Berlin’s House of the Wannsee Conference

August 14th, 2017

The stately House of the Wannsee Conference – Haus der Wannsee-Konferenz – overlooks the Havel River in the quiet suburb of Berlin-Wannsee. However, the palatial country estate has a sinister past. In January of 1942, an infamous meeting was held in its dining room with fifteen high-ranking representatives of Nazi ministries and the SS (Schutzstaffel – Protection Squadron) in attendance. They discussed details of the planned “final solution to the Jewish question.

 

House of the Wannsee Conference, since 1992 a memorial and educational site. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

House of the Wannsee Conference, since 1992 a memorial and educational site. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Final solution to the Jewish question

The Final Solution to the Jewish Question (Endloesung der Judenfrage) was a Nazi plan to systematically exterminate the Jews during World War II. At the time of the Wannsee Conference, the decision to exterminate the Jews in German-occupied Europe had already been made. The main purpose of the meeting was to discuss collaboration between agencies. A secondary goal was to arrive at definitions of who was Jewish, who was of mixed race, and who should be spared. At the Wannsee Conference it was decided that persons of mixed race of the first degree (with two Jewish grandparents) would be treated as Jews. This would not apply if they were married to a non-Jew and had children by that marriage. Such persons would be sterilized. Persons of mixed race of the second degree (with one Jewish grandparent) would be treated as Germans unless they were married to Jews.

History of the House of the Wannsee Conference

Originally referred to as Villa Minoux or Villa Wannsee, the estate is now known as “House of the Wannsee Conference.” The spacious mansion was built in 1914 by German factory owner Ernst Marlier. Six years later, Marlier sold the house to Friedrich Minoux, a German industrialist and financier. When Minoux was convicted of fraud and went to jail in 1941, he sold the estate at market price to a foundation that was controlled by the SS. https://www.visitberlin.de/en/house-wannsee-conference The SS used the villa as a conference center and guesthouse and held the Wannsee Conference in its walls in 1942.  In 1943, the Third Reich Security Main Office purchased the residence. Following WWII, the villa served various functions until 1992, when it was turned into a memorial and educational site on occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Wannsee Conference. https://www.scrapbookpages.com/EasternGermany/Wannsee/History.html

Free Exhibit at the House of the Wannsee Conference

In 2006, a permanent exhibit opened on the ground floor of the villa, entitled, “The Wannsee Conference and the genocide of the European Jews.” It is free to the public. Although the Wannsee Conference is the central focus of the exhibition, there are many documents on display about the history of Jewish persecution, anti-Semitism and racism in the 1920s, Third Reich propaganda posters and leaflets and photos and books about Jewish ghettos. The exhibition was one of the best I have visited in a long time. The estate is small enough to allow for full absorption of the information provided. Given current events around the world, the visitor cannot help but wonder what humankind has or has not learned during the past 75 years.

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com. Walled-In is my story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

 

Life is like a piano

August 10th, 2017

Life is like a piano. The white keys represent happiness. The black keys represent sadness. But as you go through life, remember that the black keys make music too.

— Anonymous

Life is like a piano. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Life is like a piano. www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com

Neuwerk Worth a Staycation

August 7th, 2017

 

Neuwerk is a small, inhabited island in the North Sea, about 9 miles northwest of Cuxhaven and 75 miles northwest of Hamburg. It is only about 1.5 square miles in size. As of spring 2017, 33 residents plus 2 children and their teacher make their permanent home there. However, over the course of the summer more than 120,000 guests visit Neuwerk and up to 2,000 may do so on a given day. Still, peace and tranquility abound.

Politically, the island belongs to the city-state of Hamburg. In 1990, it became part of the Nationalpark Hamburgisches Wattenmeer, (Hamburg Wadden Sea National Park), and in 2011 the entire area was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Neuwerk is a captivating spot for nature lovers as well as those who relish off-the-beaten-path experiences.

