Thanksgiving in Germany, and many random things
Trip Start Apr 06, 2003
69Trip End Ongoing
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Where I stayed
I am the only one in my group in the office this week so it should be wonderful! Finally, I get to eat lunch by myself, I don't have to debate every stupid item, and I can slack a little on the work (although I'm sure the office in general will be very slow) and try to hammer out a few of the pending t-pods so that we can start the new year with a clean slate.
For those of you who are in work this week, I'm sure it will be slow for you as well so hopefully you enjoy keeping busy with these t-pods
Here are a few things about life in A'dam as well as our trip to Germany over T-giving. We hope to put something together about my b-day weekend trip to the Ardennes, a mountainous area in south-eastern Belgium, and our pre-T-giving pot-luck party, an idea which we borrowed and exported from my old roomie Justin.
Quickly though, Germany was great and we look forward to going back soon. While we really enjoyed our time there, it is tough for me to ignore the WWII aspects of the country. As you will see, it always seemed to be there in the periphery. I hope it doesn't become annoying to read. Regardless, it was a great trip.
So with that, here is what we've been up to...
*** This is quite embarrassing
THANKSGIVING IN GERMANY
Wednesday, November 26
Julie writes: We decided to go away for Thanksgiving weekend so we wouldn't be sitting at home alone thinking how all my family was celebrating in Milwaukee without us. I have never been to Germany and Stephen has only been to Berlin and Munich so we decided this would be great opportunity to visit. Amsterdam is only about a 2-hour drive to the German border. We did some research and found a description of the Fairy Tale Road on the German tourism website. The Fairy Tale Road is a 400-KM drive from Frankfurt to Bremen. Along the way are about 70 small towns that are related to the Brothers Grimm stories (ie. Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Snow White, Rapunzel, Hansel and Gretal, etc.). We found cities we would like to see and tentatively made an itinerary. We booked a hotel for our first in night in Frankfurt because I had a free night at Hilton that we needed to use by the end of the year (Thanks Accenture - 3 years of service and all I get is a free night at a Hilton) but the rest of our nights would be decided when we were tired of driving.
So at 3:00, Stephen called me from his office and told me he was ready to leave work, pick up the rental car, and head to Germany for the weekend
Stephen adds: Just before leaving the office, Sjoerd interjected his thoughts on our trip. He asked me what route we planned on taking. When I told him, as usual, he told me we were doing it wrong - he told me we were taking a bad route and that we ought to go a different way. One of my other colleagues heard him telling me this and pointed out that the way he was suggesting was a longer route to which Sjoerd said, "yes, but it's a much prettier ride." Did he not know that we were driving at night? It gets dark at 4:30 nowadays - when it's completely pitch black, who cares what the scenery looks like?
Julie continues: I met Stephen at Budget Rent-a-Car where we were told there was no reservation. This made us a bit nervous. Stephen, who is usually really prepared, didn't notice that we reserved a car from Alamo not Budget. Doh! We had to walk across the street and we were hooked up with a brand new Ford Fiesta in mint green - awesome. The only problem was no CD player. We were looking at a long drive with Dutch radio and I had a feeling German radio wouldn't be any better.
At 4:00 we finally hit the road, although this was about an hour later than Stephen wanted to leave
Stephen adds: Before getting back on the road, we got some gas. The gas station had every type of gadget a car could need...or not need. It reminded me of my dad's business. There were shiftknobs, blue light affects, fuzzy dice, all sorts of crap. I was hoping to find an adapter to play our discman on the car's tape player, but no such luck. I also wanted to add that driving in Germany was pretty great. There is no speed limit so people just zoom by. I was driving about 140 KM per hour (just under 90 MPH) and was being passed easily. The highways move very smoothly because nobody drives in the left lane, only use it to pass. So you drive until you are basically at the bumper of the car in front of you, then put your turning signal on, switch without really checking since you can assume that nobody is in the lane (don't worry mom, I checked my blindspot), and zoom past the other car before switching back into the right lane to repeat the process moments later when you are ready to pass again
Julie continues: Back on the road, we were really enjoying listening to Avril Lavigne, Robbie Williams, Fred Durst, and Justin Timberlake again and again and again and again on the radio.
Stephen adds: Mixed in was some crummy country music which the Germans are obviously fond of. Oh yeah, and of course techno, it's not Germany if there's no techno. We also heard a lot of "The Jonathan and Mary Morning Show", some crap ass Eric and Kathy-like morning show that was broadcast via satellite to Germany to cater to the many US military bases. It was weird to not only hear English-speaking DJs but American English, not British English. During bad music periods, Julie and I entertained one another by quoting the Saturday Night Live skit, Shprockets...do you want to touch my monkey?
Stephen adds: After driving 460 KMs in 5 hours, we finally got to Frankfurt (the first 200 KMs in the Netherlands took us 3 hours). We took the exit ("Ausfarht" in German...how awesome is that word?).
