Friday, November 27, 2015

The Rhine

 We left Berlin and flew back to Frankfurt, so that we could board a bus to take us on a tour of the German countryside.  The plan was to gather our bags and put them on the bus.  Easy huh?  Well, as I was waiting on my bag on the carousel, I started to see clothes come out first, and I realized that they were mine.  The locks on my bag had broken, and everyone was seeing my underwear, socks, shirts, and pants come down the conveyor belt.  I was mortified.  I gathered up my clothes to the cheers of the other passengers and then got a belt to secure my bag.  I used that story to sell luggage successfully years later in several retail stores.  It always worked, because the customers were afraid it could happen to them too.
 We boarded the bus and headed out on our tour of Germany.  The bus had a radio tuned to the Armed Forces Network, and we finally heard some western music, after so long without it.  Gilbert O'Sullivan's "Get Down" put a smile on our faces.  Dawn's "Tie a Yellow Ribbon" was great, too.  We changed the lyrics to "It's been three long weeks"  from "three long years".  It seemed fitting, and that became our theme song for the rest of the trip. 
 Our bus got to Koblenz, which was special to Sandra, because her father had been there during World War II.  After visiting a few other towns, it was time for lunch.  We stopped at a quaint German restaurant in a quaint German town.  The food was good.  I ordered bottled water with my meal, and the label had the word "Durst" on it.  I kept the bottle and still have it as a souvenir.  I went to a rest room, which was in a building in the center of a road.  One had to walk down some steps to get to the rest room, and there were windows at the top that one could easily look in from the road.  It was also pretty smelly. 
 We got back on the bus and headed to a pickup point for a tour boat to take us on a two-hour tour on the Rhine.  The boat went past castles and farmland on mountainsides.  We saw cows grazing on the steep sides, and Talula wondered why the cows weren't tumbling down the hills.  I told her that maybe two legs were longer than the others.  I thought it was funny.  She didn't.  Don't joke about cows to Talula.  Two hours passed, and we were still on the boat.  Three...Four...and more.  We thought it was a two-hour tour, but it ended up being closer to six.  Six Hours on a boat.  Some folks got naps.  Some ate.  A few of the girls chatted up the crew.  It turned out that the boat was sailing upstream, which caused it to move slower, so we got more for our money than we should have had.  Night was falling, and we moved on to our next hotel stop in Weisbaden.  It was kind of misty raining there.  The hotel was downtown near a big park.  I dropped off my bags and went to the park to sit on a bench.  I watched the people go by, not knowing that there was a casino across the park from where I was.  I found out about it the next day.  The girls went to a club near the hotel.  I didn't go with them, even though I was supposed to.  I got back to the hotel before they did.  Mr. Vivian got mad again, and that was the last time we were ever apart during the trip. 
 The next day, we boarded the bus to tour the Black Forest region of Germany.  A lot of quaint homes.  Everything in this part of the tour was quaint.  The highlight of the day was Reinfall.  It was where the Rhine River went over some rocks to form a wide waterfall.  I have to say that it is the prettiest place I have ever seen in all of the world.  It is on the border between Germany and Switzerland.  We took in the natural beauty and then boarded the bus again.
 We arrived in Lucerne, Switzerland for the night.  The hotel was swanky.  The restaurant was on the top floor.  It was right in the middle of town.  This was going to be a great stop for us, or so we thought.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015


 Our next stop on our Europe trip was Germany, after leaving Israel and all that intrigue.  Germany was a very welcome change.  We landed in Frankfurt and saw a large cow sculpture in the airport terminal.  Talula felt right at home, as she came from a dairy region of South Carolina.  We changed planes and flew to Berlin. 
 When we got to the airport, I felt an overwhelming feeling that I was back home, even though I had never been there before.  My ancestors were German, and we came from the southern part of the country near the Rhine.  We had to get into an elevator to get to our bus.  I was singing the German national anthem in the elevator, and a lot of Germans looked at me funny.  I didn't care. 
 West Berlin was very clean.  Our hotel was near the city center.  Talula wanted to get a German hymnal for her pastor back home, so she, Sandra and I set out that afternoon to find a church.  We found one not far from our hotel.  It was really big.  The outside of the church featured ruins from the war, and the inside was very modern.  Our first stop was the gift shop in the church, but they didn't have any hymnals.  We then found a priest and asked him if we could buy a hymnal.  He got very upset and told us that this was a church, not a store.  So, the three of us sat in a pew and just took in the church aura.  When we left and were outside, Sandra pulled a hymnal from her purse, and gave it to Talula.  We thought we were all going to Hell for stealing a hymnal from that church.  I hope the statute of limitations has run out, since the theft was over 40 years ago.  If not, don't tell them.  We also went to a department store to buy a washcloth for one of the girls.  I didn't know much German, but we got by in asking the clerk for help.  I was also appointed to figure out what the exchange rates were between American and German money.  Our hotel had taken our passports and kept them at the front desk.  No one had done that so far on our trip, and we didn't know why, but you deal with it.