How to get to Neuwerk

There are a number of ways to reach the island. A fun way is to cross the wetlands on foot (called wattwandern in German) or on horseback. In either case, the tide must be low. Departure points are Cuxhaven-Duhnen and Cuxhaven-Sahlenburg. A marked path guides the hiker through the Wadden Sea http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/allure-of-the-wadden-sea/ on this 3 to 3.5-hour trek one-way. Wetland hiking is best during the summer months because during other times of the year, icy winds and water can turn such outings into Kneipp expeditions, and those are best left to the extremely hardy. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/kneipp-cold-water-cure/.

 

Wattwandern (wetland hiking) along a marked route from Neuwerk to Cuxhaven-Duhnen. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Wattwandern (wetland hiking) along a marked route from Neuwerk to Cuxhaven-Duhnen. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

An alternative to wetland hiking is a Wattwagenfahrt (horse-drawn carriage ride). Also only available during low tide, the rides use same marked route through the Wadden Sea. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/wattwagenfahrt-endless-discovery/ A Wattwagenfahrt takes 1 to 1.25 hours each way and is probably the most scenic way of reaching the island.

The least cumbersome way to visit Neuwerk is by ferry. Between April and October, the MS Flipper transports passengers almost daily to and from the island. Unlike crossing the wetlands on foot, horseback or Wattwagen, a ferry ride requires high tide. Check the tidetable. Ferry boat excursions take 1.5 to 2 hours each way.

To allow for sufficient time to explore the island, visitors often decide to walk one way and return by ferry or Wattwagen.

Neuwerk is an important habitat for birds

Neuwerk and the surrounding wetlands are an important habitat for breeding and resting birds. For millions of migratory birds, the Wadden Sea provides the sustenance for the flight north in spring and for the flight south in fall. The island is an ideal nursery for many bird species. Starting in May, various species breed in the vegetated interior of the island and in the salt marches surrounding it. The nearby, uninhabited islands of Scharhoern and Nigehoern, are bird sanctuaries. While Scharhoern can be visited as part of a tour or by prior arrangement with the warden, Nigehoern is off limits to visitors.

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com. Walled-In is my story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

The world is a dangerous place

August 3rd, 2017

The world is a dangerous place to live in, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.

— Albert Einstein

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com

Wattwagenfahrt – endless discovery

July 31st, 2017

 

A Wattwagenfahrt (horse-drawn carriage ride in the Wadden Sea) is an eerily romantic and definitely unforgettable experience! Along the 280-mile stretch of German coastline, the seawater recedes for an incredible nine miles during ebb tide and exposes vast tidal flats in the process. We wanted to see this rare vestige of unspoiled nature and signed up for a Wattwagenfahrt. We started in Cuxhaven-Duhnen and headed for the tiny island of Neuwerk, about 7.5 miles into the North Sea.

What a Wattwagen looks like

A Wattwagen is a horse-drawn carriage that has been outfitted with leaf springs so that the body of the coach perches high above the vehicle’s wheels. The reason for the raised suspension is that the expedition will take us through tidal gullies, called Priele. Contrary to popular belief, the Wadden Sea Read: Allure of the Wadden Sea does not recede and refill evenly during low and high tides. A vein-like network of gullies cuts through the surface of the wetland. These tidal creeks can be just a few inches deep at low tide and grow into rivers as the tide returns, which can happen within minutes. Negotiating the gullies, the horses frequently end up in the water up to their bellies. That means the floor of the coach also gets wet. To minimize this problem, the leaf springs raise the coach and hopefully keep it from becoming immersed in water.

A Wattwagen with leaf springs to elevate the coach floor. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

A Wattwagen with leaf springs to elevate the coach floor. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Our fascinating Wattwagenfahrt

We signed up with the Wattwagenfahrt operator, the “Wattenpost,” operated by Jan Bruett. This family business has been in continuous operation since 1880 when the German Emperor Wilhelm I charged Christian Bruett with the task of delivering the mail to the island of Neuwerk. To this day, the Bruett family continues to deliver the mail on a weekly basis. You might say we felt in good hands.

