Category Archives: 2013 Baltic and Britain

2013 Summer (Baltic and Britain – Berlin, Germany – Part 1)

In the summer of 2013, before we explored Scotland and then attended our son’s wedding,  we took a 16-day Baltic cruise out of Tilbury, east of London.  Our second port of call was Warnemüde, Germany.  It was a 2 1/2 hour drive from the port to the town of Oranienburg, about 15 miles northeast of Berlin.

On March 21, 1936 local SS stormtroopers took over a disused brewery near the center of the town of Oranienburg and set up the first concentration camp in the state of Prussia.  Oranienburg Camp was a key site in the persecution of the opposition during the months after the National Socialists seized power, especially in the Imperial capital, Berlin.  In the aftermath of the “Night of the Long Knives” (a purge of dissidents and supporters of Hitler that he feared may act against his complete control) the camp was taken over by the SS.  By July 1934 the last of the prisoners had been  transferred to other camps but the SS kept the brewery site as a reserve camp.The Concentration Camp of Sachsenhausen was built outside the town limits (unlike the Oranienburg camp which was in the center of town) and even though it  was not specifically a “Death Camp” thousands of prisoners died there.  The camp was opened September 23, 1936.  It was one of the first built by the Germans to house the Third Reich’s political prisoners and was conveniently located close to the German capital

This was also a training camp for the troops of the SS and all the guards of the camp. The buildings below were used as barracks.Although the camp was used from 1936 to 1945 the model above illustrates how it look during the final years of the war.

This sign was at the entrance to this camp, and many others as well.  It translates “Work sets you free.”  Which, of course, was a lie. The site is a memorial and museum.  Over 100,000 people died at Sachsenhausen between 1936-1945.  Many Jews came through the gates but most of them only stayed a short period of time before being shipped south to Poland and the death camps. The camp was primarily used to house political prisoners, writers, actors; anyone who spoke against, or was suspected of speaking against, the regime. The prisoners here were subjected to many cruel medical experiments and other debilitating and exhausting tests such as testing items for the soles of German soldier’s boots since there was such a shortage of leather.  The SS handpicked the testers and they had to walk in a figure 8 around the camp for 40 kilometers a day, in all weather conditions, to see how well the materials would stand up.  They were not allowed to stop.

There were countless little tortures as well.  For example, in the winter the SS would keep the potatoes in the snow for 24 hours so till they were frozen and then the hands of the prisoners would freeze as they peeled them.  There were 80 cells in the Special Jail for anyone caught breaking rules, or trying to escape, or certain prisoners.  They were fed 800-1500 calories a day.  Average survival time was nine months.  There were three garrote type hanging poles for death sentences.   Hangings were called “Cultural Events” and the entire camp had to watch.  At Christmas time the soldiers would put up a Christmas tree beside the gallows.

Most of the buildings have been removed.  The memorial is the tall pillar in the center of the compound.  It was built by the Russians to commemorate the deaths of so many of their soldiers at this camp and thus is painted with red symbols for their men. The large gravel rectangles below show where each of the prisoner barracks were located.  There were 39 buildings for prisoners.

The words under Neutral Zone on this sign say, “They are going to shoot you without warning.”

There was a “Special Soviet Camp” that housed about 60,000 prisoners between 1945-1950.  12,000 of them died from hunger and disease.  Several of the cells have commemorative plaques and memorials.  There are three mass graves near the Special Soviet Camp; the largest contains the remains of at least 7,000 people.
The area in the photos above was called the Killing Trench.  It was officially Station Set, named for the last letter of the German alphabet.  Ostensibly it was a medical examination area where new prisoners were to be weighed and measured. Many prisoners, especially Russians, would be line up against the wall in this trench and would shot in the back of the head by a German soldier who placed his gun through a small hole in the wall. Even though Sachsenhausen was not a mass Death Camp there were still gas chambers and cremation ovens.

The camp Commandant had a nice house at the back of the grounds.                     The barracks above are replicas of the original.

When we were looking over the shore excursions available for this port-of-call I pondered for quite awhile as to whether I would be able to tour a concentration camp site.  However, I feel very strongly that this horrific chapter in the span of human history must never, ever, be forgot or brushed aside.  Lest we forget, and it will happen again.

After we finished our tour of the concentration camp we were driven to Berlin where we saw several of the ‘must-see’ sights. (to be continued)







2013 Summer (Baltic and Britain – Copenhagen, Denmark – Day 2)

Our second day in Copenhagen on the 16-day Baltic cruise took us to two castles: Kronborg Castle, famous as the setting for Shakespeare’s play Hamlet and Fredericksborg Castle in Hilleroed, a magnificent Renaissance castle that is now the Nation Museum of History.

