Crossing Europe from west to east and back. Part 1: Germany

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Europe » Germany
May 9th 2022
Published: May 14th 2022
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Here wo go again. Ray Charles sang it in 1979 already. Now it is our turn to sing it. And Linda and I have reasons to sing. After three years of self imposed quarantine we hit the road again. With our little Volkswagen Polo we'll leave The Netherlands, cross Germany, cross Czech Republic, cross Slovakia, slowly traveling from spot to spot. Near the border with the Ukraine we will turn and travel back via another route, slowly again, enjoying the trip. It will take us one month.

We left home at april 9, 2022. Though It is saturday the Dutch roads are completely constipated. Normally it takes one hour and a half to come to the border with Germany, now we had to drive three hours. At the border at 's Heerenberg we had a little break to visit my brother. He had made a nice lunch for us with eel, salmon and herring. From 's Heerenberg to Münster in Germany it is only one hour and a half driving.


Münster is in The Nerherlands famous for The Peace of Münster. All Dutch schoolkids learn that the Peace of Münster was the end of The Eighty Years War (1568 - 1648) against the Spanish empire. Since then The Netherlands became an independent republic. So we were curious where exactly the treaty was signed on the 15th of May, 1648. At first we think it was in the Historischer Rathaus. There the Peace of Westphalia was signed, which made an end to Thirty Years' War in The Holy Roman Empire. Also The Netherlands were invited to take part in the negotations. Was it a sideshow, I ask myself while standing in the Historische Rathaus in the room where the treaty was signed. Maybe yes, because the Peace of Münster was not signed in the Historische Rathaus at all. It was signed at the Haus der Niederlande at the Alter Steinweg number 6 and 7, not far from the Historische Rathaus. Here the eight members of the delegation of the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands were housed and here the negotations with the Spanish delegation took place. We visit the Haus der Niederlande and see that there is an exhibition on the German-Dutch relations.

Gerard ter Borch has made a painting of the delegations signing the Peace of Münster, as we see in the excellent Stadtmuseum. But there is another Dutchman in the Stadtmuseum, a Dutchman who became not so beloved here in Münster. His name is Jan van Leyden. In The Netherlands we have the saying "Je er met een Jantje van Leyden van afmaken". It means something like "doing something halfway". According to one of the contempories of Jan van Leyden he was not sincere, he was misleading people with empty talkings. And that is the origin of the saying. Since my familyname is Van Leyen the saying is following me all my life already.

But who was Jan van Leyden actually and why he was not beloved? Jan van Leyden was an anabaptist. He came to Münster to spread his ideas, drove the bishop out of the city, crowned himself to king and took himself seventeen wives. The revenge of the bishop was terrible. He came back with an army, slaughtered the troups of Jan van Leyden and imprisoned his enemy. In midwinter of 1536 Van Leyden and his two companions were executed, of course after being tortured. But that was not enough. To scare off anyone who had the courage of having any anabaptistic ideas the three bodies were hang in cages in top of the St Lambertkirche, so that the whole city could see (and smell) what could happen to them. No, the bishop did not do things halfway. The bodies hang there during 50 years. Now the bodies are removed, but the cages are still there. It is still frightening, specially for a man who has Van Leyen as a familyname.

Goslar and Quendlinburg

In the morning of the 11th of april we left Münster. Drove north of the Harz mountains to Goslar. The city of Goslar is on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. Indeed it is enchanting with its half-timbered houses and cobbelstoned streets. You imagine yourself living in the Middleages. The other side of the coin is that it attracts hordes of tourists. We liked Quendlinburg more, which is a bit further to the east and which is also on the list of the UNESCO. We arrived there at 4 o'clock in the afternoon. Most interesting was the old brewery - Lüdde Bräu - where we ate Soljanka, an soup, which is popular in East Germany and Poland and where we drank a beer or what of course.


The reason we visited Berlin was that I wanted to find some traces of my father. He worked there during World War II as a forced laborer. So we did not pay attention of the highlights of Berlin this time. We have seen them already in august 2010 during our worldtrip (see our travelblog here). Now we settled in a guest house in North Berlin. To be more precise on the Waidmannluster Damm in Reinickerhof. That is only ten minutes walking of the Zabel-Krüger-Damm number 39, where my father was accommodated in a barrack together with other forced laborers. This year I found the address on the backside of a card he wrote from Berlin to his daughter who was in a hospital in Amsterdam at the time.

Nothing is left of the barracks at Zabel-Krüger-Damm number 39. Now there is a Greek restaurant with a banquet hall, called Fest Halle and an ice salon. More inside there is a physiotherapist and a shop with cleaning stuff. Inside I ask if anyone knows about what happened here 78 years ago. No one knows. But finally an old woman with silver gray hair, patient of the physiotherapist, knows. At the other side of the street were baracks, she remembers. The workers there had to carry big stones. 'Heavy work', she says.

