Messerschmitt Crash in Wernigerode
I didn’t expect to fall in love with the train.
When I planned my trip to Germany, I expected that I would be able to keep up with my normal tasks in addition to exploring the countryside and spending time with my mother. I am in Wernigerode, a town that acts as a gateway to the Harz mountains. The town itself is beautiful; half-timber houses surrounding the medieval town centre, with a beautiful castle looming over the cobbled town streets.
The Harz Narrow Gauge Railway starts in Wernigerode and takes passengers all over the region and up to the peak of Brocken mountain, the tallest peak in the range. I figured a train that went straight up a mountain was almost as good as a plane and planned a day to visit the station and take an afternoon trip. In the end, I spent three days going up and down the Brockenbahn portion of the train line, exploring every station on the mountain.
If, for some reason, you should find yourself in Wernigerode, I very much recommend exploring the HSB routes and visiting the mountain peak. I even wondered if I could write a train post for Fear of Landing but unfortunately, or maybe fortunately from your point of view, I was out all day every day and had no time for writing. I also didn’t manage to find out more about the Luftfahrt Museum Wernigerode, a small aviation museum that I thought I might visit on a rainy day. The forecast for the week had looked extremely wet but somehow each day the weather was fine and so I went up the mountain again.
Today, my last day, I had a very hard choice. I could either spend the morning in my hotel room finishing an article for Fear of Landing, or I could go to the local aviation museum.
I think you probably know how this is going to end.
There definitely wasn’t enough time to do the museum and then write about it, as I would be spending half the day on public transport to Berlin for my flight home. And I didn’t have any articles close enough to finished to fall back on.
Everyone is talking about AI lately, so what if, I thought, what if I asked the AI to review the aviation museum for me?
This is what it wrote:
The Aviation Museum in Wernigerode was founded in 1997 and is located on the grounds of the former airbase at Wernigerode. This site has a rich and profound history, as it served as a frontline airbase during the Second World War and was home to the famous Jagdgeschwader 54 (JG 54) during this time. The museum is dedicated to preserving the history of the site and the stories of the brave men and women who served there.
This introduction to the museum is amazing in that there isn’t a statement here that is true. The AI is hallucinating.
The Aviation Museum opened in 1999. The exhibits include both historical airplanes and modern helicopters but there’s not a specific focus on military aircraft, other than the average aviation enthusiasm for fighter jets.
There has never been an airport at Wernigerode, let alone a military air base hosting the Luftwaffe. There was a light metals foundry which supplied parts for the defence industry, which used forced labour from the Buchenwald concentration camp. This is not a war effort that any German would be celebrating.
Not to mention the idea that Wernigerode, nestled in amongst the Harz mountains, could never have been considered the front line by any stretch of the imagination. When the US forces came marching in, the commander of the city was given the order to fight to the death. He refused it and the town surrendered, which is of course why it is still here.
The Jagdgeschwader 54 did exist but they were never based at the frontline airbase at Wernigerode which never existed.
It seems my job is safe for a little while longer.
The AI went on to list the aircraft at the museum, including two C-130 Hercules and a Canadian CL-215 water bomber which I was pretty sure were not part of the museum display.
So that idea was out the window. I had to make a straight forward choice: stay at the hotel and write something for you or go to the museum.
I was going to pick you, honestly. I’m in the middle of a forested national park: what on earth is an aviation museum doing here anyway?
Truly, I only checked the brochure to see if any of the aircraft listed by the AI were physically at the museum.
And no, there’s not even one C-130 and actually I’m pretty sure that none of the aircraft described by AI are actually on site. But.
But then I saw that they have a Messerschmitt Bf 109 flight simulator.
The Messerschmitt Bf 109 is a World War II fighter aircraft and considered the backbone of the Luftwaffe’s force. As a single-seater, it is also one of many, many aircraft that I would never be allowed to fly.
I’m pretty sure you know where this is going. Yes, I chose the Messerschmitt over you.
If it makes you feel any better, I crashed twice, just trying to take off. Tail draggers are HARD. The third attempt was successful but only because the simulator consisted of only a cockpit — if I’d had wings, I would have scraped the left-hand one off in the take-off that was “successful”.
But the instructor, despite being bemused that I was there by myself in the first place, was patient and kind . Once he worked out that I was able to fly out to sea and make a stable turn, he pushed me to make steep turns (“you are in a fighter plane, you know?”) and started guiding me through a low-level flight around the mountains near Sochi.
It was a hell of an experience and I only wish I could have taken you there with me.
The good news is that I don’t think I’m going to switch to trains any time soon. The bad news is that this is your post for the week.