An International Day of Remembrance

Today, January 27, is International Holocaust Memorial Day. Memorials throughout Europe honor the memory of individuals who were killed during the Holocaust and serve as a daily reminder to be vigilant.

History and responsibility are very clearly taught here.

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Max Oster of Oslo, Norway; born 1884, deported and killed 1 Dec. 1942

Germany and many other European countries pave gold “stumbling blocks” into the sidewalks to draw attention and promote reflection. Engraved with a name, the tiles are placed in front of the person’s previous residence. The last names and birth dates included allow you to speculate about the relationships between the people – often parent and child or husband and wife. It has the arresting effect, in the middle of the day, to make you suddenly imagine the person or persons living at the address in front of you and then see them being taken away.

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Family from Bamberg, Germany; deported and killed between 1941-1943
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August Klotzbach of Wiesbaden, Germany; arrested for treason in 1935 and survived

Date and/or place of death is often marked as unknown. In those cases, any known information about the person’s deportation is listed. Cities that are listed are mostly in Eastern Europe (as all death camps were purposely located outside of Germany): Auschwitz, Poland and Riga, Latvia being among some of the most common.

Munich is apparently the only German city that doesn’t use the gold blocks, as they feel it’s disrespectful to have names of the deceased underfoot.

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Frankfurt’s Holocaust Memorial Wall

In Frankfurt, a memorial wall also stretches around the old Jewish cemetery. Similar to the gold street bricks, small plaques jutting out display the names and fates of former Frankfurt residents who perished during this dark period of history, including Anne Frank. Visitors pay respects to those lost by placing stones on the protruding plaques that stretch on for rows upon rows upon rows.

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Berlin’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

For more on how Berlin remembers victims of the Holocaust and the National Socialist regime, see Berlin Remembers.

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Neologe Synagogue in Brașov, Romania
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Old New Synagogue in Prague – oldest active synagogue in Europe
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Dohány Street Synagogue in Budapest, Hungary – largest in Europe
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Memorial in the Dohány Synagogue courtyard

Today, the oldest still-active synagogue in Europe is in Prague, Czech Republic and the largest synagogue in Europe is located in Budapest, Hungary. We happened to visit Budapest during Rosh Hashanah and saw many families on their way to services both at the Dohány Street Synagogue and a smaller synagogue in the same area.

 

Interestingly, the relatively new Memorial for the Victims of the German Occupation currently stands as a hotly contested source of criticism in Budapest. Intended to memorialize Holocaust victims, its use of symbols is intended to misconstrue history, according to daily peaceful protestors. Specifically, they take issue with the representation of Hungary as an angel being attacked by the German eagle. Protesters demand that Hungary not deny the complicity its government and some of its citizens took with the Third Reich during the Holocaust. Their goal is to replace what they consider a gross misrepresentation of history with a more fitting memorial.

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Budapest memorial in question
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Protesters’ issues explained
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Call to the Prime Minister: “Mr. Oban, Tear Down Your Monument!”
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Pictures, stories, and artifacts in front of the monument
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Stones, candles, and plants honor lost lives

Both the monument itself and the surrounding controversy serve as an important reminder that how we portray history becomes how we remember it.

Never again.

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Budapest: Memorial to people lined up and shot into the Danube 1944-45
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The World is Watching

The World is Watching

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It’s days like today that restore my faith in humanity and optimism for the future. Far from my native Washington, D.C., today we marched alongside other equality-minded people through the streets of nearby Frankfurt. For women’s rights. For human rights. For equality, decency, diversity. For love. For what seems to have gotten lost in the rising tide of nationalism creeping up, not only in America, but around the world.

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Current estimates for the Frankfurt crowd, made up largely of Americans abroad but also what I considered a surprising number of Germans and internationals, stand at around 2,100 according to Deutsche Welle. An impressive turnout for a non-American, albeit extremely international, city. Clearly the world is at attention.