 The next day, we toured East Berlin.  Our bus went through Checkpoint Charlie, and they ran mirrors under our bus looking for people, I guess.  Men with machine guns boarded our bus.  We were told not to take pictures of the Berlin Wall from the East.  Of course, you tell me not to do something, and I will do it anyway, so I got some nice shots of the wall.  I was also told in Israel not to take pictures of Army installations around the country.  I got some nice shots of those, too.  We were also told by our tour guide not to talk to any East Germans.  Mr. Vivian wanted some authentic German cheesecake, so we found a small restaurant.  The girl behind the counter came over to our table to ask us about blue jeans and American life.  Out of nowhere, a man in a trench coat showed up and said something to the girl.  She quickly went back to work.  Our tour guide told us he was the police.  It just so happened that the restaurant was right across the street from the Soviet embassy, so he could have been Stasi or KGB.  As our bus rolled around East Berlin, there were two very obvious sites.  One was that many of the buildings had not been rebuilt since World War II, and they were just bombed out shells.  The second was that Lenin's picture was everywhere.  There were paintings, statues, frescos, and much more.  The hammer and sickle were prominent.  We got to the Soviet War Memorial, where many of the dead were buried.  Everything was massive.  They did point out where some of the Nazi buildings had been.  Since I am a student of World War II, that interested me.
 As we were leaving East Berlin, the soldiers with machine guns and big mirrors did their thing once again.  On the West side of the wall, there was an observation deck, where we could look across to the East.  There was also a billboard next to the wall.  It read:  "Durst macht Spass mit Fanta".  I didn't know that my last name was German for thirst.  I had to take a picture of that. 
 Our afternoon was free.  The girls wanted to sleep, so I had the opportunity to go out on my own.  The Berlin Zoo was close to our hotel, so I went there.  The animals were interesting, but the best thing (and the spookiest) was a group of teenaged boys walking through the zoo.  They were all over six feet with blonde hair.  I immediately knew who their parents were.  A year later, I described that sight to my Sociology professor in college.  He didn't believe me, but it was true.
 I really liked Berlin.  Our next couple of days would be filled with touring the German countryside around the Rhine.  The trip would take another turn.  More later.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Strangers In The Night

 As I have written before, our goal on our trip to Europe was to sample the local charm of the areas that we visited.  So often, the tour guides show you what they want you to see.  We wanted to see the things they might not want you to see.  I say all of this, because the story that I am going to tell you is true.  It may seem farfetched, or a plot from a movie, but it really happened.  I was sworn to secrecy, and didn't really tell anyone until about 20 years after it happened.  The person I told was in special forces in Vietnam, and he said the story didn't surprise him.  So, here goes.
 We got to Jerusalem and stayed in a hotel in the Arab Quarter near Herod's Gate.  It had a lot of character.  That first night, we asked the desk clerk where we could go to check out our surroundings, and they suggested we go down the street one block to a souvenir shop called the Jordan Bazaar.  Sandra, Talula, Judy, and I went to the shop.  There were three Arab guys who ran the shop.  Their names were Sam, Omar, and Sam.  Sam and Omar were brothers, and the other Sam was their cousin.  They were in their mid-20's.  We asked them if they could take us on a walking tour of Jerusalem by night, and they said they would, when they closed up the shop for the night.
 At around 10pm, we got together with the 3 guys and set out on our tour.  Each guy walked with each girl, and I walked behind them.  Sandra was directly in front of me.  At some point in our "tour", Sandra put her hand behind the guy and waved at me.  I thought it was a signal to "get lost", so I started to lag behind.  I continued to get further away from them, until I no longer saw them.  I was officially lost.  I walked through neighborhoods of squalor.  No street lights.  No signs.  I came upon a group of Orthodox Jewish men.  I asked for directions, but they wouldn't talk to me.  I finally found a taxi and asked him to take me to my hotel.  I gave him a dollar, and it turned out I was just around the corner from the hotel.  When I got back, it was nearly midnight.  Mr. Vivian was furious.  He said that the girls had gotten back earlier, and they didn't know where I was.  I apologized and went to bed.
 The next morning, Mr. Vivian had a meeting with me and the girls.  He had decided that we would stay together for the rest of the trip, and I would be their protector.  There was no debate in this decision.  I was to go everywhere the 4 girls went.  I didn't like the idea, and I don't think they did either, but it was a done deal.  So, if they wanted to go dress shopping, I went too.  It was also the majority ruled.  If three wanted to go somewhere, then everyone would go there.  We were all friends, but now we were all joined at the hip. 
