With the heat here in Tulsa topping 103 degrees F today...sitting in a cool library seems like just the thing to do. Of course you also need just the right book. This month's visit to the Grumble Jones library will highlight some volumes I picked up during my travels in Westeros...I mean Europe.
Three of the volumes discussed today were acquired in 1985 during my time as a college student in Reutlingen, Germany (sadly the scene of the latest terrorist attack in Germany. My thoughts are with the people of Reutlingen today. My heart will always have a place in it for Schwabenland.)
The first of the books this month is a Russian tome on the Great Patriotic War, which I have never been able to read...nor do I have any reasonable expectation that I will ever be able to read Russian Cyrillic. Thank goodness...it's primarily a photo history of the Soviet war effort from 1941-1945. This book has a bit of history for me, despite my inability to read it. It's the only book that I ever purchased from behind the Iron Curtain. While visiting Prague in October, 1985, I saw a large line of people standing outside a store. That store turned out be a bookstore. The locals informed us that it had just received its monthly shipment of books. So we decided to experience Communist life and got in line. Nearly two hours later, we entered the bookstore, which was a rather nice establishment. It had plenty of books. The monthly shipment consisted of books published outside of Czechoslovakia and the East Bloc. I headed to the "war" table which was not attracting any interest and found the tome pictured on the right.
In 1985, the exchange rate for Czech Krona was rather good. I was legally getting 10 Krona for each of my Deutsch Marks and $28 Krona for each US Dollar. So this particular book cost me about 5DM.
It's a large, coffee table style book with a crimson, hardbound cover, which is under the dust jacket (pictured). It has about 400 pages and is filled with pictures and Russian Cyrillic script. It covers the entire Eastern Front from 1941 to the finish in Berlin in 1945. The picture quality varies from page to page, but in general is pretty bad. I have seen this frequently with Russian pictures from World War II. For whatever reason they just don't transfer well. There are some great maps and some great patriotic paintings and propaganda posters.
Overall, it's not really a book that I would ever recommend, but I have always enjoyed the memory of how I obtained it. My memories of Communist Prague are pretty awesome. I really enjoyed my time in the city. I can still recall looking out of my window from the Hotel Solidarity (true name) and gazing out across the industrial part of the city with lights, smoke stacks and it reminded me so much of Blade Runner. It was truly a depressing sight. But walking in the old town was awesome. Some pics from those days in 1985 are below.
Riding these street cars was one of the more fun things to do in Prague as I recall. It was also my first encounter with a Secret Policeman, who asked me to provide him with a validated Ticket. I nervously (because I hadn't validated my ticket) reached my hand into my coat pocket and produced a validated ticket...purely by accident...it had been leftover from the day before. Thank goodness for some Scotch-Irish luck.
The famous St. Charles Bridge in Prague should be on everyone's bucket list to cross just once. Of course ASL players are also historians and many of you may remember that this bridge was the scene of Reinhard Heydrich's funeral procession. Thankfully, the years have washed away that tainted soul's presence there.
During my time in Europe in 1985, there were only a few times, when I knew I was standing in a spot where real evil stood during WW2. Standing at the Gates of Hradcany Castle was the only time in my life (thankfully) that I knew I was standing in a spot once occupied by the Nazi Leadership. I chose not to include a picture of Hitler, with Himmler and Heydrich, but you can certainly Google for those images, should you be curious enough to see them.
I cannot imagine, what life under Nazi occupation would have been like and I hope never to know. But I can tell you, that it was creepy to walk in these historical locations knowing that the world's most evil men had preceded you.
The next two books were purchased from the bookstore in downtown Reutlingen, Germany. I spent many wonderful hours perusing through the stacks in that bookstore. Of course that was 31 years ago...so who knows if it's even there today. But, at the time, it was another magical destination whenever I trekked downtown from Pestalozzi Strasse.
Dieckert/Grossmann's Der Kampf um Ostpruessen practically jumped off the shelf at me. It's cover art, depicts a column of German Panzergrenadiers marching along a snow covered road. I can only wonder what Jeff and Dave, of the 2 Half-Squads, would say about it during their box art review. Perhaps they can turn their attention to books, when ASL box covers are exhausted. But I digress.