But my father did not have to do that. He was a house painter. He had to work for the painting company of Hans Walldorf, as I found out. Like other forced workers he was installed under the General Bau Inspector, the department of Albert Speer, the architect of Hitler, who wanted to make of Berlin a glorious city. I found out where the painting company of Hans Walldorf was housed. It was in what is now called the Luize and Klaus Kautsky Haus on the Saarstrasse number 14.

The following day we visit the Luise and Karl Kautsky Haus. It is a beautiful villa in Friedenau, a quiet area in the south of Berlin. As soon as we enter I smell the paint. It reminds of my father. How is it possible I think that this smell is still there. Do I dream it? 'No, we just painted some rooms', says Frau Nathalie Löwe. She is Sachbearbeiter of the Sozialitische Jugend Deutschlands- Die Falken. Full enthusiasm she guides us around in the building. Shows us how the Haus was looking like in the past. I tell her that my father never spoke about what happened to him in the war. 'It was the same with us', says Nathalie. My grandfather went as a 16 years old volunteer to the Netherlands. There he became a prisoner of war. He never talked about it.'

"Karl Kautsky was one of the most authoritative promulgators of orthodox Marxism after the death of Friedrich Engels in 1895 until the outbreak of Word War I in 1914", I read in Wikipedia. His wife Luise was a socialist and active social democrat. She was befriended with Rosa Luxemburg. Luise Kautsky died in in Auschwitz in 1944. Karl Kautsky died in 1938 in Amsterdam. They used to live in the house which is now called after them. Apparently Hans Walldorf with his painting company got the villa during the war. 'And now it is ours', says Nathalie Löwe. 'It is a coincidence that the Kautskies used to live here. We are very happy with it.'

I wander around. See how my father went to the cellar to pick up the tins with paint and put them in the truck. How they drove to somewhere in Berlin to paint some buildings according to the wishes of Albert Speer, the General Bau Inspector. How he entered the office via the backside of the building and Hans Walldorf gave him some ReichsMarken. And how he went back with the U-bahn to the barack at Zabel-Krüger-Damm number 39.

But how did they live there in their baracks, these forced laborers, I ask myself. To find it out we take underground S1 from Friedenau to Britzer Strasse number 5, where the only baracks are which are still left. There is also the Documentation Zentrum NS-Zwangarbeit. 'Do you want me to guide you around?', asks a woman with red hair. Her name is Marga and she is a historian. She is specialised in National Socialism. She finds it necessary to talk about the war. 'We have to take our responsibility', she says.

Marga tells that there were 12 million forced laborers in Germany. 475.000 of them were Dutchmen. Forced laborers from West Europe got a better treatment than the ones of East Europe. The laborers from the west got 6,60 Reichs Marken a day; the East Europeans got far less. Jewish workers got nothing and had to do the hardest work. 'As a jewish forced laborer you could at least have some hope you could survive', says Marga. 'And did they', I ask. 'Only a few', she whispers.
I tell her that my father never said a word of what happened to him in the war. Again I get the same reaction. 'My mother was a Sudete German', says Marga. Because of the war she had to move out of her house. She never talked about it.'

The baracks are divided in several rooms. Every room had 16 - 18 laborers. 'Post was checked', tells Marga. 'The guards were afraid that the family at home would read that their husbands/sons were treated badly.' And indeed in the letters my father wrote to his daughter, he never said something negative about his situation.

While Marga is guiding us around, her colleague Chris is trying to find some information about my father in the Documentation Centre. At last he finds something, but it is not new to me.

When we drive with the U-bahn back to our pension in North Berlin we pass what was once East Berlin. We see gloomy Chroetsjov flats and everywhere is graffiti and dirt. It is so sad.


At 10 o 'clock in the morning we left our pension, drove across Berlin from north to south to find out that the A10 to Dresden was competely blocked because of a terrible accident. Via an alternative route we arrived at 2 pm at the excellent Hotel Suisse in the center of the Altstadt, close to the Frauenkirche.
As everyone knows Dresden was bombed during WW II. The Germans have rebuilt their city, but you can still see the damage, the blackened stones of an immense conflagration. People jumped into river Elbe, and were shot down by low flying fighter jets. Dutch writer Harry Mulisch describes it in his book Het stenen bruidsbed. According to Mulisch there is no absolute criminal of war. It is the winner who decides who the criminals of war are.

We visit the Zwinger buildings with its Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister en de Mathematischer-Physikalischer Salon. The Galerie has an overwhelming number of famous painters: Rubens, Van Dijck, Rembrandt, Dürer, Granach, Vermeer, Poussin, Titian, Hopper, they are all there. The Salon shows the development of the clockwork, which is really fascinating and beautiful. Furher microscopes, telescopes, globes and all kind of measuring instruments.

It is very busy in Dresden. Maybe that is the reason that people are so grumpy here. We hardly can find a place to eat. We end up in restaurant Augustiner, which over full and really bad.

Tomorrow we will leave Germany. Our next destination is Czech Republic. I will write about it in my next blog.

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