Earlier this year I had decided to see the Seelower Höhen [a WWII battle site with accompanying Socialist memorial and museum] as well as the Brecht museum in Buckow, but neither of those happened - they were just too hard to get to without having a car.
This time around, I found myself wondering about what's north of Berlin. When I was in college, I wanted to spend a year abroad as an exchange student in East Germany, which didn't quite work out. Only Brown had an exchange program in the GDR, and it was impossible to get into Brown, so I settled for Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio - it was easy enough to be accepted as an exchange student on their program to Tübingen, in West Germany, and they had previously had success at getting students enrolled in language courses in the GDR. However, I went in 1989, and things were already collapsing - after two or three letters sent back and forth between the Wilhelm-Pieck-Universität Rostock and Antioch resulted in a very vague statement that they would try to admit me, but couldn't just yet, and could I please wait until August?
August 1989 arrived, I flew to Germany, hung out near Tübingen for a few days, and then received final word that admission to the GDR was out of the question for the time being. No big deal - I just hung out in Freiburg for a week or two until school started. But I always wondered: What was Rostock like?
Additionally, some of you may have noticed that my E-mail address is 'imipolex.' Why? Well, for one, it's obscure enough so that it's generally available wherever I want it. If you're a Thomas Pynchon or Rudy Rucker fan, it may seem familiar to you: when asked to explain it, I generally say that "it's a material used in wiring insulation in V-2 rockets." That's kind of an oversimplification - which is good; I can't even begin to describe Rucker's version of this stuff - but it is correct in pointing to the Vergeltungswaffe 2 rocket program that was based on the then-German, now mostly-German island of Usedom, in the Baltic. Way up at the far end of the island, there's a small town called Peenemünde that always seemed like an interesting, exotic place to visit. Of course, it's too tricky to get there on a day trip from Berlin without a car, so I'll have to pass on the rocket museum. I did, however, find a picture of an awesome nearby mosaic from Socialist days:
This mosaic memorializes World War II victims of the area - both concentration camp inmates put to work on rocket programs as well as German victims of a 1943 RAF bombing that was designed to kill scientists working on the rocket project, but which only knocked out the research facility for four weeks.
Even more curiously - well, in terms of "things I never knew" - is that the town of Swinemünde, now Świnoujście [the easternmost tip of Usedom became Polish after WWII] was hit by a devastating American bomb attack shortly before the end of World War II, which may have killed as many as 23,000 people, most of them refugees from eastern Germany fleeing the incoming Soviet army. They were buried in mass graves at Golm, just west of Świnoujście: the Nazis had already built a military cemetery there in 1943 because it was not only picturesque (Golm is the highest point on the island) but also conveniently close to the military hospital at Swinemünde, which began to see lots of casualties in the '40s.
After the war, the border was drawn to run just east of Golm, so both the Nazi soldiers' graves as well as the civilian graves were left in East German territory. In the 1950s, a statue was commissioned to mark the site but never put on display as its creator had since fled to the West. Finally, in the 1970s, a massive concrete circle was erected with a line from the GDR national anthem displayed:
[There was an image of the memorial here, but duh, I forgot to ask permission to post it, so I've removed it. My apologies to its owners.]
"Lasst das Licht des Friedens scheinen, dass nie eine Mutter mehr ihren Sohn beweint." - Johannes Becher, 1949
"Let the light of peace shine, so that not a single mother more must mourn her son," more or less. Of course, the final irony here is that the lyrics to the national anthem were generally not sung after the Wall was built (apparently, the lines about "Deutschland, einig Vaterland/Germany, united Fatherland" didn't sound very good post-1961).
These days, there's an international youth encounter center there that fights the good fight against wars and imperialism, and (sadly) it appears to be a popular day trip for neo-Nazis. After all, 23,000+ German WWII victims are buried there, most of them relatively innocent, killed by American bombers. Given that I've never been to a site on German soil that memorializes German victims (such as the Seelower Höhen), I'd like to see it someday.