A Travellerspoint blog

Exploring Bonn and gearing up for Berlin!

Road trip tomorrow!

sunny 80 °F

As I was cooking up my omelette this morning, Bernd worried about my cholesterol but I assured him that it was off the charts low. Little does he know that these 3-egg omelettes are dwarfed by the 5- and 6-egg omelettes I usually have at home!

When Bernd headed off for the management meeting, he told me to take the afternoon off since I was no longer giving my presentations to the management team. In the morning, I went through the English version of their website and put together a little report of changes and suggestions. As it was a beautiful day and I still had a few museums to see in Bonn, I heeded his suggestion and put the top down for the drive into Bonn.

I parked at the museum behind this lovely Ford and wondered why the folks at Ford never brought it to the states…

The USA in Germany exhibit started right after the end of the war. It talked about the publicly displayed posters that America and the other allies saw as essential to the “re-education and denazification” of the German civilians to show the atrocities that had happened right under there nose (since many pleaded ignorance of the extent of the crimes)

This flag was pretty cool. The 7th regimen brought it with them when they landed in Sicily in 1943 and carried it with them as they made their way up through Bavaria (southern Germany).
Here’s a picture from the regimen walking through a German town after the war.

In an effort to keep Germany weak and prevent future aggression, the US and other allies began an “Industrial Dismantling,” confiscating many tools and machines, many of which ended up in countries like Greece that had suffered heavily under German occupation. In what had developed as a theme from my visit to the permanent exhibition of the museum, many former Nazis essentially buried or disregarded their past and were allowed to live normal lives without ever paying retribution. One such example was Wernher von Braun.
He was arrested in 1945 and later went to the US with other German rocket experts as a part of “Operation Paperclip” to work for the American missile program. He later received great acclaim for his leading role in the US space program.

Next was an exhibit on the blockade and subsequent airlift. From June 1948 when the soviets blockaded the roads to Berlin in an attempt to get the US, France and Britain to relinquish their claim to West Berlin, until May of 1949, 270,000 planes brought in over 2 million tons of food, coal and supplies to West Berlin.
You can imagine that planes had to take off non-stop to bring supplies to an entire city. At the peak of the airlift, there were more than 1,400 daily flights to and from Berlin…not quite a “plane a minute” (which was the catchphrase at the time), but close!

In 1944, the US pressed for free trade worldwide at a conference of representatives from 44 nations. In what came to be known as the Bretton Woods Agreement, the delegates agreed on a system of exchange rates with the US dollar as the reserve currency (as it was freely convertible into gold at the time). The Americans made sure to get West Germany included in the system as soon as possible.
Eventually, the US recognized the potential in West Germany and stopped the industrial dismantling of Germany. With memories from the war still fresh on their minds, France and the UK wanted Germany to stay weak, but eventually were convinced by the US to support German reconstruction.

In 1949, the city renamed a street after US General Lucius Clay who had organized the airlift and in 1951, the West Berlin Airlift memorial was erected, and dubbed “The Hunger Fork.” They even had a picture of President Clinton at the 50 year anniversary of the airlift.

A funny little piece of US organized propaganda was the “Amerikahauser,” or America Houses that were started in West German cities to make Germans familiar with western ideals of democracy, culture and society. They became an important part of America’s “re-education” policies after the war and were an important part of the cultural life in West German cities.
I’ll admit I was wondering why anyone would go to such a place, but apparently they were successful. They said that the library, film screenings, lectures and exhibitions at the America House in Berlin regularly drew large crowds and that there were over 14 million visitors per year at the America Houses across the country during the 1950s.

Former President Hoover suggested that German students be provided with an additional meal during the day and they came to be known as “Hoover Meals.”
Other programs, such as the supplies provided in the “CARE USA” program contributed to the image of the USA as a benefactor in the hearts and minds of Germans. They event went so far as to say that “recollections of American support shape the collective memory of the Germans for decades, extending into the present day.”

In many ways, I was proud of what the US did to help Germany rebuild, but I couldn’t help but question our motives in doing so, especially, when I read about the “Building a Better Life” exhibition in West Berlin in 1952 that attracted significant public interest when they set up a model house without a roof and allowed visitors to peer into its rooms as an actor-family demonstrates the comforts and technologies of the “modern western world.”
In some ways, the museum itself wasn’t sure what to make of these opportunistic exhibitions. For example, such exhibitions were obviously beneficial to American companies, but it also talked about how it was an important instrument of the Cold War to show western superiority over the socialist economic model. Overall, they did a nice job presenting an unbiased approach.