Each Wattwagen has the capacity of loading nine people (8 passengers and the coachman). Our coachman was actually a woman, Claudia, who possessed a keen sense of humor. The expedition began with ladders being readied for the boarding process since the seating area is so high off the ground. After everyone was seated and wrapped in warm blankets, our convoy of about 10 Wattwagen slowly crossed the dike, the dunes and the beach and then entered the mudflats of the Wadden Sea. Tufts of birch tree twigs stuck in the ocean floor marked the route. The tide was low and the sun was shining. The horses broke into a trot. Soon, we were joined by another expedition coming from nearby Cuxhaven-Sahlenburg. Together we made the 1.5-hour trek to Neuwerk.  Read: Neuwerk Worth a Staycation Although it was early May, the temperatures were outright frosty. A robust wind blew from the east, and some of the gusts managed to penetrate our carefully layered clothing. We looked and felt a bit like early pioneers making our way to the New World.

Wattwagenfahrt from Duhnen to Neuwerk. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Wattwagenfahrt from Duhnen to Neuwerk. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

The island of Neuwerk beckoned in the distance. Before us lay the great expanse of wetland, serrated here and there by small and large priels. Sea birds above the ground, small sea life below the ground. Every once in a while we passed a safety cage propped on a giant pole. These cages serve as safe havens for people who misjudged the speed of the incoming tide while crossing the mud flats on foot. Looking to our right, the superstructures of giant container ships slowly moved down the nearby Elbe River towards Hamburg. In this fast-paced life, a Wattwagenfahrt is a truly peaceful and bewitching experience. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat and recommend it to anyone for their bucket list.

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

 

Living on Earth is Expensive

July 27th, 2017

Living on earth is expensive, but it does include a free trip around the sun every year.

— Anonymous

Living on Earth is Expensive. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Living on Earth is Expensive. www.walled-in-berlin.com

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com

Allure of the Wadden Sea

July 24th, 2017

 

Whether you call it Wadden Sea in English, Wattenmeer in German, Waddenzee in Dutch or Vadehavet in Danish, what takes place twice each day within this 310-mile stretch along the coastline of the North Sea is nothing short of spectacular. I am referring to the coastal intertidal belt that encompasses an area of almost 4,000 square miles. Twice each day, the North Sea rises to its highest level (high tide), covering the intertidal zone; and twice each day, the sea level falls to its lowest level (low tide), revealing the intertidal zone. Each day, land appears and then disappears again.

The Wadden Sea near Cuxhaven at low tide. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2014. www.walled-in-berlin.com

The Wadden Sea near Cuxhaven at low tide. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2014. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Where are the Wadden Sea National Parks?

The Wadden Sea National Parks are located along the German Bight of the North Sea and include the wetlands of the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark. In 1986, UNESCO declared the Wadden Sea a biosphere reserve. The area stretches from Den Helder in the Netherlands, past the Elbe and Weser river estuaries of Germany, to Skallingen in Denmark. Divided from each other by only administrative borders, the parks form a single ecological entity. The landscape of the Wadden Sea was formed by storm tides in the 10th to the 14th centuries, which carried away the land behind the coastal dunes. The small remaining islands within the Wadden Sea are remnants of former coastal dunes. Winds, waves and the tides continually reshape the landscape with constant pressure from every angle.

Flora and fauna of the Wadden Sea

The Wadden Sea is the largest unbroken system of intertidal sand and tidal flats on our planet. Geologically, it is an extremely young area. Its unique landscape hosts habitats found nowhere else in the world. Up to 6.1 million birds have been present at the same time, and an average of 10-12 million pass through the area each year. The salt marches host 2,300 species of flora and fauna. The marine and brackish areas hosts an additional 2,700 species as well as 30 species of breeding birds http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1314. The wetlands are home to creatures of all sizes ranging from the smallest, like worms and crabs of all sorts, to seals and dolphins that have re-colonized the area in large numbers. Hundreds of thousands of gulls, terns, ducks and geese use the Wadden Sea as a stopover, a wintering or a breeding site.

