About The Book

Under a Bomber’s Moon is the true story of a New Zealand navigator-bomb aimer with the Royal Air Force and a German night fighter pilot as they fight for success and survival over night time Germany during the bitterest years of the Second World War. In early 1944, after completing one tour of operations and winning the Distinguished Flying Cross for his exploits, the New Zealander, Colwyn Jones, was killed during a raid on Berlin.

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About The Night War Over Europe

During the Second World War the night sky over Europe was one of the most lethal places to wage war. By 1945 almost half of the airmen who flew with Bomber Command and a third of the Luftwaffe night fighter crew pitted against them had been killed. Many German cities became moonscapes of rubble, their inhabitants the first to experience the reality of ‘total war’ – itself a glimpse of the destructive potential of the nuclear age about to explode in the Far East.

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1 - Journey Among Ghosts EXTRA MATERIAL

Photo of Teufelsberg under snow

 

Picture left: US Cold War listening posts on top of Devil's Hill, western Berlin. See more pictures below.

A GHOST TOUR OF BERLIN 

The ghosts of Berlin’s nightmare years are not always easy to find, but a day or two of well planned travel is enough to see the key features. Berlin is a sprawling city that still reflects its postwar division into four occupation zones and the last traces of the Wall, which formed a tourniquet around West Berlin between 1961 and 1989. What follows is a tour of what I discovered of the wartime scars. It took me four years – and some lucky accidents - to find out about some of them. A separate article, under the chapter ‘Firestorm’ is under preparation, and will provide a tour of several wartime flak towers – massive, concrete structures that provided both shelter for thousands of civilians and platforms for the furious, anti-aircraft defences of the Reich capital. Berlin has excellent public transport, and all points on the following tour can be reached by suburban train, U-Bahn or bus, often with a short walk. If a car is available, however, it will save hours. 

Starting in the west, the Zitadelle (Citadel) is a short walk from the main shopping area of Spandau – a suburb whose now demolished prison played host to Hitler’s confidant-turned traitor Rudolf Hess until his death in 1987. The Citadel itself is a moated fortress dating back to the end of the 16th century. Today it is an awkward combination of military museum and cultural centre, but it served during the war as a laboratory for Nazi development of chemical weapons. In a moment uncharacteristic of the suicidal defence of Berlin in April and May 1945, the German commandant surrendered the Citadel to Soviet besiegers without a fight. 

Travelling east from Spandau two features are worth visiting and give a sobering insight into the cost of the war to both sides. The first - the Berlin War Cemetery on the main west-east axial road, Heerstrasse - is reached just after crossing the Frey Bridge over the Havel River. Boy soldiers defended this crossing with suicidal ferocity against the Soviets squeezing the capital from the west as the main onslaught advanced from the east in late April and the first days of May 1945. The Berlin War Cemetery contains the remains of nearly 3700 Allied fallen, most of them Commonwealth airmen shot down during air raids on Berlin and other eastern German targets. Col Jones and his crew are buried here. This cemetery, designed by Philip Hepworth, is a fine example of the restrained, dignified architecture of sites maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.  

Across Heerstrasse – but very difficult to find without detailed guidance – is a very different memorial to the fallen: A ‘way of sorrows’ winds up from the Murellenschlucht, the sugar-plum valley, to the hilltop remains of an execution site for at least 230 German soldiers shot between August 1944 and April 1945, mainly for desertion, though at least one was an officer involved in the July 1944 plot to kill Hitler. The trail begins just off one of the open-air parking areas for the Stadium that hosted the 1936 Olympic Games, which served as such a splendid propaganda showcase for the Nazi regime after coming to power three years before. The stadium’s main entrance is close to U-Bahn and S-Bahn stop Olympia Stadion (Olympic Stadium), which is on the main east-west line and is a short ride from the Spandau Bahnhof (railway station).  

Exuberant occasions like the 2006 Football World Cup final have helped offset the stadium’s Nazi–era associations but it remains, architecturally, an excellent example of the role major structures played in expressing the neo-classical giganticism of the time, complete with the blocky statues. Quite aside from this, it is a magnificent stadium. At the western end, stone tablets list the names of the 1936 gold medal winners, including New Zealand’s first – the 1500 metre winner Jack Lovelock. Lovelock’s brother, James, a Bomber Command navigator, died over nearby Potsdam in 1943. Instead of continuing east along Heerstrasse, a detour to the south provides a reminder that Berlin was the nerve centre of the ‘Final Solution’ to exterminate Europe’s Jewish population. S-Bahn station Grunewald maintains a memorial, Gleis 17 (Track 17), to the 55,000 Berlin Jews deported to the death camps from this very platform. It is described in Under a Bomber’s Moon and a photo is on the website chapter ‘Unsettled History’.

