Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Flossenbürg Concentration Camp

This post might suffer from a touch of Feeling Introspective After Visit to Concentration Camp.

Today, we visited Flossenbürg Konzentrationslager, about an hour away from where we're staying. This was my first visit to such an awful place - while we were there, I was trying to think of anywhere else I've been that made me feel so awful awful awful. Quneitra came to mind, but even that misery was on a much smaller scale.

The interpretive materials on site were so well done. The most moving aspect of them was the way they set up displays of old photos around the site on the spot they were originally taken. It gave the site so much more meaning and context, to be standing in the courtyard, for example, looking at an old photograph of prisoners lining up just there.

I was apprehensive about bringing the girls there. Fortunately, they have been really interested in Anne Frank since we came to Germany, and that has provided a relatively child-appropriate access point to the whole mess of WW2. Still, I hated having to tell them that some horrible people did horrible things to other people, right here in this place. I do think their naivete and their tendency to see things only in black and white will protect them for now. On this visit, they had ears only for stories of good guys and bad guys, allowing none of the ugly complexities of these people's nuanced, difficult lives to cloud the picture.

I recall a moment in one of the exhibit halls, standing in front of an image showing the pictures of a dozen female guards who worked at Flossenbürg. They had soft hairstyles and warm smiles, and yet these women helped run the concentration camp machine day after day after day. Magdalena looked at the pictures and was immediately able to categorize the women as bad guys. I looked at them and thought of the parents, siblings, or children they were supporting during a frightening time of war, possibly with the only work they could get. Shades of grey can be so unsettling sometimes.

It was overcast and raining when we first showed up at Flossenbürg. We spent time in the exhibition halls and visiting the grounds, and gradually the sun came out. The kids and I headed back to the car ahead of Jeremy, and as we walked out through the gates, we made an effort to shake off the feeling of that horrible place. Thankfully, we were successful. The sunshine definitely helped.

Here are a few pictures, though I felt gross somehow taking any.

In the foreground are markers for each country who lost people "to bloody Fascism," as the Russian put it. In the background is the crematorium chimney.

"In honor of the 90th US infantry division which liberated Flossenbürg Concentration Camp April 23, 1945."

 There was a wall with cards where you could leave your thoughts. These were Magdalena's two contributions. "Never forget the war today. 22.7.14 war time 1938."

"In the next few years it got better in the war."

Yes it did, thank goodness. Even though this was a pretty terrible place to visit, I'm glad we have the chance to do so.

Monday, July 21, 2014

More fun than Disneyland

We've never actually taken the kids to Disneyland, but I have to believe that they could hardly have more fun there than we did at Playmobil FunPark near Nuremberg on Saturday. And for a fraction of the price and hassle, too!

This place reminded me of Enchanted Forest in Oregon - low-key, laid-back, not too sprawling, lots of shade, (almost) no lines, and focused on fun for a range of ages. Sterling (age 9 months) even got to be more than a blob in the stroller - there was a baby obstacle course that he enjoyed, as well as a water play area that he hung out in quite happily for a while.

For the big girls, there were more difficult obstacle courses, paddle boats, a castle, a pirate ship, a Wild West area, dinosaurs, and mini-waterfalls to play in after we were all hot and sandy.

I think in two or three years, Miriam will have aged out of the activities this park has to offer, but for this stage of our children's lives, we could not have chosen a better place for all of them to have a blast.

Plus, I had so much fun watching them have fun - you know the feeling?

Friday, July 18, 2014

July 18th, outsourced

Here's an interesting and fairly interactive infographic about where certain majors end up working. [HT Bryce]

Sorry for the clickbaity source, but these really are neat Google tips.

Maybe I don't entirely agree with his tone, but seriously, sometimes kids need to travel and yes, it is harder for us (the parents) than for you to endure.

I do not fully understand the context, but there's some crazy obstacle course and recently, a woman successfully completed it for the first time. Pretty awesome.

Ooh, long cons in the social media era: how to flawlessly predict anything on the internet. [HT Andrew, maybe?]

This was a tough week for international news. In Gaza, "Imagine for a second that Hamas had leveled a synagogue. Can you imagine what Israel would feel justified in doing as a response? Or imagine if a Jewish extended family of 18 had been massacred by Hamas, including children? Would we not be in a major international crisis? At some point the lightness with which we treat Palestinian suffering compared with Jewish suffering needs to be addressed as an urgent moral matter. The United States is committed to human rights, not rights scaled to one’s religious heritage or race."