The mood was positive and upbeat this afternoon, punctuated with chants of “When they go low, we go high,” “Build bridges, not walls,” and a German chant of a call to freedom and equality.

The route of around two miles ended in the midst of the Altstadt (old town) area where demonstrators gathered around a small stage for musical performances.

 

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Your move, America. The whole world is watching.

50 Shades of Green Sauce

The number of people who don't know green sauce
The number of people who don’t know green sauce

Green sauce with the traditional hard-boiled eggs and potatoes. Green sauce on schnitzel. Green sauce on fish. Green sauce on French fries. Even green sauce sorbet and chocolates. These were a few of the treats offered at Frankfurt’s recent Green Sauce Festival.

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So what is green sauce exactly? (For, as one festival banner astutely noted, most of the world outside of its hometown Frankfurt is in the dark about “Grie Soβ” – so called in the local dialect, as opposed to the standard German “Grüne Soβe.”)

The 7 herbs
The 7 herbs

It’s actually quite tasty, contrary to how it may sound. Sour cream- and yogurt-based with chopped hard-boiled eggs, oil and vinegar. The greenish color comes from a mix of seven herbs, half of which I’ve never heard of before: borage, burnet, chervil, chives, garden cress, parsley and sorrel.

Traditional green sauce with eggs and potatoes
Traditional green sauce with eggs and potatoes (and Apfelwein)

As I mentioned, this creamy sauce is traditionally served with more hard-boiled eggs and potatoes, usually along with Frankfurt’s sour specialty drink: apple wine. But at this small street festival, bordered by food trucks and more traditional food and drink stands, Frankfurt went all out experimenting with other possibilities.

In addition, each Frankfurter has their own style of making the local dish. So a contest was held over the week the festival ran to determine whose green sauce is the best this year.

Green sauce sorbet
Green sauce sorbet

By the way, the green sauce sorbet tasted exactly like you would expect an herb-based ice to taste. Interestingly, the herby “green” taste was complemented by a sweeter layer of strawberry sorbet. The white chocolate truffles filled with green sauce cream were also a mix of herb and sweet flavors, and surprisingly delicious. Well worth a visit just for the creative experimentation with this local sauce.

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For more on Frankfurt cuisine: Frankfurt Tourism Site

And to make your own Grie Soß: Green Sauce Recipe

The Most Interesting Things in the Least Interesting City: Frankfurt’s Spring Festival

Dippe: What this fest is all about
Dippe: What this fest is all about

Frankfurt isn’t known for many things. A busy international airport hub, a thriving financial district, Goethe’s house, and a few traditional-style houses in its old town area. While two of the top ten must-sees may be train stations, even one of the least interesting major German cities has a little bit of local charm.

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Apfelwein
Apfelwein

Last weekend I got to see the best of what Frankfurt has to offer at the Frühjahrs- (spring) Dippemess festival: Apfelwein, Apfelwein pitchers, and Wurst. The only thing missing was Frankfurt’s signature green sauce. Believe it or not, that gets its own festival next month!

The Dippemess, which takes place for several weeks in both spring and fall, is a fair named in honor of the distinctive ceramic pots and pitchers known in Frankfurter dialect as “Dippe.” Handmade grayish kitchen containers of all shapes and sizes painted with flowery blue designs lined the shelves of several stands almost hidden at the heart of the fairground. Traditionally the pitchers are used for serving Frankfurt’s famously sour apple wine, usually poured into small glasses marked with crisscross patterns. In true German fashion, many of the containers had etched labels to avoid any kitchen confusion. Many short fat pots among these were, of course, for Handkӓs’, a pungent cheese considered to be another Frankfurt specialty.

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The rest of the Festplatz was packed with fun and rather ridiculous rides, carnival games, and delicious festival food. This year the Frühjahrs-Dippemess runs until April 19. More about the Green Sauce Festival in early May. Guten Appetit!

