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April 23, 2018

West Berlin recalls "island" of freedom that vanished with Wall

By Stephen Brown

BERLIN (Reuters) – With East Germany in the limelight of celebrations of 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, people who spent the Cold War in the capitalist enclave of West Berlin can be forgiven for feeling overlooked.

But after a quarter of a century of “Ostalgie” – the often morbid nostalgia for the former communist east – the west side is quietly telling the story of an “island of freedom” that vanished with the Wall, in an outpouring of “Westalgie”.

“West Berlin really existed, people!” wrote a member of the Facebook site “West Berliner Mauerkinder” (‘Wall child’), set up this year as a platform for reminiscences of the west.

“Westalgie” is a hard sell to tourists drawn in ever-growing numbers to sites in the east associated with the Nazis or Stasi (the secret police of the German Democratic Republic) and the museums and few historic buildings that survived World War Two.

There are some attempts to compete directly. Tourists can tour the west in vintage VW Beetles as well as the east in GDR-made Trabants. Teufelsberg, the delapidated Cold War listening post on a manmade hill from debris from wartime bombing, is popular with tourists. A guide jokes that U.S. intelligence could hear Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev brushing his teeth.

But most attractions are on the east side of the Wall and even western traffic-lights are being colonised by the jauntily-hatted GDR “Ampelmaenchen” (traffic-light people) from the 1970s which are a hit on souvenir T-shirts, mugs and mouse-pads.

“It’s a shame to lose this part of West Berlin’s identity,” said Jeanette Chong, founder of the Facebook group which has grown to over 2,000 western Mauerkinder in a few months.

Born the same year as the Wall in 1961 to a German mother and Chinese father, Chong is less concerned about competing with the east than reminiscing about what she and many others refer to as a happy West German “island” surrounded by the GDR.

This is captured in an exhibition opening next week called “West:Berlin – an island looking for the mainland”, portraying what curator Thomas Beutelschmidt says was a unique socio-economic, political and cultural “biotope” under the benign occupation of the Americans, French and British.

CRAZY AND CREATIVE

West Berlin had no military draft and remained afloat on generous Western subsidies. It became a magnet for draft dodgers from West Germany, East German exiles, low-budget bohemians, all coddled by a 160 Km (100 mile) white double concrete screen that coiled around the territory.

“There was incredible investment in education and culture – the Berlin Film Festival, exhibitions, theatre, music, writing and intellectual life – which helped make it so attractive,” he said. “There was a feeling of liberty. Anything was possible.”

West Berlin’s musical scene of the 1970s and ’80s lured the likes of David Bowie to experiment and party at legendary clubs like the “Dschungel”, as did local talent like Blixa Bargeld.

The Wall itself became a canvas for artists, a hoarding for anarchists, tourists and lovers alike to record their feelings.

Many bridled at being called “Wessies”, declining association with a West Germany separated from them by hundreds of kilometres (miles) of East Germany. Nor were they “Ossies”. They were something special, distinct: West Berliners.

Paulina Czienskowski wrote in Die Welt that unification was the beginning of the end for a scene which sought new kicks in the east: “The Berlin of the ’80s was a pool of crazy, creative and inspiring people. After the Wall fell, the city changed.”

Changes on the visible level were dramatic. The border area, a broad strip of raked land between two walls, was quickly swallowed by construction, blurring familiar lines of division.

The United States, Britain and France formally surrendered their occupation sectors and withdrew their garrisons only with Berlin’s reunification. But the memory of the three victor powers – the fourth, the Soviet Union held sway in the east – lives on in street names they left behind like Dickensweg, Clayallee or Avenue Charles de Gaulle.

As West Berlin lost its privileges, the former GDR sucked up subsidies for reconstruction, leading to the relative decline of the west that is now being stemmed with refurbishment projects like glamorous “Bikini Berlin”, a 1950s landmark by the zoo.

“The pendulum has now swung back,” said Beutelschmidt.

For Chong, the restorations of “City West” are too chic. Her group swaps snaps from family albums of old favourite haunts and she celebrates the way Kreuzberg, the Turkish quarter, has kept its West Berlin identity while turning outrageously hip.

The reappraisal of West Berlin is partly down to what some consider an excessive focus on the GDR in anniversaries set to continue next year with the 25th anniversary of reunification.

In a poll by Infratest, 54 percent of people in the west and 51 percent in the east said they had had enough of GDR history, though they still believed it should be taught in schools.

Nor has the old east-west rivalry died out. “I don’t like Ossies and can’t stand being around them,” said west Berlin native Monika Bruecker. “They’re different and strange.”

But a generation that has grown up since the Wall no longer differentiates and a recent poll suggested that more than half the city of 3.5 million simply consider themselves Berliners.

“It’s a shame it’s all over. But everyone gets to feel like that from a certain age,” said Chong.