In the 50s and 60s, West Germany and West Berlin clearly recognized the US as a protector and significant driver of the economic upturn. German businesses and industries gained from technology and management methods in the US. They really highlighted the symbolism the Berlin Airlift as a milestone of German-American bonding and Kennedy’s Berlin visit in 1963 made him (and by extension the US) an icon in their hearts. Their ideal image came to include the American suburban ideal of the time…a house in a nature-setting on the edge of town crowned with a “Hollywood garden swing.”
The growth in West Germany was dubbed an “economic miracle” as more and more this ideal became achievable.

Pop culture became heavily influenced by America as well. Jukeboxes brought by soldiers after the war played American music, James Dean and Levi’s Jeans became part of the ideal as well.

Levi’s even made it to East Germany. East German-produced jeans wouldn’t cut it, so the regime even had to import US jeans to meet demand. Jeans and an American military jacket became one of few ways that East German youth could project their individuality.
Looks like the standard dress code for an attendee of any rally in the US against the war in Vietnam, no?

Though Reagan gained media attention for his “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” speech in June of ‘87, but for Germans the end of the division still seemed far off at the time. They did have a cool little artifact that was a polished chunk of the Berlin Wall that was signed by Gorbachev, Bush and the German Helmut Kohl in 2009 at the 20 year anniversary of their respective roles in the Berlin wall finally coming down.

In 1994, US Army units in Berlin lowered the flag for the last time.
Though that was the end of a chapter of our direct influence in Germany, there is obviously still a strong link in todays world. They traced the events of September 11th and their effects in Germany, including 11 Germans that died in the Towers. Their empathy was evident in this child’s drawing:
I thought that it was pretty significant that children over here were moved as well.

There have also been disputes, such as a conflict over the looming “Second Iraq War” in 2003, where their foreign minister Joschka Fischer at the time was at odds with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s plans and famously replied “Excuse me, I am not convinced!”
There was similar sentiment among many German citizens as well (which probably isn’t all that much different than the mixed feelings among Americans at the time)

Despite disputes, there is quite clearly an American influence in Germany. A story that made headlines on German TV was that of Konny Reimann and his family who emigrated to America.
Apparently, there are numerous advice books on how to successfully resettle in the US and many who wish to leave Germany forever still see the US as an ideal destination.

Also, I was unaware that “mortar-board caps” and gowns were an American tradition, but they noted that this business school in Germany had an “American Style Graduation Ceremony,” and also that the American business school model is spreading in Germany.

Since Germany is much more progressive than the US, with their public health care, free college educations, worker’s councils and higher taxes, they pretty much universally had a sigh of relief when Obama became president after Bush was so at odds with the German (and European) model.

Overall, it was fascinating to take a look at the American influence abroad. As I mentioned the museum did a great job of showing all sides of the story, which is pretty rare for many American history museums that are on our own soil. Mostly, I just enjoyed seeing the German perception of America. They even had some interesting public opinion polls scattered throughout the museum that provided a snapshot in time of things like which country they trusted most (out of US/UK/FR/USSR) or whether they had a favorable opinion of different countries at different points in history. It was funny to see US flags and merchandise in the store too!

After I left the museum, I headed over to the Arithmeum. Perhaps I built it up too much in my head, but when I walked past, their walls were luckily all glass so I could peak inside. It didn’t look as interesting as I imagined, with basically just a bunch of old typewriters and stuff, so I decided to skip it. Instead, I decided to walk to the Poppelsdorf Palace.
I really regretted not checking this out the first time I was in Bonn, as this view must have been incredible when all of the trees were still blossoming. On my way down the long park leading up to the palace, I passed by a little bookstand where an old guy brought a book and searched for a new one. Even in a presumably academic university town, this was a peculiar little cultural oddity.

The palace had been turned into a museum that I wasn’t necessarily interested in, but I enjoyed checking out the architecture of the building itself.

A half hour or so later, as I headed back through the park to the center of town, there was now two people using the little stand-alone library/book-exchange. Kind of cool that people actually make use of it. I can’t imagine this ever working in the US.

