The Northwest Corner
Traveling through GermanyFriday, June 01, 2012 By Olivia LaFontan
We left on Friday, April 6 th. The plane took off in the afternoon from the JFK National Airport and arrived at the Hamburg airport on Saturday morning, with one layover in Frankfurt. The time difference between Hamburg and Connecticut is about six hour, which meant that we met our host families on Saturday, at 2:30 am EST. We went home with our respective host families for the Easter holiday. To me, this weekend was one of the highlights of the trip. I got to go to the family’s vacation house, in the little town of Schleswig-Holstein, to celebrate Easter with their extended family. The Easter holiday encompasses three days: Saturday night is the Easter fire, Sunday is Easter day, and Monday is called Ostermontag (Easter Monday). Saturday night began with a large bonfire, the burning of old weeds and brush from the gardens. This celebration symbolizes the change from winter to spring. The Easter fire I attended was a small, neighborhood celebration; however, Germans have very large bonfires in the major cities. All of the children (and some of the adults) picked sticks out of the blaze and then roasted sausages over the fire. At the bonfire, there was a tradition that interested me even more: baking bread over a flame. As Americans, we usually get bread from a store, or, if we’re lucky, get to taste some that has been freshly made. They brought bread dough to the fire and ripped off pieces that were then wrapped around the ends of the sticks that they had used for roasting. It was cool to see the children bake and eat the bread just as we would roast and eat marshmallows. During the week I met up with all of the other Housatonic students on the trip. We went to different places in the areas surrounding Hamburg. One of the most memorable of these was the Neuengamme Concentration Camp. It was a somber, but powerful experience. While there, we had a guided tour through what remained of the World War II camp. Many of the buildings had been removed, but the foundations were outlined with rubble made from the broken bricks of the buildings. Neuengamme also had an exhibit which allowed us to go inside one of the remaining buildings. There was a diagram of what the camp looked like while it was in use. To put this into perspective, the Neuengamme Concentration Camp was so large that it had its own railroad tracks running through the camp. Many worked and died where we were standing. The tour guide told us about his grandfather, who had been forced to work there, and had survived. It was incredible to hear these stories while standing in the very spot where they had taken place. The feeling is indescribable. Other locations we visited were Lubeck (a UNESCO World Heritage site) and Travemunde. Lubeck is famous for its marzipan, a delicious almond paste confection, and because it is a Medieval/Gothic city. The architecture was phenomenal. Travemunde was beautiful because it is located on the Baltic Sea. The water, however cold, was crystal clear and the beach was sandy with smooth, multicolored stones at the edge of the sea. We all took our shoes off and ran through the icy waves, even though it was only about 60 degrees outside. I collected colored sea glass and some odd, smooth stones to bring back home. The most extraordinary part of the entire trip was the time we spent in Berlin. The group from Housatonic went to Berlin for a night so we could see as much of the capital city as possible. We got to walk through the huge glass dome on top of the Reichstag (the government building) and we stood in the famous Paris Plaza. We saw the remaining sections of the Berlin Wall, a reminder of Germany’s haunting past. The most extraordinary sight I saw was the Holocaust Memorial. There was no plaque that told visitors exactly to what it was dedicated, but our guide told us it was dedicated to those who had been killed during the Holocaust. There is only one word that comes remotely close to describing the feeling of being at that memorial: breathtaking. The memorial itself is made up of different sized stone blocks that grow taller towards the center. These blocks took up the amount of space that is equivalent to a city block. You are encouraged to walk through the memorial; it is designed to evoke emotion. The ground is uneven and slopes in odd directions. The blocks of stone in the middle of the memorial are about 15 ft high. You hear sounds from the surrounding streets, but you can’t tell the direction from which they come because the blocks distort the noise. You could very well get lost inside, which only adds to the anxious feeling while walking through the memorial. It was built so people would feel this way, and remember. Most other dedications sites have a type of statue or scene with a plaque, but this memorial had neither. The Holocaust Memorial’s lack of words- its silence- seemed to scream volumes that touched each and every one of us in its own, powerful way.