Posts Tagged With: history

Day 8: Atrocities

This day started with a visit to a concentration camp. The camp is called Sachsenhausen and is located in Oranienburg, Germany about 22 miles north of Berlin. We had to walk from the train station to the camp and along the way I was struck by how ordinary the town was. Some of the houses we passed very near the camp looked like summer homes and all were very neatly kept. I also found it interesting that there were markers posted every so often with stories of the camp. I had wondered how Germans dealt with the legacy of the Nazi’s, I felt it would be under the rug somewhat but I was wrong. Entering the camp was a bit surreal and seeing the “Arbeit Mach Frei” on the gate was unsettling. Again, nothing makes history more tangible than travel. I have taught about the Holocaust, but to see the actual places where the plans were carried out is powerful. This camp was smaller than I had expected then I realized it was built in a populated area. We had a limited amount of time there so I walked faster than I wanted but covered a lot of ground.

After snapping some initial photos I walked over to one of the barracks that is now a museum. Of the many photos and artifacts that were in the museum I was most affected by the actual logs of people who had been sterilized; it was a stack of journals about 4 feet high.  The fact that the Nazi’s kept such meticulous records is disturbing; no, it’s more than disturbing, it’s shocking, offensive, and unfathomable. I go to the end of the barracks and panicked momentarily because I couldn’t find the exit, I had to get out. Luckily I found the exit relatively quickly.

Following the barracks I walked over to the pathology building and mortuary where medical experiments were conducted.  They actually had to design and construct a building for that purpose.  I then wandered the grounds first coming across mass graves and a wall with commemorative plaques from other countries, and finally toward the memorial erected in the center of the camp.  Upon exiting the camp I briefly stepped into the main museum and was met by an actual Nazi uniform which shook me a bit.  Overall a sobering experience.

Categories: Geography, Original post, photography, teaching, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Day 7

It was a fittingly rainy day to visit the Wannsee House and Potsdam.  The Wannsee House is where the Nazi’s planned the final solution.  It is now a museum and educational site. What struck me the most was the beautiful setting of the house; a country retreat overlooking a beautiful lake.  The juxtaposition of the setting and what occurred inside the house is, well, bizarre. It was also very unsettling to see photos of Hitler in Germany.  I had several ‘shaken to the core’ moments, very similar to seeing the Vietnam memorial for the first time, or seeing the planes slam into the twin towers; a very visceral recognition, understanding, and acceptance that this was real, it actually happened.

It was apropos for us to visit the location of the Potsdam Conference after the Wannsee House.  The place in Potsdam where the conference was held was at least equal to the beauty of the Wannsee House.  I spent my limited time wandering the grounds rather than taking the tour of the building inside. It was moving to stand on the same patio where Churchill, Wilson, and Stalin sat following the war.

 

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Day 5: Normandy

Day 5 started with a very early bus ride to Normandy with a smarmy bus driver, I’ll save further descriptions of him for another post.  One of the reasons I took this trip was to be able to go to Normandy.  As with most memorials I have visited, nothing really prepares you and you’re surprised by what affects you and how you’re affected. There is nothing that can convey the shear number of casualties other than visiting Normandy.  As I walked among the marble crosses and stars of David I began to think of my uncle who survived D-Day.  He was a bomber pilot who volunteered for extra sorties beyond his assignment.  While reflecting on his bravery and contribution to the war effort I was reminded of my dad who passed in March. They both led long, charmed, amazing lives.  I walked, bringing them with me, feeling the weight of the place; couldn’t help but weep.

Categories: France, Geography, Original post, photography, teaching, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Day 4: Karma of the Sun King

This day began with the obligatory bus tour of Paris; it’s a good way to see a lot of sites in a short amount of time. About halfway through we stopped at Les Invalides which is  a monument to France’s veterans.  The building was first commissioned by Louis XIV for injured and ill soldiers then evolved into the place it is now.  It currently does house some soldiers as well as the tomb of Napoleon:

Following the bus tour our group split into two groups. Some of us went to explore Versailles the rest went to do some shopping.  I went with the former group. Prior to arriving at Versailles the bus tour guide told us that tickets to the palace could be purchased on site or a sandwich shop near the train station. We were also told that anyone 18 and over needed to buy a ticket but those under 18 could go for free.

Upon arrival we found the shop that sold tickets and decided to purchase the entrance tickets there hoping to avoid lines at the actual palace.  The dude selling tickets said that people 18 and under did not have to buy tickets which contradicted the bus driver, but we went with it because it saved Euros money.  So myself and my partner chaperon forked over our 24 Euro and we headed off to the palace.