Julie continues: We had no trouble finding the Hilton. When we arrived, Stephen asked the valet if parking was free for hotel guests to which he said "yes". We soon learned that there was a small language barrier as it cost EUR 22 to park. Not quiet free but we were so tired from driving, we left the car in parking and gladly headed up to the room. To us, it was much nicer than the 2 weeks of pensions we stayed at in Spain (see Picture 1) and it had a really nice bathroom...YES
Stephen adds: I watched Crank Yankers. I had seen the episode before but I was so excited to see Comedy Central, I didn't mind. I even started watching German-dubbed South Park until Julie pointed out how ridiculous it was that I was watching it. Julie fell asleep right away (obviously tired from sitting there while I drove 5 hours) while I did a little research on Frankfurt.
Thursday, November 27
Julie continues: When I woke up Stephen said he found things he wanted to do in Frankfurt. He wanted to visit 2 Jewish Museums.
Stephen adds: This was actually a surprise to me since I thought Frankfurt would only serve as a place for us to sleep before heading out on the Fairy Tale Road. Frankfurt, however, really impressed me. Although it was completely destroyed in WWII (like most of the German cities), I thought it had some character.
Julie continues: We decided to walk the 30 minutes to the museums. Along the way, we walked through our first Christmas market (see Picture 3). The Dutch don't really get into the whole Christmas thing but the Germans do Christmas like Americans. All of the towns have Christmas markets set up in the city centers. The Christmas crafts seemed to be a bunch of crap similar to what one could find at the Wisconsin State Fair - things like candles in varying colors and shapes
Before continuing, Stephen ducked into an electronics store so that we could get an adapter so that the discman could be used. We found one AND IT SAVED OUR TRIP. Yes, no more Justin Timberlake!
From here, we continued onto the museums. Most of the museums in Frankfurt are along the waterfront. On our way to the museums, some local man approached Stephen and started speaking to him in German. Not thinking, Stephen replied in his usual manner "I'm sorry, I don't speak Dutch". At that moment, the German kinda chuckled and said "neither do I". It was pretty funny.
We walked along the waterfront, where the museums are (see Picture 4). The Jewish Museum is in what once was the Rothschild mansion and was a display on the Frankfurt Jewish community over the last hundreds of years. Since all the information in the museum is in German, we were given a huge binder that translated every display in English (see Pictures 5 and 6). We skimmed through the museum. I will summarize what we learned - the Jews were treated badly, then worse, then OK, then bad again, then OK then really, really bad. We spent a lot of time reading about the Nazi era.
Stephen adds: People usually think that Hitler was the only madman in Germany who was bad to the Jews but as sad as it is, he was just one of many many many Germans who persecuted them. Yes, he was a bit extreme, but none of the previous anti-Semitic Germans were much better.
Stephen adds: Also in the museum was a cool collection of menorahs which rivalled my parents (see Picture 10) and a sad display on the number of times throughout history that the Jews have been expelled from their homes (see Picture 11).
Julie continues: We then walked to the other Jewish museum, about 20 minutes away, which was where the old Jewish Street was (see Picture 7). It housed ruins of the Jewish neighborhood from the 1200s (see Picture 12). You could see where there once was a mikvah (a Jewish ritual bath). Our biggest reason to visit this museum was to see the Jewish cemetery that exists in disarray on its property.
The wall that surrounds the cemetery is a memorial to all the Frankfurt-born Jews that died in the Holocaust. Each name is represented by a 1-inch by 1-inch black box inscribed with the name, date of birth/death, and place of death (see Pictures 13 and 14)
Inside the wall, the cemetery was basically empty (see Pictures 16-20). There were only a handful of tombstones remaining. It is amazing to think that Frankfurt had a thriving Jewish community and all that exists now is 2 museums. During Kristalnacht, both of the Frankfurt synagogues were burned to the ground (see Picture 15). The Jewish neighborhood was brought to the ground. There was even 2 pictures of the same street corner - 1 was from 1838 of the Jewish section of town (see Picture 8); the 2nd was from 1970 of a major thoroughfare with post-war buildings and open parking lots (see Picture 9). It was a pretty sad display.
Stephen adds: The cemetery was in the process of being destroyed to rubble when the Nazis had to flee as the war had started. Fortunately, they didn't get a chance to destroy every tombstone, leaving a small section untouched. The tombstones were cleared into piles, but were not eliminated all together. In a way, this served as a memorial and powerful reminder. It really wasn't until this point, while walking around the cemetery by myself, that it occurred to me that it was Thanksgiving day. I couldn't help but think at this time, while walking around this half-destroyed cemetery, how lucky I was to be walking around Germany, especially as a Jew
Julie continues: We were now ready for lunch. Stephen decided to get the aforementioned giant pretzel for lunch (see Pictures 21 and 22) and I stopped for a soup. At first, we went to what looked like a soup stand. Stephen joked that this was the real Soup Nazi. We decided not to stay when we realized that the place not only used powdered soup mixes to make their soup, but they displayed the boxes in their display cases. We kept walking and found a small café where I got a really good tomato cream soup.
