Tag Archives: Germany

Popcorned: The Submarine On The Big Screen

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-Casey Klekas

Last time, I discussed a brief episode I had inside an old Soviet submarine that was docked as a tourist trap in Hamburg, Germany. While my experience taught me the meaning of the term claustrophobic, it has not quelled my thirst for submarine movies. In fact, it has given me a new love and understanding of the entire genre. These films combine all the best elements of war movies, spy movies, and apocalypse movies. As a bonus, at least one side of the match is normally the Soviets or the Nazis.

Submarine movies are choc full of mutinies. Take Crimson Tide: this time a mutiny takes place aboard a nuclear submarine. Its star-studded cast includes Gene Hackman, Denzel Washington, Viggo Mortensen, James Gandolfini, and even the film debut of Ryan Phillippe. The crew of the USS Alabama are put on high alert as a band of old Stalinist rebels have taken hold of a nuclear missile silo in Russia, as well as a few attack submarines, and then threaten a missile launch at the United States. Harvard grad and closet pacifist, First Officer (Washington) takes on old-timey captain of the boat (Hackman) in a duel that holds the fate of the world in its hands (when the order comes in authorizing the release of nuclear weapons).

We see another mutinous plot combined with the threat of apocalypse in K-19: The Widowmaker, which is inspired by the true story of the Soviet Union’s first nuclear powered submarine. In this film directed by Kathryn Bigalow (Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty), fatal accidents and mechanical failures plague a hastily built boat and a worrying crew. The nuclear reactor has a malfunction, and unless the crew can fix the coolant leak, the crippled ship will become an atom bomb. This will destroy a NATO base and US destroyer nearby, which, as it’s set in 1961, would be the only light needed to send the very hot Cold War into a nuclear holocaust. The ship was never fitted with radiation suits, meaning those sent into the reactor room die horribly from radiation sickness. In fact, the entire ship is irradiated. Yet Captain Harrison Ford will not submit to First Officer Liam Neeson’s request of scuttling the ship or requesting help from the Americans. Mutiny and apocalypse! The true story of the submarine K-19, kept secret until Glasnost and the fall of the Soviet Union, records that all eight sailors sent in to fix the reactor room died of radiation poisoning within a few days. Within the next two years, fourteen more would follow. The other 117 onboard would be plagued with illness for the rest of their lives due to exposure to high levels of radiation. My only real complaint about the movie is that the actors all speak English with a Russian accent, which makes absolutely no sense.

Other great submarine movies include U-571, starring Matthew McConaughey, Bill Paxton, and Harvey Keitel. This film follows the quest to turn the tide of the WWII in favor of the allies by capturing the famous Enigma typewriter, a codifying keyboard used by the Nazis to encrypt messages.

Speaking of Germans, how can we forget the 1981 classic, Das Boot. Directed by Wolfgang Peterson, Das Boot follows shows WWII from the perspective of a German periscope. The famous German U-boats, or Unterseeboot (literally “undersea boat”), dogged English and American ships in the Atlantic, and in this film (the theatrical cut is 149 minutes, but other cuts are close to five hours long) we follow one crew through the thunderous silence of avoiding detection and depth charges, the explosive barrels sent to the deep from the Allied ships above.

But, my favorite submarine movie is The Hunt For Red October, a story based on the Tom Clancy novel of the same name about a new Soviet submarine that with a new, ultra quiet propulsion system could sneak into the Hudson River and destroy America with no warning or chance at retaliation—a “first strike weapon.” Sean Connery plays Captain Marko Ramius who attempts to turn the Red October, the new submarine, over to the Americans. Alec Baldwin plays Jack Ryan, a CIA analyst who makes contact with the Russian captain against the efforts of his skeptical superiors. The script is a masterpiece and the acting is superb. By a wide margin, I can safely say that I have seen The Hunt for Red October more times than any other film of any genre.

