Thursday, August 21, 2008


Our journey has taken us to the southern Germany to the border of Czech Republic. Our goal is a thumb-shaped region surrounded on three sides by Germany, and located in the middle the town of Asch. Just a few kilometers across the border brought us to the town limits. Before World War II this area was part of Germany, and it is in this town that my mother spent some of the happiest years of her early childhood.

But my mother´s story of her time in Asch after the war is similar to many in the region known as Sudetenland. Following the surrender of Germany that ended the war in Europe, the land was declared as part of Czech and the German citizens were deported to areas declared as part of post-war Germany. Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced and separated from their property and possessions. My mother never returned, and armed with a camera and what we could access on our bikes, we did our best to record images to give her a feel for what had changed.

The Asch of today is some ways very different from that of nearly 60 years ago when my mother walked in the streets, and in other ways it has not changed much at all. Going across the border, we passed rows of Asian street vendors selling everything from plaster gnomes to t-shirts and cheap luggage. Not far away were casinos and nightclubs and shops advertising massages.

Deeper into the city, many buildings showed the patina of years of unarrested weathering. Smokestacks, factory buildings, and multi-story apartments constructed after the war stand awkwardly between the older residential structures. The CR is now a member of the European Union (EU), and is currently in transition to change their currency to the Euro. And perhaps this association will lift some of the decay seen in the town. The construction work we witnessed in town - the pipeline replacement, the cobblestone street reconstruction, and many in-progress building renovations - may already be evidence of nourishment from this EU membership.

My mother spent a bit of time with Google Earth prior to our trip to reacquaint herself with the layout of the town. She drew me a simple map of the street of her uncle's villa and the route leading to another uncle's garden. We think we found both - above is the open space we believe was the garden.

Our day in Asch was under gray skies with periods of light rain, adding to the somber condition we found in Asch. We cycled east, out of the town into the countryside, and the clouds lifted. The feel of the towns and landscape was much different in the surrounding area, less decay and more like it may have been when my mother lived there. We ate lunch on a wooden bench covered with moss, next to a stone bridge just wide enough for a single car. And when we crossed the border back into Germany, immediately it felt like popping through a curtain back into the present time.

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