Today was my last day in Lithuania, and thanks to a late flight home I was able to fulfil one last wish before leaving.
The Ninth Fort might not be on everyone’s list of places to see, but one of my passions, if that’s the right word, is to try and understand what caused the turmoil in Europe during the 20th century. I have always had an interest in the two World Wars as well as the Cold War: The Ninth Fort is one of those places that is uncomfortable to visit, but one that has left a profound effect on me ever since.
I don’t know if things have changed, but at the time I was here there was very little information about the fort and how to get there – certainly not in English.
Even though it’s located on the outskirts of Kaunas at Sargenai, and quite a long bus ride to get there, it wasn’t as difficult to find as I thought it was going to be.
Before the outbreak of the First World War, Lithuania was part of the Russian Empire, and as relations deteriorated with Germany, it was decided to build Kaunas Fortress to protect its western border.
The Ninth Fort was part of this huge complex that surrounded the city covering an area of 25 square miles.
To learn more about the history of the fort there’s a museum housed in a soviet concrete monstrosity, which if they leave it as it is, could become part of the fort’s history itself in years to come.
With so many places still left to add to Easymalc’s Wanderings, people may wonder why I’ve chosen somewhere to write about that will hardly lift the spirits, and I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been asking myself the same question – and as yet, with no answer.
My trip to Krakow and Auschwitz took place in late September 2003, and it’s inevitable that this account will make for some uncomfortable reading at times, but it’s my intention to make this blog interesting and educational rather than depressing, but at the same time I have to warn readers that there won’t be much to laugh about either.
Now that I’ve lost the few readers that I do have, I need to explain that a subject like this demands a lot more information than I’m able to give here, and so it’s worth bearing in mind that there are bound to be gaps in the story, and I’m also sorry to say that the photographs are at a lower standard than I would have liked; there are gaps here as well, because there are some things that I won’t photograph out of respect.
The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church - Berlin's Memorial to Peace
In its attempt to atone for the horrors inflicted on the world by the Nazis, Berlin has gone out of its way to confront its past with monuments of what it sees as reconciliation. For example, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe covers an area in the centre of the city which was used by the Nazi war machine, but it would be easy to forget that the German people also suffered from the horrors of war. The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Breitscheidplatz goes some way towards rectifying that by remembering what Berliners had to endure too, but it also acts as a memorial to peace for everyone.
THE OLD CHURCH
The memorial actually consists of two churches, and it’s only natural that I start with the original one that was built in memory of Kaiser Wilhelm I. The foundation stone was laid four years after he died on what would have been his 94th birthday (22nd March 1891). This monumental church had a spire that rose to a height of 113m (371ft) and was able to accommodate a congregation of 2,000 people. It also boasted an entrance with some superb mosaics that made a connection between the ‘throne and the altar’.
On the night of 23rd November 1943 allied air raids caused extensive damage to the landmark church including the spire. A post-war assessment of the ruins led to a decision to keep what was left as a symbol of peace, but it took several attempts before the final plan was accepted by the people of Berlin. Initially, it was suggested that what was left of the spire should be torn down, but Berliners saw it as the ‘Heart of Berlin’ and so a compromise was reached where its height was reduced to 71m (233ft), prompting Berliners to call it “Der Hohle Zahn”, meaning The Hollow Tooth
On 27th January 1945 Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp was liberated by the Soviet Red Army, and each year since 2005 the date has been commemorated as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. This blog is dedicated to the memory of all those who died during this inhuman period of European history.
The Holocaust is largely remembered for the genocide of 6 million Jews, but there were also an estimated 11 million others including Slavs (mainly Poles and Russians), Roma, political and religious dissidents, homosexuals and the ‘incurably sick’.
My inquiring mind into why Europe descended into so much chaos during the 20th century has led me to some dark places – and here’s another one – but unlike Auschwitz, there are no gas chambers or mass graves here; in fact, this lovely villa perched on the shores of the Großer Wannsee, couldn’t be more different.
For someone who didn’t even like sport, it might seem somewhat surprising that Adolf Hitler was able to stage one of the most successful, albeit controversial, games in Olympic history; they were so successful in fact, that the format has been followed in much the same way ever since.
The background to the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games in many ways goes back to WWI, and the Langemarck Hall at the Olympic Stadium is a telling reminder of how Hitler had never forgotten his time in the trenches.
Langemarck was a WWI battlefield in Belgian Flanders and somewhere I visited several years ago. The war cemetery there holds 44,000 German soldiers including many inexperienced young men.
When the stadium, and the Langemarck Hall, was constructed in 1936, Hitler was known to turn to a few confidants to proclaim that there would be “Revenge for Langemarck”.
