Wednesday, September 30, 2009

An Important Day

Guys, just so you know part of this post could definitely be upsetting- I had not posted any graphic photos, but the topic is really devastating so please be warned.

Yesterday was a big day for me for a couple reasons.

The first is that it was the first day that I was 100% off my original itinerary- I mean like a continent of difference- because I was supposed to be in Israel yesterday, but ofcourse the old foot has changed everything. ( By the way, I still have not decided what I am going to do for those two weeks that I am thinking of going to Spain, however everyone who contacted me in answer to my Seville vs. Granada question voted Granada ( about 10 different people), so it seems likely I would go there if I still end up going. It sort of depends on how my Doctors appointment ends up going back in London tomorrow.) So yeah- yesterday sort of marked the divide between the expected and unexpected and I am now definitely in the realm of unexpected.

Second, it was Yom Kippur, as I mentioned before. I didnt end up going to services because it just seemed like such a process with security here, and I actually didnt even fast because I need to take food with this medicine that I take 4 times a day ( 4-5 pills four times a day to be exact), so the whole thing was a little unconventional.

However that leads me to the third reason why yesterday was important. I ended up going to Dachau yesterday, which for those of you who dont know, is the memorial site of an old concentration camp outside of Munich. Actually it was the first concentration camp to be opened in Germany, and was opened prior to the start of the world war.

I wasnt sure how I was going to react. When I was in Israel this winter and I went to Yad Vashem ( which is a Holocaust museum there) I had an intense experience ofcourse, but I felt that most of the information there was information that I had already worked to come to terms with, and otherwise the site sort of acted as a beautiful commemoration for me than one that shocked.

It was weird going inside the actual place that so much had happened- I had never done this before. I went to a sort of pre- concentration camp once outside of Prague, but never this. As soon as I stepped in I really had a visceral response to it and I sort of felt a lingering nausea for most of the time I was there. However, it is a lot to swallow when looking at these sort of drab buildings, and I really only understood their meaning in little glimpses and waves.

Apparently Dachau acted as a sort of model camp for the rest of the Nazis. It was a work camp, rather than an extermination camp- meaning that people were basically worked to death there rather than killed right away. This does not mean that people didn't die here though, I think that they said that about 25,000 people died here ( forgive me if my numbers are wrong, this is all from my memory of the tour).

It was amazing to walk through these buildings, and be in the very place where people were told to strip naked and shower and were humiliated. Or walk on the patch of green near the fence where you would have been immediately been shot if you had stepped on it. Or stand in the room where people were whipped or strung up by their arms (the wrong way so as to dislocate their shoulders) as punishment for stupid things, such as their shoes being too dirty- or their shoes being too clean meaning that they hadnt worked hard enough.

The conditions of this place got worse and worse as the time went on, and what started as an ugly ugly work camp, where people at the very least had food and beds, became a place that was unimaginable- five times as crowded as it should have been, people were fed sometimes only three hundred calories a day, and people were being wiped out from overwork and disease like typhus left and right.
Above: here is a picture of where each of the buildings where people slept had been, though they were torn down in the 60s I think. They built these structures in a way that is meant to remind you of mass graves as a sort of commemoration. Above: The inside of the camp- this building you can see is the "welcoming" building where people are showered and humiliated when they first arrive. The open space is where they took role call twice a day- which you could not be late for. If someone was missing all the thousands of people there had to wait until the person was recovered.
Perhaps the most chilling of the tour was of the crematorium...... I mean I dont even really know what to say. It was horrible. I think that the picture sort of says it all.

One thing that I wish I had taken a photo of was the floor plan for the crematorium. Though the "showers" that were really gas chambers were never actually used here for mass murder, the ovens most certainly were. We walked through the whole complex and saw the false shower heads and stuff, and then the carefully planned chambers where bodies were held until they could be cremated. The whole thing was so carefully planned out as a sor tof assembly line-- which is part of what really affected me. That someone had actually thought through all this, and then taken the time to build it- and never stopped to question himself.

Above: A picture through the barbed wire of the electric fence - and that patch of green you could not stand on. You would have been shot immediately, and if a guard fired a warning shot, he was punished. On the flip side, for every prisoner he shot, he got two days off. Really disgusting. Apparently only two people ever escaped from here.