Stephen is taking over the writing now, Julie got bored: At this point, we went back to the hotel, which happened to be near a really cool and out-of-place-looking tower (see Picture 24), grabbed our bags (see Picture 2), paid EUR 22 for "free parking", and headed out for the Fairy Tale Road.
From Frankfurt, we drove about 30 minutes to the beginning of the Fairy Tale Road, a town called Hanau. Hanau is a midsized town which is where Wilhelm and Jakob Grimm were born. We exited the county road and wound our way around until we got to the pedestrian area. We found parking, figuring that a pedestrian mall is a good sign. We walked around for a little bit but couldn't find anything that looked like a tourist center so I went into a store and asked the employee where the tourist center is. The response was a bit surprising - he opened the phone book and looked up "tourism". It was at this point that I began to wonder where we are going if the townspeople don't even know where the tourist center is. I suppose that means there are really no tourists or tourist attractions.
Finally, we were directed to the center which was set up with another Christmas market (see Picture 26). It was exactly like the one in Frankfurt so we walked through it quickly, moving right to THE attraction, a statue of the 2 Grimm brothers (see Picture 25). Afterwards, we went to the tourist center where they gave us a map of the Fairy Tale Road and headed back to the car.
From Hanau, we headed out of town, driving through small country roads onto the next place
It became apparent that many of the towns looked similar and the drive itself was just as beautiful as the towns. We headed up and down hills. In and out of wooded areas. Through miles of green fields until we finally arrived in the town where we would be spending our night, the town of Steinau. We had hoped to make it a lot farther on the route in our first day driving but we were "set back" by spending the day in Frankfurt, although it was still a good decision.
We arrived in Steinau just before 5:30 and made it to the tourist center just before they closed. The women there were very helpful in suggesting a place for us to stay - the Denhard Hotel (EUR 52 including breakfast). The women also mentioned that we had arrived just in time for a big town celebration. This was more than the normal Christmas market, but we'll get to that in a bit.
Unfortunately, by the time we checked into the hotel, all of the stores were closed. In addition, the one Grimm attraction, a home that they lived at, was also closed. So we walked around town for a bit, just looking around.
Then, out of nowhere, the entire town began marching down the main street. There were children walking with sticks lit on fire (see Pictures 28 and 29). There were others who held paper mache lanterns. At first, Julie and I were a bit scared about the kids holding sticks of fire. Lets just say, this CAN'T be a good idea. Many of the kids who walked by with sticks of fire had a look in their eyes that I am sure I've seen my bro have just before he found out the hard way why spray-paint cans say "do not puncture".
Being rejuvenated, Julie takes over the t-podding again: The parade finally ended with nobody set ablaze and the entire processional found their way to the Rathaus, a building that is traditionally in each town and served as the main building (see Pictures 27 and 34). This building has been the beer hall, the government building, etc. So as we waited outside the Rathaus for the next activity, we noticed a Puppet Theatre.
Being curious we went inside to look around
After our brush with stardom, we went back outside to see if anything was going to happen with the people gathered outside of the Rathaus. Soon, a handful of people came out dressed in traditional German clothes and sang some songs in German. Then a speaker came on. This is when we decided to leave and have some dinner.
Stephen adds: When I first saw this group of Germans congregating at the town hall with sticks of fire, I thought they were coming for the Jews again. Luckily I was wrong.
Julie continues: We walked through the main street of the town and admired the wood-timbered houses. We noticed that a lot of the houses had a first floor window that opened all the way up, so that a person inside could just lean outside and talk to someone outside (see Picture 30). We were so excited when we actually saw people doing it. Steinau is REALLY a small town.
We also looked at menus of restaurants and saw plenty of meat but not a lot for Stephen to eat
The menu was only in German so we were a little at a loss as to what things were. I recognized weinerschniztle and rumproast but other then that, we didn't have a clue. The waitress, whose English was just OK, couldn't really help us out either. We learned that they only had one vegetarian option and one fish option. Stephen got the vegetarian option which was some kind of pasta with cheese and fried onions on top. Stephen also got tomato cream soup. I, being the non-kosher and adventurous eater, asked the waitress what is good. We couldn't understand what she said but I ordered it anyway. We had really good beers as well - Bayer Brau and Licher (see Picture 35).
Stephen's soup was really good so we had high hopes for what was to come. Stephen's pasta arrived and it looked like thick spaghetti with melted white cheese all over it and fried onions on top. My meal arrived and it look liked meat and onion kebabs with tater tots. I took a bite and thought that it was meat that was cooked really badly. Then I took another bite and figured out what it was - liver and onions. Blah, so gross. I tried to eat a little liver on bread but Stephen told me I didn't have to eat it. So I polished off my tater tots and shared Stephen's "pasta"
Stephen adds: As I paid the bill, I spoke to the headwaiter for a moment. He apologized for not having more time to talk with us. I thought that was very nice of him to have said. Then he asked where we are from and I told him Chicago. He then told me that I speak very good English. I wonder where he thinks Chicago is but I'm happy to know that despite being out of the US for 9 months, my English is still good.
