way back into the city, you may want to walk along Shirikawa-minami Dori. It is supposedly the prettiest street in Kyoto, and if you are lucky, you see couples in traditional Japanese garb posing for their wedding pictures.

I also visited a little shop close by that has a beautiful exhibition of fabric and art, and sells pieces of traditional kimonos under glass. They are quite durable, and can be used as coasters, or serving plates.

photo: G. Beyer

The shop is called Wa-Glass Ya, and it was located  70 Motoyoshicho, Higashiyama Ward. The website is currently not accessible, but maybe the shop is still there.

And don’t forget to visit Nishiki Market with its many food vendors – maybe you even want to taste the traditional dishes yourself.

 

Of course, Kyoto has a tower, too – with an impressive train station right next to it.

 

And last but not least, there is the Imperial Palace. I guess it is a must see, but don’t expect to be alone. Personally, to be honest, I preferred the solitude and hidden charm of the Yasaka Shrine.

 

PS: Next week, we’ll travel to Hiroshima.

 

Tokyo – Clean, Safe, and Zen

Two years ago at exactly the same time of the year, I was visiting Japan – and had a great time. Having never been to Asia before, I was a bit worried about not being able to find my way around. But it was really easy, especially in the capital, Tokyo, but also in Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Akita.

In Tokyo, I visited the Imperial Palace (though only from afar, you can’t really go inside) with it’s beautiful gardens, Tokyo Tower, Shibuja Station and Crossing, with dog Hachiko (famous in Japan, everybody has his or her picture taken with it), and the Meiji Shrine,  with its impressive parks, where the gardeners sweep the path to the temple with a broom made out of twigs to keep it free of leaves.

Toilets in Japan can be a challenge

I was impressed by the cleanliness everywhere in Japan – you get a wet towel whenever you eat to wipe  your hands, even if it’s just a coffee and a cake. Toilet seats are sophisticated mechanisms that can be heated, and have lots of buttons – and are a bit intimidating, to be honest.

Suprisingly, there are hardly any trash cans in Japan – they were removed for safety reasons. So you better bring a plastic bag and take your trash back home. Also, there are no paper towels in restrooms. It is custom to have your own little towel at hand – you can buy the plain white cotton ones in every convenience store. I still use the one I brought back home as a wash cloth.

I traveled by train, using the JRPass, which is really the best way to travel in Japan. You have to purchase the pass in advance, in your country of origin, because it is only good for tourists. Plan ahead, because you will get a voucher you have to exchange when you arrive in Japan. The line at the counter at Narita airport was quite long, btw. It was a bit annoying to have to wait to get the rail pass after the long flight, but once you have your pass, you are good to go, even on the Shinkansen, the super fast train.

Also, I felt very safe everywhere. The crime rate in Japan is really low.

And I really enjoyed all the little parks and temples that seem to be splattered around town – you can find your inner zen there and take a break from the city’s rush.

Here are some impressions from Tokyo – next Sunday, we will travel to Kyoto.

 

 

Spectacular Sunsets and Interesting Art – Belgium’s Coast

If you need a place to stay while visiting Dunkirk, you might want to take a look at Belgium. I found a nice little apartment via Airbnb, overlooking the North Sea and close to the French border in Koksijde-Bad. It was super relaxing to sit in a cozy armchair behind the panorama window, watching people enjoying the Belgian coast even in autumn, and the waves washing ashore.

Looking north towards the North Sea in Koksijde-Bad at sunrise, from the apartment.

The sunsets to the west over Dunkirk were spectacular – twice a grand finale to the sunny weather during the day.

And there is more to see than “just” sunsets and beach. Walking towards the west along the water brought me to St. Idesbald, home to a surprisingly large museum with art from the surrealist Belgian painter Paul Delvaux. The entrance of the Paul Delvaux Museum is one of the typical little Belgian houses, but most of the exhibition is underground and there is a lot to see.

Delvaux is known for his paintings of nude women, and in the age of #MeToo, it got me wondering where the line is between art and sexism, and whether we should at least have a debate about why and how a certain artist made naked women the center of his work, why all the men in his paintings are fully clothed, and the women bare-breasted.

Paul Delvaux Museum, St. Idesbald, Belgium

PS: If you  are hungry after visiting the museum, how about lunch at the restaurant on premises: Het Vlierhof.

WW II, Operation Dynamo, and the Dunkirk Spirit

If you’ve seen Christopher Nolan’s epic thriller Dunkirk, you know a bit about the story of the Battle of Dunkirk, and how pleasure boats and other civilian ships came to the rescue of British and French soldiers surrounded by the German military in 1940, during World War II at the French coast.

The exact number of “Littles Ships” that participated in what was called “Operation Dynamo” is not known, but an estimate puts it somewhere between 1,176 an 1,588. Not only British civilians risked their lives navigating the beaches of Dunkirk, but also Belgian, French and Dutch citizens. But these civilian boats were only a part of the story.

Visiting the Museum Dunkerque 1940 Operation Dynamo will give you more insight into these days that made history.

Altogether, between May 27th and throughout June 4th of 1940, almost 340,000 soldiers were evacuated, about a third from the beaches, the rest from the harbor of Dunkirk.

The museum, located close to the beach and the harbor, gives an excellent overview over what happened during the days preceding the evacuation, and afterwards, with charts, models, and artefacts. Here, you can read about the mistrust among the Allies, about tactical mistakes that gave the Germans a huge advantage, and the decision to secretly evacuate first the British, and finally the French soldiers, too, from a besieged city. The latter received a warm welcome in England, only to be sent back to France almost immediately, where they ended up captured or demobilised, following the armistice of June 22nd.

And you will hear about the “spirit of Dunkirk”: How a major defeat and retreat became a victory in the public eye in Britain, and helped to muster the courage and determination to fight Nazi Germany.

The war, however, should go on for five more years, and Dunkirk was not liberated until May 9th, 1945, its port and the city in ruins.

PS:
The Museum reopened in 2017 after some major renovation, but will be closed for the winter after November 11th. It will open some time in spring of 2019, after more remodeling.

PPS:
If you want to have a cup of tea on board of one of the “Little Ships” – I highly recommend visiting the “Princess Elizabeth”. The Paddle Steamer is moored in Dunkirk Harbor and a Restaurant and Tearoom.

Mercedes-Benz Museum – Classic Cars Made in Germany

Now you’ve visited Ludwigsburg Residential Palace  and are in the mood to be amazed by something more technical? No problem. Half an hour away from Ludwigsburg is the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart.

German cars have gotten some negative press, lately, like VW’s emission cheating scandal or the debate about older diesel cars and their incompatibility with German air pollution standards. But, after all, it was  German mechanical engineer Karl Benz who, in 1885/6, designed and built the world’s first car powered by an internal-combustion engine.

You can see a replica of his invention at the museum, among other legends on four wheels.

The place itself is a cool construction, and very kid friendly, too: The kids can get behind the wheel of some of the cars themselves, for example.

PS:

The museum even has an event called “Cars & Coffee” – where Mercedes owners can bring their classic cars and bathe in the admiration of other visitors. Just like “Katie’s Car & Coffee” in Virginia, I guess. This year’s season of the event at the museum ended in September, though.