Dienstag, 3. Dezember 2013

The Poplars of Dachau

 The drive to the concentration camp was tense. I was nervous. I have seen Holocaust memorials and the like, but never have I ever been to a camp. The day was perfect for such a visit. It was cold, rainy, and raw. The cold sucked the heat out of my bones and I had a perpetual chill running up my spine. The walk to the camp was fairly long from the parking lot. The path takes you through a beautiful section of forest and eventually an information placard appears with information regarding Dachau’s concentration camp. We crossed the very train tracks that were used to transport prisoners to Dachau. At the crossroads before the gate entrance prisoners were sorted (only men at Dachau) and sent through the wrought-iron gate. The gate is at the end of a short tunnel made of brick and at the top of the gate stands the phrase “Arbeit macht frei” or “Work makes you free”. The entire camp is surrounded by a relatively tall fence with barbed wire around the top and on each side is a watchtower standing ominously in the gravel.
It is massive. I had not expected the camp to be so big. Enormous. It is flat and gray and cold except for a massive line of poplars standing in the middle of the camp, which marks the road that ran between the two rows of barracks. We went to the museum first and read for three hours or more about the camp and its history. We could have stayed two more hours and still not read everything. I could spend hours talking about all that I experienced, but I will stick to a few key informational points that I think are important. Dachau was the first really extensive concentration camp built in Germany and is the one that a lot of other camps were modeled after. It was completed in 1933 with the rise of Hitler. A lot happened at this camp other than the internment of Jews, Gypsies, Poles, Czechs, Homosexuals, political prisoners, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc. The prisoners were used to produce artillery for the German armory in addition to which all able-bodied prisoners had to work at some kind of job, especially demeaning, useless, strenuous, and repetitive jobs. There was also medical testing at Dachau, where doctors used the prisoners as guinea-pigs to test what the effects of extreme altitude are without assistance, new drugs, induced hypothermia, and many other diseases were given to prisoners to see what would happen.
A constant fear of death without trial or reason pervaded every corner of Dachau. Torture was regular and horrifying. Conditions were treacherous: hardly any food or water, incredibly ridiculous work conditions, living situations that were filthy, cramped, and cold. Constant harassment and degradation of the prisoners meant morale was in the deepest darkest realms.
The crematorium lay outside the fenced-in camp, but only just. This building was original, which made it even more unnerving. My heart was racing. The large brick chimney towering above the rather unassuming crematorium was sign enough: this chimney wasn’t used for the expulsion of smoke from baking… The ovens are huge. They could fit two to three corpses comfortably. Two sets of three each, six ovens total. At the end of the building was the gas chamber. Apparently the chamber had never been used for mass killings (150 people at a time), but there were accounts of small groups of 4 or 5 being murdered with Zyclon B.
Personally, the most intense part of the visit was the trees. About fifty enormous poplars stand at attention lining the aforementioned road between the rows of barracks. In a picture taken when the camp was first built in 1933, the trees were still rather small. They had been planted when the camp was built. They were there through the entire war and still stand today. They saw everything. If those trees could talk, what would they say? Could they describe the horror? Now they stand there still, tall, strong, and innocent.

Dienstag, 15. Oktober 2013

Oktoberfest 2013

Oktoberfest 2013: Munich, October 2nd

It was my first time at the real Bavarian Oktoberfest. I was naive, innocent, and completely unaware of what was in store. No party or festival or celebration of any kind compares to the WILDness that is Oktoberfest.
My dear old friend from Regensburg invited me to come and visit for a few days with the promise of a trip to the fest (known as Wies’n by all Bavarians). I immediately said yes and took a 6 hour train ride south back to Bayern, where I studied and therefore feel completely at ease. The night before our scheduled adventure it came to my friend’s mind that I had no dirndl to wear (traditional dress worn by women in Bavaria). Her mother was so kind as to lend me hers! It was too big and too long, but I didn’t care because I got to dress up like everyone else. To try and remedy the size problem I wore two bras, but my boobs still weren’t big enough.
Carrying minimal equipment apart from money, ID, and a camera, we headed to the station. People had been drinking since 10 or 11 in the morning already, but early afternoon drunkenness and debauchery are no foreigners at Oktoberfest. We had about an hour to kill before meeting up with my friends friends, so we decided to walk around and check things out. We wanted to see the old Oktoberfest, which is gated off and you can’t just walk freely in like in the more modern part, but rather must wait for the number inside to die down. Unfortanely, as we learned over mega-phone, there was an hour and a half wait to get in, so we decided to ride the giant swing ride instead. It is probably one of the least concerning rides at any fair and thus our reasoning. Before getting on the ride a sign reads “no drunken visitors may ride” and for good reason. I almost vommed and I was completely sober. It was a pretty funny site: there are all the nice polite Germans on the swing, chatting and sitting quietly, and there is Lucy… “HOLY SHIT! MOTHERFUCKER! JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR! SWEET MOTHER! AHHHHHHHH!” Needless to say the German man in front of me thought it was quite funny and felt it necessary to say “It’s not so bad”. Getting off the ride I was completely dizzy and had to hold on to my friend for support. I am not one for such forms of entertainment, but it was still a blast.
We finally met with the three other girls also clad in dirndls and went in search of a beer tent to set of camp. Luckily, my friend has connections and was able to get us some seats on a couple benches at a table in the Augustiner (famous Bavarian brewery) tent, which would definitely have been impossible otherwise. The funny part of this whole escapade was that the people we sat with were all over sixty. The two of us sat between two old men who were very friendly, but completely wasted. One of them kept trying to talk to me, but the fact that he was speaking Bayerisch (the dialect in Bavaria), was slurring his speech, and that the noise level in the tent was so high made communication utterly impossible. That was okay though, we were all just laughing, enjoying the company, and drinking our giant liters of beer anyway.
It was a spectacular night. I have never drunk so much in my life, nor will I hopefully ever again. I laughed, I sang, and I celebrated beer and community with some wonderful Germans. Although it was definitely in the top best experiences of my life thus far, I can easily say that I will only ever do it once. You can have too much of a good thing.

