A Day in Innsbruck

The view north from the 7th floor of what actually is the city hall, overlooking the historic district of Innsbruck.

If you have a chance to spend a few hours in Innsbruck, Tyrol, Austria, here is what you can do: Have lunch overlooking the city (featurephoto) at the Lichtblick Restaurant . The food is awesome, locals eat here, and the view from the seventh floor of the building (that actually is the city hall) is spectacular, even if the clouds are low. If you look south, you can see the Bergisel ski jump.

The 360° Cafe next to the “Lichtblick” has an even better view, but smoking is allowed there, so I preferred to have lunch in the restaurant.

From there, it is just a short walk to the famous Golden Roof (Goldenes Dachl), the symbol of the city of Innsbruck. It is tiled with 2,657 fire-gilded copper shingles. Currently, you can only admire it from the outside, since the museum is closed until Feb. 19, for preparations for the 500th anniversary of the death of Emperor Maximilian I.

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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.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Ludwigsburg Residential Palace – The Real Castle

Contrary to Neuschwanstein, which is world famous but has also never been more than a tourist attraction, Residenzschloss Ludwigsburg – Ludwigsburg Residential Palace – is the real deal, as far as German castles are concerned. Kings, queens, and princesses have lived here.

At the beginning of the 18th century, Eberhard Ludwig (Louis), the Duke of Württemberg, felt he needed a place that suited his rank. First constructed as a hunting lodge in 1704, the building soon grew in size and splendor. When the Duke moved in, in 1718, for a short time, Ludwigsburg instead of Stuttgart even became the capital of the state.

Some of the Duke’s successors would later spend some time in the castle, using it as a summer residence, throwing pompous parties with fireworks, ballet and opera performances. All together, there are 452 rooms, 18 buildings, three courtyards and  beautiful parks and gardens, blending three different architectural styles: Baroque, Rococo, and Neoclassical. So there are plenty of stories to tell – and a lot of ground to cover. After all, the Ludwigsburg Palace is one of the largest Baroque buildings in Europe to survive in its original condition.

There are two tours available in English, and you have to decide whether you want to check out the rooms of the male inhabitants – King Frederic I and the Duke – or the female ones: Queen Charlotte Mathilde and Hereditary Princess Henriette Marie. Or you stay for two days and take both tours, since there is also the Ceramics Museum, the Fashion Museum, and the Blühende Barock, the permanent garden show with its flowers and the fairy tale garden where kids can meet Rapunzel, the Frog Prince, and other famous fairy tale characters.

Neuschwanstein – The German Fairytale Castle

Germany is know for its castles – and especially, of course,  Neuschwanstein. With its delicate white towers and steepletops, it does look like a castle right out of a Cinderella movie. But did you know that no one actually lived there – ever? King Ludwig II started planning the castle in the late 1860s, the foundation stone was laid in 1869. But the construction took forever, and when the King died under mysterious circumstances in 1886, the castle still hadn’t been finished. It was opened to the public soon after his death, as a tourist attraction.

King Ludwig did live, however, in Neuschwanstein’s sister castle, Hohenschwangau. It is less known, but if you are in the area, why not visit both castles? Make a reservation for your tickets well in advance, because they are in high demand. That way, you know the exact time of the visit. You still have to pick up the tickets on the day of your visit, though. So make sure to get there early if you’re going by car and need a parking space. And enjoy the spectacular view of the Alps.

Oh, and if you are looking for a place to stay because you want to visit the castle early in the morning, check out the hotels and vacation rentals around the Hopfensee. It’s gorgeous there.

The Hopfensee – a pristine lake not far from Neuschwanstein

Lake Dwelling Settlements Unteruhldingen – Remnants of the Stone Age

How was life in the Stone Age? What did people do all day? What did they eat? How did they sleep? You can learn all about that and much more while visiting the lake dwelling settlements in Unteruhldingen at Lake Constance. In German, they are called “Pfahlbauten” – pole dwellings – and that’s what they are. Conveniently built alongside the lake, so people thousands of years ago were close to the trade and traveling routes and would not be impacted by the changing water levels. The first reconstructions were undertaken in the 1920s and 1940, when diving techniques were much less advanced than today. Check out the different life size models of the houses that feature living and sleeping rooms, a stove and work places of people living between 4300 and 850 BC.