Going to Birkenau
This morning started just as all the rest did. The aroma of breakfast motivated me to get out of bed and head downstairs for something to eat. After breakfast I saw that Mom was online so I got into another long chat with her online.
I finally was able to get offline with Mom and packed a few things into my backpack and headed out for the train station. I got some pointers first from the people at the front desk and they helped me with what transfers to catch since I was planning on swing by the airport first and picking up my airline ticket to Bucharest. I walked down the end of the block where the U-Bahn station was and bought a day ticket to the airport. It took just about 30 minutes to get from the station to the airport, so that was good to know in case I decided not to take a cab back tomorrow when I leave. The airport seemed so familiar to me this time, I knew exactly where to go to the Tarom ticket counter to pick up my ticket. The lady there had a very worried look on her face for a moment, but she finally figured out that I wasn’t planning on flying today, but tomorrow. So once she had that little bit of information, she was able to go into the backroom and find my ticket waiting for me.
With my airline ticket in hand, I headed back across the way to the train station. There was a Duetsche Bahn counter in the middle of the terminal so I stopped in to see if the lady could advise me on how to get to Birkenau. She had a look like she’d never heard of the place before, but typed it into her computer and all the transfer information came up. She then began to describe to me where to go and when to switch trains. I asked if I could have some paper to write all that down and she said, “No problem. I can print it all out for you and you can even purchase the entire ticket right here”. With that kind of convenience, I whipped out my money and got it all taken care of right on the spot. Now with train ticket in hand too, I made my way back downstairs to the S-Bahn platform for the journey to the Frankfurt Hofbahnfof (which was only three stations away from the airport).
Once at the Hofbahnfof, I didn’t realize that this was the famous Frankfurt rail station that you see in all the movies. They have so many tracks that come right into the station and leave for all parts of Germany. The entire station is under five arched structures of steel and glass, but the sheer art and design used in each and every crevasse was just something to see. I had less than ½ an hour before my train came to take me south. It would take about 45 minutes to get all the way to Birkenau passing through stations along the way at Buchschlag, Egelsbach, Waldkolonie, Bensheim, and Weinheim, where I would switch trains once more and head East to Birkenau, barely 5 minutes away.
There were only a handful of people that got off the train at Birkenau and they seemed to disappear quickly once the train pulled away from the station. From the platform, I could see a large church steeple on the other side of the tracks and the bells were chiming in the top of the hour. It was 2 o’clock. The town seemed to be a virtual ghost town. With the exception of the few people that got off the train, I only saw a handful of other either walking on the streets or in through some of the windows I passed. I found the railroad crossing about a block down the road from the rail platform and just kept working my way in the direction of the church. The streets turned into these tiny little cobble stoned alley’s that you see in the old movies. The Church was just around the corner and from the plaque and signage out front, I could tell that this was the old Lutheran Church that the Rev. Anthony Jacob Henckel ministered at when he was living in this town back in the 1690’s. I took a few pictures of the place, but the gate was closed so I didn’t venture onto the church grounds.
As I continued walking down the street, I could begin to hear the ever louder laughter of children. I could see I was approaching some sort of park or playground at the end of a small plaza. There was a mother walking through the alley with her little boy on his tiny bicycle. I asked her if she spoke English and if she knew of any cemeteries that were located in town. She gave me directions to the cemetery, about three block with a simple “turn left, then turn right and you’re there”. I thanked her and continued on my way down the alley. I could see the cemetery over the gate that was along the street I was walking and it looked like it was kept very well. I had passed a business by the plaza that was the local headstone maker in town. And when I got to the yard, I could definitely see the results of there work. The cemetery was filled with all sorts of beautiful and large markers for the local residences. Each stone also seemed to have it’s own little garden area outlined around the casket and each plot seemed to be beautifully maintained by family or someone, planted with nice shrubs or flowers. I took some time and walked down each and every aisle, checking out every name buried there. I was hoping to see some really old markers or the Henckel, but no such luck. I think the oldest stones I saw in the place were for people born in the 1880’s or 1890’s. Nothing going back any further than that. So I could only conlude that there was another cemetery located somewhere in town, or that this cemetery had been obliterated during the war and it was just starting to rebuild itself since that time.
The heat and all that walking were really starting to wear on me. I was dripping sweat and my backpack seemed to be getting heavier and heavier on my back, not to mention not letting me breathe where my back was sweating. Since the town seemed very dead at this particular day and time, I began to work my way towards the train platform and find out when the next trains arrived heading back to Frankfurt. It was close to 3p.m. and I think the local school must have let out because all of a sudden, the train platform was covered with elementary aged school kids, like a swarm of locust. Half on the platform heading East, the other half waiting to head West. I guess this is how the children get to and from school when they live in neighboring towns. The eastbound train arrived first in about 10 minutes and the noise level around the train station dropped significantly once all those kids boarded and disappeared. But it was another 10 minutes before the Westbound train arrived, heading back to Weinheim. After transferring there to the train to Frankfurt, I sure was glad to finally sit down and get a load off my legs. It was a little warm still on the train, so I didn’t get too much rest before we were back at the Frankfurt Hofbahnhof, and I had to walk again to the S-bahn back to the center of town.
I got off after only two stops and remembered that this was the main street where I had seen that blue vase in the window of that shop I thought would be so perfect for Kristi. But when I got back above ground, I could see that I was quite a ways from the river and would have to walk down there to get to the shop. So, dripping sweat in the heat, off I went. I was really taking short steps and my legs were just burning with every movement. There wasn’t a position I could find that released me from the pain, so I just kept moving through it. When I reached the shop, the gal was just opening up and setting some of her things out on the sidewalk for people to browse. I went into the shop and told her exactly what I wanted and where it was in the window. She pulled it out and told me it was nearly 100 Euros, but must not have understood I still wanted it when she began to put it back into the window. I told her again the price was fine and I would take it. She began to wrap it up for me in newspaper, but I decided to make her stop for a second and snap a quick picture of me holding it, so that I would have something to show Kristi where I bought it. After that was done and she began to wrap it up for me, it suddenly dawned on me to ask if she took credit cards or not. It was such a small shop, and it turned out that she didn’t. And of all the luck the nearest bank was all the way back up the street just across from where I had come out of the train station in the first place.
So I told her to hold everything for me and I would go up to the bank, pull out some more cash for her and be right back.