Also in Gaza, four boys, dead on the beach.

In Syria, more heritage treasures are being damaged or destroyed.


We spent the day in Dresden. It was our first trip to (the former) East Germany since we were in Berlin in 2002.

I confess I expected a little more firebomb-burned-out Dresden, and a little less thriving-restored-Baroque Dresden.

Then again, it's been almost 70 years since 3900 tons of bombs were dropped by the Allies on Germany's last untouched city in the east. I understand the need to rebuild. Frauenkirche (in the last picture, above), however, was left in ruins as a war memorial until very recently - 2005, I think? There's something to be said for that particular depth of emotion that can be experienced when looking at a beautiful thing ruined by war. Berlin and its Gedächtniskirche agree.

It reminds me of how I felt when they announced that the Nauvoo Temple was being rebuilt. Hooray, but visiting there as a teenager, I loved the feeling evoked by those lonely foundation stones lying in their sunken plot of ground more than I loved the rebuilt temple when we visited there in 2010.

But Dresden was beautiful, as you can see. Since we were there with our kids, a random (awesome!) park made it onto the day's itinerary.

And Magdalena made friends with a statue.

We also tried to go see the hill that was made by the hauled-away rubble after the bombing in 1945. It's called Türmberg...and nobody seemed to know a thing about it. A lone hotel doorman said he remembered his father (age 80) talking about it, but he thought it was not a place you could visit - just some rocks and junk in holes.

Another attraction of the day was a visit to the Mormon temple in Freiberg. It was opened in 1985, which means it was the first temple (and maybe the only one ever?) behind the Iron Curtain. Go read the Wikipedia article - it's pretty interesting. Today, there were no secret police to bother us. Instead, a local member opened up the chapel and small photo exhibit for us to look at.

I remember knowing of East Germany's existence as a kid, and one of my first news-related memories is of the Berlin Wall falling down. I was also somewhat obsessed with WW2 as a kid, so today's day trip was interesting to me on many levels, even if it's possible that my kids admitted to the park being their favorite thing!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Der Müll

In German, nouns are capitalized (the Bread, the Milk, the Juice), and nowhere is this more deserved than in the case of Der Müll - The Garbage.

Garbage is a big deal here. Or rather, producing as little of it as possible is a big deal here. Look, I'm from Portland. I am fluent in recycling, and this has still been an adjustment for me. In the US (and in the UAE, to a lesser extent, where we do have some recycling capabilities but also access to an essentially bottomless dumpster), recycling was more a post-consumption issue. When you're finished with something, you either recycle it or throw it away.

Here in Germany, more and more I find myself thinking about this issue pre-consumption. For example, there is one brand of milk here whose carton is not easily collapsible. I don't want to buy that kind anymore, because it hogs all the room in the recycling bin.

This is also one of those countries where plastic bags are not provided at check-out. You bring your own reusable bags (or those fancy pop-up baskets - love those!). If you're willing to endure the shame, you can buy some sturdy plastic bags from the store for around 70 (Euro) cents each.

But back to The Garbage. We are living in the upstairs of a house. Our landlady and her husband live on the ground floor. Her daughter and grandson live in the basement. Altogether, there are six adults and three children living on this property. Here is how big our common Garbage can is:

And you guys, I'm not even sure that it's collected once a week. I think it might be once every two weeks. So yeah, we think long and hard before throwing something away in our house these days. It's actually easier to recycle something than to throw it away mindlessly. Isn't that the way it should be?

There's just one problem: diapers. Those pile up fast and there are too many of them to fit in the bin along with the other trash. What to do? Well, our first Sunday here at church, an American woman who had just moved here mentioned driving around town with bags of trash in the trunk of her car, looking for a random dumpster she could throw it in because her bin at home was already full. We kind of laughed with her...and then thought, "brilliant!!!" We went home and did the very same thing because it's the only way those diapers are getting thrown away.

But guess what? There aren't even random dumpsters here! Sometimes you can find a medium-sized can at a gas station, but that's about it. When you do find one, surreptitiously throwing a bag of trash in there feels like disposing of a body - you're worried someone might see you and trace it back to you.

So now we are hyper-aware of all the Garbage we produce, and meticulous about throwing it away elsewhere, if possible. In the UAE, we'd get home from a road trip and clean out the car by bringing in all the refuse to the kitchen Garbage bin. Here, I try to clean out the car anywhere else but at home.

While we have Garbage on the mind, check out these photos of Americans swimming in a week's worth of their own Garbage. We really do produce quite a bit of waste!


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