En route to Kronborg Castle in the town of Helsingør we drove through a very high-end residential area with huge houses and lovely landscaped yards. Kronborg is one of the most important Rennaissance Castles in Northern Europe.  It is a UNESCO World Heritage site located at the extreme northeastern end of the island of Zealand on the 4 km-wide (2.5 mile) sound that separates Denmark and Sweden.  The castle dates back the 1420s when King Eric VII built Krogen and Känan, Helinsborg on the opposite coast of Øresund.  The two fortresses protected access to one of the few outlets to the Baltic Sea.

From 1574 to 1585 King Frederick II had the medieval fortress transformed into a Renaissance  castle.  The Swedes besieged and captured the castle in 1658 and took many of its art treasures as booty.  The castle ceased to be a royal residence in 1785 and was converted to a barracks for the army.  After the army left in 1923 the castle underwent extensive restoration and was opened to the public.

Shakespeare immortalized as Elisonore the setting of the famous drama Hamlet.  The play is enacted here all summer long. As a child I loved my doll house and as an adult I still love miniatures. After the tour of Kronborg we got back on the bus and were driven to the Frederiksborg Castle, which has been the home of the Museum of National History since 1859. There was a lengthy walk on a very old cobblestone street to get to the castle. The castle was built at the time of King Christian IV (1588-1648) and restored after a fire in 1859.

The museum contains Denmark’s most important collection of portraits and history paintings as well as many other examples of decorative art.   The Chapel dates from the time of Christian IV and contains lovely, simple images of the prophets and apostles.

                               Loved this beautifully hand-carved wooden bed. The beds are very short because people slept sitting up.  It was considered unhealthy to lie prone. This cabinet opened up to expose a 3D hall. There are many, many drawers and secret spaces hidden in it.   Just look at the detail of the lace and leather in this painting! These huge tapestries contain hundreds of thousands, if not millions of stitches – done by hand over long periods of time.  It would take years to complete something like this.

 Three generations of the current monarchy of Denmark. There were so many beautiful art pieces in every single room.  I loved the panel below.  It showed the king on one side and when the slats rotated the queen is displayed on the other side.                  Not too shabby of a garden to stroll around in.  And, once again, back on the bus and back to the ship.  Overnight the ship sailed to the port of Warnemünde, Germany; the closest port access to the capital city of Berlin.

2013 Summer (Baltic and Britain – Copenhagen, Denmark – Day 1)

This trip is the last of my pre-blogging holidays to write about.  I began my travel blog in 2014 when we drove across Canada.  We had been traveling extensively since 2009 so I have been going through notes and photos and writing a blog about all those other trips.  After this one is done, I am all caught up.

Our son was getting married in a castle in Scotland on July 22, 2013 so, obviously, we were going to the wedding.  We flew to London on May 30 in order to do some exploring before the big day.  On June 1 we went to Tilbury and boarded the Holland America ship MS Prinsendam for a 16-day Baltic cruise.

Our first port of call was Copenhagen, Denmark where we spent June 3 and 4. Denmark has a long history extending back to nomadic hunters that traveled across Jutland.  By the 7th-century a tribe crossed the Kattegat (the strait that separates Denmark from Sweden) and adopted Denmark as their new home.  This was the era of the Vikings and current Queen of Denmark, Margrethe II’s viking ancestry positions Denmark as the world’s oldest kingdom.  Centuries of war and clan fighting took place until King Valdemar IV united Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands from his Danish base.  Sweden launched several wars over several hundred years before breaking completely away from the Danish kingdom.  Norway remained under Danish rule until 1814.  Iceland gained independence in 1948 and Greenland and the Faroe Islands are still autonomous Danish provinces.

We sailed into the terminal at Copenhagen on a lovely early summer day. Our first tour took us on a drive around the city before we arrived at Tivoli Gardens; a 160-year old amusement park that Walt Disney visited as he was planning Disneyland.

Churchhillparken (Churchill Park) is home to Copenhagen’s most famous landmark; Den Lille Havfrue (The Little Mermaid), the tiny bronze casting created by Edvard Eriksen based on the beloved Danish storyteller Hans Christian Anderson’s character. Our stop in the park was short, just long enough to take some photos of the mermaid, but there are several other noteable sculptures in there as well.The parts of Copenhagen we saw on our drive were quite colourful. Like most cities with a long history it was a mix of architectural styles.

We had over two hours to wander wherever we liked around Tivoli Gardens.

The gardens within the park were lovely with all the new blooms.                                   Wisteria, one of my favourites.The bus took us back to the port via a different route through the city with some photo stops. We stopped at the palace square Amalienborg Palace, home of Queen Margarethe II and her family.  We arrived back at the ship in plenty of time to relax before dinner.