Friday, July 28, 2017

Back in Touch with My Cold War Motorhead

1968 Renault 16TS, 4-speed on the column.
The second car I owned while stationed in West Germany, 1976-79

My 20-country tour across Europe with a side trip to Israel got me back in touch with my inner motorhead.  I grew up addicted to cars. In graduate school, I had an autobiography seminar. One of the papers was a 15-page autobiography. I wrote that paper with December 19, 1969, at the exact center of the middle page: the day I got my license.  As I saw it in 1983, my whole life before that date had been getting ready to get my license; my life after that had been dominated by cars, trucks, motorcycles and tanks. By that year I had owned 27 cars, trucks and motorcycles. By 1993 I had owned 37 of the 41 vehicles I have owned or driven long term.

2001 Chevy Express 3500, the ultimate bicycle hauling machine,
Not the ultimate driving machine.

In a coincidence of time, age and interest, I got hooked on bicycle riding in 1989 as the Berlin Wall came down. By 1991 and the end of the Soviet Union, I sold the last of the dozen motorcycles I owned. From that point on, the cars I drove were bicycle and kid haulers. I bought a Chevy Monte Carlo in 1996 specifically because it seated six and the back seat folded down. My kids and I could ride in the front, with the bike in the back. In 2001, I bought a 16-passenger van, because I could put five bikes and spare wheels inside the van along with six people and a dog. Since the end of the Cold War, I have ridden more and driven less.  Right now we own one 16-year-old Prius and nine bicycles.

2001 Toyota Prius--currently our only car 

My visit to Eastern Europe on what was supposed to be a bike and train trip re-awakened my love of cars.

1964 Opel Kadett Wagon, My Third Car

In the nearly 50 years since I got my license I have driven cars as small as a 1964 Opel and as large as an M60A1 Patton tank. One of my favorite cars was a 1968 Renault 16TS I owned during the last year I was stationed in Wiesbaden, West Germany, in 1979. This little car had a 4-speed shifter on the steering column. It was nimble, quick and a lot of fun to drive on the narrow roads of Germany.

M60A1 Patton Tank, not the best on narrow roads

During my recent trip to Eastern Europe, I rented a car three different times for a day or two to get places I could not get on a train or a bike in the time I had. The first car I rented was a Toyota Auris. I rented it in Belgrade for 48 hours. In that 48 hours, I drove to Croatia and Bosnia. In both countries, I stopped near the border and rode my bike to see some of the local country. Then next day I drove to Macedonia, arrived two hours before dark and rode to the Kosovo border. The next day I drove to Thessaloniki, Greece, then Sofia, Bulgaria and back to Belgrade and returned the car.
Toyota Auris--125 mph on the highway from Belgrade south to Macedonia

Three weeks later I was in France. I had two days before I flew to Israel, so I rented another Car, as Spanish Ibiza, and drove to Normandy as far as St. Mere Eglise from Paris.

Ibiza: from Paris to Normandy and back

When I got back from Israel, I had a couple of days before flying home. I had thought about seeing the Tour de France which was in southwest France during those days, but I am much more a fan of Formula 1 car racing than I am of bicycle racing. So I made a 48-hour 2000-kilometer loop from Paris to Cannes, then I went to Monaco, the oldest and most famous race in the World Championship, then through Torino, Italy and under the longest tunnel in the world in Mont Blanc. Then to Geneva for the night and back to Paris in time for the flight. The car for this trip was a six-speed stick shift diesel Citroen.
Citroen C3 Diesel, six-speed manual through the Alps
from Monaco to Torino to Geneva through Mont Blanc

Three cars from three countries and more than two thousand miles in a total of five days. I love driving in Europe on narrow streets and hundreds of miles of mountain roads.  Even after 150,000 miles of bicycling in the last 20 years, I am still a motorhead.
Trek Madone 9.2, my main ride in America

Monday, July 24, 2017

Visiting the Jewish Museum in Belgrade

I visited the Jewish Museum in Belgrade, just before leaving the Serbian capitol for Croatia.  The museum is on a narrow, steep street.  Just a door and a sign face the street.  Inside you climb up three flights of stairs to an upper floor.  The museum winds through hundreds of years of Jewish history in the Balkans. According to the staff, this is the only Jewish museum anywhere in the Balkan states. 