As far as utilizing this book for scenario's, it's not really specific enough for the kind of small unit actions that are depicted in ASL. It is however very useful in informing the reader as to exactly which German and Russian divisions were on the battlefield. I have referred to its maps frequently over the years.
The second book from the Reutlingen books store is Paul Carell's famous, Unternehmen Barbarossa im Bild. Paul Carell, a member of the Allegemeine SS and writer for Signal Magazine was a Nazi propagandist for Joachim von Ribbentrop's Foreign Ministry. After the war, he made a career of writing books from the German soldier's perspective, where he whitewashed the actions of the Wehrmacht in Soviet Russia. His books are still relatively available, but reader beware of the propaganda. The picture quality in this book is first rate and there are some pictures, which I have seen no where else.
I first saw this book at Valparaiso University. After receiving my acceptance letter to Valpo's International Studies Program, I had a series of meetings with Professor Schaefer, who led the program. On his book shelves was this particular volume, which he had purchased in Reutlingen. So, when I chanced upon the same book, while in Reutlingen, I made sure to grab a copy. Despite its value as a photo history, I will not recommend this book, due to the author's Nazi past. It's best to let his version of the Second World War die with him.
The last book this month and far less controversial is Charles MacDonald's A Time for Trumpets about the Battle of the Bulge. Of all the books, discussed this month, this is the best of the group and one that really does come in handy for ASL scenario creation. It's also very helpful for playing the CG's Kampfgruppe Peiper I and II. Now you may wonder...how does this book become one that was purchased in Europe? And that is a great question. The best aspect of this very good book is the place where I purchased it. In the heart of of great WW II European Battlefield, I picked up an English version of MacDonald's great book on the Bulge.
In early October of 1985, I took a train from Stuttgart to East Germany and into West Berlin. I can still remember the East German border guard who checked my Passport on the train as we crossed into East Germany. He was one scary dude and looked like a Hollywood Gestapo Agent...no joking...dude was serious.
Traveling into West Berlin at the height of the Cold War was one of those moments that I look forward to telling my grandchildren about. The memories of those days are still very sharp. One of the places that I had most looked forward to visiting was the Reichstag. Standing in front of this building was one of those rare occasions where you knew you were standing right in the middle of a World War II action.
This was the place where the Third Reich made it's last stand. For me, it was an amazing moment to walk those stairs that the Soviets stormed in 1945. In 1985, it was not being used as the capital was in Bonn at that time. And in 1985, it was right next to the Brandenberg Gate which was in the no-man's land of the Berlin Wall. Our bus toured past the Brandenberg Gate and the T-34/85's mounted on pedestals. It was a surreal experience.
It was so strange to me to walk across the grass covered field with people flying kites in exactly the same spot that a German 88mm Flak Gun once fired away at Soviet JS-II's.
As I entered the building, my mind swirled with thoughts of the combat that took place within. And then I looked around and there were people wandering all around in a building that was then a museum. And in this museum was a bookstore and there I found and purchased my copy of A Time for Trumpets. How weird to buy a book about the Battle of the Bulge in the Reichstag.
There I was in a building that 40 years earlier had been the scene of unimaginable carnage and desperation for the German defenders and equally unimaginable jubilation for the Soviet victors as they completed the epic defeat of Nazi Germany that had begun on the banks of the Volga River.
So hoist the flag my friends. Another visit to the Grumble Jones library has concluded. We'll open again in August...and perhaps look at some books on the Pacific Theater.
And lastly a few images I took while in East Berlin in 1985.
Checkpoint Charlie in 1985.
The last pieces of the "old wall" before construction of the new wall was completed...and of course came down only four years later.
East German soldiers supervising the construction of the new wall.
The death zone with the interior walls painted white to improve visibility.
The Neue Wache in East Berlin.
Changing of the Guard at the Neue Wache.
An iconic image of what I often feel was the last vestiges of the Third Reich.
Watching the East German soldiers goose stepping at the Neue Wache certainly took one back in time to a darker past.
See you again in August.