Friday, September 28, 2012

Mystery Photo 19: Remagen Bridge Head

The remaining towers of the Bridge at Remagen, Germany

The Ludendorff  railroad bridge at Remagen, before its destructionin WWII

    The structure pictured in my Mystery photo is the remains of the Bridge at Remagen, immortalized in the American war film, The Bridge at Remagen of 1969. This movie was based on historical facts, but it is otherwise fictionalized. It implies more strategic importance to this bridge than really existed.

     There was indeed a small battle to take the bridge. Soldiers of the US 9th Armored Division conquered the bridge on March 7, 1945. And it is true that the Germans tried very hard after its conquest to destroy the bridge but initially failed. After the Americans took the bridge they spent considerable engineering skills to try to repair what the Germans had done. They were sometimes under sniper fire or air straifing during this repair work and sometimes had to shoot out the lights they were using at night to prevent some of these attacks. The bridge's continued existence was important to the Allies morale and damaged the morale of the retreating Germans, because the first Allied troops to cross the Rhine river in mass crossed this bridge. But it was known that it would not tolerate the degree of traffic necessary to supply the war as it advanced further toward Berlin. It was also located in the middle of the fighting lines. There was more requirements for intact bridges to the south where General Patton's and General Bradley's troops were entering Germany proper. And in the north it was General Montgomery who led the second largest contingent into the Rhineland.

     This bridge at Remagen, called the Ludendorff Bridge was originally a railroad bridge with a single pedestrian pathway. The Germans had put planks across the bridge to allow vehicular traffic. But the Americans quickly put up two ponton bridges both upstream and downstream from the Remagen bridge because they knew the huge and heavy traffic of war would need these extra bridges.
And on the tenth day after capture, the Ludendorff bridge suddenly collapsed into the Rhine killing 28 soldiers of the Army Corps of Engineers. My father was in the 181st Engineering Corps, but his unit had been engaged in erecting one of the ponton bridges 3 miles upstream on the Rhine at Linz.

     There are memorial plaques on these remaining towers  honoring both Americans and Germans killed here. But the bridge no doubt has more presence in our minds because of that famous 1969 movie than because of any real strategic importance in history. Interestingly that symbolic importance has also found its way into several video games, one for Playstation and others. Even the movie that we watch every Christmas, The Wonderful Life refers to some WWII battle scenes and one character is sited as having died at Remagen taking the bridge. Since 2009, an annual reenactment of the battle at Remagen has been preformed at Tidioute, Pennsylvania where a bridge of similar structure to the Remagen bridge crosses the Allegheny River.

     When we did a river cruise on the Rhine a few years ago, I was looking for the remains of this bridge from the deck of our river ship, the Avalon. I felt a certain closeness to the area because I knew my father had been near here in 1945 working on ponton bridges. I was somewhat disappointed in seeing these two small stone towers set against a hill on the Rhine. If not forwarned, I could have easily missed them. For whatever reason, in our minds this bridge and the little town near it which gave the bridge its name have for us symbolized one of the more heroic episodes in the long story of World War II.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Writer's Block: personal thoughts about it.

    You might be asking where I have been for the last 3 months. This was the longest hiatus in my posting in the entire time that I have been doing this blog. Well, there were two big reasons. One was logistical. We took a trip for the whole month of July -- a long cruise of the North Atlantic.  We started in London -- did the Thames river cruise, the London Eye, and went out to Stonehenge, Salisbury Castle, and Bath. Then our three week cruise with the Nautica of Oceania Cruise lines embarked from Dover (the White Cliffs of Dover) with multiple ports of call. If your interest is peaked, I will tell you that we called at Edinburgh, Scotland; Lerwick, Shetland Islands; the Faroe Islands, Akareyri and Reykajvik, Iceland; Greenland; the Isle of Skye; Belfast; Dublin; Cornwall; Cherbourg, France; and Brugge, Belgium. Wow, what a trip. A lot of very interesting ports of call. You will no doubt see some posts with photos and stories from that trip.

The second reason for this hiatus is more esoteric. I have been writing this blog as an outlet for my "frustrated writer" status. I have always had a deep tugging in my heart to write -- not anything medical entirely, perhaps fiction, perhaps long fiction (ie novella or novel). I have written throughout my life in day to day journaling, in travel journals, and of course in my profession as a physician. But aside from patient records, it has always seemed like too much work especially after a full day of work as a physician and managing a home and children, to edit and polish something that I have written for publishing somewhere. So it just never happened. This blog has provided an easy outlet for this writing desire. The format and the way it adapts to short personal essays and travel writing with photos has made it particularly receptive to my brand of creativity.  But for the 2 months since we returned from our trip I just have not had an urge to sit down and create. Is this a form of writer's block or perhaps just laziness?
      My initial thought is that I am not enough of a writer to suffer from writer's block. These little vignettes that I publish on my blog are mostly triggered by our travels or by unusual or common place things that happen to me or mine. These posts have no deadlines; there is no remuneration; there are no expectations. So how could this blog create enough anxiety to produce so-called writer's block. Yet during these last 2 months at least, I did feel a small anxiety that I "should" be posting something. I was overdue. My readers, however few, would turn off from my blog because nothing new was coming up. Yet when I looked at the blog stats, there were still the same number of daily hits. People were continuing to read my old work. So that fact reassured me. Still, I could not make myself sit down and write something. Certainly our most recent trip provided ample subject matter. What was going on?

     So I looked up 'Writer's Block' on the easiest source: Wikipedia. As the scientist in me might expect, I learned that there have been numerous books and articles written about this topic. I found a favorite source -- a book by neurologist Alice W. Flaherty entitled The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer's Block, and the Creative Brain (ISBN 978061823065) This author postulates that some writer's block may come from dysfunction in certain areas of the brain. As functional MRIs shed more and more light on what various areas of the brain do and how the complex interactions of the various nerve tracts and ganglia in the brain interact with each other in response to specific thought patterns, I was not particularly surprised by the existence of this book. It will be a pleasant read for me
     I also found this great website which lists 10 types of writer's block. Indeed there are many varieties of this ailment. Several solutions, or practices such as free writing are suggested. Free writing is when you just write without regard to topic, grammar, punctuation, or even clarity. This practice often breaks writer's block, develops or even suggests ideas, and gets the creative juices flowing again. Also inserted into this website blog are wonderful photos of various science fiction and pulp magazine covers, making the site and the read very attractive as well. Check it out!

     I managed to break my own writer's block today. I just began to write first about our travel and my reasons for not having posted for a while. The idea of writer's block came to me and that provided these other jumping off places. I didn't even have to go to free writing.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Mystery Photo 19: Do you recognize this structure and monument?

     Here is a new Mystery Photo: I know I haven't posted on this blog for a while. Various trips and obligations have stood in my way. But to get me going again on regular posting, I am starting with this new Mystery Photo. I will tell you that this structure is in Europe. What is the structure?