Friday, October 26, 2007

Germany in Small Bites

(As always, you can click on each photo to enlarge it. )

It's been interesting getting to see Germany again as an adult and on my own. It's also been interesting to be there without the primary goal of being a tourist, which led me to see all sorts of places that I wouldn't have gone otherwise. Also interesting is the discussion that inevitably comes up about Germany's past - some people are uncomfortable even visiting the country, others ask what would happen if the opportunity arose for me to live there. So as I walked around, those questions were rattling around in my head, and I feel confident saying that Germany now is not Germany then -- it's a lovely country with a lot of charm, and perhaps most importantly, they seem to be doing their best not to let anything be forgotten or swept under the rug.

I don't think I've ever visited a country that tried so hard to acknowledge its shameful history. Everywhere you look there is a monument, a museum, a memorial... they are putting their past on the table, reminding Germans of what happened so that history wont repeat itself, and trying to do some good by the memories of those that died. I was moved by the effort that they are making, and although every once in a while an eerie wave of heavy history would wash over me as I walked down a street where something terrible happened, I can safely say I wouldn't hesitate to visit or even live in Germany today.

I spent a whole week in Berlin, but because I was there "on business" I didn't actually see as much as you may have come to expect from me. I saw the famous sights - the Reichstag, the Brandenburg Gate, Unter den Linden, the KaDeWe department store. I went (how could I not) to the zoo, where baby polar bear Knut is still attracting large crowds, even though he's not quite a baby anymore and even has been labeled "overweight". I was moved by the exhibit that has been set up on the former site of the SS headquarters, which served as a prison and torture center for sensitive political prisoners during the Second World War. They did a great job of exposing what happened there and who was responsible, and they had a fairly thorough memorial to many of the victims and the people who worked in the resistance.

From Berlin I flew to Dusseldorf, which I learned is known for some quite avant garde architecture. Other than that, it's a charming little German town, but a bit cold and rainy while I was there.

The next trip took me to Munich, which is one of my favorite cities in Europe. I was sick, so I had to skip my audition, but as a result I ended up at Oktoberfest. I never thought I would be caught dead there, but it turned out to be a fun experience. First of all, everyone in Munich is dressed in dirndls and lederhosen, which is adorable on the older folks and kind of funny on the younger ones, as the girls do their best to make their dirndls as hot and sexy as possible, much as young women are doing with Halloween costumes in the US these days. There is lots of public drunkenness and lots of pretzels and sausages, and actually the Oktoberfest itself is a gigantic fairground, which during the day has cute rides for kids, haunted houses, and your usual state fair stuff. I hear if you stay after dark, it gets a little crazy, but I didn't stick around to find out.

From Munich I went to Cologne, which is home to the biggest cathedral in Germany, where you find the remains of the three magi (the ones who visited Jesus when he was born). On another visit a week later, I was able to climb up the stairs to the top of the bell tower, where you get a great view of the city and also get to see the largest working bell in the world. Cologne is also the home of the original Eau de Cologne, and they have a very happening shopping street.

For me the most interesting was the El-De House, a museum made from a former detention center for WWII prisoners who came from all over Europe. You can walk around and see the cells downstairs, and despite all odds, the incredible amounts of graffiti written by prisoners over the years is well preserved on the walls of the cells. Some of the more poignant notes, including letters to children and parents never to be seen again, have been translated for viewers to read. Upstairs is a very thorough exhibit about the rise of the Nazis (and the rise of the resistance) in Cologne, which was very nicely done.

After that I had just an afternoon in Hamburg, which is nice enough, but I had seen all the major sights last Christmas, so I took a tour of the rather exaggerated interior of the Rathaus (town hall) and then called it a day.

All in all, it's been fun getting to see more bits and pieces of Germany, and I plan to try to get back there some more. In the meantime, I had better go pack, because we are leaving for Brazil in the morning!

Hope you all are well. Keep in touch!


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