Next, I headed to the Beethoven Haus (WHERE HE LIVED?), but unfortunately it was closing in 30 minutes so they wouldn’t let me in.

It was getting late and I was getting hungry, so I headed back to my car. On the way, I passed an ambulance and a police car. It’s not just in the Jason Bourne movies, the police really drive BMWs!!!!

I looked at some souvenirs along the way too, but those German beer steins are like 50-80 euros. Even this mini one that was smaller than a shot glass was 20 euros ($25-30). Craziness.

Earlier in the week, Bernd and Elke had mentioned the movie Berlin 1-2-3 and insisted that we watch it before going to Berlin. So after dinner when Bernd asked what I wanted to do, I suggested we watch since tomorrow we leave for Berlin! It was created as a satire of east/west relations through the story of an American Coca-Cola exec running the operations in Berlin. When he walks into the office in the morning, everybody instinctively stands out of habit from the days of Hitler. He pleads with his assistant to get them to stop, but his assistant says “That’s the problem with democracy. They didn’t used to have a choice and now that they can choose, they choose to stand!” His assistant can’t kick his habit of clicking his heels from his days in the German Army and claims to have been stationed in a subway, where they so rarely let him above ground that he never knew of all of the atrocities committed by the Nazis. Anyways, there are all kinds of little cultural nuances that get poked fun at throughout the movie. I definitely got a lot more out of it having Bernd there to clue me in to some of the jokes.

The general story line is that the Berlin exec’s boss sends his daughter to live in Berlin with the Berlin exec and his family. When the boss comes to visit, the Berlin exec finds out that the daughter fell in love with (and married) an East Berliner who has been brainwashed as a communist and has a clear disdain for capitalism. They plan to run away together to Moscow before her dad comes. The Berlin exec crafts a plan to play along with their runaway and tells the husband to go back, but sends him over with some American propaganda so that he ends up being arrested and tortured and kept awake until he’s in a state of delirium, eventually falsely admitting he was an American spy just so that they would stop torturing him.

The Berlin exec’s wife is outraged and gets him to pull a few strings using Coke and his attractive secretary as bribes East Berlin officials to break the husband out of jail. As a spy(and now a fugitive too), the husband can never go back to East Berlin or the Soviet Union. Hilarity ensues as they try to reverse years of communist ideology and turn him into a gentleman and a capitalist. It turns out that in between filming this movie and its actual release, the Berlin wall went up, so the movie was a complete flop because nobody could laugh about the situation. When the walls came down, it was rediscovered and became a cult classic. I was really glad that Bernd and Elke recommended it!

Near the end of the movie, Elke got home from her trip and discovered why the clueless bachelor’s couldn’t use the microwave...their microwave has a special feature to have a “grill” element, where coils on the top of the microwave heat up and somehow that had been turned on, melting the tupperware lids. Whoops.

After the movie, Bernd told me a great story of the Brandenburg gate, which was highlighted often in the movie as the gate to pass from East to West and decades later came to symbolize German division and later the reunification. He scoffs at the way many museums say that the wall going up was a surprise. Everybody in the West knew it was going to happen because hundreds of thousands of East Germans and East Berliners were coming to the West every year through Berlin, the best place to cross after the rest of the inner-German border had been heavily fortified. When he was around 10 years old, he and a friend knew that the wall could go up any day and decided that they were going to go touch the gate while they still could. Berlin is a huge city and it was quite a ways from his house, but they nevertheless hopped on their bikes and made the trek. They were successful in their quest until they realized that the whole way there had been slightly downhill and they had a long uphill climb to get back home. Not long after, the wall did indeed go up. How cool is that? To me it was an iconic example of the fearlessness and adventurousness of young boys across the backdrop of one of the most significant historical events of the last 50 years. Just an incredible story…it could be its own movie or at the very least in a museum with their actual bikes and a picture of him and his friend.

Bernd printed out a few maps of Berlin for me and showed me where our hotel was, which looked to be right in the center of the city! By this point, it was pretty late, so after I did some research on the top things to see in Berlin, I packed up for our road trip tomorrow morning. So glad to have seen the movie and heard Bernd’s story to drum up some excitement!

Posted by atbrady 18:28 Archived in Germany Tagged history in palace germany museum berlin usa german bonn beethoven haus 123 poppelsdorf

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