Julie continues: We decided to pass on dessert and chose to walk around the festival outside as part of Saint Catherine day. There were many food booths selling brats, liver and onions, sweets, and beer.
I stopped and got a skewer of chocolate-covered mixed fruit. Yummy! It seemed like all the towns teenagers were out and were drinking beer. There were game booths set up and a bumper car machine. When we walked by one of the booths we noticed a really strong wine smell, so Stephen asked about it. It is a liquor mixed with sugar and heated up. The lady at the booth gave us a sample. It tasted like warm Manaschevitz. Stephen however got a cup (see Picture 36). It cost E2.50 and then you get a Euro back when you return the glass mug
Stephen adds: It was as bad as it sounds.
Julie continues: Since it was raining out, Stephen and I headed back to the hotel and called it a night (see Picture 37).
Friday, November 28
Stephen has taken over again: After a good night sleep we awoke to the alarm at 8:15. We showered and went downstairs to have our complimentary breakfast. It was the same old thing - bread, meat, cheese, jams, a hard-boiled egg, and tea/coffee. After breakfast we packed up the car and hit the road. First we took one last look around Steinau (see Pictures 38-40) before heading onward.
We continued to wind our way north along small country roads. We passed green fields, rolling hills, and small towns in the distance which usually consisted of a cluster of red roofs around 1 tall church steeple (see Picture 46)
Before we made it Grandma's house, we stopped in Lauterbach, a town that is responsible for producing 60,000 garden gnomes a year. We decided to take a walk around town but because it was raining and cold, we decided to cut our walking tour of the town short (see Pictures 41-45). What we did see we liked but we realized fairly early on that it was not much different than what we had seen the night before in Steinau. So we headed back to the car and started our search for a souvenir - a garden gnome to provide some protection to our failing garden back in A'dam (see Pictures 46 and 47).
I had joked with Julie earlier that it would not have surprise me if we were to make a special trip to Lauterbach, the home of garden gnomes, only to find that there is not a single gnome for sale in all of town. It appeared that my vision was about to come true when we went to a huge garden center called Hercules. Hercules didn't have the 100s of gnomes to chose from as we had envisioned. Instead, there were about 7 in 3 different models
With that, we hit the road again and headed deeper into Little Red Riding Hood country. As we drove deeper into the woods, looking out for the Big Bad Wolf, we passed many small little towns. I could imagine seeing a young girl heading off into the forest to see her grandma (see Pictures 58 and 59). It was pretty magical. After about 30 minutes, we made it to Schwalmstadt.
We visited the tourist center as we had in all the other towns. The woman there was very helpful. She told us all about the town, gave us colored brochures, and even took the time to print off of her computer the English translations of the brochures she had given us. She told us about the tale of Little Red Riding Hood and how it originated - all unmarried women in the town used to wear caps. The towns only "attraction" was a museum of the history and culture that wasn't open for another 2 hours. We decided that her introduction would be enough and we headed for lunch.
This was probably the best meal we had in all of Germany. So, if you happen to be in Germany in the future, go to Rosengarten in Schwalmstadt. It was in a half-timbered house and the food was brilliant. We were greeted by probably the best English we had heard in a few days. We were given a table, followed by a really interesting potato spread for our bread. It was almost like spreading mashed potatoes on bread
While sitting at the table, completely satisfied, it occurred to me why the Germans can't win a war - how could you fight a war after eating such heavy food, I could barely find the energy to get to the car to continue driving. But we struggled on.
From here, we decided that we needed to gain some ground lost by spending the day in Frankfurt if we were going to be back in A'dam by Sunday night
After about an hour, we arrived in our overnight destination, Hann Munden. Julie had seen some pics of this town in one of the brochures the helpful woman from the tourist office in Schwalmstadt had given us on the region. It sits below a castle (although it seemed like every town sits below a castle) at the point where three rivers meet - the Fulda, the Werra, and the Weser. It was a really cute little town of roughly 700 perfectly kept half-timbered houses (see Picture 56). We parked the car and headed into town to find a hotel as it was getting close to what we thought would be closing time for the tourist office. We found another very helpful person who recommended the Hotel Garni Aegidienhof for EUR 55 including the usual breakfast.