 Our tour of Jerusalem was uneventful.  That night, we were having supper in the hotel, and an American man came to our table.  He introduced himself as an employee of the US consulate, and said he was a political attaché.  (For those of you not familiar with that term, that is code for CIA).  He said that he had become aware that we had made friends with the guys from the Jordan Bazaar.  We were surprised that he knew that piece of information.  He told us that we could no longer associate with them.  When we asked why, he said that Henry Kissinger was in town to try and broker a peace deal, and that these 3 boys were part of a group that wanted to see the deal fail.  He was afraid that Americans being friends with these "terrorists", as he called them, would be harmful to the process.  I told him that it might seem strange to them that we suddenly stopped seeing them, so the man said that we could find out all we could about them and their friends, and then the man would come back each night to our supper and find out what we knew.  That sounded dangerous, so I asked the man what if we refused.  He said that the US Government would revoke our passports and send us home.  They were serious.  We talked it over and decided to do it, since how would we explain to our parents why they lost all that money they paid for us to be in Europe, etc. 
 The next day, we continued on our tour of Jerusalem.  A little boy followed us around, trying to sell us rolls of mints.  He would say, "One for a quarter or two for 25 cents".  He was cute, but we kept brushing him off.  He stayed with us, and he started to become a nuisance.  We found out later that the 3 Arabs used the boy to keep tabs on us.  That afternoon, we hung out with the 3 boys, and found out what we could without sounding too curious.  When we got back to the hotel, we had a short time before supper.  I called Sandra's room and asked her what she knew, so that we could compare stories and make sure we had everything right before the American guy showed up.  While I was on the phone with her, we heard some background noise over the phone and a click.  We found out that the folks at the hotel's desk were listening into our conversation.  Our "cover" was blown.  The hotel called the Jordan Bazaar and told them what we were up to.  A message was sent back to us that we could continue our tour, but if they saw us away from our tour, they would do harm to us.  It became serious.  We didn't tell Mr. Vivian, because we were already in trouble with him.  That night, after dinner, there were hecklers outside our hotel windows, until some police showed up and moved them away. 
 The following morning was Saturday.  We had our regular tour of Jerusalem.  After lunch, the girls wanted to go to a hair salon, which was about a block behind our hotel.  So, we made an excuse that we were tired, so the rest of the tour group went onto other sites.  The girls and I went through a service entrance in the back of the hotel to get to the salon, because the front of the hotel was being watched.  We got to the salon, which was run by a very nice Arab woman.  Word got back to the boys where we were, and they showed up at the salon, pounding on the shop's glass.  Fearing that the glass would break, the woman called the police and got them to move the boys back.  We explained to the woman what was going on, and she said that she would protect us.  When the girls finished at the salon, I went out of the shop first; looked to see if it was clear; and then motioned them to run across the street back to the hotel.  This was very stressful for me, and I found that I needed something for my stomach.  There was a drug store across the street from the front of the hotel.  I ran across the street and into the store.  There was an elderly Arab man running the store.  I told him what I needed and why.  He told me to watch out for those 3 boys, because they were "crazy".  He also said he would protect us.
 On Sunday, the tour group went to the local Baptist church for the morning service.  It was a few blocks from our hotel, and we walked.  It was a little dicey, but we made it okay.  Sandra bought a solid wooden camel as a souvenir.  It was my duty to carry it, because it was heavy.  That afternoon was spent writing postcards and relaxing.  That evening, the American man came back to our supper, and we told him about the threats, and that was the first time that Mr. Vivian knew what we were going through.  Some words were exchanged between him and the government official, and it was decided that we would leave very early Monday morning to go to the airport in Tel Aviv.
 At around 2am, there was a knock on our doors.  The man said get packed.  We were leaving.  All 16 of us crammed into two cabs, and a trailer housed our luggage.  Soldiers with machine guns guarded us, as we loaded up our stuff and got us out of Jerusalem in the dark.  We got to Tel Aviv without incident.  We went through the toughest security checks we had ever seen.  They x-rayed the wooden camel, and sawed it in half.  Sandra was very mad.  She threw it away.  There was an Arab man in front of me in the security line who had an urn stuffed with socks.  He was on his way to France to sell tractors.  He was not allowed on his plane, much to his anger.  At 7am, wheels were up on our plane, and we flew to our next scheduled destination of Frankfurt, West Germany.  We were very relieved when we were out of Israeli airspace. 
 About six months later, I was at Presbyterian College and was listening to a BBC World Service radio program called "Victor Sylvester's Dance Party".  He took requests of songs for people all over the world.  I sent in a request of "Strangers in the Night" by Frank Sinatra as a dedication to the three Arabs in Jerusalem.  A month later, he played it, and said, "From Walter in the US to Sam, Omar and Sam in Jerusalem--'Strangers in the Night'".  It was my way of getting back at them one last time.
 Some three years later, Congress was having a hearing about the CIA using civilians for spying.  The CIA said they never had used civilians, and they never would.  I just had to laugh, because I knew differently.  For a few days in July, 1973 in Jerusalem, five American young people on a tour worked for the CIA.  And, just as a side note, Israel and Syria fought against each other in October, 1973 called the Yom Kippur War.  I don't know whatever happened to the 3 Arab guys, but I suspect they had a hand in the war.