Swissair: Did You Fly?

For the past several years Swissair has extended special fares to Gemütlichkeit subscribers. We know some of you have taken advantage of these lower fares on what we think is the world's finest transatlantic airline.

It's time to decide whether or not to continue this program to which we have devoted a good deal of our promotional efforts and resources.

To help us make this decision, we would like to hear from those of you who traveled on Swissair in 1999. We would like to know the number of tickets you purchased and your date of departure from the U.S. If you are in this category we would welcome your phone call at 800-521-6722.

As compensation for this inconvenience, we will extend your subscription for an additional six months. Your input will be appreciated. Call 800-521-6722.

Be Careful Out There

Here's something to think about. In our town, Ashland, Oregon, there is a company which acts as a rental agent for European homes and apartments. It advertises in travel publications and is listed on a number of prominent travel Web sites.

A few months ago the company, Europa-Let, closed its doors amid a flurry of local publicity. Its owner is under investigation for defrauding customers. Local authorities and the FBI believe that instead of forwarding customer's rental payments to the properties the company represents, Europa-Let's owner used the money for her own purposes.

So far, this is only an investigation, there have been no arrests. But the business is closed and local newspapers quote customers who paid advance rental fees only to find no reservations upon arrival in Europe. The amount involved is expected to exceed $350,000.

Those who paid by credit card, though seriously inconvenienced, are almost sure to get their money back. Those who paid by check can probably kiss their dollars good-bye.

The message is simple: when it comes to travel, pay nothing in advance by check or cash.

Let's See Those Bunkers

Last month we ran a short side-bar piece on places in Munich frequented by Adolph Hitler. Like a lot of very bad eggs there is a fascination about Hitler that lives on (Charles Manson, we read, is the subject of admiring Web sites). Just last year, for example, another book about him - Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil, by Ron Rosenbaum - was published.

Interest in Hitler is just one element in a 55-year struggle Germans have had in coming to terms with their country's Nazi past. It simply won't go away. Whether it should or not is a point I am not now prepared to argue. However - and in no way do I suggest this should be at all considered in its decision - the way in which Germany deals with these issues affects tourists as well as its citizens. A case in point is the current controversy over what to do with Hitler's bunker. The location has been known for many years, but construction workers looking for undetonated bombs just south of the Brandenburg Gate recently uncovered its concrete remnants.

Reluctant to turn war-related sites into tourist attractions - and perhaps rallying points for fascists and the country's tiny Neo-Nazis minority - city officials immediately announced the bunker would be covered over by a new street. This is the way most Nazi-identified places and artifacts have been handled. Last year, the bunker used by Nazi propaganda chief, Joseph Goebbels, was discovered but immediately reburied.

Of Germany's few reminders of the war, most seem to be in Berlin - a city which, by the way, never voted for Hitler. There, a stunning Holocaust Museum has recently been built; the Topography of Terror, where the Gestapo and SS did their grisly business, has been identified and preserved; the Anhalter Bahnhof is posted with signs identifying it as a place where thousands were herded onto trains bound for concentration camps, and the Wannsee house, where the "final solution" was plotted, can now be visited.

In the rest of the country, a traveler sees scant evidence of the war. In Berchtesgaden, for a few marks you can descend a ladder to clammy, grimy underground tunnels that once connected the vacation homes of high Nazi officials; but the whole thing is privately owned and has the aura of a circus sideshow. The grounds of Luitpoldhain Park, in southeast Nürnberg, where tens of thousands gathered for Nazi rallies, are overgrown with weeds and, last I heard, there is nothing to mark what went on there. Germany's former concentration camps, of course, have been preserved, but as memorials to their victims.

To present Hitler's bunker to the public would, admittedly, be a bit of a tightrope act. With artifacts such as swastikas and photos of the "Fürher" around, a sober historic site could easily turn into a monument or memorial at least, in the eyes of some.

Nevertheless, I come down on the side of those who say the place and other WWII related sites should be preserved and open to visitors. No matter how many bunkers get covered up, Germany isn't going to be and should not be allowed to forget or downplay in any way what happened.

As for concerns about such locations becoming inspiration for neo-Nazis, former head of Berlin's archaeological department, Alfred Kerndl, dismisses them and points out that the locations of the bunkers are no secret and "every neo-Nazi knows to the meter exactly where they are."

That the "Thousand Year Reich" ended in a dank, concrete bunker is a lesson that should not be lost.

October 1999