Sunday, June 7, 2015

A German Whirlwind

Hello to everyone from Germany! I have been very busy and my first few days had very bad wifi connection, so I couldn't post pictures or blog. I was also incredibly tired.

My first day was very busy, the flights were delayed and they switched my flight, however, my luggage did not change with me, so I June 1st, arrived June 2nd, and my luggage was apparently left in Newark, NJ. The wonderful Christiane came and picked me up from the airport very early in the morning and we took the train to Giessen. The hotel room was not ready so early in the morning so we went out and had some breakfast and caught up as it has been 4 years since we last saw each other. By the time we were done the stores had opened and we went to find me clothes to wear for my lecture that was later in the afternoon. I found a dress shirt that fit, though the salesman was convinced that I should wear a tighter shirt as this is common in Germany. I wore jeans and a dress shirt, and felt very German ;-) Following some more shopping in Giessen we went back to the hotel and checked in. I took a two hour nap, my first two hours of sleep out of what would be a 36+ hour period of being awake. I then went to the university and gave my lecture. I think it was well attended and I feel that it went very well. I spent the first hour explaining how the Rwandan Genocide happened, the history before, during, and immediately after. Then I discussed my time in Rwanda last year within the context of how the genocide is memorialized in Rwanda. The group seemed to appreciate the lecture and they had many questions afterward. Following the lecture a group of students and faculty went out to a bar to have dinner and drinks to celebrate the victory. It was nice getting to interact with the students and faculty of Giessen.

The following day Christiane took me to see some of Giessen, which was very nice. Following a nice walk and a tour we went back to the university and ate lunch with the students, which was great. I enjoyed seeing more of their campus and what it is like for German college students. The students and staff were having a meeting so I took the bus back to the hotel to rest and pray my luggage arrives so I can feel clean again. My luggage was delivered finally at about 4:30pm. I immediately took a shower and changed into all clean clothes and felt more human immediately. In the evening Christiane picked me up at the hotel and I got to meet her boyfriend. We went to a traditional German restaurant and had one of my favorite meals, schnitzel! If you have not had it you really should, it is a divine experience.  Following dinner I sadly had to say goodbye to Christiane as she was leaving the next morning for Belgium for a much needed vacation. I then successfully went into the supermarket and bought some snacks, etc. as well as (in basic German) asked for still water. I was very proud of myself for doing this basic task completely alone. (It really is the little things!)

In the morning on the 4th, it was a holiday so restaurants were open, but stores were closed and I was all on my own! I met the main professor for the program of the university for coffee and we had a nice talk about the university and my plans for the future. He then had to go to an event so I began exploring. My previous trips have been with groups so it was a unique experience to figure out my own way around and I liked it quite a bit. I went for a 3 hour walk around Giessen just watching the people and seeing the city. I took many pictures of the city. I then had a snack of some delicious cake. I then decided to go to Frankfurt to see what there was to see. I got to see quite a bit including a church I was last at in 1995, pictured below, that has undergone some renovations since I last saw it. I also saw a camp near the airport that little was known about for years, but a memorial is now there and they have excavated one of the buildings. It primarily housed Hungarian women who were forced to build the first paved runway in Germany. After seeing the sites I returned to Frankfurt for dinner where I of course had more schnitzel, and may soon need to enter rehab to break my addiction.

On the 5th I got up early and packed, it was time to leave! I checked out of the hotel and successfully navigated my way to the train station, and then to buy a ticket to Schwalmstadt to see my friend and former host student Lisy where she now lives with her husband and baby. It was very nice to see her, the last time I saw her was 4 years ago. We have known each other from 2001 when my family hosted her and the following year when she hosted me. She picked me up at the train station and we went to the POW camp Stalag IX A Ziegenhain nearby. This camp is best known for one of its prisoners, Francois Mitterrand, who would later become the President of France. The museum was small, but well put together. We then travelled down the road to the site of the memorial for the Russian victims of the camp who were placed in mass graves, and only recently have their names been discovered and plaques to remember them have been placed. After going home for a rest we then went to the museum of the area that gave a wide variety of history from the local area and its customs. It was very interesting. I may have been here in high school, but it was good to return because I didn't remember it.

Yesterday we had a very special day. We went first to my friend's parents house and had lunch with them. My host mother made so much food! I had so much good German food I couldn't eat another bite... but then there was more, and more, and dessert. Once we had eaten we all went to Lisy's sister's house to see her as well as her newborn baby that was only 10 days old. It was nice to see her as well as her tiny little girl. It seems like yesterday we were all in high school!

Today was a travel day. Lisy and I went to Erfurt, about 2 hours by car, to see the sites. The first place we went was to the Topf & Sonne museum which opened a few years ago. This was the company that made the crematoria ovens and certain parts of the gas chambers used in the Nazi camp system. The museum sits inside of the original administration building and is very unique because it still has some original features, including pencil writing on one of the walls from one of the chief  engineers who was very passionate about improving the ovens used in the camps. I expected the museum to be very small, but it was pretty good sized and had a ton of information, much of which I had never heard. They had many documents that were taken from archives of the company that helped piece together the history. I think one of the most chilling pieces was that out of the window on the top floor where the main exhibition is you are directed to look out a window and in the distance (About 12 miles away) you can see Buchenwald concentration camp. So the engineers that designed the ovens for the camps could see one of the first camps they placed crematoria ovens in. It is also important to note that the company was not required to do this work, nor did it comprise the bulk of their revenue. It only made up about 2% of their revenue, and they could have stopped working for the SS at any time. However they continued their work, sometimes visiting camps to witness the killing and cremation in order to better understand what was needed of future models of ovens. This is very chilling because they did their work primarily because they wanted to show they could do it, and advance their work, not because of money or being required to do so.

Following the museum we had lunch, a delicious bratwurst, and then went and walked around the historic city. It was very pretty. We finished by seeing the Erfurt Cathedral which is massive and hard to put into words in terms of size. We had some coffee while sitting on the steps to the cathedral. Then back to Schwalmstadt for dinner and to relax.

My hope is to have good signal once I am in Poland so I can post about the camps I will be visiting during my travels. Tomorrow I will go see the village that the story of Snow White comes from.

P.S. Schwalmstadt is where Little Red Riding Hood comes from!

Until next time... Tschüss!

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