The Topography of Terror is both an outdoor and indoor museum on the site of the former Nazi headquarters for the Gestapo and SS.
It lies at the intersection of Wilhelmstrasse and Niederkirchnerstrasse, and covers the area once occupied by the Prinz-Albrecht Palais.
The area around Wilhelmstrasse was the main centre for the Nazi administration, and although Hermann Goering’s former Reich Air Ministry building (now German Finance Ministry) still towers over the Topography of Terror, most of these buildings have long gone.
If the outcome of WWII had been different, and London had been beaten into submission instead of Berlin, then imagine if you can, what Whitehall would look like now: Wilhelmstrasse is (or was) Berlin’s ‘Whitehall’.
The road runs for one and a half miles between the Marschallbrucke on the River Spree down to Hallesches Tor in Kreuzberg, but the most interesting part from a historical point of view, is the section between the bridge and Niederkirchnerstrasse where the Berlin Wall split the city into two.
Originating from the time of King Frederick William I, this once wealthy residential thoroughfare, developed into Prussia’s main government district with many of the buildings being taken over by the state, including the Palais Schulenburg for Otto von Bismarck’s Chancellery.
At the end of WWI, the area came under the control of the Weimar Republic, but on 30th January 1933 there was a new Chancellor – Adolf Hitler, who immediately set about building a new chancellery for the Third Reich at the junction of Wilhelmstrasse and Voss Strasse.
After Hitler’s suicide in the Chancellery bunker and the subsequent defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, the street found itself within the Russian sector as far as Prinz Albrecht Strasse (now Niederkirchnerstrasse). Bomb damage and the Battle for Berlin had left the area in tatters, and as neither the Russians nor East Germans had any reason to save whatever was left, the land where Prussian palaces once stood, was now either part of No-Man’s Land separating East and West Berlin or built upon with Eastern Bloc architecture.
Before coming to Grenoble I was somewhat surprised to learn that it’s often referred to as the ‘Capital of the Alps’: After all, the Alps run for 750 miles between France and Slovenia, and Grenoble is at the extreme western edge of the mountain range – and as far as I’m concerned, is not actually even in the Alps.
I thought that maybe somewhere like Innsbruck would have a better claim to the title, so I looked it up and can you guess what I found? Yep! That’s right, Innsbruck is also called the capital of the Alps.
I’ll leave it to the powers that be to decide which they think is the best candidate for the title, but if nothing else, it did focus my mind a bit more on how the city of Grenoble sees itself.
There’s no doubt that its location in south-eastern France, where the Rivers Isère and Drac meet, would have been a natural place to build a settlement, and from its humble Gallic beginnings in 43 BC, Grenoble has grown into a fair-sized city.
The official population is around the 160,000 mark, but if you include the sprawling suburbs of the metro area that stretch up through the valleys either side of the Chartreuse Massif, the population is nearer to 700,000.
The Hoe is one of the first places people head for on their first visit to Plymouth – and for good reason. This large open public space has one of the most fantastic views of any city in the country.
The views stretch out across The Breakwater and Plymouth Sound into the English Channel, and from Devon’s South Hams coastline in the east to Cornwall’s Rame Head in the west.
‘Hoe’ is an old Anglo-Saxon word meaning ‘High Ground’, and although it isn’t that high above sea level it still affords commanding views, such as those that can be had from the colonnaded Belvedere near West Hoe.
Built on the site of a previous camera obscura, it was completed in 1891 at the end of a decade that saw the Hoe change from farmland to a city park.
Below it is a former bull ring that is now a memorial garden for various veterans’ associations from WW2 onwards.
Built on the hill where the original Roman camp was established, the Cathedral Church of St. Peter is without doubt Exeter’s crowning glory.
The church in its present form was conceived in 1114, but a Benedictine monastery and Minster was set up here in Saxon times around 670 AD. One of its pupils was Winfrith who was born in Crediton (c675), some 8 miles north-west of Exeter and where the See of Devon and Cornwall was based.
Winfrith later became known as St. Boniface, and his missionary work took him from Exeter across to Frisia and Germania, where he became venerated to such an extent that he eventually became the patron saint of Germany.
In 1050 Bishop Leofric transferred the See to the Minster at Exeter.
The sweeping arc of coastline between the mouth of the River Dart and Start Point is known as Start Bay, and includes a two-mile-long beach that extends from Blackpool Sands to Hallsands.
The most easily accessible part of the beach is between Strete Gate and Torcross, where a road just manages to separate the freshwater lake of Slapton Ley from the sea, but for how much longer I wouldn’t like to say.
Slapton Sands, as this part of the beach is called, gets its name from the small village of the same name which lies just about a mile inland: Why the beach is called Slapton Sands I have no idea because it consists mainly of shingle and pebbles.