David McCormack: The Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp Memorial Site – Part One

How a place of detention, torture and murder became the home of the largest state sponsored forgery operation in the history of economic warfare.

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp was designed in early 1936 by SS Second-Lieutenant Bernhard Kuiper. The site was constructed in the shape of an isosceles triangle, with the apex at the rear of the camp and the two equal sides forming the camp boundary.

SS Architect Bernhard Kuiper

The base of the camp housed the gate house and administration building from which the whole camp could be observed. The wooden barracks were built on a semi-circle around the roll-call square. In 1937, Kuiper looked back on his work with pride, stating that Sachsenhausen was, ‘the most beautiful concentration camp in Germany’.
Andrzej Szczypiorski who survived the horrors of the camp disagreed. Years later, during a visit to the site of his detention and torture, he asked his fellow visitors, ‘do you remember our Sachsenhausen as an elegant camp?’.
Sachsenhausen gate house and administration building

The first prisoners incarcerated in the camp were those placed into ‘Protective Custody’ for either real or perceived offences against the state. By the end of 1936, the camp held 1,600 prisoners. Later, the camp held several other categories of prisoners including Jews, homosexuals, career criminals, asocial elements, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Soviet prisoners of war and Allied commandos/agents.
Salomon Smolianoff

Prominent prisoners included Pastor Martin Niemoller, former Austrian Chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg, Georg Elser (responsible for planting the Burgerbraukeller bomb in November 1939), Herschel Grynzpan (responsible for assassinating German diplomat Ernst von Rath in Paris in November 1938), Yakov Dzhugshvilli (Stalin’s son) and three of the ‘Great Escapers’ Sydney Dowse, Johnnie Dodge and Jimmy James.
Apart from being a place of detention, torture and murder, Sachsenhausen became the home of Operation Bernhard, an audacious plot to destabilise the British economy by flooding it with fake currency. The operation was essentialy a revival of Operation Andreas which ceased operations after it’s head SS Major Alfred Naujocks fell out of favour with the head of the Reich Security Services Reinhard Heydrich.
The new operation began in July 1942, and was headed by SS Major Bernhard Kruger who had arrested and subsequently incarcerated master forger Salomon Smolianoff in Mauthausen Concentration Camp three years earlier.
Operation Bernhard produced some 9,000,000 backdated notes in denominations of £5, £10, £20 and £50 to an estimated value of £134,000,000. For many years after the war, large numbers of fake notes remained in circulation, prompting the Bank of England to take drastic measures by withdrawing all notes larger than £5.
A recovered Operation Bernhard forged £5 note

A new £5 note was produced in 1957. Seven years later, the £10 was reintroduced. However, it was not until 1970 that the £20 note was reintroduced. Incredibly, it took until 1981 for the £50 to be finally reintroduced. Such was the legacy of Operation Bernhard. Learn more about this fascinating subject on our Holocaust themed tour ‘The Story of Anne Frank and Oscar Schindler‘.
The second part of the Sachsenhausen blog will focus on the murder of Soviet prisoners of war, the liberation of the camp and its subsequent establishment as a Soviet ‘Special Camp’.

A Breath of Fresh Eire

Shamrocks, leprechauns and whiskey… Ireland is awash with culture, myth and, well, spirits. But, not just that, it’s also packed full of fun and frolics.

Swathes of stunning countryside, mountains and castles, cities, coastlines, just a short hop across the Irish Sea. What more could you ask for? Guinness? Well you’re in luck because there is plenty of that on offer, 10 million pints are produced daily in Dublin alone!
But, if you’re planning to jump on over to Ireland, let us tell you about our top 5 hotspots of the beautiful Emerald Isle.

Dublin

The Dublin Spire

If Ireland is the land of craic, then this is certainly the capital of craic! Obviously, you can’t have a blog about Ireland without mentioning the mighty Dublin. Home of the Leprechaun museum, Jameson’s distillery and the world famous Guinness Storehouse, it’s a diverse city with plenty to see and do… for everyone!
From cathedrals, to the impressively sized Phoenix Park (it’s so big it even has a Zoo inside!), Ha’penny bridge, O’Connell bridge – the only traffic bridge in Europe that is wider than it is long – and Ireland’s oldest pub, The Brazen Head.
You can even sail down the River Liffey on an amphibious bus wearing Viking helmets. Like we said, it’s the capital of craic.
Even our CEO has been caught enjoying the craic on St Patrick’s Day in Dublin.