Sonntag, 29. September 2013

1 Month

I have been in Germany for one month. CRAZY! The time has gone so quickly and I have really grown in leaps and bounds (cheesy enough for you?). Tonight is my second night in my new apartment. I am in love! I am living in Eimsbüttel at the very southern tip, which means I am very central, but it is more residential and homey than where I was before. No skyscrapers here! My street is called Schäferstrasse, which means Shepherd Street in English. It is a narrow street lined with trees and old apartments with pretty balconies covered in plants. I share my apartment with a man and woman both in their mid-thirties and they are wonderful. My room is the perfect size and I have CURTAINS, which means I can actually sleep in on the weekends. On every corner of my block is a freaking adorable cafe and on my street there is a little classy bar. Oh, also, my flat-mate has a black cat named Panther who lives mostly outside, but comes in every so often to have a philosophical and passionate conversation with me.
In celebration of moving into my new apartment I had a lovely dinner party. With the help of a fellow Fulbrighter, I made homemade lasagna with homemade sauce. It was killer and my friends helped to make my new home feel very warm indeed. I need a ton of stuff from IKEA, but at least I have a comfy bed.

I have been neglecting my blog because I am so busy and still adjusting to living in a city. I have almost completely mastered public transit, which was a pretty incredible feat. I am discovering the cheapest places to buy food, the best open-air produce markets, and of course, the best places to go out.

This week I am heading to Munich for Oktoberfest and to visit family down south. Next week, me and two girls from the program are hopping up to Amsterdam for 3 days! I can barely wait!

Missing New England Fall and my family and friends... happy to be here in Germany though.


Sonntag, 8. September 2013


On Friday night, I joined some of the other American language assistants and their various interesting German flat-mates on the Reeperbahn: more commonly know as the Red Light District. Apparently things don't really get pumped up in the city on weekend nights until midnight, if not later. Now, it is important to clarify that the Red Light District where the prostitutes are is not actually accessible to women. I heard that if a woman were to walk on the street where men go to have a good time they would get urine thrown on them. Bizarre. Coming from Wellington (population 280 or so) this is quite a shock. That being said, Reeperbahn is still tawdry and sleazy. Neon lights cover every corner of the long wide street. Signs like "Gay Sex Kino" and "Sex Wunderland" line the side-walks. Sex shops are more numerous than Dunkin Donuts in New England.

We drank some local beer at this very funky bar, which was simultaneously someone's home. Then we walked around a bit, found a convenient store where the others bought beers to stroll with. As it were, open containers are very much legal on the Reeperbahn on weekends. I guess they aren't really legal in the rest of the city, but if you don't cause trouble then no one will bother you, probably. We found an empty stage in the middle of the square and parked it there for a while to people watch.

We eventually made it into a club called Molotov where it happened to be Gay Party Night. We danced for a couple of hours before all the Americans turned in, because we aren't used to the crazy late-night hours of the Hamburgers.

An interesting experience. A colorful city.

Donnerstag, 5. September 2013

My first day in Hamburg. I am a bit tipsy from the delicious and absolutely perfect Riesling from Rheinland. After an intense, yet almost completely English orientation, I took the train from Cologne main station to Hamburg main station: 4 hours. My mentor and her friend picked me up and drove me to my apartment. They are young, vibrant, and incredibly nice. I was so thrilled and grateful to not have to take a taxi. After getting partially lost, we got to the apartment just before the office closed, which meant I could move in right away. I accidentally said, "Ich ziehe mich ein" when I should have said, "Ich ziehe ein" (I am moving in). My mistake was arbitrary, but had I said "Ich ziehe mich aus", then that would have meant "I am undressing". Anyway. It was funny.

My room is a single. Tiny kitchen and dining room. Itty-bitty bathroom and pretty spacious bedroom with a strange side room that has a sink, but no toilet. I am alone here in Hamburg. I have to say, it was wonderful to listen to Etta James, drink wine, and cook as wildly as I pleased without roommates. I don't mind solitude.

Before settling into my room I took a long stroll through St. Georg, which the part of the city that I am living in. I found an adaptor for my computer charger after three tries at various electronic marts. The third time was a charm and I was so happy that I told the cashier, "I am so happy that I finally found that thing!" Like most Germans, he smiled weakly and said "8 Euro 99, please". I know he thought it was funny though.

After discovering that three of the possibly million cell-phone stores in the city only offer contracts (when I want pre-paid), I went to "real", which is the cheap-ass supermarket/everything else you could possibly need store. I bought shit-loads of groceries and trucked them home.

For now, I am pleased. I feel incredibly fortunate. My meal was tremendous, the room is pleasant, I have a bed and kitchen wares. I am fortunate and I know that. I have never lived in a city, but I am prepared for all the excitement and over-stimulation. The only problem here is that I forgot to get sheets from the front desk. No Bettwäsche tonight. There are worse things.