Saturday, October 21, 2006


Old Journals Pt III

In which we cover Nazism in Germany from WW2 to the present day (well, to 13 years ago anyway)

7:06 pm, Austria, July 4
We are in Westendorf, Austria. It is a resort nestled between steep mountains like in "Heidi" The mountains are very beautiful. I got my money changed tonight, and located the post office. Tomorrow, I will buy stamps and send postcards.
Earlier, we visited the Dachau concentration camp site. It was surprisingly sobering. We were pressed for time, but I saw most of the interior exhibits, and walked to the catholic chapel. There were a lot of noisy, unwashed gypsies camped around it, with signs that I couldn't quite read. I was angry. They seemed somehow disrespectful.

Really, they did. There was some sort of strike or demonstration going on, or at least a bunch of gypsies (that's clearly what they were) camped around the Catholic memorial at one end of the grounds. This bothered me because it seemed so out of place. Aren't there plenty of other places for them to camp, without disturbing the reverence of this spot? Yes, gypsies also died in the camps, but I didn't see a bunch of Israeli tourists starting cooking fires.

The barracks were long gone, but their foundations still exist, lined up in rows like church pews radiating out from the main buildings. Those buildings, of course, were where the medical experiments, torture and mass murder were done. The gates still say Arbeit Macht Frei ("Labor will set you free"--as vicious a lie as has ever been told to anyone) and the main building has been turned into a museum, full of lurid exhibits to give you the full picture of what went on there. Whatever else you want to say about the Germans, they've done an admirable job of owning up to their past. I don't think, for example, there is such a memorial to the Japanese-American internment camps, or the Cherokee Trail of Tears in the United States. Notoriously, Japan has yet to truly acknowledge its crimes, let alone build a museum. The Soviets and Chinese are held up as heroes of the anti-fascist cause even though their own-people body count eclipses even Hitler's, etc. I could go on about the subject of dealing with collective guilt--how much is enough and how much is too much, but that's another post.

Later we went to Cheimsee. The lake in southern Bavaria is home to an island where King Ludwig's castle was built. We didn't get to see the castle, but I got photos of the lake, tourboats, and of Leslie, Pat, and Mike. I still need a picture of Laura, but we got a group photo after we decorated our bus. I think tomorrow I will also call Mom + Dad and Karen. On the credit card, of course

Postcard list:
M + Dad (check)
Karen (check)
Elissa (check)
Wendy (check)

+keep one for Vicky (check)

Going to Cheimsee but not visiting Mad King Ludwig's castle was a recurring theme of this trip. We went to the next town over from the famous one, the less-traveled historical sites, spent only half a day in someplace interesting before decamping for the local equivalent of a freeway exit with a hotel and a walmart. I don't know why this was. Obviously there's 'cheap' to consider, or maybe someone in the home office actually tried to expose us to less touristy places. Thinking about it now, I also wonder if our concerts were a small piece of the economic development puzzle for these off-the-beaten track towns.

Strangely, I didn't write down the best story of the day. Since it was the 4th, we'd decorated our buses in the Cheimsee parking lot. Even in those days, being an American in Europe was sort of like being a Yankees fan in Boston, so I wondered how the red, white and blue was going to go over.

We got our answer when my little clique wandered off from the group in order to get closer to the waterfront. Three German guys without shirts and obviously drunk came wandering down the path, shouting something or other and pointing towards the main group of Americans nearby. As the only person among us (one of maybe half a dozen on the whole tour) who understood some German, I recognized phrases like "Foreigners get out!" or the alternative "Americans go home!". I've always told this story as 'how we escaped from the neo-nazis', but they were probably just the Deutsch version of your garden-variety ignorant redneck. Every society has them. We casually got up and closed ranks with the rest of our 80+ companions, and the "nazis" passed peacefully by.

But that wasn't the end of them ...yet. About an hour later these same buffoons came back around on a peddle-boat. Without any waterborne Jews or foreigners to bait, they'd started in on each other. In full view of the hated Amis two of them proceeded to stand up on the wobbly craft and start swinging. The drunker of the contenders wound up his arm like Bugs Bunny in one of the old baseball-themed Looney Toons, and put his whole body into his punch. Of course the other ultimate racist fighter sidestepped, and Mr. Auslaender raus! sailed right over the side. I don't remember the details, but he must have hit bottom because when he stood up the water wasn't much above his knees. It's too bad we hadn't managed to spread the story very far--only the five of us really got the full humor of that little show.

Next: a three day rest stop in the Austrian Alps and more of my unintentionally funny comments on girls.

"Aren't there plenty of other places for them to camp?"

They're gypsies (well, gypsies describes several groups). They have a reputation of wandering around from place to place because no one wants them to camp in their backyard. Hell, one government forceably took their children to try to destroy their culture:

the "other" euro-gypsies (there are asian gypsies too):

"Travellers argued in response that thousands of retrospective planning permissions are granted in Britain in cases involving non-Roma applicants each year and that statistics showed that 90% of planning applications by Roma and travellers were initially refused by local councils, compared with a national average of 20% for other applicants, disproving claims of preferrential treatment favouring Roma"

So, perhaps they should be able to camp on some public land, especially one where they were persecuted, and this should in no way take away their right to protest.....

Now, the neo-Nazi-redneck-types falling off the boat in response to their own cartoon-like punching -- that is totally classic! It would have made a great picture :)
Hmm, intersting about the relative treatment of gypsies. I'm willing to believe they get discriminated against, but it's also entirely possible that they have customs which are annoying and/or destructive of the land they camp on. Modern backpackers have the leave-no-trace ethic, but if you're using old-time camping methods you're going to have serious environmental impacts.

Not to excuse discrimination, just saying it's possible there are other reasons.

And yeah it was awesome to watch the bigots take themselves out ;-)
I don't know that the gypsies would camp any differently than Germans. German culture doesn't have the same ideas about littering as American culture. There's trash everywhere here.

Neo-Nazis are usually scary, not comical. I think you met Germany's version of drunk rednecks. ;-)
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