In 1985, I had the privilege of attending Valparaiso University's overseas study program in Reutlingen, West Germany. Reutlingen is deep in the Swabian Alb and one of the most beautiful regions of Germany. In 1985, Reutlingen was in the French Sector and had a very active French military barracks and training ground. It was not uncommon to hear artillery and machine gun fire throughout the night during exercises.
Day two in Germany, as an eager 20 year old college student I quickly found myself hiking up the Achalm and taking in the breathtaking beauty of the Swabian Alb.
One of the goals of my time in Europe was to visit Bastogne. I took a train from Aachen to Namur, to Liege to Dinant, to Libramont and finally to Bastogne. It was only later that I realized my train journey followed the Meuse River...which of course was the small objective of German offensive.
Statue to General McAuliffe in downtown Bastogne.
Sherman tank at the Bastogne Historical Center.
Hetzer at the Bastogne Historical Center.
Perhaps the greatest single experience of my time in Germany was taking a train ride through East Germany to West Berlin. One of the requirements of my European Art & Architecture class was to visit the Pergamon Altar located in East Berlin. Crossing through Checkpoint Charlie remains one of those memories I look forward to sharing with my grandchildren some day. It was also the only time (thank goodness) in my life that I have had a belt fed machine gun aimed at me. Seeing it following me as I moved through the pedestrian path of the checkpoint made for a really uneasy feeling.
East German soldiers performing the changing of the guard at the Neue Wache. During the Second World War, members of the Grossdeutschland Wacht Battalion performed these same duties. Watching the East German soldiers made it easy to imagine standing there watching soldiers of the Third Reich. These men were members of the Fredrich Engels Regiment as I read on their cuffbands.
In October 1985, the East Germans were taking down the 1961 Wall and replacing it with the new and improved version, which would of course come down only 4 years later. The chain link fence was the only thing separating East from West as these East German soldiers supervised the building of the new wall.
Spending the day at the Sigmaringen Schloss in Sigmaringen, Germany. This castle was used by Charles DeGaulle as his headquarters during the occupation following Germany's surrender. It was in this castle that I was approached by an elderly German with his wife in tow. He spoke excellent English and hearing that I was American wanted to speak with me. Lo and behold he was a former member of the 10th Panzer Division and had been captured in North Africa. He spent the remainder of the war as a POW in Colorado. He loved America and Americans. This meeting affected me so much that I wrote my senior thesis on German POW's in the USA. There is so much I could say about that topic, but suffice to say that the way in which we treated German POW's (arguably the greatest threat this country has ever faced) resulted in the creation of one of America's greatest Allies in the Postwar era. This is a lesson we seemed to have forgotten in our latest military endeavors.
A little way down the Danube River from the Schloss Sigmaringen I chanced upon a German war memorial hidden in the woods. The memorial was a monument to the fallen heroes of Stalingrad.
This cross was dedicated to a German Captain who died at Stalingrad. This part of Germany was particularly hard hit by the Second World War. A great number of the men raised in this German Wehrkreis served in the 25th Panzer Grenadier Division which was practically annihilated during Bagration in 1944. The local cemeteries all had plaques with the names of the fallen. It was not uncommon for the smallest village to have 300 or more names on the plaque. The plaques were all they had of their fallen, whose graves are lost in the vastness of Russia.