Jeffrey Jones (you know him as Principal Edward Rooney) plays Skip Tyler, a retired sub captain turned shipbuilder who advises Jack Ryan on smuggled pictures of the Red October. Speaking on the nature of ballistic submarines he says, “When I was twelve, I helped my Daddy build a bomb shelter in our basement, because some damn fool parked a dozen warheads ninety miles off the coast of Florida. This thing [the Red October] could park a coupla’ hundred warheads off Washington or New York and no one would know anything about it until it was all over.” I think this is what I find so gosh darn alluring about submarines and their Hollywood imitations. Of course, a submarine movie need not be so grave (see Down Periscope), but generally their drama comes from the fact that their setting and content is so deadly serious.

I remember in seventh grade, my science teacher was telling the class about nuclear weapons and she mentioned the US submarine fleet having the capacity of destroying most of the world’s major cities. We have eighteen Ohio-class submarines and each carries twenty-four nuclear warheads (432 total, if my math and sources are correct). One of my classmates had a panic attack and her mother was called in to feed her some sedatives.

Of all the films I’ve mentioned, Crimson Tide and The Hunt for Red October should be on everyone’s Instant Queue, although only the latter is currently available on Netflix. I can’t really square my healthy obsession with these films with the fact that I couldn’t muster five minutes in even a museumed version of one of these boats. But, I recommend you try all of the above and see if you don’t sink to the hull crushing depths of my sub-mania.

Submarines: I like the movie better

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-Casey Klekas

The few pictures I have of that dreadful boat have Facebook captions like, “ten seconds before five of the most uncomfortable minutes of my life. Don’t go in old soviet submarines if you value space, hygiene, safety or life in general.”

Some context, perhaps. I spent a solid month in Germany this summer. My last few days were spent in Hamburg—Germany’s second-largest city and the second-largest port town in Europe. On the night train from Bamberg to Hamburg, I made sure I had a few attractions circled for the next day, minor preparations for walking off a hangover I’d brew in one of the most famous red light districts in the world, the Reeperbahn. One of the sights that caught my attention was the Soviet submarine U-434.

A member of the Soviet Navy since it was launched in 1976, this Tango-class sub spends its retirement as a museum docked on the River Elbe. I was traveling with one of my closest friends, Mike. Mike and I share a love of submarine movies, so he didn’t need any convincing to walk the few miles from our hostel down to the docks.

As soon as I walked down the spiral staircase, I realized I could not turn around and go back out the one-way entrance. The only exit was on the other end of the ship. The ship is five feet short of a football field in length, although I only had to walk about half of that.

If I haven’t given it away, it was a claustrophile’s paradise. You could hardly manage a shuffle behind a family of Turkish immigrants and with Scandinavian tourists breathing down your neck. Crouching was a must.

Also, it made me doubt the party propaganda around the magnificence of Soviet workmanship. My only thought: “Tetanus!”

Jim Morrison coming out of my headphones wasn’t helping either, “Five to one, baby/ One in five/ No one here gets out alive.”

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I left Mike behind, and he surfaced out the other end ten or so minutes later to find me sucking heavily on a cigarette.

What was most shocking was the lack of space. I can hear you saying, “Well, no ship—it is, after all, a submarine.” Yes, I had acknowledged the fact that Hollywood might have made submarines look a bit roomier than the real deal, but nothing quite prepares you for being trapped like a greasy sardine. I hadn’t even left the port—the ship was DOCKED. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be out at sea, way out away from the dock, Ahoy!

And yet, I would not turn down the opportunity to revisit any fictionalization of these metal tubes filled with sweat and Spam. Why? Well, that’s for next time. As far as my own limited experience, it has taught me to only reenter a submarine if it is through a pair of Hollywood lenses.

It’s pronounced “Rine-hites-ge-boat”

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-Casey Klekas

In case you missed it, April 23 was German Beer Day—well, the official one, anyway. It is a day to celebrate the 497th anniversary of the German Beer Purity Law, known as the Reinheitsgebot. Besides appreciating the oldest food-quality regulation in the world, it is a day to celebrate the German character in its fantastic, meticulous, compulsive rigidity.

