European river cruising; Nazis leave sobering legacy over Germany and its neighbors (part 3 of 3 parts)

The sobering Nazi legacy over Germany and its neighbors

We recently returned from a 15 day cruise beginning in Switzerland, down the Rhine River, passing through part of France, a good portion of Germany, the southern portion of the Netherlands and into Belgium. A cruise a few years earlier took us from Vienna, Austria through the heart of Germany and into Amsterdam, Netherlands. These are reflections on the sobering legacy the Nazi regime left on this part of Europe.

It’s rare to find a city not touched somehow by the sadness and destruction rendered by World War II. Switzerland managed to stay neutral, and avoided the damage of other countries. But cruising the Rhine, Mozel, Danube and other waterways passes cities mostly demolished by the war, rebuilt with help from the Marshall Plan but still struggling to get past the ugly history of the war. And, residents who still remember the war, the loss of their family members or neighbors and the lasting devastation of the conflict.

Hitler, at the Luitpoldhein, a huge Zeppelin Field, addressing crowd
of 800,000 troops, Hitler youth and countrymen.

Here are just a few of the many examples that sear your mind touring these countries.

Luitpoldhein, a huge Zeppelin Field, today; the small parapet, with fence, right center, is where Hitler stood, addressing crowd, in the old photo, above.

Vienna, Austria, long home to the Habsburg Alliance, Strauss, music and majesty, was the start of our first river journey! We toured St. Stephan’s Cathedral and enjoyed the city, a marvel of old medieval structures, baroque classics, the Imperial Palace and many other mansions of colossal proportions. 

Our tour took us past the Heldenplatz (Square of Heroes), where in March, 1938 Hitler delivered the Anschluss, annexing Austria into Germany. Hitler was born in Braunau, Austria near the German border.  Cheering crowds of German/Austrian citizens welcomed the Wehrmacht’s invading troops; but no shots were fired. In the weeks before and just after the Anschluss, over 70,000 dissidents, and Austrian Jews were arrested and imprisoned.

The Neue Berg where Hitler delivered his the Anschluss, annexing Austria into Germany.

We entered Germany on the Main/Danube Canal (opened in 1992, crossing the European “continental divide”, at 1332’, where water flows north in the Main River to the North Sea, or south in the Danube to the Black Sea). We sailed through Germany past a number of towns devastated during the war; none more so than Nuremberg. This city was once the capital of the Roman Empire, and Hitler chose to make his mark on this area in particular.  The city was also a natural industrial complex, and had ability to help fund some of his heinous projects. 

Remnants of Nazi architecture are found throughout the city; the Luitpoldhein, a huge Zeppelin Field  and exhibition grounds, which hosted huge gatherings of 250,000 to 800,000 troops, members of the Hitler Youth and other party faithful.  Nearby is the Luitpold Arena, never finished, which was to have been an indoor, 50,000 seat, show-place arena!  It is now used as the Hall of Records for war data.  We toured the nearby huge red brick SS Barracks, with balcony for Hitler to welcome troops. 

Crowd of German citizens, youth and troops salute Hitler.

Our tour took us past the Grand Hotel, home to 300 journalists covering the Nuremberg Trials at the end of the war, then into the notorious Court Room 600, where the trials took place from November, 1945 to October, 1946.  Nazis on trial saw only the adjoining prison, elevator and courtroom for a year.  Hitler, Himmler and Goebbels were dead; but  Speer, Hess, Krupp and others were tried here; the onset of the Cold War ended the trials early.

Court Room 600, site of Nuremberg Trials.

Wurzburg, Frankfurt, Cologne, we visited them all – all devastated by Allied bombing and battles to drive Germans back.  In each case, the cities were rebuilt, with an eye to preserving the architectural structures that were destroyed in the war.

In many towns like Bernkastel, Germany, a visitor will find bronze insets in the streets in front of homes, commemorating Jewish citizenry who lived there, rounded up and murdered by the Germans.

These small brass plaques stand in front of homes in Bernkastel, memorializing Jews
who lived in the homes, taken and murdered by the Nazis.

In front of the Bonn, Germany, Town Hall where John Kennedy spoke in 1963, are bronze insets in the street’s cobblestones of book spines – mute testimony to Nazi book burning of authors they disagreed with like Hemingway and Helen Keller. 

Just blocks away on the Rhine River is a portion of a brick wall and a huge star of David, memorializing a former Jewish synagogue that sat on that site before being demolished by the Nazi regime.

Memorial to a Jewish synagogue in Bonn on the Rhine River.
Brass insets of book spines, in front of the historic Bonn Town Hall,
where Nazis burned books in the street.

Our in-home hosts included Edda, 80 years old in Dudenhoffen, Germany, who relateed as a six-year-old her memories of the British and American allies bombing her East Prussian hometown and the Russians rolling in to chase the Germans out, forcing her family to flee.  Or, Christina, our home host in Biberbach, Germany, who shared that, despite their country’s recent prosperity, her neighbors are ashamed to fly the German national flag, fearing that the return of overt nationalism will again lead to dire consequences.

Our home host Edda, an 80 year-old from East Prussia, recounted her memories as a six year-old, when the Allies bomber her hometown, Russians invaded and Hitler was overthrown (pictured with my spouse Susan).

In Nijmegen, Netherlands, we stop in silence in front of a bronze statue of a weeping Jewish mother across the street from a building with bronze plaques listing the names of 300 Jewish citizens taken and murdered by the Nazis. Huge sections of this old town feature streets with 60 and 70-year-old buildings, replacing entire blocks demolished in wartime bombing raids.

In Nijmegen, Netherlands, statue of weeping Jewish mother stands across street from bronze plaques listing names of 300 Jewish residents taken and murdered by Nazis.

Space precludes our visit to Ann Frank’s home in Amsterdam, where she and her family hid from the Nazis, just a few of the more than 100,000 Amsterdam residents rounded up and killed by the Nazi regime.

These countries are beautiful, with built history tracing back almost 2,000 years. Despite the excitement of exploration in these lovely cities and countries, the sad legacy of Nazi Germany is unavoidable.

Contact Tim at or follow at Happy travels in your world!

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