It’s the resting place of the patron saint of love, St. Valentine, and has been given a UNESCO City of Literature title, one of only 6 in the world.
If you’re wondering why, here’s a scratch in the surface of who called this wonderful city home… playwright Oscar Wilde, Dracula creator Bram Stoker, Nobel Prize and Oscar winner George Bernard Shaw and, of course, Ulysees writer, James Joyce. A talent pool you couldn’t turn your nose up at.

Wild Atlantic Way

Slieve League

From the most northern point to the southern peninsulas, the Wild Atlantic Way is a 2500km stretch of western coast line. We  may have been a bit sneaky having this as a ‘hot spot’, with 157 discovery points, 1,000 attractions and more than 2,500 activities along the way, but a visit to any part of the Wild Atlantic Way is a must for anyone wanting to explore more of Ireland, outside of the Dublin hub.
From the northern headlands, with highlights such as Slieve League, some of the highest cliffs in Europe with an impressive 609m drop into the churning Atlantic below, to the rocky natural beauty of the south.
One must-see, reaching far into the Atlantic, is the Dingle Peninsula, one of southwest Ireland’s final fanfares and a great place to visit. The rugged landscape, the dramatic, swirling waters at the cliff foot and the sandy coves, if you’re looking for spectacular scenery, this is the place for you.
Dingle Peninsula

Stopping off in the town of Dingle, you may notice the houses, like a pastel patchwork of pretty buildings. Why? You ask. Well, it’s all down to Ireland’s ‘Tidy Town’ competition, held over 30 years ago, that inspired the makeover, and it’s still just as impressive today.
And, we can’t forget the Ring of Kerry. And no, despite it being the land of the leprechaun, that isn’t a piece of jewellery stashed away in the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, it’s actually the most frequently travelled tourist route, around the Iveragh Peninsula.
It’s one of the most mythical and unspoilt areas of the Emerald Isle and is well worth a visit. Even if you’re just seeing what all the fuss is about, you won’t be disappointed.

Donegal

Fanad Head Lighthouse, Donegal.

Dubbed the ‘coolest place on the planet’ by National Geographic Traveller magazine. In fact, it was actually used as the setting for the upcoming Star Wars film, The Last Jedi, due to be released in December 2017.
Ireland has become a hit with the Lucas film cast and crew having shot scenes from The Force Awakens in the country, but, the trailer already shows us the breath-taking scenery shot on location in the Irish town itself.
But, beyond the scenes of the silver screen, Donegal has a lot more on offer. Rugged coastline, serene beaches, castles and mountains, just to name a few. The bustling town is the crown jewel of the area, a true Gaelic great. There’s plenty of fantastic souvenirs to grab whilst you’re there, too, with hand-woven tweed a popular product of the area.
Even if you’re looking to have a crack at enjoying the ‘craic’, being outside of Dublin will not do you any disservice. The pubs of the Diamond Area of Donegal are a great stop off to rest your feet and enjoy some of the local culture and a tipple or two.
So, whilst in Donegal, “Go mbeidh an fórsa leat!” Or, may the force be with you, if you’re not fluent in Gaelic.

County Wicklow

Glendalough

The capital’s favourite playground, stretching south of Dublin, County Wicklow is an area of natural beauty, and is one not to be missed.
The picturesque Wicklow Mountains National Park offers an impressive backdrop to one of the country’s most popular walking trails. Laraghs (lakes), mountains (obviously) and traditional Irish pubs (of course), there’s plenty on offer in the serene wilderness that is Wicklow.
And, as the old saying goes, in the beautiful Irish village of Ballykissangel, everybody knows each other’s business… and you can get to know it too. If you’re a fan, visiting Avoca village the set of the popular BBC One series, is one of the exciting attractions on offer in the county.
Ballykissangel… sorry, Avoca.

A small village with pretty buildings and, yes, stepping in the footsteps of a young Colin Farrell can be part of the attraction, but the village itself is simply a treat to visit. You can visit the Fitzgerald’s pub, the church, the shops and the Garda train station and see exactly what drew film crews to this stunning pocket of Ireland.
But, if that’s not enough scenery for you then why not hop over to Glendalough? Hands down one of Ireland’s most beautiful destinations.
Home to one of the most important monastic sites in Ireland, the spot is full of impressive ruins from early churches, a graceful round tower and plenty of sites relating to the life of Saint Kevin – the founder of Glendalough.

