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Morning photo: Along the Danube

“Listen to the river sing sweet songs, to rock my soul … “

Sunrise over the Danube.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — The Danube River weaves together a rich and diverse tapestry of culture and scenery, and it’s also an important thread in my life. Both my parents grew up along its banks; my mom in Linz, Austria and my dad in Bratislava, capital of the Slovak Republic. As a young boy, I spent many weeks near the river at my grandmother’s home and since then, I’ve returned to visit as often as possible.

As they easily transcend national boundaries,  great rivers hold a fascination for travelers. This summer, I gathered once again with family and loved ones to complete a very special trip started by my dad long ago in another era.

Kayaking the Danube.

Rivers can connect cultures, but they often also form the borders between countries, or, in the case of the Cold War, between two completely irreconcilable ideologies. As a young man, my dad was on the wrong side of that boundary, trapped behind the Iron Curtain while his spirit longed to fly free. Eventually, he was faced with a tough choice; stay and give in to the ideology of fear, hate and cynicism, or flee, leaving behind his family and loved ones, knowing that it would quite a while, if ever, before they knew his fate. Continue reading

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Travel: Cold War memories along the Danube

John Berwyn stands near a monument on the banks of the Danube built to memorialize thousands who escaped, or died try to escape from the Cold War prison of Eastern Europe.

Don’t ever take the freedom to travel for granted

By Bob Berwyn

With last year’s focus on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, it’s important to remember that the Wall was just the most visible manifestation of the Iron Curtain, a much larger enclosure that kept millions imprisoned in eastern Europe.

We take our freedom to travel very much for granted; it wasn’t so long that people died trying to earn that right by tunneling under walls and fences, swimming through icy waters or even making homemade hot air balloons to try and soar to freedom.

I grew up in Germany during the Cold War. My parents met as a direct result of that era’s geopolitical upheaval. My dad worked for the American government in Germany and my mom lived in Linz, a city that, at the time, was cut in half by the ideological divide, with the Danube River forming the border between the American and Soviet sectors.

So a few years ago, when my dad suggested that we visit a Cold War memorial site near his hometown in Slovakia, my son and I jumped at the chance to join him and explore the banks of the Danube, near Bratislava. And we weren’t just there to look at a statue. My dad wanted to find the exact spot where made his own escape more than 50 years ago by dodging border guards and swimming across the chilly river. Continue reading

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