One thing that I thought was interesting that I thought about at Yad Vashem, is that Dachau is not as famous as a name as Auschwitz or other camps. However, the less famous the name, usually the less survivors there were. There were some camps that killed thousands and thousands of people, and only one person survived, and that is why we have forgotten its name.
Above: the gate to the entrance. It says "Hard Work will set you free"

So yeah it was a really intense day, and I was really glad to leave when I did. I definitely had a good cry- a few actually. At first I wasnt sure if it was a good idea to go on Yom Kippur, but I think that it was- because it certainly made me think about my own actions and prejudices, and it made me want to be better this coming year, so as never to emulate even an ounce of what happened here. It really is just so much easier to hate one another and it is so dangerous.

Sorry this is a little preachy- I suppose this entry is as much for me as it is for you.

On another note, without sounding condescending, I was really proud in a way that Germany keeps this place open to the public. Of course I know that many (hopefully most) Germans feel that it is important to keep it open as well- so that none of us ever forget, however I imagine it much be a really hard thing to do- to let people in and invite them to remember one of the ugliest moments in German history.

There are other images that took of photos that were at Dachau that I think are important to see, but perhaps a little too graphic to put on the blog- mostly of the state of things when the American army arrived to liberate the camp. Apparently there was a whole train outside that had been locked for three weeks full of people who were supposed to be transferred from another camp, but had been turned away from them all. There was one survivor on the train. Also, the camp had run out of coal for the crematorium, so apparently there are pictures of the way in which people were piled up waiting. When the Americans came and witnessed the state of things, they apparently rounded up all the SS men and shot them to death, which is technically a war crime, however no one ever punished them for it, given the situation.

So yes, this was actually one of the most important days of my trip so far. I am so privileged to share this with you- but I am also really glad to be ending this entry. I would love to hear your thoughts about this as well.

Monday, September 28, 2009

one more note about the security here

just another interesting note.... a comment on a problem which has hard solutions, but I thought it was worth noting the increased security here this weekend, because of the terrorist threats, as well as oktoberfest. It is just interesting to me because on two occasions here I have seen police on the street or on the train look through crowds and stop any person with dark skin for questioning.
It made me feel a little sick honestly- possibly also because being a jew in Germany already comes with a lot of baggage for me-- not that this is right necessarily either.

anyways... thought that was interesting info to share.

Dont worry- I am seeing munich too! ( the third entry of the night)

So.... we also decieded to see some other thigns in Munich, which was good... so we took a free bike tour, which was great. Highlights were all in their "English Park", much like the central park... BUT with a (ready for this) NUDIST meadow and a biergarten in the middle. So basically it wins over Central Park.

Also, as seen below, there is a little riverlet that runs through the entire park, but right at one of the entrances, the riverlet is actually kind of an intense bit of waves, and people have starting surfing there.... SO COOL! People all line up and surf through the park..

And, though I dont know German, I get the sense that this isnt actualy encouraged by the government here, however unlike in the US theey avoid lawsuits with something called "common sense laws"-- hmmm intriguing...

Also, we learned that the biergarten in the park was the best7 cheapest place to get a bierstein, so we all bought some, though ofcourse we didn´t have anything to hold them with, so we were forced to sling them onto our handle bars and finish the tour that way. haha. oh oktoberfest And today, after sam and cynth left (yesterday....boooo) I went to see me some alps. I went on a tour to Neuschwanstein castle, which is only about 124 years old, but was built by this crazy, lavish and reportedly gay king who put the country into loads of debt building his castles, and later died mysteriously. Apparently this castle is the inspiration for the Diseny castle. Which would also explain why Michael Jackson reportedly tried to buy it back in the day, but it was too expensive. No joke.

It was beautiful both there and on the two hour ride there by train

Below: me and the other castle of his down the road.... and the lake that inspired "Swan Lake"!! ( oh yeah, this king was also obsessed with swans)

The Diseny castle itself

Anyways. enough for now. Tonight is the start of Yom Kippur, and I am at a loss of what to do here in Germany, but I dont really think I will spend any more of it at the "Dubai Internet cafe" (what??????)
It seems that the temples here are on high security, since we are in munich, it is yom kippur, and germany has had terrorist threats this weekend---so I may not make it to temple. However, I am not feeling particuarly observant this year anyway--- which could possibly be terribly wrong here in Germany. However, I guess if there is anywhere to feel entitled to religious choice, it is also here, so being in munich tomorrow could mean many things..