On April 23, 1516, the Duke of Bavaria, William IV, signed the Reinheitsgebot, or “purity order,” into effect. Among other things, the law contained a list of ingredients that could be used in the production of beer, a list three words long—barley, hops, water. Violation would be met with the swift punishment of confiscation of the accused kegs without monetary or sudsy compensation.

The idea was to discourage brewers from using grains that were needed for food, such as rye and wheat, thus making barley a brewing staple. Hops were found to prevent early spoilage of beer, acting as a sort of natural preservative. Their antibacterial effect also helped make beer a safe (and swell) alternative to questionable drinking water. This decree also partially reflected the German’s insatiable thirst for purity.

In 1871, Germany was born. Before the wars of unification, Germany was only a loose configuration of kingdoms. The Kingdom of Bavaria demanded that their ancient Reinheitsgebot be adopted by all of Germany, which meant bye-bye to Belgian style beers, fruit beers, spiced beers, and even the Hefeweizen (no wheat!). This also meant that Bavarian-style lagers and pilsners would forever define what we think of as German beers.

The reign of the Reinheitsgebot endured two world wars and the partition of Germany. Tragically, it didn’t live to see Germany’s reunification, having been declared illegitimate by the European Union as an interference with a free-market.

Thankfully, in 1993, the Provisional German Beer Law, or Biergesetz, reinstated the Reinheitsgebot with only minor changes. Wheat was now OK, as the Germans were no longer dealing with medieval fears of famine. Yeast was officially included, although it had really been there all along. Before the 1800s, no one knew those microorganisms existed, nor their vital role in the brewing process. They normally just scooped some germy sediment out of the last batch of beer or else hoped for some sort of natural fermentation. Cane sugar was also allowed in the production of ales (top-down fermentation), but still not in the treasured German lager (bottom-up).

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To this day breweries will label their beer as being in accordance with the Reinheitsgebot. This mark of quality has lasted nearly 500 years. So, next time you are in the German beer section, check the bottles for the little golden words that read something like, “Brewed under the purity law of 1516.” Tip your hat to the German people in all their meticulousness and enjoy half a millennium of beautiful tradition. Prost to the Reinheitsgebot!

From Football to Futball

-Brooke Brown

I’ve never been a fan of futball. Football, on the other hand, is a different story (I love my Ducks, and I’m still smelling roses).

The low-scoring, low-contact game of soccer just hasn’t ever quite sucked me in like an action-packed game at Autzen can. But being in Europe for the World Cup has transformed me into a futball fan.

It’s a big transition from the world of 300-pounders and 50-yard touchdown passes to goals scored by headers and games that have a strong possibility of ending in a tie. But there is something special about this game that Americans don’t have in all of our pro-sports leagues: patriotic spirit. This is country on country here, not just franchise on franchise. These teams are fighting for bragging rights and prestige for four years, and they do so draped in the colors of their home. That’s some serious pressure.

The world cup in Europe is like The Olympics on crack. There’s deep-seeded country rivalries, and fans who watch their country’s players compete from the club level all the way up to the country’s elite squad.

In Germany, there were faces painted with the German flag days leading up to a game. There were huge big screens set up in the middle of every town so that everyone could cheer on their country together. And there were parties…lots of parties. We’re talking a massive party in the streets when Germany beat Argentina.

A man literally wheeled a keg up to the dancing crowd of ecstatic futball fans and starting giving away beer. Lines of cars drove by with people hanging out of the windows and sunroofs draped in German flags and cheering to anyone that would listen. It felt like how the city of Portland would react if they won the NBA Championship, except the Germans didn’t need to win a championship for its fans to go crazy. This was just the quarter-finals.

But their exciting run for the World Cup championship is over after a loss to the team that won it all, Spain. Sure, the fans were disappointed and the drunken Deutschland cheers are slightly muffled. But they make it clear that they are still proud of their team and of their nation, no championship necessary.

