Last week we took a leisurely trip from Arizona back home to Italy – if any travel these days can be called ‘leisurely’ which, according to me, it cannot. In any event, with the help of good friends at both ends we were able to complete our travels in a mere four days.
But wait – before telling you about it, I want to give a shout out to Lufthansa Airlines. While American Airlines is always our airline of choice (and those who know us understand why), we were given some exceptional service by Lufthansa, and not for the first time. After checking our two bags for a pair of flights from Frankfurt, Germany, to Pisa, Italy, via Munich, we discovered going through security that we would have to check one of our backpacks as well (it was the good German tinned meat and mustard that did us in). In our haste we forgot to mention to the agent that the backpack was also to go on from Munich to Pisa. Whether it was an agent or ‘the system’ we don’t really know, but the backpack arrived in Pisa with our other two bags – which I find completely amazing, as we had never mentioned it was to go beyond Munich. What a relief, as it contained many of my important items.
Anyway, after enjoying stellar company on the crossing from Dallas-Fort Worth to Frankfurt, we took a short train ride to nearby Russelsheim where we had booked a room at the Arona Hotel. Russelsheim is best known for being the home of Adam Opel auto manufacturing, founded in 1862, which, since the 1930′s, has been a part of General Motors.
There is a small showroom just down the street from this statue of Adam Opel where you can learn the history of the car-maker and see some cars, both old and new.
Above is the Adam model, and it’s cute as a button. If you’re interested in a short video showing present-day Opel construction, you can see it here – I especially like the paint bath.
A less savory part of the town’s past is known as the “Russelsheim Massacre.” In August, 1944, townspeople mistook eight American prisoners, taken when their B24 Liberator was shot down near Hanover, for the Canadians who had carpet-bombed Russelsheim the night before. The Americans were being transported to a POW camp and had to walk through town to get from one train to another. Angry townspeople lined the streets as the Americans were marched through, and two women began to scream “Tear them to pieces! Beat them to death!” In spite of one of the airmen saying, in German, “It wasn’t us!” some citizens answered the angry call, attacking the airmen with sticks, shovels, hammers, stones and iron bars. Six of the airmen were executed by an armed air-raid warden who lined them up and shot them after they were beaten nearly to death. He had only six bullets; the last two men were able to drag themselves to the River Main when an air-raid siren sounded, sending the mob to shelters. They were recaptured in a few days and taken to the POW camp.
The perpetrators of the massacre were brought to trial in 1945 when the atrocity came to light. Eventually six townspeople were hanged; the two women who instigated the riot were given thirty-year prison terms. Interestingly, it was Leon Jaworski, of Watergate fame, who asserted individual responsibility be assigned for the crime.
The town has changed enormously in the intervening years, of course. There is a considerable middle-eastern influence, from clothing shops to kebap restaurants. In spite of being part of the German Miracle, the town looked rather tired and run-down. There was much more litter than we’re accustomed to seeing anywhere in Germany, empty shops, and signs that all is not well economically.
It’s not all doom and gloom, however. One thing that struck me is that the town clearly supports the arts. There are many fountains and statues to be found:
In the 1500′s, upstream river traffic was managed by horses which pulled the boats. This statue is in homage to the horses and the rivermen who rode them backwards keeping a watchful eye on the traffic.
This is both a fountain and a very tall statue with lots of little faces and symbols of various industries. We couldn’t quite figure it out.
Because it was a factory town, Russelsheim suffered considerable bomb damage during World War II. While there are still a few old structures to be seen, most are modern. There is an appealing sense of whimsy to some of the modern buildings.
In spite of evident economic woes, there are still many vibrant shops open, including two of our favorites: the meat market and the bakery:
Don’t they just make your mouth water??
And the things we love about Germany were available in abundance. We found a nice little bar/restaurant near the river where we enjoyed a bit of pre-dinner imbibing. The sun was out, and so were the locals, soaking it up.
And dinner! What a treat. It is asparagus season in Germany – in fact, we arrived smack in the middle of the month-long Asparagus Festival. I’ve never eaten blanched asparagus before. While it has all the characteristics of its green self (!) it is milder in all respects (!!). Here is my first ever, blanketed in hollandaise and paired with crispy schnitzel:
It all gave us fortification for the next day when we took the aforementioned two Lufthansa flights, followed by a train trip back to Rapallo. We were quickly above the clouds, but before we left Germany she gave us a farewell treat, an aerial view of her fields in their springtime garb. Thus we made the transition from the brown spring of Arizona, punctuated as it is with vibrant cactus flowers, to the spring of northern Europe, where there are more shades of green than Crayola has words for.
Full, tired and happy, we settle back into life in beautiful Rapallo: