Oh, ze Germans.
Already I wish I was as efficient with my blogging as the Germans are with everything, but, it’s important not to set unrealistic expectations for yourself.
I have visited Germany a whopping three times; two of which were in transit. But when I first traveled to Europe in 2005, there were two main things that were on my ‘must do’ radar: the first, go skiing in the Alps. The second, visit a concentration camp. Two VERY different activities, I’m well aware, but both proved to be very special and eyeopening in their own way.
I skied in the Swiss Alps, and did visit Dachau Concentration Camp located on the outskirts of Munich (16 kms away). I had scoped out our Contiki route prior to heading to Europe, and while everyone else on the bus was pestering our tour guide about how much time we would be getting in the beer halls, I crept to the front and quietly asked whether we could sneak in a cheeky trip to Dachau.
Pulling from my hazy memory, and using the Internet to fill the gaps, Dachau was the first of the concentration camps set up in Germany and was initially intended for political prisoners. The camp served as the poster child for all other subsequent camps, and as shit quickly escalated and hit the proverbial fan in Europe, the camp grew to include forced labour, and eventually to imprison Jews, German and Austrian criminals, and foreign nationals from countries the Germans invaded. Close to 42,000 humans took their last breaths there.
Growing up I was always fascinated by The Holocaust and enjoyed studying it. Not in a sadistic kind of way, but I was just in awe that such an event took place in recent history. How could people do that to other people? Apparently we haven’t learnt much, as acts of genocide have not ceased since the Second World War; a quick glance at Bosnia, Rwanda, Cambodia and the Sudan will still make you lose faith in humanity just a wee bit.
But visiting historic memorials and locations, such as concentration camps, is important. It brings life back to those who lost theirs, and really is as humbling as humbling experiences go. To come in contact with the sights is something you cannot mimic in a classroom; walking through the twisted iron gates that read ‘Arbeit macht frei’ (cruelly translating to ‘Work Will Set You Free’), touching the walls of the (allegedly unused) gas chambers, seeing the glasses and shoes of the prisoners, it all starts to become really real.
As I mentioned before, I started collecting sand when I traveled to Costa Rica, but it really didn’t become ‘a thing’ until I moved to the States in 2008. So my European soil collection is a bit sparse, and I am now trying to make up for it when I re-visit those places. But while at Dachau, I pocketed a rock from the coal and work yard. I remember thinking to myself that I was taking a bit of history with me. In that moment, I took time to remember the likely thousands of people who would have died in the exact location where I grabbed that rock. Again, back to that whole humbled thing.
But Germany has A LOT more to offer the world than just a history lesson. It’s gifted us with such gems as Haribo, Oktoberfest, schnitzel, that ‘Here comes the bride’ jingle, Heidi Klum, and a wonderful underground music scene, to name a few. It’s a land of punctual humans (my dear German friend Alex is ALWAYS on time, which makes me look bad), who happen to also be the nicest humans.
When they do things they give it the whole hog; they have river surfing in a park in Munich (Eisbach), because why the hell not. They have the best sets of wheels man could dream of (the BMW Museum is in Munich for you car enthusiasts, which is not me – I once paid $500 for a car in New Zealand that had a resident dead cockroach in the dashboard, no radio, and no wheel bearings. My middle name is ‘Danger’.). They have ski resorts, the cutest Bavarian towns, castles straight out of Disney films, and artists who whack together pumping techno tunes that cause my neighbours to despise me and threaten eviction.They are THAT good and need to be played THAT loud.
I have instant affinity for a country that produces drinking steins the size of a small child and garments that flatter the female form. I appreciate their trains that always arrive on time, and their ‘Tangfastics’ for my close call with a root canal. I must get back to Germany and do it properly. Alex and I are in the works of planning our maiden pilgrimage to Berghain, so watch this space. My next post about ze Germans may be filled with more love (if I make it into the club), or devastation.
Time to start practicing my Berghain poker face…