On the 3rd day of Christmas, we headed out early to meet visiting friends with 3 kids on a field trip to East Hesse’s Point Alpha, now an historic Cold War memorial site . 4 adults, 4 kids, 2 cars…have GPS, will travel. Easy cheesy. Meeting point: Wallau’s McDonalds parking lot. It shares a huge lot with iconic Ikea…and you have to drive AROUND, not through, to get out onto the main road. After a couple of attempts to break out, we got on the road again. By the way, making wrong turns in our family is an example of a Random Anti-terrorism Force Protection Measure, a fancy way of saying we are lost. You SHOULD tell folks who are on a road trip with you but following in a separate vehicle that you MAY do this at times, even with a GPS. Just so they don’t think you’re nuts.
A couple of hours of driving east into the morning sun and we were in the rolling hills of East Hesse and the ancient bishopric of Fulda. Military buffs of the Cold War, like the men in our group, don’t see rolling fields as far as the eye can see. They see rolling terrain of their Cold War era training, military games and exercises which pitted the US and allies against the USSR. This is where and why Point Alpha and the Fulda Gap come into play. You can read more about it here.
When we got to the museum site, the little House on the Border (& after only one more wrong turn), the kids were ready to run. It was blustery and chilly outside, so we all hurried inside the museum. We spent some time in the different exhibits of life within the restricted zone that divided East and West Germany for 40 years. I spent some time trying to translate certain exhibits for the kids, although there were some that needed no translation, like the handcuffs and straitjacket. If you do visit, take a moment to look down at the floor near the entrance at the time capsule set into the floor. It’s a good teaching point for school age kids!
The kids definitely enjoyed the displays upstairs, featuring flora and fauna found in the now green belt between old East and West Germany. There’s access to a small balcony outside overlooking the old patrol path and the Path of Hope across the street. The second floor displays could easily take 20-30 minutes, perfect for short attention spans. They especially liked the tabletop miniature display of the restricted zone, little people, cars, dog run, gate guards, and so forth. The kids came up with fantastic scenarios of the little people there… One poor man was lying on the ground near the East German border, probably the victim of shaken display syndrome. According to my 5 year old, the green man (the guard) shot and killed him.
I want world peace. I am thinking of Sandra Bullock’s Gracie in this YouTube clip from the movie Miss Congeniality. If someone openly admitted he didn’t want world peace, he would be ridiculed at the very least. Why wouldn’t you want peace? It’s symbolic during the Christmas season, in the white dove, for instance. It’s symbolic in the 3 sided rotating blue and white sculpture at Point Alpha, with the word Peace in English, Russian and German.
I know we can’t always prevent exposing our child to the cruelties in the world. She may one day ask difficult questions about war and peace, especially since both her parents have been deployed to different zones of conflict over the last 20-25 years. She’s seen us in uniform but I would like to think that’s the extent of it for now. We don’t display our medals and awards at home, for personal and practical reasons (masonry is hard to hang anything on). But she may one day want to know why, how, who…and we should be prepared to answer.
It’s hard to imagine that had the Berlin Wall not fallen and the Cold War ended, that this beautiful landscape between Hesse and Thuringia, West and East, would have suffered longer under oppressive rule. It’s interesting and almost surreal that we can look back in our own lifetime and trace back to where we were when the Wall came down. Where were you when the Wall came down?