The hotel was a really nice, newly redone half-timbered home. What was surprising was the inside. It looked like any other modern home (see Picture 55). For some reason, I had assumed that all these old traditional outsides would have old traditional insides. I know that just shows my ignorance but it was still surprising to see such a nice modern interior
The town was very quaint. Some very nice stores that Julie dragged me into - but to be fair, not too many. We picked up a gingerbread man to snack on in the car the next day as we would be closing in on Hansel and Gretal's area (see Picture 70). We also bought some traditional x-mas sweets and cookies. Just then we heard a lot of noise...it was the town clock which twice a day plays a special town song while displaying some scene with mechanical figures emerging from the clockface (see Picture 51). As we stood and watched, I realized that we were basically the only ones that were not from around as most other people went along with their day while we stood and watched these little figures. Regardless, it was pretty cool.
After a short rest back at the hotel, we made our way past the obligatory town x-mas market to a place recommended by the hotel called Die Reblaus. It was really good. I had pumpkin soup and Julie started with a salad. Next came our main course, pumpkin ravioli for Julie and black halibut served with noodles for me. We had a couple local beers (Einbecker) to wash our grub down before getting serious with a little chocolate moose
Next we headed to a local beerhall which just happened to have a name very dear to my heart - The Rathskeller (see Picture 52). It was a new hall in the basement of the Rathaus. Just above the entrance of the Rathskeller, I took a quick look at the clock that we had watched perform earlier and descended the handful of steps into the basement for some beverages (see Pictures 53 and 54).
The inside looked just like any other microbrew, complete with those huge bronze kennels that produce the delicious beer. Likewise, the beer here was brewed on-sight. Julie and I had a few while we looked around at what local Germans looked like. A few quick observations: (1) I don't know what Hitler was thinking about "Master Race", these people were U-G-L-Y! (2) Tight jeans are still very fashionable here (3) They love shitty music like Wham.
As we sat and watched the locals, I noticed that many people were drinking from these huge 2-liter glass bottles. They were used more as a novelty to sell more beer than anything else but I'm a sucker for those sorts of gimmicks, especially when it has some sort of special marking on it which can make it officially a souvenir. Unfortunately, I didn't noticed these until Julie and I were 3 or 4 beers into our night and we were not about to drink another 2 litters of beer, plus, we wanted to try different types of beer so even if we had seen this at the beginning of the night, we probably would've still passed on it
I was pretty bummed, but determined. We continued to hang out, had an order of pretzels (served with butter, which was odd), and asked another waitress if we could buy an empty 2-liter. This time, the answer was yes. Although it cost EUR 10 (see Picture 108). Probably a bit of a rip-off considering I think it cost EUR 15 if it had beer in it. But whatever, we were on vacation and I wanted it. I also used my patented Bullfeather's beer-glass-up-the-sleeve-of-my-jacket trick to borrow a beer stein with the Kohler's Brau Ratsbrauhaus stamp on it for our collection of world beer glasses so I felt like I got my money's worth. But as we reached the town square from the steps of the Rathskeller with a 2-liter jug in 1 arm and a stolen pint glass in the sleeve of the other arm, a man approached from the beerhall. He pointed at the 2-liter and said something in German which I answered by saying, "I don't speak German". I think he realized that it would take so much effort to communicate, he just let us go. I'm not sure what he wanted since I paid for the 2-liter but at that point, it didn't matter. We headed back to hotel with another wonderful day in Germany over.
Saturday, November 29
After breakfast, we packed up the car and headed out of town (see Picture 57). Our first stop was possibly the most interesting of the day. While getting gas, I saw a woman send her 5-year-old son inside to buy cigarettes for mommy. I no longer wonder why so many young people smoke
To add to this, Julie and I noticed that we always seem to sit at a table next to some horrible couple who decides to light up their cigarette just as our meal is served. It has gotten to the point that it really bothers us. But unfortunately, Europe does not have a non-smoking section so we have to just deal with it. However, I decided that I am going to fight back. If I have to sit there and smell their stench, they're going to have to sit there and smell mine. Lifting a cheek and having my extended finger pulled by my fellow non-smoking avenger, we are teaching these Europeans that it's not fun to have to inhale someone's filth. It's a dirty job but I am confident that the message will be received eventually.
Back to our trip, we headed towards Sleeping Beauty's castle. It is now a 5-star hotel in Sababurg but we weren't exactly sure where it was. We somehow managed our way to the place without incident but when we got there, it was clear the place was pretty much closed up (see Pictures 60 and 61). I am assuming that there are not too many people who drive in the middle of nowhere to see it, and especially in the autumn. But here we were so we basically just let ourselves in. It was really nice on the inside and can best be summarized as looking like what you would think a castle's interior would look like. There were 2 couples eating in the breakfast room and 1 person working in the kitchen but when we poked around like we didn't belong, waiting for someone to help us, nobody picked up our hints, so we just let ourselves in.
