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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Europe (excluding the United Kingdom) (02/19/09)

TITLE: Bonn Wochende
By Kenneth Bridge


Some unexpected free time and a little extra cash always proved a combustible combination when I was young, and so it was that I found myself on a Friday morning at the Bahnhof in Wiesbaden, checking out the train schedules. The city of Bonn seemed a good fit. The cost of a round trip would leave enough for meals and a room with enough left over for whatever adventure beckoned. I watched as the clock ticked to 9:37 and the train for Bremen began its punctual departure. A few moments later, the train to Bonn took its place at the platform and I climbed on to find a seat.

Soon enough I was underway, surveying the undulating Rhein from my window as the train headed northward. The mountains in Bavaria might be covered in snow this time of year, here everything was clothed in its characteristic December brown-green dampness. Still I marveled at the scenery, the architecture, the castles, and the history that rolled by my window.

With a few stops, the trip took about two hours and soon I was exiting the Bonn Bahnhof, walking cobblestone streets looking for a room and a place to ditch my bags. Everywhere there were signs commemorating a massive birthday celebration for Bonn’s late, great native, Beethoven. And everywhere it seemed, the rooms were booked by Beethoven birthday celebrants. I had to cover considerable ground, and inquire at a number of hotels and pensions until I found one with a room still available. I’d grabbed a bite earlier at a SchnellImbiss, some Wurst and Pommes Frites mit Phosphat, or French fries served with mayonnaise, rather than the familiar American ketchup.

I had dinner at the pension and watched a little of the television over the bar. Starsky and Hutch in San Francisco, clad in leather jackets, standing next to palm trees and talking in German. It was not nearly as jarring as the time I watched a John Wayne movie and heard the Duke, famous for his oft-mimicked voice and mannerisms speaking in a very generic dubbed German.

After dinner I decided to take in a movie at a theater on the same street. “Der Adler ist Gelandet”, or “The Eagle has Landed” in its original English, a movie about a plot by the Nazis to kidnap Hitler, was playing. I bought a ticket and was handed a 78 rpm record. Confused, I started toward the theater, but was redirected instead toward the second theater in the building. As I entered and took my seat I was astonished to see middle aged, well dressed couples sprinkled through the theater watching naked couples gyrating on the screen. I left my seat, leaving the record behind, repelled by what I imagined was on it, and complained to the ticket taker. It seemed that the time I purchased the ticket mattered more than which movie I preferred so a refund was out of the question. Irritated, but having no other palatable choice, I shelled out some more money now that the tickets I wanted were finally being sold. I settled into my seat, bemused by the ubiquitous ash trays and supports for beer bottles attached to the seat backs. I enjoyed the twists and turns of the movie, able to follow it well enough, and wondered how my fellow movie goers felt about the Nazi characters in light of their recent history.

I slept well and after Fruhstuck in the café operated by the Pension, I took my Super 8mm camera and began filming scenes of interest. I captured a nice transition from a chessboard in the park with two men hovering over it to a giant, nearby board where players walked their pieces into position. I heard some noise and saw a crowd of people marching, yelling and carrying banners. I panned across the crowd, zoomed in on a poster proclaiming “Kommunismus” and then segued to a fountain where a lion was regurgitating water, what I thought to be fitting editorial comment. A stranger approached to me to warn me in English (something about the way I carry myself identified me as an American) that some demonstrators were eyeing my filmmaking suspiciously, so I quickly broke down my tripod and put away my equipment.

As darkness gathered I was back on the train, en route to the little enclave of America where I was stationed, where so many of my fellow soldiers stayed, insulated from the life that was around them.

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Member Comments
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Joanne Sher 03/01/09
Fascinating perspective! I never really thought of the army bases as "little bits of America" - but the contrast is striking. Truly enjoyed this!
Joshua Janoski03/02/09
I know a ton of people who were stationed in Germany while in the military. I have heard many fascinating stories from them, and this too adds to that collection of fascinating stories.