Now I’m not claiming to
be an expert, a pundit, or even someone who has done sufficient homework to
expound on such a topic. This is just one person’s take, after a short and
admittedly superficial visit to three cities in the former German Democratic
Republic, East Germany as we once knew it. But sometimes you just have a
Here’s what I think the
I sense that they have
come to terms with the evils and atrocities of Nazism and the brutalities and barbarisms
imposed by Hitler and his supporters. Of course, there are museums dedicated to
helping those too young to have experienced this history, and it is taught,
some younger students believe excessively, in schools. Those of my generation,
those schooled in the 50s, report that they learned, heard, nothing, that their
realization of the role Germany and individual Germans, ofttimes they parents,
played in World War II came independently, as they catapulted into the
philosophy changed in the 1960s and 70s. Teaching history is now a pillar of national identity in postwar Germany,
and the Holocaust is an integral part of the
curriculum where students are encouraged to visit a concentration camp.
Only in Bavaria is this visit mandatory. Recently, a Berlin state legislator with Palestinian
heritage, proposed making such visits mandatory for everyone.
An article in Jewish
World (February 2019) featured German students commenting on this:
Fynn Bothe, a
high school student in Hanover, noted that he was exposed to the subject in
ninth or tenth grade where they learned about the war and Auschwitz. “I am
satisfied with how the school teaches the subject because we learn what the
Nazis committed. They were responsible for one for the most horrific crimes in
the history of Germany.”
Anna Laura, from Dusseldorf said that her class read Anne Frank’s Diary, and focused on the atrocities committed during the war. “We discussed the subject all year long,” she said. “I think that the school is doing good work by teaching the youth about the matter and by not ignoring the horrors (that were committed).”
I saw heart-rending sculptures appearing in unexpected places; gold cobblestones caught my eye, as well as my heel, as I explored historic areas. On each is inscribed a name, a birthdate, and the location where that person was last seen. At the entrance to Berlin’s bustling Friedrichstrasse Station is a sculpture that no one can miss – children with suitcases, on their last journey. I passed this on several different days, and each time, a memorial of flowers stood by its base.
Reminders. Everywhere. An undercurrent of Never
And yet…it is not perfect. People are not perfect. Germany experiences anti-Semitism, anti-immigrant sentiment. East Germans resent West Germans; West Germans resent East Germans. Neo-Nazis have been emboldened by the arrival of Alternative for Germany, the first far-right party to break into Parliament since World War II. And there are concerns that the recent absorption of more than a million immigrants, many from the Middle East and many Muslim, has inadvertently created incubators of a different kind of anti-Semitism — one hiding behind the injustices of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but sometimes reverting to hateful old stereotypes.
The reaction in Berlin, where there are strict legal prohibitions of
Holocaust denial and Nazi propaganda, has been swift. The government appointed
its first-ever anti-Semitism coordinator.
And there are many in the country, as in our own, who understand and support the immigrants’ journeys.
And through this, I think of my own country, how we have avoided coming
to terms, acknowledging the atrocities of our past. Stories of visitors to South
Carolina’s plantations, resentful of having slavery presented as an integral,
and sordid, part of our story. “We didn’t come to hear a lecture on how the white
people treated slaves. We came to get the history of a southern plantation and
get of tour of the house and grounds.” (For
some comic relief, check out Twitter’s responses to this comment.)
And our horrific treatment of Native Americans continues as we deny them
access to voting and move pipelines through lands sacred to them.
Such hubris. So we just don’t get it, do we?
I don’t think Germany is perfect by any means. But they get it. Most get
it. I think.
Carol Lynley has died. She was 77 years old. She did many things after gracing the covers and pages of Seventeen. She appeared on Broadway; she acted in several scandalous-for-the-time movies; she even posed for Playboy. Her obits seem to identify her career high point as the singer (actually, song-mimer) in The Poseidon Adventure.
But for me, she will always be Seventeen. How we treasured those magazines, pouring over them to see if we could get those wispy bangs that she had. (We couldn’t.)