Looking back, it may be a good thing that Germany lost to Spain. Otherwise, these fans could have done some serious damage. It’s all fun and games until someone burns down a castle.

Let Me Just Google Map Croatia…

-Brooke Brown 

 

Pictured is the island of Susak. Croatia lies on the Adriatic Sea and extends all the way from Slovenia and Hungary to the North, all the way down to Montenegro in the South.

 

In the span of 48 hours I was in Seattle, Frankfurt, and Zagreb, Croatia.

Needless to say, the start of my European summer was a zombie-like daze dealing with a serious time zone mix-up. Especially after leaving Eugene, Oregon in the typical frenzy of packing for three months with a brain like Jello from a good-old 8 a.m. math final that day.

I’ll be living in Heidelberg, Germany for the summer doing the college summer Euro-vacation and soaking in every second of it. Heidelberg is known for being on the verge of a little too touristy, but I’m convinced there’s more to explore here than what your average tourist looks for. Sure, many of the Germans speak English and there are plenty of cliché touristy items lining the streets (admittedly, I already purchased a ‘Das Boot’).

But there’s also one of the oldest castles in Germany and a thriving college bar scene, which I’ll be sure to drunkenly embarrass myself at some point or another as a stupid ‘Americana’ (the beer is a lot stronger here, I can’t help it).

But as I flew into Zagreb, Croatia for a brief visit, it felt like anything but a stereotypical Euro-trip kind of vacation. It could just be my naïve American perspective announcing its annoying presence to me once again, but I don’t think I’ve ever known of anyone going on vacation to Croatia.

I thought I knew my geography fairly well until I realized Google Maps was the only way I could really accurately pinpoint where the country was. I guess I can’t be too mad at myself, most Americans probably don’t even know there is a country named Croatia.

It’s sandwiched between Eastern and Western Europe, making it an odd jumble of cultures that used to have control over the country. It’s incredible the Croatians have been able to hang on to their language and culture at all since the first time they ever really had control of their own country was in 1991. They’ve been littered with war, surviving brutal and bloody ethnic cleansing, a Nazi puppet government, and finally winning a bloody battle for their independence from Yugoslavia.

But now it would be hard to guess that war was taking place here just a couple decades ago.  Europe’s new Italy is filled with plush resorts on glimmering turquoise water and plenty of culture that comes along with them. It’s cheaper than Italy and its beaches are just as beautiful, which draws tons of Europeans during summertime.

I almost had a heart attack at seeing the Roman ruins in Split, where the city itself was built around the remains of Diocletian’s palace from 300 A.D.

Well-built is a bit of an understatement. It’s hard not to compare our own buildings and architecture to this insanely old and intact emperor’s retirement home (there’s a nice alternative to Florida golf courses). Our buildings in the U.S. start deteriorating after forty or fifty years, let alone 1600. They even have fully intact remains of the palace’s stone olive press and several coffins, which makes me wonder if Ghost Hunters has ever thought of tapping this potentially very spooky and plentiful resource.

The basement of Diocletian’s palace. I wouldn’t want to walk these halls at night.

 

In Split, you can be eating gelato at a café that was built right into the ruins of Diocletian’s palace. How ‘bout that for some history? The white wine and seafood here is a deadly, mouthwatering combination that I’d probably consider as another very serious reason why I need to visit this country again.

The one other place I explored in Croatia is Susak, one of the very smallest inhabited islands off the coast (there are over 1200 islands in all). It’s the type of place where you could hide out if you were wanted for some crime; you’d at least get a couple years of beach-bum solitude before anyone would discover you.

There are no cars on the island and only one small, sleepy town where they still use a well to pump out water. It felt almost a world away from everything.

I ordered a beer at the one bar on the island and when the bartender asked where I was from I said Oregon. He responded nonchalantly in a thick Croatian accent with “Oh yeah, they have that good football team, the Ducks.” I smiled and realized it only takes a small reminder to see that home is never really too far.

