Aug '08 - Jun '10
At the end of September, I spent nine days in Germany, a country that easily could have consumed the entire year of travel. You'd think the country is Europe's bunker heaven, full of war-landscapes and museums displaying big guns and stuff. Nope, that's France. Understandably, the residues of war were obliterated and covered up by the emerging German states in the decades following the war. Germans I have met on my travels are still ashamed of their history. One German that I hitched a ride with here on Crete the other day emphatically disowned Hitler (He was Austrian!).
While Germany is not bunker-museum and uniformed- mannequin-happy like the French, the traces of war are indeed visible. In fact, the way these traces have been perpetuated in the form of US military bases is anything but invisible. A base I visited in Stuttgart still displays the eagle of the Third Reich, etched in stone on the side of the headquarters building--it's a historical landmark--sans swastika of course. The US bases re-use many of the buildings built on Hitler's bases. They were, after all, built to last.
I met with planners and architects working on the US military bases in the Baden-Wurttemberg and Frankfurt regions. What makes Germany so interesting on this military Grand Tour? In the words of one planner for the Army Corps of Engineers: "I like working here because it's constantly changing… Germany has always been caught between East and West." The planner told me that he thought he was packing out of Germany in the 90's as base after base shut down, but the Balkan crisis, and then Iraq and Afghanistan have maintained Germany as a hub of activity. The newest command infrastructure of the US Military, AFRICOM, is now headquartered in Stuttgart. You could say it's caught between East, West, and South now. Any future wars in Africa will likely be channeled through Germany and Italy.
As bases are consolidated into "enduring military communities," many old bases are left to the German community to recycle. I visited one of the former bases, former Peden Barracks at Wertheim. It sits on a mountain top across the river from a picturesque, crumbling castle. Among the many reclaimed uses of this base are:
-A police academy: I walked into this former Nazi building and felt claustrophobic… I've never felt more out of place, and watched, in any military base I've visited. A mannequin with a police uniform in the hallway made me jump. I found out I was trespassing in the building and , as innocently as possible, escorted myself out.
-Housing for refugees from Russia and Kazakhstan seeking political asylum
-Officer's club converted into a hotel
-A contaminated air field occupied by junky old cars