Those were the years, the times, when our favorite Christmas present was a Princess phone, most likely pink. Like Carol Lynley’s nails. We thought that her manicure was much too grown-up and therefore fake. Though we did covet those bangs.
Now for those born after a certain time, they will not believe that girls, real-life girls, went to dances dressed just like this. They did. We wore waist cinchers that rivaled Scarlett O’Hara’s, and long gloves that came to our elbows. We looked like Carol Lynley, if only for a night.
And, as Carol did, we left that behind, because life for a teenager in that era did not continue as an idyll.
But, for a minute, as we remember her, we remember, always in tones of sepia of course, a time when our bangs looked just as perky as hers. Godspeed, for all of us.
Yet Another Clusterfuck: Britain, Brexit, and Belfast…
I realize that I’m not an expert. I can’t figure out Brexit, its implications,
though I can understand why such a large percentage of Brits voted for it.
Mistakenly. I think even they realize it now. And certainly, four days in
Northern Ireland, as a tourist, doesn’t make me a pundit. But I can report on
what I saw, what I felt.
The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland are worried. This nervous peace, which most of us an ocean away point to as “see, it can be done if the two sides want it badly enough,” is tenuous, fragile, like a bad marriage that relentlessly threatens to come apart at the seams. It is just that — a bad marriage, with years, now centuries, of merciless history barely concealed below the surface.
it is 95% better than it was.” I heard this phrase,
these exact words, from every tour guide, every native spoke with. And I have
no reason to doubt it. But it also signals how bad it was. The Nationalists, Catholics,
want one nation, harbor what seem to me to be ancient grudges; the Unionist,
Protestant Presbyterians mainly, harbor more recent resentments. This nervous
Here’s what I saw – in Belfast, the City Centre, alive, vibrant, restaurants, coffee shops, tour buses; then a bit north of the centre, beautiful, tree-lined streets, and the beautiful campus of Queen’s University. Ah, all is well, you think.
And then – for isn’t there always an “and then”? — the “other” side of town, where working people live, those without the resources for those well-manicured lawns and highly-polished brass door fixtures. Rows and rows of smaller houses, most neat and well-cared-for. And graffiti, and slogans, and murals on so many of the building walls. The Nationalists, the Catholics, you can tell their neighborhoods. They support Palestine, identifying with them in their fight for existence.
They support Catalonia in their fight to be separate from Spain, though to this outsider, the argument can be made that the Catalonian issue supports the Unionists, who want to be separate from the Republic of Ireland. (I kept those thoughts to myself.)
Protestant neighborhood, no graffiti or slogans, their umbrage more subtle.
To me, an outsider, the neighborhoods seems identical. But they are still separated by walls, by fences, by religion. Separate. Still separate.
with the children, you say. Sounds good, except 97% of the public schools in
Ireland are under church control, 91% of it under the control of the Roman
Catholic Church. And while the Irish seem to have found the acumen to think for
themselves (same-sex marriage, legal abortions), this does not appear to have
affected their thinking about bringing Ireland under one aegis.
I visited Derry, or Londonderry as the Unionists call it, the city that experienced the worst of The Troubles. The Battle of the Bogside historically marked its official beginning. So much history, so many mistakes, and the bog area, the west bank of the River Foyle, still glaringly poorer than the rest of this lovely city. Yet I walked across the Peace Bridge, constructed in 2011, as a visible symbol of …what? Peace, perhaps?
So many mistakes. The English valuing country over people; the Irish valuing independence over human lives; systematic starvation; and the feelings so deep, religion an easy coat to label.
this has nothing to do with Brexit, right? Or does it?
I talked with worried that a split, with Northern Ireland leaving the EU, would
provide a vehicle for Nationalist sentiment to come to the fore, a tacit
approval to mount a campaign of violence. The Republic of Ireland likes being
part of the EU. They have fared well, as, it appears, has Northern Ireland.
