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New Europe

Day One Hundred and Twenty-three: Berlin to the Baltic

The Baltic Sea 
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Journey's end, by the Baltic Sea, full of hope. Could this be the time when a new Europe of co-operation replaces an old Europe of conflict?
Michael Palin - New EuropeTempelhof Airport is a traveller's dream, even if it was originally built by the Nazis. It's in the heart of Berlin and used by only a few local and international flights. This morning its uncluttered central hall reminds me of how American airports used to look in the 1950s. Outside, a single, long crescent of a building with the terminal in the centre and hangars, stores and workshops on either side, embraces the field, in the centre of which, and looking not a bit out of place, is the dream-like shape of a silver DC-3.

This is an aircraft that knows Tempelhof well. In 1948 the Soviets, in disagreement with the rest of the Allies, set up a road and rail blockade of West Berlin. The blockade lasted eleven months before being broken by an American, British and French airlift which had kept the city supplied by 270,000 flights, some coming in only five minutes apart. The DC-3 was the workhorse of this extraordinary siege-busting operation. Today this historical curiosity will take me to another, Hitler's holiday camp on the Baltic Sea.

Berlin, a city in ruins sixty years ago, now reincarnated as the capital of the most powerful economy in Europe, slips away below us as we head for the Baltic at a steady 120 knots, just short of 150 miles per hour.

Landing at an airstrip near Stralsund, we drive on through the Mecklenburg countryside (which feels familiar, not unlike East Anglia) and onto the last lap of a journey that's taken us more than five months and through twenty different countries.

Rügen is a pretty, amoeba-shaped island, its beaches always popular, especially during the GDR, and here, on a wooded bay at a place called Prora, the Nazis planned a People's Resort (the language of the National Socialists was uncannily similar to that of the Democratic Socialists who replaced them). It was part of what was known as 'Kraft durch Freude', 'Strength through Joy', a policy of organised leisure which would offer lucky workers a carefully regimented holiday of relaxation and indoctrination.
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  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day One Hundred and Twenty-three: Berlin to the Baltic
  • Country/sea: Germany
  • Place: Berlin
  • Book page no: 285

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