Most of the collection is artifacts and photos from the mid 19th Century to World War II.  There was a vibrant Jewish community then, several synagogues with very different architecture. During the 1930s as anti-Semitism became fashionable, the Jewish community diminished.  When the Nazis conquered the Balkans during World War II, the Jewish community was wiped out. After the war, a few Jews came back, but in 1950s the last synagogue was demolished.

At this point, the collection stops.  If I understood the guide correctly, the few remaining Jews left permanently or at least for a while in the 1990s when Slobodan Milosevic was murdering Muslims and Croats.  Jews were not a particular target, but the Holocaust was less than 50 years before, so leaving seems a lot smarter than waiting for the guys with guns to start killing Jews.

After leaving the museum, I walked back to the hotel to get my bike and get ready to leave Belgrade.  As I walked along the bustling sidewalks beside constant traffic, I was looking at the people on the street who were middle aged and older.  The slaughter in the Balkans was just two decades ago. Was I walking past a supporter of ethnic cleansing? A killer?  I had the same creepy feeling during my first visit to the city of Wiesbaden after arriving in West Germany with Brigade 76.  World War II ended just 30 years before. Were the people I passed Nazis? Were they Hitler supporters? Were they killers of Jews? 

The history of Germany and Serbia make chillingly clear the vast difference between Patriotism and Nationalism:

Nationalism says our country is the Best and inflames the worst instincts of its citizens. Draft dodgers and other cowards with loud voices can be Nationalists. Grievance and anger are the only prerequisites. Not courage.

Patriotism means service. Patriots make sacrifices. They risk, and sometimes they lose their lives to protect their country and make it greater.  Patriots fought to save the world from Nazi tyranny, then they brought democracy to Germany, Japan, Italy and other countries under tyranny.  Patriotism tears down walls. Tyrants build them.


C.S. Lewis says, "Without courage there can be no virtue."

Patriotism begins with courage. Nationalism begins with fear.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Photos from Point Alpha Museum at Fulda

Here are more pictures from my visit to Point Alpha on the former East-West German Border at Fulda.

всегда на страже: Always on Guard

M60A3 Patton Tank

Summary description

Car used by East German/Soviet patrols

The Marshall Plan Helps Europe

A Soviet observation tower

Soviet submachine gun

The fence

Collapsible stock AK47

Photos from Eastern Block Revolts

Soviet Propaganda Posters

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Going to Fulda from the East

One of eight local trains I took for the trip from Berlin to Darmstadt

My first visit to Fulda in 40 years was from the East. It was such a strange feeling to approach the border from the East. The last time I went to Fulda was in a tank on an alert. That was the 70s when the Soviet Union still existed. In June, I was a tourist on a train, one of eight trains as it turned out. The most direct route from Berlin to Darmstadt passes though Fulda.  

When I left Berlin to travel to Darmstadt, I was beginning a 267-mile that would have been much better if I did not have the bike. I rode on eight trains and took almost 13 hours to get to cities roughly as far apart as Washington, D.C., and Bridgeport, Ct. A few days later I went to Berlin on an express train in just under four hours.
The Inter City Express ICE train

But the interesting thing compared to the American rail system is that I could make the trip on all local trains.  In fact, I could and did change the trip. In Berlin, I had a schedule of six trains that would get me the entire distance in eight hours. Then I missed train three. So I went to the next large station and got a new schedule. A total of eight trains. But no gaps. Just one platform to another.  
In America, only on the east coast do regional trains link together at all. For example the trip from Bridgeport to Washington, D.C. is only possible with buses or a long taxi ride. There is a 31-mile gap between Newark, Delaware, and Perryville, Maryland. And there is a 1.5-mile gap between Grand Central Terminal and Penn Station in New York. That gap can be traversed on two subways, or a walk. Assuming two subways it would take eight trains, plus two buses or another form of transportation to cover the distance. Amtrak could also cover the distance without gaps, just as the express trains in Germany. 
After this trip, I returned to the Border Memorial at Fulda for a visit. But approaching Fulda from the East gave me a feeling I won't forget.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Jody was a Draft Dodger

When I was in basic training in 1972, we sang when we marched. We sang about the terrible food, the training, about killing the enemy, but most of all we sang about Jody.

Jody was the mythical Son of a Bitch back home who was screwing our girlfriends, driving our cars, eat our food, emptying our meager bank accounts and, in the worst version, alienating the affection of our dogs!

