#18 - Western Europe
Jeff Willner - November 16, 2001
(Bilbao, SPAIN) - Two things struck me while touring
Berlin. First, that the city is really new. Shiny modern buildings are
sprouting everywhere, especially in the old East Berlin section. Our
guide explained the architecture on our four-hour walking tour as we
huddled in the freezing wind.
"End of the cold war, wall comes down, people want
something totally new. So Berlin is the newest city in Europe. Did you
know that until last year, 80% of Europe's construction cranes were perched
over projects in downtown Berlin." That's alota cranes. The Reichstag
was the historic seat of government before Germany was divided, and was
one of the first renovations when Germany united. The exterior has been
restored, but instead of restoring the central copper dome - it has been
replaced with a shimmering spaceport-like glass and stainless steel version.
A super cool fusion of old and new. That is the new Berlin.
The second factoid I found out is that Hitler's remains
have finally been traced. There was all this controversy after WWII because
a body was never found. People had wild theories that the body was dumped
in a vat of acid, or that he had escaped in disguise and lived in the
mountains waiting to relaunch his evil empire.
We got the scoop while standing in the courtyard of
a very mundane apartment complex. Cement block construction, flower beds,
a stone path - no historic marker to indicate Hitler's bunker at all.
Turns out the Soviets wanted to sow a little uncertainty in the Allies.
As Berlin was in flames, overrun by the Soviet tanks, Hitler had retreated
to his bunker and took poison with his longtime mistress Eva Braun. Then,
wanting a warrior's death, he shot himself. Attendants took his body
outside and set fire to it to avoid a nasty public scene like the one
that happened with Mussolini in Italy (hanged him, cut off testicles,
put them in his mouth). But the Soviet occupiers found the remains. They
boxed him up, went to the outskirts of an East German town (forget the
name, fingers were cold and didn't want to take notes) and buried the
box outside town. In the early 80's there was some concern about the
future of the state, so the remains were dug up by a secret commission,
reduced to ash, and scattered to the wind. The details were only just
found in the East German archives.
" So the bunker is still intact, right below us?" someone
in our tour asked the guide. "Yep. The authorities don't want to destroy
something so historic, but don't want to even mark it for the public. So
it sits, hidden, underneath this apartment courtyard." Kids ran past to play,
commuters edged around us clutching their briefcases. In the adjacent field
the memorial to the murdered Jews is being constructed over the bunkers of
other senior Nazi officials. Surreal.
Berlin was the last Junglerunner stop in Europe where
the whole group was together. Over the next few days the group would
scatter for a two week break while the truck was being shipped to South
Sally stepped off in Rotterdam. Mike (yes the boyfriend)
was flying from Australia to visit and she would meet up with him in
Paris. We dropped Jody and Janet off in Amsterdam. Despite repeated invitations
(which turned into pleas because she really is a great person and so
easy to travel with) Janet decided she couldn't continue with us to South
America. Junglerunning is an expensive hobby. Jody flew to the UK for
a couple days and then to Miami.
Gulin and I continued south from Amsterdam to Brugge,
Belgium (the best mussels, fries, and beer in the world), and stayed
in a highway motel on the outskirts of Paris. The next morning we navigated
the Land Rover through Paris' downtown maze. After lunch at Cafe de la
Paix, and a pop out to the suburbs to say hello to Mike (and unload Sally's
stuff) we did a 3pm-2am marathon drive to San Sebastian, Spain. It's
a beautiful seaside town that lost a tiny bit of its charm due to a freakish
Let me make a confession here. I was a bad boy in
Europe. I blame it on the traffic anarchy of Africa and the Middle East,
or it may be genetic. Either way, in Europe I treated one way street
signs like suggestions and parked wherever I wanted. Land Rover's have
a curious quirk, the hand brake actually locks the drive train so the
wheels cannot turn, and at 2.5 tons it is quite inconvenient to move.
So we parked with impunity and threw the parking tickets away (honestly,
when is the next time I plan to be driving through Bulgaria?). You can
imagine the shock the next morning when Gulin and I went out to the truck
to get our coats… and it wasn't there! I couldn't conceive of it being
towed, so visions of theft swirled around my mind - I figured it was
the end of the tour right there.
We went back upstairs to our Pension and asked the
manager if there was a towing telephone number that we could call. "Oh
yes! It is right here on the tourist map of the city. And you see, the
tow away compound is quite conveniently located within walking distance
of downtown." I asked if people got towed away often and he shrugged. "Well,
it is northern Spain, and we do have the car bombs." I could imagine
the conversation over the radio when they found the illegally parked
Tow Truck: Capitane, we have found a tourist vehicle
that is parked on a yellow curb!
HQ: Well, it is 2:30am, maybe we can give them a few hours of grace.
Tow Truck: Well Capitane, it has a hidden compartment in the rear, there are
4 tanks of diesel on the roof, and 2 propane tanks. If it blows it could level
an entire city block.
HQ: Sweet Mother of All that is Holy! Tow! Tow! Tow
When I retrieved the truck the towing mystery was
solved. They have little dollies that slide under the rear wheels and
within seconds the vehicle is jacked and gone. A steady stream of cars
were towed past me as I paid my fine. All I can say is, if you're gonna
park illegally, don't do it in Basque separatist territory.
After a couple days of tapas and vino tinto on the
coast (and a 1.2kg lobster), we drove up to Bilbao to arrange shipping.
The agency was competent, their service excellent, and the next day I
flew off to Canada and Gulin dropped the Land Rover off at the dock.
It was the end of the first stage of the trip and we all were looking
forward to a couple weeks off. The trip resumes December 3 in Rio de
Stage 1 Stats:
Start: June 25, 2001 - Livingstone, Zambia (Victoria Falls)
End: November 16, 2001 - Bilbao, Spain
Countries: 33 (Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi,
Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania,
Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, Slovakia, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Russia,
Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Holland, Belgium, France, Spain)