When we got to the palace we were greeted by a statue of the Sun King and discovered shortly that the dude who sold us tickets had, intentionally or not, lied; the 18 year olds in our group did in fact need tickets.  Shit.  I took the kids who needed tickets to the ticket line which appeared to be short…until I looked inside and saw that it snaked around through several rooms. Shit. Since we had limited time I decided to ignore the Eagle Scout in me, and I deftly jumped the line. It was surprisingly easy and I wound up about halfway through the line.

While waiting in my illegitimate spot hoping the line would move faster, I noticed some people stepping out of the line then exiting the building with tickets.  Turns out there were automated ticket machines, score! I jumped out of line, found my students and after some minor fumbling we had our tickets and were on our way.  I was proud of myself for solving the ticket issue relatively quickly, but felt bad for jumping the line (insert foreshadowing here).

As with many popular places in Europe, and the U.S., Versailles is amazing and crowded.

Following our tour of Versailles we were to head back to Paris and meet the rest of  the group for dinner. (Weird, as I’m typing this, “From Paris with Love” came on the TV). We got on the train at Versailles and proceeded to sit on it for half an hour before it left, which through us off our schedule. After several transfers on the Metro we finally met up with our group at which time I discovered I had been pickpocketed. I’m fairly certain it happened at Versailles or on one of the crowded trains we took returning from the palace. I suppose it was Karma for jumping the line.

Categories: France, Geography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Adventuring in The Netherlands – Go Somewhere

I love the world. Sure it has it’s issues but it’s also where you can find the best meal of your life in an unexpected place. I have never had Indonesian food and I certainly did not expect to find a great Indonesian restaurant in the Netherlands…though historically and geographically it should have been obvious. Sure the whole colonization thing was maybe not the best for everyone involved, but the lasting results worked out really well for me this evening.
My brother took my to Restaurant Blauw, which he said was the best Indonesian place in a country that has lots of them; a result of that colonization thing. I thought, “Yeah, whatever, I’ll give it a shot.” I didn’t know what the food would be like, maybe a mix of Filipino, Indian and Thai or something; not even close. I cannot even begin to describe the culinary experience I had, though I now have a new appreciation for what Anthony Bourdain and Guy Feiri do (hope I didn’t butcher their names too badly there.) I’ll just say that each bite I took required me to wait for all the subtleties locked in the food to emerge and entertain my taste buds. We ordered, for lack of a better term, a sampler that arrived looking like this

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And wound up looking like this

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Not only did I have a fantastic meal today I also went here

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and saw this

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Saw some cool architecture (pay attention to the grassy slope on the left)

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Yes, that grassy slope is the roof of a supermarket.

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And found another cool door.

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Now, why I do love the world n’ all, this concerns me:

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Categories: Amsterdam, food, Geography, netherlands, Original post, photography, Travel, Utrecht | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Day 2

Intro: finally able to access reliable WiFi; it’s been a challenge travelling with a tour group. Anyway….

I can’t believe how excited I am to be in Spain. Yesterday we went to the Prado and I made a B-line for “Las Meninas”. The last time I was in Spain over s decade ago I saw that painting fir the first time and was absolutely stunned so I was more than excited to see it again. So excited in fact I was on the verge of tears. Seeing it again was as awesome as I remember.
Exiting the Prado we were greeted by guitar music on the square. The combination of leaving the museum after seeing classic works of art and emerging into Spanish culture with the ambient music had an immediate serene effect, and again I was on the verge of tears; so grateful and appreciative to be here. The Spanish, and I’m sure other European cultures have such a better grasp of community and public space than I feel Americans do. For example our tour guide was sharing that the mayor of Madrid decided to reroute the highway through town underground so they could reclaim the banks of the rover through town. Now there is a 14km park with playgrounds, cafes, and of course plenty of trails and open space for the people to enjoy. A project of that size and scope I think would face stiff obstacles in the U.S. Granted we have a lot of well established public spaces but the creation of new spaces seems lacking. But I digress.
We also managed to squeeze in the Reina Sofia, saw some Dali and Picasso, had some free time in Sol, and Plaza Mayor, then finished the day with a Flamenco show. Not to denigrate the dance, but I has always wondered why so many cultures seem to have stomping dances. Flamenco, traditional Irish dancing, clogging, tap; I just don’t get it though an am fascinated that seemingly different cultures have traditions of stomping rhythmically to music.
Almost forgot, we also visited the Palicio Real. When I visit places of this vintage I am reminded if how young my country is. Not only that but I am also struck by the attention to detail. I I think about the time it took to construct these palaces, castles and cathedrals and wonder if structures of this type could be constructed today. The answer I think is no because of cost, but I also wonder if the answer would be no because we have a short attention span.

Here are a few photos for you to enjoy:

Plaza Mayor

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All roads in Spain begin here:

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Apparently this is a new trend in Europe (at least a new to me trend):

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Categories: France, Geography, Italy, Spain, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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