is colder then Ohio
. Unfortunately, I packed for Ohio in May, which has left me distinctly short of sleeves. My cousin Sarah says the weather was just wonderful until I arrived, which is probably true as I am a long term believer in the power of Murphy
. I am the reason Central Europe has crappy weather right now, and I am prepared to take the blame for it. It's the least I can do.
I'm sleeping in what used to be an attic, but is right now a very nicely finished family room with full bath. And I sleep well after a few Belgian beers. When the sun starts to peek its head in and the sound of a steady, driving rain only reinforces my desire to remain one with my mattress. I slept in flagrantly, dreaming of decrepit houses and my job, all while in the typical dream state of being unable to concentrate hard enough to even remotely work. I remember snapping at a black haired person I've never seen before but was now a co-worker. I remember feeling guilty for that in my dream.
Dreams that make you feel guilty. What a concept.
But eventually I did wake up, but far later then usual. On the other hand, the weather sucks and I'm on vacation. Granted I'm vacationing in a place I may never visit again but one day of sloth falls short of a mortal sin. So I went out and got lost, trying to find the train station, which is really very close and now that I've gotten lost absolutely placed in my mind. But the simple fact was I didn't get there until one, which really is too late to take the train anywhere and get back at a reasonable hour. After all, my cousins have children and as an adult I should set a proper example. I shall show up for dinner, help clean up and not overindulge on any of those tasty Belgian and German beers I can't get back home. One or two are enough. But it's very hard one you've wrapped your taste buds around a good Trappist ale.
My plan was to visit Bastogne. After finding the train station I was able to get a schedule, and to learn I could not take the train directly to Bastogne. I must also take a bus. Now I miss not having my own car but there's nothing for it. It's enough just to be here. There is another museum at Diekirch I wouldn't mind seeing but with the next train departing at 13:45 realized I couldn't really devote the time I wanted there, particularly as there is a 15km trail of historical sites I wanted to walk. I don't like the idea of rushing through a good museum or historical site. I'm not there to check a box, I'm there to learn and soak in the atmosphere. To sit back and taste the cheese as it were.
Rain or shine, tomorrow I will get up with the children and go to the train station. I want to spend a full day exploring and perhaps taking some more pictures. Tomorrow I get back to the serious business of vacationing.
Of course I can't always just sit back and enjoy myself. When my cousin went to drop his son off for basketball practice I had him drop me at the American military cemetery in Luxembourg where I took pictures until the camera battery died. It is located near the airport on Val du Sheid, off Rue Dwight D. Eisenhower. The American Cemetery is shaped like an outdoor theater. first there is a small buiding, with a guestbook and few pictures and letters. No real map to show who lies there, at least none I found. I signed the guestbook but cannot forget the message a few lines above my signature. It's simple, and says: "Dad, I finally made it!"
And so I walked through the tall ornamented ironwork gate into the cemetery, bounded by pillars holding up gilded eagles. . The monuments are first. There is a circular center court, with an obelisk shaped monument in the center with a small chapel at it's base. This circular area is where the 'stage' might be were this a theater. Two walls funnel you toward the graves. They carry the names and units of men missing in action on one side. The other displays a painted bronze diorama mapping out the Allied campaign to defeat Nazi Germany. White marble and bronze is the motif. Then you walk down a few steps to where the dead rest.
"Dad" must sleep out there underneath one of the rows of white crosses laid out with such geometric precision they line up from every angle. There are thousands of crosses and a few stars of David, marking the final resting place of an American soldier. They list the man's rank, unit, date of birth and death. I came across one man whose cross bore the inscription "Medal of Honor". Up to the front facing men he once led lies the grave of General George S. Patton. It's like the others, simple, ostentatious only in its location in front.
This is a beautiful cemetery. The white marble is appropriate for a proud, victorious nation who honors its dead for the great things they have done. Trees whose leaves are colored bright read and green surround the graves of men who sleep forever in honor. It seems right, even perfect in its own way for men who died destroying a transcendent evil.
Interestingly, the German military cemetery of Sandweiler lies just over a mile away. As the American cemetery closes at five (with the ceremonial playing of taps) and I had some time to kill I walked down to see it.
The two cemeteries are a study in contrasts. Sandweiler seems appropriately German. The German Army is not so well liked in Luxembourg. There are many, many memorials to the fallen of World War II, amd the scars have not totally healed, even as the last of that war's generation pass away. The American cemetery is a proud place, with all the crosses and memorials in white marble. It's readily visible for all who pass. The Germans adopted a more neutral gray. Field gray, like their uniforms. The American gate is marked with gold leaf, and the parking lot readily visible from the road. The German cemetery is less well marked, just a small road sign for it is tucked away into a wooded area for the small parking lot. The American cemetery is larger, but holds only half as many men. One is proud, the other modest.
Sandweiler is very beautiful, and in a way, an appropriate way to honor the fallen of a defeated army that served something hideous. It reflects, I think, the shame modern Germans feel when looking back at that time. From the parking lot you walk down a gray gravel path surrounded, and hidden, by trees. you enter through a low gray gatehouse. All is field gray, and you pass through a gate only one person wide. The American gate is of metal, wide and gilded, the German a simple door. The American gate is paved, German gravel. While You can find some literature and guestbook and the gift shop. I saw, I looked and passed into the graveyard. Where the American graves are delineated only by paths, and with some plantings and marble fountains, the German graveyard is wooded, with a grid of mature trees planted around it. A low earthen wall, covered with moss divides the cemetery from the surrounding woods. At the back there is a memorial dominated by a giant germanic cross, which marks the mass grave of 4,829 dead. The individual graves also are shaped like the wide teutonic cross but in gray rather then white marble The color matches their soldiers' uniforms, but the color remains more somber then the brilliant white of American graves. Ten thousand men rest at Sandweiler.
Each cross marks the graves of four men. They give the rank, (if above private) name and dates of birth and death of the soldier resting there, if alone. Most died in December 1944 or January 1945 which places their demise squarely within the Battle of the Bulge. What surprised me is how many are unknowns. There are two names each side of the German cross, and if unknown the number of unknowns along with the known soldier. Unknowns are everywhere. In a way this is not surprising. The proper servicing of battlefield dead had to wait until the battle had moved elsewhere, and it was the Allies who ended up in control of this ground. While they were not disrespectful of German fallen, they were naturally much more interested in their own dead. Many Germans ended up in temporary mass graves while the war was prosecuted. More attention was given to American fallen, and it was American troops of Middleton's VIIIth corp that defended Luxembourg, and troopers of Patton's Third Army which took it back. This explains why a street in Luxembourg is named after General Patton, who rests here. The Germans were an afterthought. Yet in the end, I think their place is also lovely, and an appropriate monument. Particularly for the laurels wreaths visible in a gray mosaic on the earth as you enter their final resting place for brave men who died defending their country and its wicked deeds.