Dresden

– Truman Capps

A few weeks ago, I visited London’s Imperial War Museum, which is basically one giant monument to the fact that if you live in the world, England has tried to kill your ancestors (or maybe even you—holla back, Ireland!).

In the basement of the museum was the Blitz exhibit, where groups of tourists were herded in small groups into a little faux World War II era bomb shelter which would vibrate slightly while recordings of explosions played, to simulate the experiences of Londoners taking shelter from Nazi bombs. Afterwards, a little door opened and we were ushered out into a replica of a bombed out London street, which would have been a very powerful moment had the whole thing not looked like it had been built out of cardboard boxes by someone who had never been to England.*

*So as rides go, I’d rate it below Disneyland’s Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln, but above everything at Great America.

What I found most interesting about the experience, though, was that a group of German tourists about my age was in the exhibit with us. As I watched them sitting in the fake shelter, listening to the fake bombs dropped by fake Germans, I thought, Yeah. How do you like them apples, bitches?

And when we stepped out onto the fake-destroyed street, in spite of its crappiness I wanted to turn to the Germans and yell, “Look what you did! Look what you did! Go back to your weinerschnitzel and your disturbing pornography; your kind aren’t wanted here! I hope the in-flight movie is Inglourious Basterds!

So even though the Blitz exhibit wasn’t great, it was sufficient to inspire me with blind, ignorant hatred of other nationalities, which is, I suppose, as good of an English history lesson as you’re going to get.

This whole situation got turned on its head when I visited Dresden.

Dresden is a charming little city of about 500,000 along the Elbe in Germany, perhaps best known as the place that got the absolute shit bombed out of it by the Allies late in World War II. It was during this bombing that Kurt Vonnegut, at the time an American prisoner of war, took shelter in the basement of Slaughterhouse-Five, an event which inspired his book, Slaughterhouse-Five.*

*Or, as I like to call it, Not Cat’s Cradle.

Historians estimate that the bombing and resultant firestorm in Dresden, a cultural center that was of very little military significance, killed between 24,000 and 40,000 people, most of whom were civilians fleeing the war. To cap off this grand historical douche-chill, the rail yards and factories on the outskirts of town, which were the only significant elements of the Nazi war machine in the area, weren’t targeted. It was America’s first foray into wartime assholery; fruitful years in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq lay ahead.

While the basement of the Imperial War Museum is a record of the Blitz in London, virtually all of central Dresden is a living record of the city’s destruction at the hands of Americans. At the center of the city, there’s a new cathedral that’s a replica of a cathedral destroyed in the war, partially constructed out of rubble of the first cathedral.

In the museum downtown, there’s a lot of information to be had about just how many priceless works of art and architecture were lost in the bombing. On the February 13 of every year, the anniversary of the bombing, the people of the city come together to protest war.

Needless to say, Dresden was sort of an embarrassing place to visit as an American. Whenever I would sheepishly ask a waiter if he or she spoke English, I always thought I could catch a glimpse of a steely look in their eye that said, “Oh, well—an American, here to survey the damage. Bad news—if you drop incendiary bombs on your currywurst, we’re not bringing you another one.”*

*This could also just be my reaction to the German language. At one point during my stay, I tried to walk into a bar that was in the process of closing. The manager came around the bar and briskly explained to me, in German, that they were no longer open, which was a traumatic experience for me because no matter what you’re saying in German, it sounds like, “I WILL CRUSH YOU!”

The city’s destruction gave Dresden a chance to rebuild, which they did in a variety of postmodern styles that now make Dresden something of an architectural landmark. While they still remember the past, it looks as though the people of Dresden were able to move beyond it and focus on the future. Hopefully the next time I’m looking at a piece of World War II history with a German, I’ll be able to do the same thing.

Do you see what I did there? Metaphor. You’re damn right I’m a journalism major.

Truman Capps uses metaphor extensively on his blog, Hair Guy.