As I moved northward I saw the need to add my journey to that of oma's. We went to art museums in Berlin, the Brandenburg Gate, the Jewish Memorial and even the location of Hitler's bunker. I photographed David in the controversial Memorial to those murdered in WWII and he photographed me at the Jewish Musem designed by Daniel Liebeskind, the architect who gave Toronto the ROM renovation.
(download pdf) Two reporters awaited me in the Hotel Prignitz in Wittenberge. Claudia and Dorothea spoke excellent English, took a genuine interest in the odyssey and wrote excellent pieces for the local press. Dorothea even returned the next night to continue coverage in the stork town Ruehstadt.
The Hero of the Havel
In one day I managed to make two huge mistakes. The first mistake caused a 6.5 k addition to my daily walk—nothing to scoff at as that was well over an hour (I walk at the rate of 4.5k an hour.) I didn't regret the mistake as it took me through a wooded military preserve and a memorial to a forced labour camp erected by teacher Ulla Seeger and her pupils. The second mistake put me on a dyke between the Elbe and the Havel Rivers. It was beautiful, but, by being on the spit of land between the rivers I would have been almost two hours late for my pick up at Abbendorf. After all, I couldn't jump over the river; I'd have to walk to the next available bridge. Desperate, and walking at 5K+ an hour, I saw a fisherman. I flagged him down. The astounded, but kind man, took me to the other side of the Havel near Abbendorf. It was a miracle. It was the first small boat I'd seen EVER.
Vera Wildgruber and the WWII Ruehstadt Witnesses
David and I were hosted by Mrs Wildgruber in storch town Ruehstadt in her lovely home from the 1700s. Vera not only provided a lovely supper and English conversation for David, she also organized the evening in the Rosenhof where we met the members of the area's oral history society. The witnesses, mayor, Mrs Fischer former leader of the oral history society, teacher Ulla Seeger who'd worked on the memorial for the Gloewen Forced labour camp and reporter/photographers made it a very special evening. As well as all the books I received as gifts, I will remember the genuine interest and the desire to help my project. These were all very lovely people.
Mrs. Stettin, not Mrs. Stettin …
I met the WWII witness at the Rosenhof. The short, very intelligent lady, had great anecdotes to share. When I alit in Ruestadt the next day from my taxi, Mrs Stettin (that was her maiden name and not her married name) took me past the house where she was born and where her brother had died the previous summer. We continued to walk to her church. In its lovely interior we were greeted by the minister who treated Mrs Stettin as the jewel that she is. She took me down the aisle to say, "This is where I was baptised; this is where I was married and this is where my urn will stand." The acceptance and love with which she said it, astounded me.
May 1st is Herrenday or Men's Day
I'd been warned by the ladies of the Oral History Society, Vera and many others that walking the cycle path on Men's Day wasn't advisable. The bacchanalian revels were to be a threat to life and limb. Although I did have some comments thrown at me by loutish teenagers who'd started drinking at breakfast, by and large, the heightened activity on the cycle path showed that there was fun to be had in the former DDR.
My first pig
I've seen sheep galore, cows, horses, chickens and ducks that squawk so much that I want to shoot them. But, with all the pork on the menu in Germany, I'd not seen a pig. Well, I saw my first and only pig near Schnackendorf. It was on a spit. The preparations were underway for a great wedding feast.
Somewhere in week one of the walk I became aware that most of the walk was in East Germany, the former DDR. I saw the crushing economic impact of the unification 'Wende" when the full employment under Russian control turned to unemployment in a free Germany. After weeks of seeing empty factories and abandoned buildings, I came to Schnakenburg, a former border control town. There I photographed some of the devices used to control the flow of citizens from the East to the West.
Juergen Schmidt, Town Tour Guide
David and I had an extensive town tour of Wittenberge provided by Juergen Schmidt, complete with Prussian/night guard uniform. After the wonderful tour, we had a pleasant evening in Hotel Prignitz with Juergen, his mother Ingeborg and his partner discussing WWII. Many new and interesting details emerged about bombings in Hamburg, Berlin and Wittenberge.