A typical inhabitant of the Wadden Sea is the Wattwurm (lugworm), which lives in a U-shaped tube beneath the surface. Their casts produce unique patterns in the sand. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2014. www.walled-in-berlin.com

A typical inhabitant of the Wadden Sea is the Wattwurm (lugworm), which lives in a U-shaped tube beneath the surface. Their casts produce unique patterns in the sand. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2014. www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

From the shore, the Wadden Sea looks flat and almost uninteresting, but once you get away from the shore, you’ll find yourself in another world. It feels a bit like having left planet earth and travelling in a parallel universe. Much of the wetlands can be explored on foot or by horse-drawn carriage. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/wattwagenfahrt-endless-discovery/

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com

The control paradox

July 20th, 2017

 

You must learn to let go. Release the stress. You were never in control anyway.

— Steve Maraboli

Relax. You are not in control anyway. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Relax. You are not in control anyway. www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

 

The Battle of Berlin Ended WWII

July 17th, 2017

 

The Battle of Berlin was the last major European battle fought during World War II. It pretty much ended the war, but at a huge human cost. It was primarily fought between the Soviet and the German armies. Altogether, nearly 200,000 soldiers died during the last three weeks of World War Two, almost as many as the United States lost during the entire war. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/worldwars/wwtwo/berlin_01.shtml

Seelower Hoehen – preceding the Battle of Berlin

The Red Army considered Seelower Hoehen (Seelow Heights) – a region located about 56 miles east of Berlin – the “Gates to Berlin.” Soviet leaders speculated that breaking German positions at Seelower Hoehen would clear the path to the capital. To that end, on 15 April 1945, Russian forces launched one of the most powerful artillery barrages in history. After three days, the German Army was all but crushed, and mainly old men and the Hitler Youth were left to defend the area. German resolve to continue to fight was largely due to fear of Russian retributions. On 19 April 1945, the Red Army defeated the German forces once and for all and advanced on the capital.

The Battle of Berlin

The road to Berlin now lay open. By 20 April 1045, the Soviets began to bomb the city, and within a few days, the Red Army had completely surrounded Berlin. The Soviets completely outnumbered the Germans in terms of men and equipment.  Once they entered Berlin, the fighting became fierce. The city was taken street by street and building by building. Casualties on both sides were high. Over a three-week period, the Red Army fired more than two million artillery shells into the already devastated capital, a city that had been continuously bombed by British and American aircraft since 1943. The total tonnage of ordnance fired by the Russians during the Battle of Berlin exceeded the tonnage of all allied bombing of the city during the rest of the war.

Why did the Russians fight so hard for Berlin?

A generally accepted explanation is that Joseph Stalin, Premier of the Soviet Union, was desperate to get to Berlin before the Americans did. Why? Stalin wanted to seize the Kaiser Wilhelm Institut, a German nuclear research center in the southwestern part of Berlin. Stalin knew of the American atomic nuclear program and also knew that the Russian nuclear program – Operation Borodino – was lagging behind. It was Stalin’s hope that Soviet scientists would find information at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institut that could advance the Russian program. As it turned out, Soviet scientists discovered three tons of uranium oxide at the institute, which facilitated the work on their first nuclear weapon.

Where was Hitler during the Battle of Berlin?

Cut off from the reality of the fighting above, Adolf Hitler, Chancellor of Germany, was holding out in his underground bunker beneath the Chancellery. On 30 April, he committed suicide together with his mistress Eva Braun. They had married only hours before. Their bodies were partially burned in the rubble outside the bunker.

The End of the Battle of Berlin

On 2 May 1945, Germany surrendered. A Russian infantry soldier, Sergeant Shcherbina, raised the Red Flag on the top of the Reichstag http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/the-reichstag-prominent-berlin-landmark. The war was over. The final count was:

 

82,000 Russians killed during the battles of Seelower Hoehen and Berlin,

275,000 Russians wounded or missing in action,

2,000 Russian tanks destroyed,

2,100 Russian artillery pieces destroyed.

100,000 Germans killed,

200,000 Germans wounded,

480,000 Germans captured,

the City of Berlin reduced to rubble,

100,000 German women raped.

http://www.military-history.us/2015/05/the-battle-of-berlin-16-april-2-may-1945/

 

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

The Hope of Freedom

July 13th, 2017

None who have always been free can understand the terrible fascinating power of the hope of freedom to those who are not free.

— Pearl S. Buck

Birds enjoying their freedom. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2016. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Birds enjoying their freedom. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2016. www.walled-in-berlin.com