From the same station, the S-Bahn to Wannsee stops closest to the villa where the Wannsee Conference in January 1942 decided the ‘Final Solution’ – the extermination on an industrial scale, using the gas Zyklon B. The conference villa is maintained as a museum, its infamous past at odds with the beauty of the lake outlook through its windows. This is a long, but beautiful, walk from Wannsee S-Bahn station, so a car is an advantage. 

A straight line between the Berlin War Cemetery and Gleis 17 passes directly over the Teufelsberg – Devil’s Hill – twin mounds formed mainly from the rubble of 400,000 Berlin homes destroyed by Allied bombing and Russian artillery, and piled up there after the war. On one of the mounds are two domed towers (see photo above) once used as radio listening posts by the United States to eavesdrop on the Soviets, East Germans and other Warsaw Pact countries during the Cold War, when Berlin embodied both the symbolic and geographical divide between capitalist and communist Europe. Most paths up Devil’s Hill are runnels worn by many feet and bikes, which over time have exposed masonry and twisted iron from those smashed buildings. The view from the flat top of the mound without the towers is among the best in Berlin, and its breezy elevation also makes it a mecca for kite-flyers, picnickers and lovers. The fireworks parties on Devil’s Hill on New Year’s Eve are truly awesome, and the sight of Berlin as a sea of celebratory flame shows the city can put on a pyrotechnic party nowadays without flinching from memories of the wartime bombing.  

By train from either Wannsee or Grunewald, city-bound trains go through Zoologischer Garten (Berlin Zoo) Bahnhof. Passengers using public transport should hop off at this point and take a short walk to the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche, the Memorial Church, the broken-spired remains of which remember the war dead and provide a small insight into the devastation caused by the Allied bombing. By this stage of the west to east journey, the axial road has changed name from Heerstrasse twice and is about to do so a third time.

From Berlin Zoo station the S-Bahn travels due west above ground through its next stop, Tiergarten S-Bahnhof. At this point, the imperial boulevard design becomes clear. Directly off to the right heading cityward is the site of one of Berlin's three 40-metre-high flak towers, no longer discernible; the animals have reclaimed the turf. The view to the east from Tiergarten Bahnhof is marked by the Siegesäule. This Victory Column was erected to honour the Prussian victory over Denmark in 1864, and is clad by vertically laid, gilded cannons captured during that war. The column was moved on the eve of the Second World War to its current location from the front of the Reichstag on Hitler’s orders, to add grandeur to the boulevard along which his mighty Wehrmacht paraded as its warm-up to conquest.  

The stretch of road between this column and the Brandenburg Gate – a continuation of Heerstrasse out west – captures that epoch better than anywhere else in Berlin. Its name today, Strasse des 17. Juni, or 17 June Street, commemorates the bloody uprising in June 1953 by workers against the communist East German authorities. Russian tanks took to the streets to suppress that uprising, and just short of the Brandenburg Gate on the western side, similar hardware is on display at a monument to Soviet soldiers who died taking the capital in April and May 1945. Some of those dead lie in a small cemetery behind the tanks, guns and colonnaded façade of the memorial. Like all Soviet war memorials throughout Germany, its preservation was guaranteed under the ‘Four Plus Two’ Agreement by which the three western powers and West Germany agreed with the Soviet Union and East Germany on the withdrawal of the occupation powers from 1990.

Further off to the rear of this monument some five minutes’ walk away is the front of the Reichstag, the German lower house of Parliament. This was the prize for which the Soviets paid a high price in blood in the final days of the war, advancing across the red-sandstone Moltebrücke (Moltke bridge) spanning the Spree River, through a deluge of murderous defensive firepower to reach finally the steps of the Reichstag on 2 May 1945. There was irony in the value the Soviets placed on capturing this symbol of German power: it had been a mausoleum to dead German democracy ever since the Nazis passed the Enabling Act soon after coming to power in January 1933, and under which Hitler and his Nazi cronies assumed dictatorial power and emptied the Reichstag and its elected parliamentarians of theirs. The Reichstag ceased even to be occupied after arson (some say on the orders of Luftwaffe Chief Hermann Goering) left it gutted in February 1933. Despite this pre-war relegation of the Reichstag, the fighting to gain control of this building was among the fiercest of the entire war – the photo of Red Army troops erecting the Soviet flag from its roof remains an iconic (though a contrived re-enactment for the cameras) image of total victory – and defeat. A trip to the post-unification glass cupola of the Reichstag is a must for any tourist, at the very least for the view it affords, and is well worth queuing for. Among the extras to be seen on a separate tour of the building’s lower levels is graffiti scribbled in chalk and charcoal by Soviet soldiers in 1945. 

