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Report 2015: Alpine Adventures and Other Travels in the Rhone, Rhin and Rhön

By wendy lynn from California USA, Summer 2012

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Page 19 of 21: Fulda: OP Alpha and Kreuzberg

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Wendy and Joe at Kreuzberg Monastery near Fulda, Germany

We start the day by making the 30 minute drive to OP Alpha, Joe's old stomping grounds. OP Alpha is the former American observation post that guarded the East German border and the Fulda Gap, back when there was a GDR and BRD. Because of its important strategic location, troop maneuvers could be observed and evaluated far into enemy territory from this location.

OP Alpha is now a Cold War Museum. We see the former American guard tower and the former East German tower. In a surreal experience for Joe as the kids play in an East German pillbox.

It's a strange and moving experience for Joe who spent many nights at OP Alpha. Joe spent two, four-week stays here. He remembers it as a cold and boring place, full of sad stories. It's a real experience for Joe to be able to walk to the East German side, which was inaccessible to him in the 1980's.

We stop and chat with a German woman and her adult son who are surprised that someone as young looking at Joe was actually here when it was an active base. The majority of visitors appear to be local Germans.

You can see the small, formerly East German town of Geisa from the "border." During the cold war, Joe and other Americans had been told Geisa was a propaganda town but they were never sure. In fact, it is a very real town that simply ended up on the wrong side of the "fence." It's as charming and old as anywhere in the area. Later we will drive through the town and think about the different life one would have had here 50 years ago, compared to just ten minutes away on the other side of the fence. We read about numerous escape attempts, each with varying degrees of success. Some are very sad stories; families doing anything to escape -- even hot air balloons.

Wendy reads about the sad story of the OP Alpha Birch Cross, that is still there. The cross was erected in memory of two deserters who attempted an escape at this spot in Christmas of 1975. They had nearly reached their goal of freedom when one of them accidentally detonated a mine installed on the last border-fence. The defector was so seriously injured that for a long time everyone was certain he had not survived. His companion was arrested. All of this took place before the eyes of the Americans, who were not allowed to intervene. It was years later, after the reunitfication that the allegedly dead person came forward. He had, although heavily scarred, survived. Today the Birch Cross stands for all those who became victims of the German Division. It's inspiring. Joe also recalls a story in the 1980's of a fellow soldier who committed suicide while on watch duty. A lot of heavy history here.

But we try to be appreciative of how history has unfolded, our family and the beautiful weather. We are now a bit hungry and thirsty and looking forward to Kreuzberg, supposedly the best beer in the world and only available at the Kreuzberg Monastery. Joe remembers the place fondly. The beer is apparently very special and the monks are very careful about disseminating the stuff.

It takes us 30 minutes to drive to the Kreuzberg Monastery. It feels like a pilgrimage. The Nav system takes us to a small road and we see some promising signs. But the Nav no longer has us on a road -- we are off the grid -- and this doesn't seem familiar to Joe.

We park and get out to walk. We find a footpath that says Kreuzberg .9km so we follow it. It takes us up past a ski lift and a forking road where both signs point in different directions but both say .6km to Kreuzberg. We randomly choose one and eventually find ourselves at the official parking lot where there's a guy charging a few euros to park. Joe remembers the parking lot, except for the parking fee. We suppose we are in the right place.

Now we can see the monastery straight ahead. It's quite lovely and very bustling. We don't see any non-Germans. Everyone is eating and drinking and having a great time. The food is served cafeteria style and we don't waste any time getting a table and ordering food and beer. Again the food is served on nice plates with real silverware. The beer is served in attractive gray stoneware steins.

The beer is a revelation for Wendy. This fact can't be overstated. The beer looks like coffee, dark but not at all thick or heavy. It has a hint of molasses and we suspect the alcohol level is just a little less than we're used to in America. It is so smooth and easy to drink ... and tastes unlike any beer Wendy's ever had. It truly is the best. Ever.

The food isn't bad either. The selection is much greater than when Joe was here in the 1980's. Then, it was just brown bread and cold cuts. Now there are many menu choices, all traditional. We order schweinbraten with knodeln and red cabbage. And a Kreuzerplatte -- cold cuts, headcheese with cheese and rye bread and pickles. We get two giant pretzels. Wendy decides we need to come back tomorrow.

We see a priest and church group walking up a hill and hear some amplified chanting. We have one more beer and somewhat sadly walk back to the car. By now we are the only car left at the little parking area. Did someone siphon our gas? Joe thinks it looks a lot lower. We note some circular ruins across the hill that look interesting, but by now it's 8:30 or 9pm and it's time to head home.

One of our best days!

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