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Excerpt from "Take the High Rod - A Primer for the Independent Traveler":

“Travel, in the younger sort, is a part of education; in the elder, a part of experience.” – Francis Bacon

This morning we are sailing along a marvel of modern engineering—the Main-Danube Canal. The canal is the fulfillment of a millennia-long dream, permitting ships to travel from the North Sea to the Black Sea. Charlemagne tried digging the first attempt and, finally in the early 19th century, King Ludwig of Bavaria finally linked the two rivers – but the canal was too narrow to be commercially useful and required one lock per mile for its 150 mile length. The current canal was finally completed in the 1990’s. A formidable set of locks, 16 in all, lifts ships to the crest of the European Watershed (equivalent to our “continental divide”). All rivers to the south of the watershed head towards the Mediterranean or the Black Sea and all to its north head to the Baltic or north Seas. Unlike the U.S. and Canada, where the Continental Divide is in high mountains, in Europe the watershed changes at 4,382 feet (1,332 meters) and the countryside is a gentle slope. Regardless of altitude, it’s amazing to watch each lock open and fill with water and to feel the ship rise before moving forward. The crest of the European Watershed itself is simply a tall wedge-shaped slab of concrete with a couple of flags on each side along the canal. I joked that, after passing it, we were picking up speed because now we were heading downhill.

As in each port, we are offered a variety of inclusive tours. Today, we are offered a choice of a walking tour of the medieval German city of Nuremberg and a tour of the sites of the Nazi Rally Grounds and the Nuremberg war tribunal court rooms. As much of the city was destroyed in the Second World War and then rebuilt, we’ve decided to take the tour of the Nazi sites and Germany gets even darker. As usual, the guide was very professional and the use of the “Softvox” noise canceling receivers makes it easy to hear the guides in even the most adverse crowded conditions.

Soon after they came to power in 1933 the Nazis designated Nuremberg as place for their annual party rallies. The choice was due to a number of factors. Bavaria was a part of the country sympathetic to the National Socialists (Nazis), many train lines ran through the town, the old city provided a perfect theatrical backdrop and Nuremberg figured in lots of the tales which the Nazis adopted as their mythical background.

To demonstrate their power they planned a set of gigantic buildings. Only a fraction of these were actually built, including a colossal Congress Hall and the reviewing stand at the Zeppelin field. The old town of Nuremberg in the shadow of the towering imperial castle and Gothic churches forms the backdrop of the Grosser Strasse (Grand Roadway) leading to the huge tract of land used by the Nazis for their annual September rallies. Careful attention was paid to the structure and the appearance of the rallies and the propaganda movies produced at the rallies are still studied today. “Special effects” such as surrounding the grounds with anti-aircraft spotlights pointing directly upwards enhanced the effect at night.

The concept employed by Hitler and the Nazis was to encourage people to follow their feelings rather than their mind. In that vein, a combination of frightening them into a xenophobic froth, combined with encouraging nationalism and utilizing everything from Wagner opera stories to the fiction of Germans being descended from an “Arian Race, “making Germany great again”, succeeded in transforming a large enough portion of the population of the nation into like-minded animals that caused the national direction to change towards an ego-driven kleptocratic form of insanity.

In current terms, while bankrupted by the economic turndown after the end of the First World War, the Nazi government spent the equivalent of 50 billion Euros on the Zeppelin Field site. Additional large sums were spent on other infrastructure projects as well as building up a large “world-class” military in a short period of time. This was financed by large loans from banks and commercial enterprises. Documentation found after the Second World War at the finance ministry indicates that the loans were expected to be repaid with funds taken from conquered lands and confiscated assets.

Today there are grandstands set up at the Zeppelin Field for a Formula One car race next weekend (and last weekend it held a rock concert). Much of the series of structures built to enhance the grandeur of the background have been removed a number of years ago because, being built of limestone, they deteriorated and were deemed unsafe. The streets now bordering the site are Ben Gurion Loop and Yitzhak Rabin Strass – named after Israeli prime ministers – indicating that, while the Germans are no known for their sense of humor, irony is rampant.

After our visit to the Rally Grounds we headed to the Documentation Center. This is a large museum built as part of an unfinished Coliseum-like structure (another part of the same complex houses the Nuremburg Symphony Orchestra). The museum supplied an audio tour to help navigate the 20 rooms covering the role of the Nazis in Germany, how they used Nuremberg as a propaganda tool, the Holocaust and the Nuremburg War Tribunal trials.
The entranceway and an observation platform at the museum’s rear were designed by the architect to pierce and “kill” the Nazi-designed building.

Afterwards we headed off for a tour of Room 600 of the Nuremberg courthouse – site of the War Crime Tribunal at the end of World War II. While this group of trials ended up in a number of executions and long prison sentences, the Soviets (and the British) chaffed at the American’s attention to proper procedure. Later trials were held separately by each of the Allies. While it is doubtful that many of those tried by the USSR survived, many subsequently tried by the US were released from prison before their sentences were completed. In fact (because it was expedient during the cold war conflict between the US and the USSR), many, though non-repentant, ended up being re-integrated into German society and became employed as teachers, politicians, members of the secret police and other responsible positions.

On the way back to the ship, we did a quick run-through of the Old Town. The old double walls, with moat in between, built from medieval times until the sixteenth century are in very good condition (though in some places they were repaired after World War II). There are number of wide streets lined with large half-timbered buildings. Though badly damaged during the Second World War, enough of the “old town” remained to allow rebuilding. The Market Square has a massively ornate fountain/cistern as well as a large church.

Near the Old Town is St. John’s church, with its large cemetery where the graves are covered by limestone markers topped with flowers. The graves are rented on ten-year leases. If not renewed, the bodies are exhumed and the bones brought to a common burial place, freeing up the plot for a new tenant.

Further towards the center of town is a reconstructed Jewish cemetery from before the war. There are no flowers on those graves (as presumably most of the families who would otherwise tend the graves were victims of Dachau – the local concentration camp).

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