I am definitley going to make it to Dakau in the next day or two as well... which I am already prepping for ( needless to say the other americans on my tour of the castle today who were making holocaust jokes did not impress me at all-- one more strike against americans)


goodnight goodnight!!

more fest

Above: this is the pissort, which ofcourse we thought was a very funny name for a bathroom because we are oh so mature. What we didnt realize is that this implies (i think) only a mens bathroom, which poor sam found out the hard way shortly after this photo was taken
the impressive outside of one of the tents, which we actually didnt spend much time in
cyth and me!
me standing awkwardly and claming oktoberfest for my own

my lovlies


Hi all!

Oktoberfest is literally one of the craziest things that I have ever been to, and lucky for me, crazy in a good way.
When I showed up on Friday morning, I got to Oktoberfest around 10 or 11 am and met Sam and Cynthia, who had been at the tents since 9:00 am and were already working on their beer steins. Basically what Oktoberfest is is a bunch of "tents" in a park here, each sponsored by a different beer company- however dont be fooled by the word "tent". Yes these structures do come down every year, but no they are not like camping. The tent that I met sam and cynthia in was the largest, and it can hold 10,000 drunk people inside. When I got there, I think it was pretty close to full ( though they were not turning people away yet like they were on saturday) and people were standing on tables and singing beer songs and cheering while music was playing by the German band. CRAZY.

The rest of the day was very similar to this first description. I had a little over one beer stein (each stein is a litre of beer), which may sound like a lot, but believe me, it is not- there were people around us having up to seven of those things. This is always soaked up by eating large amounts of bratwurst and shnitzel, and pretzels, or half chickens, which are either brought to you by the "wenches" or are just past the security guards by the entrance to the tent, all, ofcourse, amazingly overpriced.

We really had a great time, and we went home in the afternoon and napped pretty much the rest of the day. Saturday day was much the same- but equally crazy. We had so much fun.
While Okotberfest is jovial for the most part, amazingly so for the crazy amounts of people who are there (there are many tents like the one I was in). We were totally safe, and except for the occaiasional overly flirtacious man, we had nothing to complain about. There are definitley those who are not so lucky however- you do have to watch yourself- and after hearing stories about how things got wilder and wilder as the afternoon and night went on in the tents ( fights, people wandering off and waking up in fields, airport security and hospitals) I was glad that we went early and left early..

I would definitley reccomend going though if you have some sense and any interest though- it was way fun. I was so glad to see cynthia and sam too.

On saturday night, we also checked out this really cool district of munich that used to be warehouses, but has now been converted into all sorts of clubs. That was pretty great too- I wish I had only had a little more energy.

anyways- below is the inside of one of the tents we went into

Below: Beer songs are being played

Thursday, September 24, 2009

todays adventure-

Went to stonehenge today- and bath- most of the pics of that are on a disposable though- because my real camera is in the shop, and I bought another 70 dollar digital at the end of the day because it was killing me to use a disposable ( my camera is going to be in the shop for a week)

Have a few pics below of the end of the day.

Stonehenge was pretty cool and weird. It is so iconic that it is pretty much what you expect it to be, which makes you forget for a minute how amazing it is- but eventually it sinks in.

Went to Bath today too- also totally amazing roman structures- I'll have to figure out a way to put pics up from the disposable later.

i have little time now, but will write more later.

I have to go to munich tomorrow at 5:45 in the morning!

there was a giant map of the world in bath- which I thought was appropriate. That is my foot. You know the one.

me on top of the world haha

singing out

Goodbye to Spain and a shot of ryanair as the rain rolls in ( we all had to run across the termack in the rain)

Gaudi architecture

barcelona shots

Gaudi architecture and me on the bus- if anyone knows how to flip these photos email me

sorry I have yet to figure out how to re arrang the images the right direction

above- street in barcelona
some street art in barcelona

a man on la rambla

Gilly at her school in scotland
Another beautiful pic of scotland!