We looked around the lobby, made our way to the staircase, and finally up the stairs
Anyways, we walked around a bit more before heading back to the car. It simply amazes me that someone can create a fairytale land in some place as awful as Anaheim or Orlando and people will come from across the globe but when you have the real inspiration for these places, nobody seems to even know of their existence. I suppose this is the power of marketing. We had now been travelling throughout the interior of Germany for 3 days, never being in a town large enough to make a world map (except for Frankfurt, and even that will be hard to find on most maps) and not once did we see any signs of marketing. No postcards. No magnets (for Julie's lame collection - how can we prove we've been there if we don't have a magnet from there). No signs reading "10 KMs to Sleeping Beauty's Castle". It was odd - but also, made it feel special. It was not cheesed up like some water-skiing performance in the WI Dells. It seemed authentic and a part of their everyday lives.
We next headed to Rupunzel's tower. As we got close, we could see it atop the hill. It was kinda cool (see Pictures 62-65). As we tried to figure out how to climb the tower, we found a really nice restaurant and hotel but the woman who ran the place told us that the tower is not open for people to climb. Again, they are missing a wonderful source of money. Just think, at the base of the tower can be a sign with Rupunzel holding out her hand that reads "you must be this tall to climb my tower".
Again, we walked around the castle for a bit until Julie got yelled at for going upstairs without permission. So I collected my wife and pointed her in the direction of the bathroom, per normal procedure before we hit the road. It was at this point, while I was alone, that I made an ass of myself for the Germans...again.
Because we are slacking on our t-pod from Spain, I will deviate for a minute to tell you about a really funny incident in Spain that will make this next story make a bit more sense...
At the end of our time in Spain, we decided to spend the day in Gibraltar (yes Josh, I realize it is a British colony - it was a bad joke)
Anyways, fast-forwarding to Rupunzel's tower. While Julie was "making a good girl", I was left alone. I walked outside and was looking out into the distance at the view from the base of Rupunzel's tower (see Picture 66). I took a step and my foot slipped on a moss-covered tree stump. It somehow slid in a crack just big enough to fit my foot. I tried to get my foot free but had no luck. Finally, I figured I would take my foot out of the shoe and get the shoe out with my hand. It was at this point that I became comic relief for a group of German tourists again. I finally got my shoe out and sulked my way over to a seat where I waited to tell Julie about how I made an ass of myself again. She was not surprised. But I also came up with a good idea - I think I might start leading German tour groups...yes there is a language barrier but I seem to be able to make them laugh.
After trying not to look any of the German tourists in the eye as we got in the car, we headed back down the hill and off to the next stop, Bad Karlshafen
This town was singled out in the Lonely Planet as one to see. To be precise, the Lonely Planet says "This meticulously planned, baroque village is a major highlight of the Fairy Tale Road." Julie and I were not really sure what baroque meant but I think I know now...it means ugly. That's probably not fair to say but we'll just say it did not look at all like any of the other quaint German villages. It looked more Italian in architecture (see Pictures 68 and 69). The town was just so blah.
We basically decided that the only thing that could be gained here for us was lunch
So we headed back to the car and got the hell out of Bad Julie. Next, we drove through a bunch of towns (Hansel and Gretal's Hoxter, Cinderella's Polle, and Baron von Munchhausen's Bodenwerder). As it was getting late, we decided not to stop in any of these towns (see Picture 71). But we did come across a bookshop in Hoxter that looked big. So I double-parked and Julie went in looking for a tourist book of the region that we could get as a souvenir and a book with many of the Brother Grimm fairy tales for Julie (what a good teacher/mommy she will be). To our surprise, but also not very surprising at all, she couldn't find either book. She was able to find a book on Hoxter's role in Nazi Germany and one on Hoxter Jews. Who would've thought, in Hoxter, a town know as the inspiration for Hansel and Gretal, you can't find a fairy tale but you can find a book about Hoxter Jews
Well, we got out of there and headed back onto the Autobahn. We were now about an hour from Hameln, the place we would spend our last night in Germany. Hameln is known as the town rid of rats by the Pied Pipper (see Picture 73). It was also the largest of the towns we had seen so far (see Picture 78). We stopped at the tourist center and they pointed us to the Hotel Zur Post for EUR 79 including breakfast. It was a pretty crappy hotel but it had a shower, a private bath, and a clean bed. So we went with it.
Julie asked the hotel woman where we should park the car. Julie came back to the car with very complex instructions. After having trouble figuring out what the hotel woman wanted us to do, I went inside to see if I could understand her English. To my surprise, the woman was British. How could Julie not have understood what she was saying, she speaks our language - even if it was with a funny accent. So after I was able to translate English into American, we parked the car and headed to the room.
We walked around town for a few hours. And surprise, there was a x-mass market (see Pictures 72, 74, 75, 80, 83, and 84).
We wanted to see the re-enactment of the Pied Piper story on the town clock, similar to what was seen in Hann Munden. It was fairly uneventful and even dull (see Picture 85) however the building was pretty cool looking and even had all 25 windows covered in wrapping paper to create one of those x-mas countdowns. It was pretty and how lucky that the building had 25 windows exactly. While waiting to see the "show", we picked up some treats from the x-mas market. We bought something that looked like a bunch of animal crackers smashed together and covered with chocolate (see Picture 82). It was good. We also had hot chocolate from one of the booths (see Picture 81). One thing that we noticed, most of the locals seem to be very surprised to see Americans in their small towns. Typically, their English is fairly good and they seem happy to see us. At the same time, in the back of my mind, I couldn't help but think "my grandpa kicked your grandpa's ass!"