(Additional reporting by Emma Anderson and Erik Kirschbaum; Writing by Stephen Brown; editing by Ralph Boulton)

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West Berlin recalls "island" of freedom that vanished with Wall

Teen who killed family granted unescorted temporary absence from prison

VICTORIA – A British Columbia man who was 15 when he murdered four people, including his parents, will be allowed an unescorted temporary absence from prison.

James Ruscitti is serving a life sentence for the 1996 slayings of Rocco and Marilyn Ruscitti, his brother’s 17-year-old girlfriend and a boarder who lived in their home near 100 Mile House, 500 kilometres northeast of Vancouver.

In a written decision released Wednesday, the National Parole Board granted Ruscitti’s request for a 60-day absence to attend a residential substance abuse treatment facility on Vancouver Island.

Now 33, the parole board members noted that Ruscitti is considered a moderate to high risk for violent reoffending but found he has made progress in his rehabilitation.

“You have now voiced remorse for your crimes,” the decision said.

“You apologized to the victims and said you regret your crimes. This appears to be genuine.”

The unescorted absence is the first step in what parole board members called a “very gradual” reintegration into society.

As a youth at the time of the crime, Ruscitti has been eligible for parole since 2004.

Ruscitti’s explanation for the murders has changed over time, the decision noted.

In the “honest” version given to board members at the parole hearing this month, Ruscitti said he was entrenched in a drug culture by age 15.

“There were concerns of your abusing and torturing animals, encountering disciplinary problems in school, and using drugs from an early age,” the decision said.

Though he sold drugs and used marijuana, cocaine and LSD at the time of his crime, Ruscitti was “sober and enraged” when he and a 14-year-old accomplice shot the victims at point-blank range on June 22, 1996.

Living on his own, dealing drugs, Ruscitti returned home one day to find his residence had been searched. He found out his father and the boarder, Dennis O’Hara, were responsible.

“Trying to impress your criminal associates,” he planned revenge, the board members said.

After the murders, Ruscitti left his two-month-old niece in a room with her dead mother, Christine Clarke, his brother’s girlfriend.

“You did not give any thought to killing the infant but you did very little to make efforts to ensure the child would be rescued,” the decision said.

The baby was found two days later so dehydrated doctors felt she was within hours of death.

Ruscitti shot all four victims. Chad Bucknell also shot O’Hara.

“You took full responsibility for the violence and explained you were a thrill seeker trying to be a ‘gangster’ and had major anger issues against three of your four victims,” the board members said.

Ruscitti, who was adopted, had two sisters and an older brother. A previous board decision said he has undergone offender-victim mediation with one sibling, who supports his release.

But the latest decision said the victims’ family members want no contact with him and one of the conditions of his unescorted absence is that he make no attempt to get in touch.

Bucknell was granted full parole three years ago.

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Teen who killed family granted unescorted temporary absence from prison

France's camps offer family-friendly flexibility

SAINT-JUST-LUZAC, France (AP) — One son’s conquering a waterslide. The other’s at the soccer pitch leading French, British and Dutch teammates to victory. Mom’s getting a massage. Dad’s poolside chatting to his new European neighbors and plotting a barbeque.

You might not recognize this as a typical holiday in France. But this is how French families celebrate summers at 10,000 campsites nationwide, half of Europe’s total. It’s rural France at its most flexible and relaxed. Options range from frugal to fabulous. Pack a tent, fly into any French airport, rent a car and head out.

Don’t like roughing it? Neither do most Europeans, who bring their designer dogs and satellite dishes, and choose hard-roofed accommodation from mobile homes to fairy-tale cottages. The most exclusive options are booked months in advance.

I’ve gone the scruffy, improvised tent-in-suitcase route three times, sampling sites from Normandy to the Pyrenees. This summer I took my partner and sons, aged 4 and 16, to three five-star camps.

___

DOMAINE DES ORMES, Brittany, northwest France

How flashy is this mega-camp? The resident owner takes helicopter day trips from his medieval chateau.

Des Ormes (The Elms) has an 18-hole golf course, hotel with spa, equestrian center, three restaurants, pub, three pools (two outdoor with wave pool and slides, one indoor with steamy jungle plants), playgrounds, turf field for sports, lakes with fishing and paddle boats, and a treetop adventure course featuring log bridges and zip lines.

You’d need a week to do it all, never mind nearby attractions like the Mont Saint-Michel monastery, walled pirate city of Saint-Malo and D-Day sites.

Activities for young and old run several times daily. On our last night, hundreds gathered at the poolside amphitheater for a camp-produced film featuring time-traveling knights. The heroes found themselves in modern-day Les Ormes defending their “castle,” the owner’s residence — and appeared live at the pool, with dozens of extras, to duel the villain. Amid eyebrow-singeing blasts of fire, the bad guy got chest-kicked into the water.

