Saturday, June 19, 2010

Day 22: Arbeit Macht Frei

We went to get some groceries first thing this morning so we can stop bleeding Euros on crappy breakfasts. Took them back to our hotel and then headed for the train station to meet for the Dachau tour. We followed a Canadian girl to the Marienplatz to meet up with more people for the tour. Munich, like almost all of the European cities we've been to, is really quite nice when you get to the residential/pedestrian center.

I like that we've ridden trains everywhere. I like that we've seen the seedy underbellies of the places we've been. I feel like we've seen Europe's true colors and we can judge her accordingly. Without guilt or generalizations. We've seen the gritty details. The overwhelming want and need for jobs and economy. The dirt. The forgotten corners of towns.

Today we went to a forgotten memorial: Dachau. To give it any kind of description would likely be insufficient, a naieve slight to 206,206 people that died there. So I'll leave it at that: I don't know what to say or feel about it. I was just there and it was just there too. What happened there, happened. And compared to Birkenau and Auschwitz and the other extermination camps, Dachau was kind of tame. And that is disgusting. But large groups of prisoners were actually released from Dachau. I didn't know that.

It had innumerable tales of terror and torture and horrible experiments. And a crematorium. I did know that. I don't think I was ready to walk through the gas chamber and crematorium but we did anyway. I usually scoff when people say "You can't imagine such and such," because the human mind can imagine the most far out concepts and fiction (just look at movies, books, etc.). But I really think that you can't imagine the terror those people went through. How incomparably scared they must have been. And then how grateful they must have felt for the release of death.

Our tour was student run and organized and our tour guide, Lisa, had lots of "Um, ok, let's go over there now" moments. She was interesting. Her father was born in Germany in the 30s and her mother was born in Nagasaki in 39. She was there for the bomb. It was probably Lisa's destiny to be a WWII tour guide. She did a good job.

The most interesting part of the tour came as we stood in front of one of the many memorials inside the camp. It was a wall, behind a stone box full of ashes, that said (in five languages), "Never Again." Lisa the tour guide pointed out the obvious irony - that it has happened several times since. Think Cambodia under Pol Pot. The Kurds under Saddam. Rwanda. Darfur. Many Muslims' desire to wipe out America and Israel. It has happened again and again.

As we walked out, we stopped at the gate to the camp with the infamous phrase on the iron gates: Arbeit Macht Frei. I couldn't help but think of perspectives. Everyone's perspective oh that phrase: Work will make you free. The nazis must have thought hard work would bring them the Lebensraum Hitler wanted and that they'd be free to live where they chose. The prisoners of the camps must have thought work would either fee them back into the world or free them from horror by bringing death to their extremely malnourished and weak systems. I think Europeans believe today that work will let them be free to be left alone, that it will free them from concerns and enable them to live easy, low-key lives content in the circle of their friends. Americans believe hard work will free them up financially to follow whatever pursuit they have. A place in the mountains, 4x4s in the summer with friends, home rennovations, etc.

I think of the the subtle implication in that phrase; that while you're working, you're not free. I think most people see it that way. That we've slaves from 9-5, and stuck in a world of routine and familiar. I see it that way at times. And when I do, I despise work. But in my better moments, I feel grateful for the opportunity to try my hand at something. At the chance of success. For the ability to work and think and make income and reach for the next level of life.

I'm rambling. But I don't know. I guess I'm just grateful for those people who have fought or suffered in the battles that have protected my freedom to work.

church right outside our hotel room window

you stay classy, Munich

the big church downtown in the Marienplatz, note the black and white picture a few down with nazi flags all over it.

the gate to Dachau

replica of one of the barracks and the foundations for the old barracks

nice. the germans do it right. check the store in the background.

the hotel atlas city. with its blue stripe of luxury.

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