We had asked our helpful hotel chick for a recommendation on dinner but again, she came up with nothing good. So we wandered around town looking for something interesting. We were done with crap-ass German food so once again, we headed for Italian food. Interestingly, the menu also had a few Greek dishes. So I had spaghetti with (as usual for Germany) a VERY heavy cream pesto sauce and Julie had moussaka
After dinner, we walked around the town market for a bit and took a look at what Saturday night is like in Hameln. After a bit, we returned to the hotel where we found some pretty good movies on the TV. The problem was they were all dubbed in German. One of the movies on TV was "Patton". I couldn't help but find it very ironic to see a movie about the leader of the US during WWII shown in Germany. I wonder if they altered the movie in any way. Incidentally, since our trip to Germany, Julie and I have rented "Patton" and I fell asleep trying to watch it. I tried to watch it again and again, I fell asleep. I'm sure it is good, just not for me. Anyways, with German "Patton" offering us the only entertainment, we called it a night.
Sunday, November 30
After breakfast, we decided to leave Hameln and with that, start a very different type of trip in Germany. The night before at dinner, we discovered that Hameln was about 90 minutes south of Bergen-Belsen. Bergen-Belsen is the largest concentration camp in Germany. Having had enough of fairy tale, we decided to take a look at nightmare
In previous travels to Munich and Krakow, I had seen the Dachau concentration camp and the Aushwitz/Birkenau concentration camps respectively. I told Julie that I wanted to go if she wanted to go, but if she didn't, we wouldn't go. A concentration camp is not exactly the type of place you want to be dragged to.
But before we got there, we stopped in the town of Celle. We parked the car and walked through the very nice x-mas market. We made it through there quickly as we were there to see 1 thing it particular - to visit a synagogue that dates to the 1700s. Most synagogues in the country were destroyed during the Nazi rise but this one survived as it is not a stand-alone building. As a result of having walls that are shared with its neighbors, it was not destroyed as it would've resulted in the destruction of the neighbors as well. This did not stop the Nazis from ransacking the interior and destroying and burning all of the insides in huge bonfires in the road, but the structure itself remained unharmed.
The synagogue is extra special because just a few years ago, a new congregation was re-established. Approximately 80 people attend Friday night services, which are held once a month. The congregation includes young families with children as well as older members
The prayer room is in the back of a typical half-timbered building (see Picture 87). After walking down a hallway, we came to a beautiful yellow square room (see Picture 86). In the center of the room is the ark and a podium. Seats encircled the red-covered table.
Upstairs, in the area which at one point was where the women were segregated, now serves as a mini museum. In the bookcases are many pictures about the Jewish community of Celle. It tells the story of many of the more prominent families and sadly, has a section dedicated to the Treblinka concentration camp which is the camp where many of the townspeople perished.
After this amazing visit, we headed back into town for a quick bite at the x-mas market (see Picture 88) before moving on to the concentration camp. It was kinda nice getting to see something a bit uplifting before visiting the darkness of years past.
Julie takes over writing about Bergen-Belsen: I have never been to a concentration camp before
After passing the small towns of Bergen and Belsen we drove about 10 minutes down a forested road before we saw the Bergen-Belsen memorial (see Picture 104). I was struck by how close to towns the concentration camp was located. I also kept thinking that these homes were here 60 years ago, only a couple of kilometers from all this monstrosity.
Stephen adds: To add to this, I couldn't help but wonder as we drove past the town and saw many older people, where they were back in the 40s. I'm sure if they had been outspoken, they would've been killed by the Nazis as well but it still made me think.
Julie continues: I was quite nervous while we parked the car and walked into the museum. I was scared that emotionally, I wouldn't be able to handle what I saw. The museum was very quiet, only about a dozen other people were there
Stephen adds: Interestingly, most of the people who are conducting the excavations are involved in German youth groups, almost like a USY. I think that this is a wonderful idea and a way to ensure that, at least in Germany, Never Again.
Stephen also adds: The bathroom smelled so bad but given the location, I don't think I had anything to complain about.
Julie continues: I looked in a book that lists all known people to have died at Bergen-Belsen and found some Preislers from Hungary, as was my grandfather. Although, we spell our name differently, these Jews may have been relatives.
We then watched a 20-minute movie that was made by the British as they liberated the camp. It was the black and white images of bulldozers pushing 1000's of starved human corpses into graves - I am sure many of you have seen similar images. The young British soldier who took the movie happened to be Jewish and he speaks in the video about how he never has seen his filming.