Fireworks ran 15 minutes. The boy on my shoulders loved it. Everyone else was impressed it happened at all.

___

SUNELIA INTERLUDE, Ile de Re (Ile de Re), mid-Atlantic Coast

A four-hour drive south, the Ile de Re feels exclusive, starting with a 16 euro ($21.50) bridge toll.

Re is best seen by bicycle. The island, 30 kilometers (20 miles) long and 5 kilometers (3 miles) wide, is flat as a pancake with one of Europe’s most extensive bicycling networks. Paved paths run through salt beds and vineyards. Haggle at rental bike shops in one of the 10 villages, not at the campsite, to save money. Bikes can include child seats or canopied two-wheeled chariots for infants and pets.

We camped beside the beach on Re’s sandy south coast. Nature here is schizophrenic: At high tide, the sand’s been swallowed up; six hours later, you can walk a quarter-mile (half kilometer) into the Atlantic, in bath-like calm, before your feet leave the muddy sand. Hundreds of parked bicycles — and zero cars — mark the beach entrances, flanked by surf schools and catamaran clubs.

But the Interlude campsite, run by the Sunelia chain, proved a letdown despite its five stars. Its indoor complex of water-jet pools was overrun by children and had only one toilet. Its playground and sports facilities were cramped, some pathways were crumbling — my younger boy got bloody knees falling in a pothole — and its too-formal restaurant had short hours and extortionate prices. We stuck to ice cream and pizzas from the overpriced convenience store.

Fortunately, three nearby villages of whitewashed homes with pastel shutters — Le Bois Plage, with a daily market and old-school amusement rides, fortress-enclosed Saint Martin de Re, and yacht-filled port of La Flotte — offered buckets of atmosphere, seaside dining and competitive superstores.

Wildlife around our tent included feral kittens, rock-hopping lizards, and a praying mantis. We fed spiders to the ruthless, muscle-armed mantis and took it home as a prized family pet.

___

SEQUOIA PARC, Poitou-Charente, southwest France

An hour’s drive south past La Rochelle and Rochefort lies the oyster capital of France and, inland, one of the finest family campsites, Sequoia Parc, on the grounds of a grand chateau.

A four-pool complex offers water slides for every age, even toddlers; a lazy river; and sundeck with non-alcoholic bar.

At the camp’s mini-zoo, my younger son loved visiting goats, chickens, geese, a sheep, badger and alpaca. There are pony rides and weekly visits from a traveling circus featuring acrobats, jugglers, camels and stunt cats, including one who escaped under the bleachers.

Nighttime entertainment beside a barnyard-converted pub and restaurant included a laughably unfunny mime and a live Shrek show that mesmerized my 4-year-old. His big brother bonded with other boys playing basketball, tennis and soccer, then hit the pools with his gaggle of Euro-lads.

My partner indulged in massages, 60 euros ($80) an hour, while I enjoyed simple things: an herb garden for cooking, starling nests inside tropically gardened shower blocks, and chatting with neighbors over candlelit Bordeaux or Cognac.

One warning: Sequoia Parc is flanked by marshland. If mosquitoes find you delicious, you’re doomed.

___

If You Go…

CAMPING IN FRANCE: Most campgrounds open mid-May to September. A few like Des Ormes offer year-round facilities. Off-peak prices can be as low as 5 euros ($7) a day for campsites, with hard-roofed accommodation starting at 300 euros ($400) a week. Prices can quadruple for peak summer weeks. Companies like CanvasHolidays and Eurocamp can help book itineraries with varied lengths of stay and locations.

DOMAINE DES ORMES: http://www.lesormes.com/en/

INTERLUDE: http://en.interlude.fr/

SEQUOIA PARC: http://www.sequoiaparc.com/en/

Continued here – 

France's camps offer family-friendly flexibility

France's camps offer family-friendly flexibility

SAINT-JUST-LUZAC, France (AP) — One son’s conquering a waterslide. The other’s at the soccer pitch leading French, British and Dutch teammates to victory. Mom’s getting a massage. Dad’s poolside chatting to his new European neighbors and plotting a barbeque.

You might not recognize this as a typical holiday in France. But this is how French families celebrate summers at 10,000 campsites nationwide, half of Europe’s total. It’s rural France at its most flexible and relaxed. Options range from frugal to fabulous. Pack a tent, fly into any French airport, rent a car and head out.

Don’t like roughing it? Neither do most Europeans, who bring their designer dogs and satellite dishes, and choose hard-roofed accommodation from mobile homes to fairy-tale cottages. The most exclusive options are booked months in advance.

I’ve gone the scruffy, improvised tent-in-suitcase route three times, sampling sites from Normandy to the Pyrenees. This summer I took my partner and sons, aged 4 and 16, to three five-star camps.

