It wasn’t easy. The journey back had a variety of obstacles that made it difficult to get to Frankfurt. Originally, I had planned a ride back with a gentleman through a website called BlaBlaCar. When I was supposed to leave at 8am, he texted me at four that morning to let me know he wasn’t going anymore. Come on man… I dashed to the train station and booked a ride to Dresden, Germany. From there, I worked my way to Leipzig, then Hanover, then Göttingen, and finally Eschwege by midnight. I still had one more train to catch… 5am to Frankfurt.
Unfortunately, twenty minutes past the dot… Welcome to Frankfurt, Levi!
I left the airport and skipped into the city throwing down the first of multiple German Dogs. I hiked over 150 steps to the top of the Frankfurt Cathedral’s tower and peered over the vast city. It’s a surreal feeling being in a country where you don’t know the language. As we all know and have been told in our past, lean into discomfort.
The next couple of weeks spent in Germany was getting to know the history, culture, and people. One man, Mr. Reece, is an older gentleman who grew up in the town I was staying in – Eschwege, Germany. During WWII, he was drafted into the hell working as a German Soldier translating English for his superiors. He initially worked on the eastern front pushing past the bitter winter before being moved across the continent to Italy. As his troop resisted the southern push up the boot of Italy from the allies, Mr. Reece detailed to me his capture. A man who defied the odds set against him, he smiled and told me “…because the Americans treated me so well (for three years), we can sit at this table today and talk as friends.”
The man is 96 years old. He joked when I walked into his home that I had just shaken hands with a Nazi. The truth though is, he was drafted into the war out of his university. He wasn’t the stereotyped Nazi we are accustomed to in video games dehumanizing the 1940 German population, rather an educated young man displaced by the world’s politics. The way he enthusiastically spoke about America would throw someone for a spin if they were to find out later he was a PoW. The best part, the man knew how to laugh.
Outlines of my conversation over coffee and cake:
- Mr. Reece never heard of the concentration camps until he made it back to Germany after the war was over. It wasn’t until he was back in his hometown of Eschwege, which had one of the largest Jewish populations in Germany, when he heard of the fate of some of his neighbors/friends. In fact, he made light of the story that he, a German officer, rode passenger in 1942 on route 66 with a Jew.
- Since he knew both English and German, he was asked to start a newsletter for the PoWs in America. He worked closely with various officers in the U.S. military to write stories and news for the others in the camp.
- He went four years without hearing from his fiancé. Knowing she lived in Dresden and that it had been through various bombings, he went back to find she had survived. They were married for over 50 years before she passed away.
- Though he’s 96, I found he is still young at heart. Recently, he detailed to us how he prank calls old numbers and uses his age as a form of confusion.
When we concluded our gathering, I asked him on one last note if he had any advice for the upcoming generations. His answer? “Love, no war.”
With the close to Germany as well, there were many notable trips I did during the time in the historically rich country (with a few canceled because of strikes by the German workforce). For a day trip, I caught a train down to Heidelburg and toured through the ancient structure of an old castle. A couple of days later, I left to a concentration camp and witnessed the remains where thousands of lives were lost on the very soil I stood. I spent time with my cousin, Pearl, and her friend Mahdi, adventuring the trails of old East and West Germany.
The memories for my time in Germany are vast, sweet and the time few. Until next time, tschüss Germany!
– Prices are about what would be expected in the States, very average to our standards.
– I bought a european sweater, still getting used to it
– I will never get tired of Milka, chocolate sold throughout Germany made in Switzerland.
– It is socially acceptable to stare.
– DB Bahn is the train operator in Germany.
– The German youth are very welcoming and eager to help out.
– Specify that you would like natural water, or else you’ll end up with club soda.
– A shout out to Pearl for making endless cinnamon rolls!
You’ve checked out Heidelberg!! Becas and Teresa are there now!!! Regards, from London!!!!
That’s amazing that you were able to have a chat with that man! I love hearing the stories of the older generations, and it’s nuts to think that he went 4 years without speaking to his fiancé!