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Michael Palins New Europe

Episode 7 - Journey's End


Journey's End

High in the Tatra mountains of Slovakia, Michael skins a pig and learns how to make sausages, before heading off to famed mime artist Tibor Turba's school in Brno, the Czech republic's second city, where he is asked to mime a cock. In the celebrated spa town of Karlovy Vary, he has a mud bath with Miss World, takes the waters with her under the colonnade before being introduced as Mr World at the annual Aristocrats' Ball.

In Prague, a pedalo ride under the famous Charles Bridge with Bara Vaculikova, a member of the all-girl band The Yellow Sisters, is a prelude to a train journey with the band that turns into a rehearsal and a discussion on why the Germans are less than loved.

On a sombre note in the fortress town of Terezin, which during World War II was turned by the Nazis into a Jewish ghetto, survivor Lisa Mikova tells Michael the story of how the Nazis made a propaganda film to convince the International Red Cross that there was no such thing as The Final Solution. She survived the ghetto and Auschwitz and the fire bombing of Dresden, which is Michael Palin's next port of call.

Dresden is the capital of Saxony and, to many, the most beautiful city of the former East Germany. After years of neglect during the Communist period, Dresden's Baroque splendour is once again a major tourist draw, but as he takes a tour of the newly rebuilt Frauenkirche he learns from a engineering student named Felix that, despite Germany's unification, there is still a wall inside people's head which will take another generation to disappear.

A paddle steamer down the Elba takes Michael to the famous porcelain manufacturing city of Meissen, but he veers away from the famous pottery to the more mundane but technologically impressive potty factory, where he gets a crash course in German toilet design and learns why certain German men now sit down to pee.

In the historic Saxon trading city of Leipzig, life in Communist East Germany is vividly evoked by Gunter Bohnke, a cabaret artist who was one of the victims of the Stasi, the State security, which spied on a quarter of its citizens. An hour North, at the vast industrial complex of Bitterfeld, Michael is given the 'stinky tour' with Hans Zimmermann, a genial Santa Claus look-alike who led a campaign to clean up the pollution created by the chemical factories. Zimmermann was another victim of the Stasi's tactics to subdue any dissent; his Stasi files run to 3200 pages, but he survived and today Bitterfeld is a much more clean and pleasant town. Continuing his journey through the former East Germany, Michael Palin ends up in another relic of the old GDR - driving (well, more stalling) a Russian-made T55 tank that was the deployed at the Cold War frontline.

In the German capital, all that remains of the physical presence of the notorious wall that divided East and West Berlin is a few hundred metres. In a stretch Trabant, Olaf Rauschenbach and Jorg Pintsch give Michael a private performance of their theatre show about Berlin's history. Playing an Easty and a Westy (the names for Berliners from either side of the Wall), they illustrate the difference in attitudes that persist between the two halves of the now-united city. For the most part, Berlin's recent history has been no laughing matter, but a laughter yoga workshop helps lift Michael's spirits before the final chapter of his journey though the New Europe.

If divided Berlin, more than anywhere, exemplified the futility and pain of the Cold War, Michael Palin's final destination is to the largest monument of the precursor to it. Taking a DC3 that was used during the Berlin Airlift. he flies to the Island of Rugen on the Baltic coast. The holiday complex at Prora that Hitler had built for his KDF, Strength Through Joy programme, is the largest remaining edifice of the Third Reich. Straddled over 5 kilometres along a stretch of beach, it was built to house 20,000 at one time and give them a mix of recreation and propaganda to sustain the Thousand Year Reich. Prora is a testament to the Nazi's doomed attempt to unite Europe by force.

At the end of his epic journey through 20 countries, Michael reflects on the New Europe that, optimistically, looks like it might now be united by co-operation for mutual benefit.


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