___

DOMAINE DES ORMES, Brittany, northwest France

How flashy is this mega-camp? The resident owner takes helicopter day trips from his medieval chateau.

Des Ormes (The Elms) has an 18-hole golf course, hotel with spa, equestrian center, three restaurants, pub, three pools (two outdoor with wave pool and slides, one indoor with steamy jungle plants), playgrounds, turf field for sports, lakes with fishing and paddle boats, and a treetop adventure course featuring log bridges and zip lines.

You’d need a week to do it all, never mind nearby attractions like the Mont Saint-Michel monastery, walled pirate city of Saint-Malo and D-Day sites.

Activities for young and old run several times daily. On our last night, hundreds gathered at the poolside amphitheater for a camp-produced film featuring time-traveling knights. The heroes found themselves in modern-day Les Ormes defending their “castle,” the owner’s residence — and appeared live at the pool, with dozens of extras, to duel the villain. Amid eyebrow-singeing blasts of fire, the bad guy got chest-kicked into the water.

Fireworks ran 15 minutes. The boy on my shoulders loved it. Everyone else was impressed it happened at all.

___

SUNELIA INTERLUDE, Ile de Re (Ile de Re), mid-Atlantic Coast

A four-hour drive south, the Ile de Re feels exclusive, starting with a 16 euro ($21.50) bridge toll.

Re is best seen by bicycle. The island, 30 kilometers (20 miles) long and 5 kilometers (3 miles) wide, is flat as a pancake with one of Europe’s most extensive bicycling networks. Paved paths run through salt beds and vineyards. Haggle at rental bike shops in one of the 10 villages, not at the campsite, to save money. Bikes can include child seats or canopied two-wheeled chariots for infants and pets.

We camped beside the beach on Re’s sandy south coast. Nature here is schizophrenic: At high tide, the sand’s been swallowed up; six hours later, you can walk a quarter-mile (half kilometer) into the Atlantic, in bath-like calm, before your feet leave the muddy sand. Hundreds of parked bicycles — and zero cars — mark the beach entrances, flanked by surf schools and catamaran clubs.

But the Interlude campsite, run by the Sunelia chain, proved a letdown despite its five stars. Its indoor complex of water-jet pools was overrun by children and had only one toilet. Its playground and sports facilities were cramped, some pathways were crumbling — my younger boy got bloody knees falling in a pothole — and its too-formal restaurant had short hours and extortionate prices. We stuck to ice cream and pizzas from the overpriced convenience store.

Fortunately, three nearby villages of whitewashed homes with pastel shutters — Le Bois Plage, with a daily market and old-school amusement rides, fortress-enclosed Saint Martin de Re, and yacht-filled port of La Flotte — offered buckets of atmosphere, seaside dining and competitive superstores.

Wildlife around our tent included feral kittens, rock-hopping lizards, and a praying mantis. We fed spiders to the ruthless, muscle-armed mantis and took it home as a prized family pet.

___

SEQUOIA PARC, Poitou-Charente, southwest France

An hour’s drive south past La Rochelle and Rochefort lies the oyster capital of France and, inland, one of the finest family campsites, Sequoia Parc, on the grounds of a grand chateau.

A four-pool complex offers water slides for every age, even toddlers; a lazy river; and sundeck with non-alcoholic bar.

At the camp’s mini-zoo, my younger son loved visiting goats, chickens, geese, a sheep, badger and alpaca. There are pony rides and weekly visits from a traveling circus featuring acrobats, jugglers, camels and stunt cats, including one who escaped under the bleachers.

Nighttime entertainment beside a barnyard-converted pub and restaurant included a laughably unfunny mime and a live Shrek show that mesmerized my 4-year-old. His big brother bonded with other boys playing basketball, tennis and soccer, then hit the pools with his gaggle of Euro-lads.

My partner indulged in massages, 60 euros ($80) an hour, while I enjoyed simple things: an herb garden for cooking, starling nests inside tropically gardened shower blocks, and chatting with neighbors over candlelit Bordeaux or Cognac.

One warning: Sequoia Parc is flanked by marshland. If mosquitoes find you delicious, you’re doomed.

___

If You Go…

CAMPING IN FRANCE: Most campgrounds open mid-May to September. A few like Des Ormes offer year-round facilities. Off-peak prices can be as low as 5 euros ($7) a day for campsites, with hard-roofed accommodation starting at 300 euros ($400) a week. Prices can quadruple for peak summer weeks. Companies like CanvasHolidays and Eurocamp can help book itineraries with varied lengths of stay and locations.

DOMAINE DES ORMES: http://www.lesormes.com/en/

INTERLUDE: http://en.interlude.fr/

SEQUOIA PARC: http://www.sequoiaparc.com/en/

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France's camps offer family-friendly flexibility