Open borders, free flow of traffic, goods, and people, and, perhaps most
importantly, money. Pulling Northern
Ireland from this agreement raises a myriad of imponderables – how would you
monitor goods, how would you keep good with lower standards, and perhaps lower
prices, out of the EU? And should you?
what about this peace, this nervous peace?
I have no answers, no advice. I was but a tourist. But my heart aches for this island, this Ireland.
None of us look like
this. Thought some of us once did, or wished we did. Our group brings to mind
that passage from The Velveteen Rabbit.
You know the one about becoming Real:
a thing that happens to you…It doesn’t happen all at once. You become. It takes
a long time…Generally, by the time you are real, most of your hair has been
loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very
shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t
be ugly, except to those who don’t understand.”
We gather a few mornings
a week – in the warm pool at the downtown Y, and go through an hour of water
aerobics, easier on the joints. We greet each other affectionately, gathering
in newcomers who may at first feel awkward, protecting themselves, shy in their
bathing suits without the camouflage of Spanx and loose-fitting tunics and
leggings. We’ve all been there, that first visit, and remember. We welcome the new while remembering those who
are no longer with us.
Now, unlike the Velveteen
Rabbit, most of us still have our hair, though some not – chemotherapy. Our
eyes haven’t dropped off, and our joints are tight, or replaced and, most times,
achy. We know one another by first names only. Few of us socialize on dry land.
But we are here. We are here for one another. We have been here through chemo
rounds, through mourning, through recovery. We’ve been here to celebrate
milestones and victories, great and small, all while semi-submerged in our
chlorine-laced pool. We are here- without makeup, without artifice.
So here’s to us, who show
ourselves as Real, because once you are
Real you can’t be ugly, except to those who don’t understand.
Here they are – my maternal grandmother and my great aunt. They each had their stories, all forgotten now, except by me. Their birthdays come and I am the only one who knows, and that pains me a bit, though my rational side tells me it is only normal and makes me realize that this will come to me as well. That there will be no one to remember my birthday, or my story.
Perhaps that is why I write – on the off chance that someone, someday, may pick up a book and give a thought to the person who wrote it. But for now, I am thinking about their stories, their lives, what I know of them. And this year, I will write about them, so that, perhaps, someday someone will remember and wonder.
While Butterscotch may have wanted to go with me, I
ventured alone to meet Michele in Amsterdam. Flights went smoothly, with aisle
seats – who could ask for more, except perhaps business class. Watched The Notorious RBG, a superb documentary
of the life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, now one of my favorite people. Also read Richard
Russo’s Trajectory, a good collection
of related short stories.
December 5, 2018
After a very long flight and easy entry to the Netherlands, was met by a GCT guide who took a group of us to the ship, M/S River Rhapsody. Had time to visit my room before lunch, during which Michele and family arrived. The group gathered before dinner for a port talk about the next day’s tour (Nijmegen), then, finally, to bed. Lots of steps on the ship, but I’m managing. Mind over matter…
December 6, 2018
A morning Nijmegen tour led by our wonderful guide Bjorn,
restored after an accidental bombing by the US during WWII. Rain did not deter
us. Also learned about “coffee shops” which sell weed. Our group purchased a
nickel bag, which yields about two buds. Also had a lecture by a docent from the
military museum about Operation Market Garden, which we know from A Bridge Too Far. After lunch, I napped –
and I slept so soundly that I slept through the fire drill – only woke up when
staff came to my room to check where I was. Then our Cologne port talk, dinner
and to bed.
Learned that the water level of the Rhine had risen to
the point where we will not have to disembark and bus to another ship further
south. So we get to stay onboard! This is
great news for us, but also great news for Germany. This is the first time for
many months that the Rhine has been deep enough to be navigable. Great expense
entailed in unloading barges and getting supplies from one place to another.
December 7, 2018
A Stollen baking demonstration in the morning, then
late morning out for our walking tour of Cologne. I broke off from the group
and met Gina and Ludwig in front of the cathedral. We had a delight-filled day –
talking, walking around the Christmas markets there, my personal Ludwig-guided
tour of the Cathedral – and a special treat – a walk to see the location where
August Strauff was born, then a mere two blocks away, the church where he was baptized.