Cliffs of Moher

The Cliffs of Moher

You’ve probably heard of the Cliffs of Moher, or at least seen photos of them, maybe you didn’t even know their name at the time? But, the image sticks in your mind because, well, they’re pretty impressive to say the least.
For anyone who’s interested in geology, the cliffs date back to over 300 million years. They’re mostly sandstone and shale and their individual layers that have rested over the millions of years lead to variations in the erosion rate from the powerful waters below, giving them that famous ragged edge.
Attracting over 1 million visitors a year, they’re fairly famous too. Remember the Holy Stone of Clonrichert in Father Ted? Yep, this was on the Cliffs of Moher. You can see the natural beauties in all their glory in the “Tentacles of Doom” episode.
But, they’ve also made cameos in The Princess Bride, Into the West and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, to name a few.
They’re also a nature spotting haven! It’s even protected by EU legislation as an area of importance for bird species. So, what can you expect to see? Atlantic puffins, Guillemot, Razorbill and Kittiwake, to name a few.
The sea is rich with plankton that attract whales and whale sharks, seals are common and occasionally, you may be lucky enough to spot a pod of dolphins.
Atlantic Puffin

If Ireland sounds like your sort of thing, then why not visit for yourself? We’ve got a great selection of Emerald Isle tours, from St Patrick’s Day in Dublin to the Ring of Kerry. So, why not take a look and see if we’ve got the experience that suits you: Escorted Tours to Ireland.

5 Big Reasons to Visit Eastern Europe

Think of Europe, and we know what would spring to mind, popular holiday and sightseeing destinations, such as the likes of Italy, France, Germany and Portugal, for example. But what about those destinations a little further east?

It may not have the most glamorous reputation, when you have the glitz and glamour of western Europe heavy weights like the French Riviera and the sunny Spanish coast to compare it to, but there’s a lot more to Eastern Europe than stag do’s and a cheap pint.
In fact, we don’t think we’re alone when we say it’s actually one of the most fascinating pockets of Europe.

The view over Budapest from the Fisherman’s Bastion

From the Czech Republic to Russia, there’s plenty to see and do, and if you aren’t mesmerised by it all, we’ll eat our hat! But, as we’re not ones to keep things like this to ourselves, here are our top 5 reasons to enjoy a holiday in Eastern Europe.

History

Eastern Europe has more historical tales than you can shake a stick at. It is complex, it’s gruesome and it’s fascinating. The good, the bad and the downright ugly, from the Red Army to the Iron Curtain, there’s a lot to be learnt. And, you don’t have to be a history buff to be astounded by what can be found here.
Auschwitz, for example, is a place where the word ‘visiting’ simply does not explain the wave of emotion and the feelings that you experience when you are where the most deadly of the concentration camps stood.

Auschwitz

In 2016, a record 2 million visitors, from all over the world, came to Auschwitz. Walking into the site, you’re met with the eerie reality of what happened there, not all that long ago, allowing us to re-live to the darkest echoes of the past.
Budapest offers a unique look at how previously independent communities of Buda and Pest, separated by the Danube, have come together to create one of Eastern Europe’s most popular cities.
From medieval castles to memorials built in honour of the Soviet liberation of Hungary from Nazi forces, it’s one of many fascinating cities that should be on every European explorer’s wish list.
In Berlin you can still learn about the reality of the segregation, including the Iron curtain that lead to the Cold War.
Brandenburg Gate

With parts of the Berlin Wall still visable, and Brandenburg Gate now one of Berlin’s most popular attractions, the reminders of the past that separated the communist countries of Eastern Europe and capitalist countries of the west are still apparent and give us an interesting opportunity to learn about the history of Europe as a whole.

Variety and Culture

Within a relatively small area of Eastern Europe, you can enjoy a variety of different cultures. From Finland to Russia, the cultural landscape is diverse. You can even cover a whole spectrum of exciting destinations is just a short time, as there are plenty of exciting countries in close proximity to each other.
Even though the east is rapidly becoming more westernised, enjoy the Bohemian lifestyle in the Czech Republic, the rich culture of Russia with its outstanding arts, music, and of course, ballet.
Even cities such as Prague and Krakow are still steeped in fascinating tradition. Cobbled streets, horse and carts and plenty of museums and theatres, you can be sure to get a cultural feast in either of these cities.

Krakow

But, it’s certainly doesn’t end there. With the likes of Vienna, Ljubljana and Dubrovnik, there’s plenty to see for all the culture vulture’s out there.
And, best of all, you’ll get more for your money! In most areas you’ll find a vast difference in costs between Eastern Europe and its western counterpart. A pint of beer a relative steal, and a tasty meal just a snip at what you’d expect to pay, even at home.