Leaving the Reichstag along Dorotheenstrasse, a short walk south back past the Brandenburg Gate leads to the huge Holocaust Memorial, a block half the size of a football field and studded by hundreds of rectangular, dark grey concrete dolmens, which form a grid of disorienting passageways undulating from knee-depth to trenches of about five metres. The subterranean theme is echoed across the road, where an unsealed parking lot covers the collapsed and no longer discernible ruins of Hitler’s bunker, his underground refuge from which he orchestrated the collapse of the Third Reich and where he committed suicide on 30 April 1945. This site was off limits until several years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, due to concern it might become a shrine for Neo-Nazis. Today just a placard marks this otherwise nondescript car park. The scale of the Holocaust Memorial opposite is a testament to the enormity of what the man in the bunker inflicted not just on Jews but more generally on Europe. Its size and central location also make a strong statement about the sincerity of modern Germany's atonement for the atrocities it committed during the Nazi era.  

From this memorial, a ten-minute walk along Wilhelmstrasse passes the former Luftwaffe headquarters which, ironically, escaped the Allied bombing and became the Finance Ministry following Germany unification in 1990. Just beyond that, to the south and behind the German upper house of Parliament, the Bundesrat, is a place of haunting: the ‘Topography of Terror’. This is an outdoor display describing the mechanisms and key figures of Nazi persection. Many of the displays are erected in the hollowed remains of the former ‘Prinz Albrecht Strasse’ Gestapo torture cells. And as a reminder that persecution didn’t end in 1945, this ghost stretch is bordered on one side by one of the best preserved stretches of the Berlin Wall. 

Tourists often flock along the road that leads from here, Kochstrasse, to where it meets Friedrichstrasse. This intersection is more commonly known by its previous function: Checkpoint Charlie, one of seven crossing points from the enclave of West Berlin to the corridors leading out through the German Democratic Republic (East Germany).  From Checkpoint Charlie, continuing north along Friedrichstrasse, a short detour right along Unter den Linden reaches the Neue Wache (new guard house) a memorial to the victims of war and tyranny. Before the Wall fell, East German soldiers goose-stepped the changing of the guard as if to stamp out the fascism the ‘guard house’ was designed to remind against. At the centre of this mini-Pantheon is a sculpture of a woman bowed in mourning, cradling a dead child, in warning against totalitarianism of any stripe. It is the work of a German artist, Käthe Kollwitz, whose works portray with raw directness the price ordinary Germans have paid during a century of tumult. Kollwitz knew this cost well: she lost her husband in the First World War and a son in the second. 

Friedrichstrasse Bahnhof lies just to the southwest of the Neue Wache and links up with public transport. This is the best way for those with the time and energy to travel to Berlin’s massive Soviet war memorial at Treptower Park. Words are inadequate to describe this giant among memorials. “Monstrosity” comes readily to mind, except that the Soviet suffering during the Second World War was itself monstrous, and the significance to the Soviets of their victory in the ‘Great Patriotic War’ against Nazi Germany cannot be overstated. The memorial has to be seen to be believed, let alone comprehended. By comparison, the Lincoln Memorial in Washington and the Australian War Memorial in Canberra seem like mere works in progress. 

When travelling east from Friedrichstrasse, instead of veering south to Treptower Park, another route (S3) leads to S-Bahn stop Karlshorst. From here, a 10-minute walk north, or a short bus ride (number 396), leads to a villa in the suburb of Karlshorst. This villa houses a museum to the events that ended the war in Europe. It was in the large conference room of this villa that Germany surrendered to the Allies on 8 May 1945. Today the only outward sign of this traumatic time to indicate the historical significance of the surrounding quiet residential neighbourhood is the selection of Soviet wartime era tanks and rocket launchers arrayed in the back garden.