Also had coffee at a café where the doors to the toilets are transparent –
until you do in and lock the door – then it becomes translucent with a flower
Gina and Ludwig walked with me back to the ship where
we had a farewell drink. Just a lovely day with these two people, whom I already
Then dinner and a port talk and to watch the lights of
the city of Cologne as we sailed from port that night.
December 8, 2018
Started the morning with a walking tour of Koblenz, which
is at the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle rivers. Again in the rain, but we
were undeterred. Michele and I stopped in one of the markets for coffee – and
saw the house where a mural of Max and Moritz was painted. Max and Moritz in
the US is the Katzenjammer Kids, a Sunday comic strip that I remember from when
I was a little girl at Rock Springs.
After lunch we set sail for Mainz, cruising past the
Lorelei. I think this was part of my trip in 1964, but am not altogether sure.
Will see if I can find pictures or some type of memory. Lots of memories all
jumbled up, for sure.
December 9, 2018
A morning walking tour of Mainz, led by an interesting
looking German man – one can see generations of German, of hardship, of this
obviously educated guy who now leads tourists around his city, even in the
rain. Visited the Gutenberg Museum, looked at architecture – the post-war
reconstruction, some of which is in the old style, some in the hurry-up-and-build
1950s style. Walked around the markets – sat on a wet bench to drink coffee. All
these Germans eat and drink standing up. And the food smells are fantastic
wherever we go.
That evening went on the optional trip to Rudesheim, for dinner and the markets there. Lots of free time, more than I knew what to do with, especially in the rain and the treacherous cobblestones. But I explored the markets and bought a Stollen, which turned out to be very heavy to carry. Then to dinner at a German (of course) restaurant, very touristy, but then I am a tourist, so I didn’t mind at all. And sat with some nice people from the trip. Enjoyable, but a rigorous walk.
December 10, 2018
I napped after breakfast, loving having a room to
myself, It’s like it’s my personal nest, private, just for me. And the treat of
having coffee brought to my room in the morning – a delightful surprise.
We arrived in Speyer after lunch. I have been surprised to learn of the influence of the Celts and the Romans in this area. Love hearing all this history. If only I could remember it. Our home visit was today – four of us went to a woman’s house – she was in her 70s, I think. We saw her apartment, her garden, she was most hospitable. Talked about school after the war – Speyer was in the French-occupied area, so they had to speak French. She served a lovely cake, stollen, coffee, tea. A lovely way to spend an afternoon, and then a woman’s singing group in the evening for entertainment after dinner.
December 11, 2018
To Heidelberg all day. Rainy, but interesting bus ride
– I always enjoy seeing the countryside and the parts of the city we don’t see
on our walking tours. I thought that I had been to Heidelberg in ’64, but once I
was there, I think not. First the castle – very interesting, but oh those
cobblestones, oh those wet cobblestones, oh those hills with wet cobblestones. I
used my cane and don’t think that I would have made it without it. All very
exhausting for me.
After our morning tour, we went to the city of
Heidelberg – the castle was on the hill, unsurprisingly. Had lunch with the
group in a local restaurant, and then Michele and Sven and I explored the
markets and shops. By this time, I know that I am coming down with a
cough/cold, so we picked up some super-German cold tablets.
Enjoying the food, the people, the markets, everything that we’re seeing and doing. But I must say that the pace is rigorous and walking treacherous. It’s exhausting, truly.
December 12, 2018
Our ship arrived in Pittersdorf during the night and
we were on an early bus to Baden Baden, another Roman site. We had a lovely
city walking tour and then Michele and I walked around the markets and ended
the morning with coffee and a pastry at a local shop.
The day before, a terrorist had killed four people at the Strasbourg markets, so it was decided that the ship would not go there. The markets there had closed and the borders secured. We were set to go to Freiburg instead.