Sight-seeing

A real crowd pleaser, Eastern Europe doesn’t fall short when it comes to photo opportunities. Forget about the Eifel Tower, here we’ve got the un-sung heroes that might even top the list when it comes to sightseeing opportunities.
As Winston Churchill once said “The Balkans produce more history than they can consume” – and that’s just the start of what’s on offer! In fact, Vogue called Eastern Europe 2017’s hot travel destination. Ooh, you trendsetter, you!
As we’ve already stopped off there, let’s delve a little deeper into Prague… it is host to a wonderful selection of landmarks, most famously the Astronomical Clock, and of course, Charles Bridge.

Charles Bridge, Prague

In fact, in 1989, the largest number of tourists were recorded at Charles Bridge, coming in at a whopping 1562 people. Doesn’t sound like a lot? Considering the bridge is only 1600 feet in length, and with four lanes of traffic, that’s almost one person per foot!
But, of course, that’s only dipping your toes into this amazing city. There’s also Prague Castle, Petřín Park and Wenceslas square right on your doorstep. Luckily, there’s also a host of fantastic bars, restaurants, and cafes, if you need to take the weight off for a minute or two.
The imperial city of Vienna gives you a chance to see incredible architecture, such as the Hofburg Palace, in all of its glory. And, of course, we have to mention the Giant Wheel.
What better way to see the city than from the top of a 64 metre tall Ferris wheel? It’s also one of the oldest operating wheels in the world, so it has its historical value, too.
Hofburg Palace, Vienna

Whilst in the ‘City of Music’, for all you Musicophiles out there, there’s plenty of sights that sing to your tune, having been home to Mozart, Beethoven, Johann Struas and Brahms, you can even head over to Schoenbrunn Palace where Mozart presented his first concert at the age of six!
And what about the UNESCO world heritage site of Warsaw’s old town? With the Royal Castle and King Zygmunt III Waza Column, there’s plenty to see whilst you’re there.
That’s before we even mention the spectacular sights of western Russia. With plenty to see in Moscow and St. Petersburg from the Kremlin to the Bronze Horseman statue, you will certainly leave with a lasting impression.
Phew! That’s enough to fill any photo book, and that’s just skimming the surface…

Food and Drink

If you’re into hearty and wholesome foods, you’ll be very excited by the Eastern Europe cuisines. You can find and array of traditional and unique dishes in each of the countries you visit, and if local cuisine is your thing, you’re in for a treat when you’re touring the east of the continent.
Soups, meats, fresh fish and vegetables, you’re on a tour of the taste buds as the food in eastern Europe is renowned for its spectacular flavour. A tasty goulash in Hungary, catch of the day on the Dalmatian coast, or maybe a hot or cold borsht in Poland (Beetroot soup, if you were wondering.).

Goulash & Borsht

But, as with many places in relatively close proximity, of course you’ll get some overlap. Stuffed cabbage, stews and even a tasty chicken schnitzel will be on the menu in many Eastern European countries.
And, if you’re not one to turn down the opportunity to try a new tipple, there’s plenty of local spirits to quench a thirst. From Russian Vodka to Polish Wódka, you can get a taste for Schnapps in Austria, Becherovka in the Czech Republic and a Palinka in Hungary.

Geography

From picturesque beaches to stunning mountain scenery, and all that is in between, Eastern Europe has it all.
Heading over to the coast of Croatia is fast becoming one of the top travel plans of many Brits and it’s easy to see why. White, sandy beaches and the crystal clear waters of the Adriatic, it’s far from the dull and dreary scenes we’re so used to at home.

Heading inland, if you’ve got a head for heights, the Tatras Mountains are certainly a good shout. Forming the border between Poland and Slovakia, their granite peaks were formed over 60 million years ago and attract over three million visitors a year!
But, even with the heavy footfall from inquisitive tourists, the mountains have maintained their pristine state and well worth a visit if you want to see nature at its finest.

We’re even treated to some of the most amazing waterways offering some incredible river cruising opportunities along the River Danube. Flowing through Germany, Austria and Hungary, you’ve got the perfect opportunity to embark on possibly some of the most relaxing sightseeing trips in Europe.

 
We could go on for days, but don’t let us just tell you how great Eastern Europe is, let us show you. Take a look at our exciting range of eastern European coach tours, here.