The current Army no longer sings about Jody. I wrote about that after attending a full-time Army school four years ago. The songs would embarrass eunuchs now they are so thoroughly emasculated. The story on the New York Times "At War" blog is here.

Recently I was explaining Jody to a non-military friend. I said, "Jody was a Draft Dodger. When I was in basic during the Vietnam War, we knew Jody got a deferment."

And now, if those sergeants are still alive, they are in their 70s and voted for Trump. Who ever thought you could sell those Vietnam War veterans a Chicken Hawk.

I would not have believed it then. I still have a hard time believing it now.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Jerusalem: The Youngest 5,000-Year-Old City I Ever Visited

Jerusalem: 5,000 years old and the youngest city I visited in my 20-country tour. When I flew to Israel after a month in mostly Eastern Europe, I expected Jerusalem to be the spiritual pinnacle of my trip. It was quite the opposite.  Jerusalem is youthful, growing, vibrantly alive. Surrounding places thousands of years old are new apartments, stores, hotels, clubs, couples in love, groups having fun, people arguing, people haggling, and old people here and there like rocks in a stream bed with the wild current of life swirling past.

In the Old City are warrens of streets of stone, closed to traffic, alive with people: restaurants, shops, stores, clubs, every manner of business line tiny streets and the streets that don’t allow cars.  The streets are also filled with young people.  Soldiers are everywhere and they are young, the proper age of soldiers. Young men and women with automatic rifles laugh in cafes, read on buses, stare at their phones at tram stops and takes selfies in cafes. The soldiers you see everywhere look like soldiers should: young, strong, and tough.

In cafes and restaurants, groups of young people fill the tables. They also wait on the tables and cook the food. When I bought bread or coffee or a sandwich, it was a young person who handed me my order. The hotels I stayed at had people in their 20s on the desk.

By contrast in Belgrade a lovely cobblestone street ascends toward the top of the main hill in the city. Along that street is restaurant after restaurant with live music and lovely gardens. The waiters, the musicians, the diners are mostly older people. The scene is beautiful on a summer night, but very different from Jerusalem. Belgrade draws the best people who want to stay in Serbia, including many young people. But the city, like so many in Europe, is old and getting older. Jerusalem, like New York, Paris, London, Beijing, and other world cities draws young people from everywhere.

Jerusalem also draws tourists from everywhere. Retirees from America, across Europe and Asia flock to the Old City. But on the steep streets of Jerusalem, the tourists walk from stand to stand in the market or shop to shop then stop to catch their breath. Young people bump past and stride up and down. When the vendors in the open-air market shout, young people shout back.

Even the Orthodox are young. In America, the enclaves of Orthodox Judaism are home to an aging population. In New York City and in my hometown of Lancaster where there is an Orthodox Shul, the strictly observant Jews are older. Outside my hotel on a closed street in Old City Jerusalem, one of the outside tables at the closest pizza place had a table with a dozen young Orthodox men staining their white shirts with sizzling pepperoni pizzas--and laughing at each other when they did it.

Many people told me Tel Aviv is a young city, more vibrant, more secular. I can't say because I never left Jerusalem and so did not see the rest of the country. But the youth vibe of Jerusalem is my most lasting impression of a very ancient city.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Holocaust Deportation Memorial in Paris

At the east end of Il de Notre Dame in the center of Paris is a memorial to the 200,000 people deported from France to death camps by the Nazis during World War II.  A park covers most of the east end of the island. At the very east end it narrows to a point. The memorial is below the surface of the island pointing in the direction of the deportation: east to Auschwitz and other death factories.

Visitors walk down stairs to an open space with sheer walls, then enter chambers with memorials to the dead. The chamber that points east is long and opens to the Seine through a Barred window. I took a boat ride later in the day and looked in from the outside instead of out from the inside. Either way telescopes the view and focused my mind on the point of the memorial: that two hundred thousand people were ripped from the the land the loved by a racist pig Hitler. 

We should never tolerate a racist in a position of power in our country.

Who Fights Our Wars? CSM Donald C. Cubbison, 4th Brigade, 4th Infantry Division

In the fall of 1977, 4th Brigade, 4th Infantry Division got a new Command Sergeant's Major.  Donald C. Cubbison, veteran of the Vietna...