September 10th to September 20th, 2004
(9/10/04) This family trip was planned at Dad’s request – to attend the 60th reunion of the airmen in Kovarska (done in 2002 – see “Return to Joigny”) and to see a little more of the Czech Republic and southern Germany. We had a long night and day of travel, leaving Philadelphia (Candy and Stan) and Dulles (Paul, Dad, and myself) at 8:30 and 9:30 PM last night, then meeting at the Frankfurt airport at noon. We headed out in our rental car (an Opel station wagon), encountering heavy traffic and construction on Route 3 between Frankfurt and Wurzburg, but finally made it to Bamberg – a pleasant town where we enjoyed our first German lunch: soups, open baguette sandwiches, and chicken schnitzel. We continued east across the Czech border (were waved right through) and enjoyed an interesting ride in the mountains – through some towns that were strikingly poor, while others had beautiful spas and resorts (skiing is big here). We arrived in Kovarska ~ 7 PM – weary and rumpled – but went straight to the “Museum of the Air Battle over the Ore Mountains” for an informal reception with other US and German airmen and their families. The three Luftwaffe pilots Dad met two years ago were there, so he was happy.
Our rooms at “Pension Pohada” – recently renovated with lovely tile bathrooms, were basic – but more comfortable than Hotel Central where we stayed two years ago. We spent the rest of the evening in the “club” on the premises, where we met two teachers from town (Marie, “Jenny” and her husband George), and were later joined by Mattthias, the delightful young German (who does crash site recoveries) that we met in 2002. We had a lovely time and some funny translations as we attempted to communicate in English, German and Czech. (The bill for beer, wine and potato chips for 9 people was less than $15.00!) Paul slept like a log, but yours truly was restless, as always, in the beginning of a trip.
(9/11/04)The 60th anniversary of the battle …and the 3rd anniversary of the tragedy that has changed the world forever… Sobering …
After showering and attempting to dry with the “world’s smallest non-absorbent bath towels”, we had a typical Czech breakfast (Turkish coffee, rolls, cheese, lunchmeat and jam). At 10:30 we went to the museum for snacks and visiting, then walked to town and explored the tiny grocery store.
There was a large crowd for the ceremony at 12:15, and it was very moving, with speeches, wreath and flower presentations, and two fly-overs by USAF F-15s. Dad gave interviews to USAF personnel and Czech radio, and autographs for the locals. (click here to see the article) We had a late lunch at Hotel Central (pepper-steak, pork schnitzel, pork with asparagus, and roasted or French fried potatoes and a medley of raw vegetables). From 3 – 5 PM we thoroughly enjoyed a concert on the square of “Big Band Swing” music by “Slany” – a wonderful orchestra of young musicians and an excellent singer.
It was a picture-perfect sunny day. There were balloons instead of bombers in the air, and former enemies were relaxing as friends and clapping to big band music a la Glenn Miller. The horror that took place over this town and the many Germans and American lives lost that day will never be forgotten – but are now a part of history, thanks to Jan Zdiarsky and his museum. Miraculously, noon in the town was killed that day, according to dad.
To read a short history of the battle from the museum’s brochure... click here
The Luftwaffe pilots from the battle that attended the ceremony were: Manfred Kudel (JG4, FW 190), Alfred Ambs (JG7, Me262), Helmut Detjens (J64 & J67, Me109, Me262) and Heribert Koller (J654, FW 190). The Americans were Dad (George Geise – B-17 navigator), Lew Wallace (copilot, B-17) and Eva Sage (sister of Elmer Farnsworth, a B-17 pilot killed in the battle that day).
The busy dad concluded with a concert in the Catholic church by students from a school in Chumotov – a smaller group than the one we enjoyed two years ago, but still outstanding acapella music, followed by some lively pieces by a sextet with 2 guitars, cello, keyboard and 2 singers (who also played Irish flute, tambourine, etc.). The program included classical religious pieces, gospel, and Czech and American folk music
We then went back to the museum, but there was little time for visiting with the Luftwaffe pilots because they were kept busy signing 500 (!) prints of a painting of the German jet fighter plane for a private company. Since no food was available there, we returned to Pension Pohada to meet our teacher friends and were delighted to find out that the club was also a “café” and could give us each a plate of chicken schnitzel and French fries. It was delicious and welcome – though I’m sure that our late order (9:30 PM) was not appreciated by the young woman trying to run a busy bar alone! We had another pleasant visit with our new friends, continued our Czech, German, English translation challenges, and promised to write via email. After many warm hugs, they gave Dad two gifts: a 1920 photo of Kovarska (called “Schmiedeberg” at that time) and a book of pictures and descriptions of the towns in the area.
(9/12/04) Everyone had a poor night’s sleep because of wild screaming and stomping in the bar below, where the locals were watching the Czech national team play hockey in the semifinals on TV. (The Czechs lost to Canada 4-3 at ~ 3:00 AM!) We left Pension Pohada at 9:15 and decided to try the Hotel Central for breakfast, but they stopped serving at 9:00 (!), so we drove to Prague on empty stomachs, arriving at the outskirts at ~ 11:30. We then circled countless times around narrow one-way streets before finally finding the Betlem Club Hotel with the help of a taxi driver! After unloading the luggage, Paul and Stan had to take the car to a parking garage behind the National Theatre – then walked back to the hotel (getting lost again)!