Stephen adds: He also said that in a way, by being behind the camera, he felt protected from the reality of the situation. Almost like it was some sort of movie.
Julie continues: After taking in the movie, Stephen and I headed outside, in the rain (as seems appropriate when visiting a concentration camp) to see what is now called the Cemetery at Bergen-Belsen (see Picture 89). The museum offers a self-guided walking tour of the camp area. Today it looks like a prairie field, with plants and trees growing wildly all over, so it is hard to imagine what it looked like 60 years ago (see Pictures 102 and 103). We walked around the permitted area and read the walking tour that tried to recreate camp life.
Stephen adds: As we entered the sight, there was a clearing in the forest where the camp's fence once stood (see Picture 90). The forest still had a natural line which in some eerie way, symbolized that on the other side of the clearing was something that was beyond comprehension and not normal. I also took a few black and white pictures as it always seems appropriate to me to see this sort of image without color, without life (see Pictures 105 and 106).
Due to the excavations, you can see where 2 of the barracks once stood (see Pictures 91 and 93) and get an idea for how small they were considering they were crammed with over 1000 people. A group of Jews at the camp started carving names of the deceased on stone blocks in an effort not to let those people be forgotten (see Picture 92). Several of those blocks have been excavated and lay around the border of what would been the barracks that held the Hungarian Jews
Since, the British burned down the barracks in an effort to ensure that malaria couldn't spread, very little artifacts remain. However, the excavation has unearthed pots, cups, shoes, and a handful of other items that are all placed on a barb wired fence (see Picture 94).
Another astonishing and disgusting discovery is how close the Nazi officers barracks were to the camps. The Nazis children swam in a pool just a few hundred meters from where 1000's of people a day were systematically being murdered.
As we walked, we kept passing huge mounds that were marked with numbers, 2500, 1500, 1000 (see Picture 95). These were mass graves dug by the Nazis after their capture by the British. The nazis that were captured at the camp were forced to bury the people they had killed. The numbers represent how many bodies lie in each burial mound. Stephen thought the Nazis should have been forced to bury each person separately and properly, not just dumped in a mass grave.
We also passed a big clearing which is the spot where the crematorium once stood, now just an open piece of land (see Picture 96).
There was also a memorial that looks like the Washington monument that was dedicated a year after liberation (see Pictures 97 and 98). There were also memorials from Israel (see Picture 100), one for the Russian POWs, one for the French who were killed there and several others
Stephen adds: At first I was a bit annoyed that they are using Anne Frank's name as a way to get people to visit. Then, I really appreciated it. Anne Frank's story is no more tragic than anyone else's. However, she has become the face of the holocaust for many people (myself included) who were fortunate enough to not have lost a personal friend or relative in the Holocaust. Through her book, we all know someone. So the fact that the Bergen-Belsen is using her as a way to try to get people to care a bit more and visit this memorial, I have no trouble with that. Finally, appropriate and skilful use of marketing.
Julie continues: After taking all this in, we got back into the car and headed back to Amsterdam. I couldn't stop wondering how people could turn into such monsters.
Stephen adds: It was also satisfying to know that, while it is difficult to visit Germany without ever looking at this horrible side of their history, they are dealing with it in appropriate ways. The German people are nice, open, and welcoming. The country has many beautiful sites. The food sucks, but other that, it is a wonderful place to visit. We look forward to visiting again sometime soon - although we are bringing our own food...all we wanted was a damn tuna fish sandwich
Well, that's about it. Sorry to have ended our trip with that. The more we visited fairy tale land, the more we enjoyed it. But when we realized we were so close to Bergen-Belsen, it was necessary to change things up. As a whole, it was a wonderful trip and as I said, somewhat uplifting to be a Jew in Germany on Thanksgiving. Sort of a "fuck you". The people there were great and the country is beautiful, but WWII was still in the back of my mind the whole time there. The sad thing is, during that time (and still today), there were many who were unfriendly to the Jews throughout all of Europe, and even the US for that matter, but Germany just has that stigma. The rest are forgiven, but not the Germans. I tried not to let it dominate my time in Germany but it is there. There is probably not the time or e-space to go into what I really think of the majority of the 1930s'40s Germans who made up the silent minority but in short, I think they were just as scared as the rest. Those who spoke up too loudly were silenced in the camps. I am not saying they needed to go to the extremes and align themselves through wicked actions with Hitler, Mengele, etc. but to be too outspoken was probably not an option that many Germans embraced either. Ok, this is way too deep. I think you know what I am saying. Maybe another time though.
On to happier things, we are off to the US soon. We are pretty psyched as this will be our first time back since we left (although I was home briefly 3 weeks after I left for a weekend, I hadn't been in A'dam long enough to even be over the jet-lag so I don't really count that trip)
It should be a pretty hectic trip but we are really looking forward to it. To all of you, we hope you have/had a wonderful holiday season and a fun and safe New Year. Speak with you all in '04!
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