December 13, 2018
The ship docked at Breisach during the night and we
set off to Freiburg directly after breakfast. The borders were still closed,
but the bus went through without being stopped. And Freiburg was a lovely
treat. We had a walking tour led by a delightful young woman, saw the Cathedral
and the city and then had a great lunch with Michele and Sven. Michele and I
stayed in town and walked through the markets; also picked up some super cough
drops, since my cold was not getting any better.
Everyone walks around the market drinking Gluwein – a hot,
spiced wine. You can buy it at most stalls, then you pay 1 Euro for the mug;
when you finish your drink, you can return your mug at any of the stalls and
they refund the Euro. A pretty good system, I think.
But all in all, a lovely day and GCT made the change in itinerary seamlessly. Great job.
December 14, 2018
Our last day – spent the morning on ship where the
guides did a presentation on their Christmas traditions and we had the Secret
Santa – I hate those things…
Then in the afternoon we bused to Kayserburg where we explored the city – more wet cobblestones, more uphill wet cobblestones, and then on to Riquewihr, a wine village known for its Rieslings. All were lovely towns, lovely Christmas markets, but I have to say that by this time I was tired. The pace, the cobblestones were grueling, and I wasn’t feeling my best. Was glad to get back to the ship, dinner and then pack to head home.
December 15, 2018
Up at 2 a.m. – luggage out at 3 a.m.; left for airport
at 3:30 a.m. – and an exhausting check-in and flight from Basel to Amsterdam;
then what felt like an endless trip to Atlanta. My poor seatmate – I coughed
much of the flight and felt more miserable with each mile. Then, to top it all
off, I spilled my orange juice over her. I don’t think she’ll forget that
flight, nor will I. But I made it home – R and I arrived at the same time,
about 7:30 p.m. G’so time.
And so…. a lovely trip, even with the weather, even
with the cobblestones. And it was a delight to see Gina and Ludwig. But the
trip, the pace, made me feel my age, I have to say. And made me glad that I had
done so much traveling before it got so difficult. And made me realize that I need
to waste no time in seeing what I want to see.
On Festivus and the Inconveniences of Taking the High Road…
Once again, I missed Festivus. I love the part about “airing of grievances.” For I come from a long line of folks who never do that; we call our lack of rejoinders “taking the high road,” and, indeed, sometimes, most times, it is exactly that. Plus, we get to feel superior to those who thrash and get red-in-the-face in response to an insult, real or imagined.
I am one who finds it
exceedingly difficult to air my protests, and though my spouse might deign to
disagree, he doesn’t know the half of it. While I have no trouble letting him
know exactly how I feel, it is the others, those further removed, yet not
removed enough to make them be of no concern, who rankle while I’m practicing
I have not made public my
protests to those “deaths by a thousand paper cuts,” each by itself too trivial,
too insignificant, to bring to light – slights delivered with or without a
smile, insinuations, exaggerations, or sometimes outright lies. This is how I’ve
tried to live my life, what I have advised those who have come to me with both
workplace and personal issues. “Take the high road. It will pay off in the long
run, and you will feel better about yourself.” And when they followed this
advice, which most did, I was there to congratulate and cheer them on.
Now this is one of the
great rewards of taking the high road – having someone (or many) know about it.
To take the high road in total private – well, you have to have a pretty strong
sense of yourself to take solace in that.
And I realized that is what
is missing. What I want is someone to say “Wow, are you not great? You are
taking the high road. You are the better person. You are a person of character!”
That’s what I want to hear. All these years of raising an eyebrow and keeping
my counsel, all these years of not reporting what the other person had said or
setting the story straight. There are times I want to scream “there are things I
know that I haven’t told you because it would hurt your feelings or change your
mind about someone you think cares about you.”
But I haven’t, and I don’t
think I will. I’m working on leaving all that stewing behind. It benefits no
one, especially me. It’s unlikely that I’ll change my ways, and most likely
that’s a good thing.
In the end it really won’t
matter. In the end we’re all dead anyway, Festivus or no.