Bombs, Riots, and Sinking Bridges: Everyday Perils of the Last Month in Deutschland

It began last month when we arrived home from Ireland. In the wake of modern-day terrorism scares around Europe, a reminder of the past resurfaced. A 500-pound World War II bomb had been discovered in downtown Wiesbaden and was set to be diffused one Sunday evening. Fortunately residents (ironically including many Americans) were given notice to evacuate the area beforehand.

This wasn’t the first time this has happened either. Last year another WWII bomb was found and detonated near a stretch of Autobahn not far from the Frankfurt Airport. As my dad commented when I described these situations, “I guess wars never really end.”

The next morning, news came during Monday rush hour that the Schiersteiner Bridge between Wiesbaden and Mainz was closed for repairs due to having unexpectedly sunken several centimeters. This continues to be a major problem off and on, with what I assume will not have an easy end in sight. While the severely unstable bridge situation is being worked on, a ferry has become available for transporting people and their cars across the Rhein. This, in addition to people making use of the local trains, has generally helped the traffic problem. The real problem here is that there are only two other bridges for cars between these two state capital cities.

To cap off the month, this Wednesday saw what was supposed to be a heavily populated anti-capitalism protest in Frankfurt’s financial district turn violent and destructive. Cars and buildings were set on fire, and from pictures I saw from bystanders and in the news, it looked like a war zone. I was lucky enough to be coming from the direction that wasn’t affected by this mess, so I didn’t even experience any public transportation delays. I knew that the demonstrations would be going on but was absolutely shocked when I saw how the event had turned. What a way to waste getting a message across credibly.

I feel fortunate that my biggest complaint in the midst of all of these dangers has only been traffic disruptions. Regular traffic jams and road construction are par for the course in Germany, and having come from Washington, DC where the traffic situation is one of the worst in the U.S., that kind of disorder is only to be expected.

…A Few of My Favorite Things – Part 2

And the travels with family continued the other week! So here are the continued highlights – one more post to sum up this set of adventures coming soon.

Schloss Biebrich in Wiesbaden faces the Rhein River
Schloss Biebrich in Wiesbaden faces the Rhein River
  • Wiesbaden: Featuring an unexpected medieval festival

A short distance from downtown Wiesbaden stands the illustrious Schloss Biebrich with a tidy park area that flows out behind it. With long pedestrian trails and a small lake, the Schlosspark makes the enormous palace look small by comparison. Today the castle itself contains a restaurant and hotel and is used for events. The park is enjoyed by many, and we even saw a few people practicing tightrope walking between two sturdy trees.

Spring festival in Kochbrunnenplatz
Spring festival in Kochbrunnenplatz

Our visit to the Kochbrunnen (thermal springs) in a downtown square, happened to coincide with a Historical Spring Festival. In this case, “historical” translated to “medieval,” so the festival featured many people in medieval costumes, dolls and other crafts made out of brooms, archery games, and mead and dried meats.

 

Residenz palace in Würzburg
Residenz palace in Würzburg
  • Würzburg: Amazingly reconstructed palace and quaint college town

Würzburg was so enjoyable, we ended up visiting it twice during the week. About an hour and a half southeast of us, this small city is a true blend of history and modern-day. The most impressive sights are the Residenz palace and the Festung (fortress) Marienberg, both originally homes of the prince-bishops of Würzburg. During World War II, the furnishings of the Residenz were moved to the fortress high above the town for safekeeping. The Residenz, as predicted, was then severely damaged but has been entirely rebuilt. Even the showy mirror room, a spectacle of foreign-themed paintings on glass covering mirrors on all four walls and the ceiling, was reconstructed based on slides of the room taken before the damage.

Old Bridge in Würzburg
Old Bridge in Würzburg

Würzburg is home to a university of the same name, and the town reflects the university life. The old bridge leading over the Rhein from the Altstadt (old town) to the Marienberg fortress, is lined with small bars and restaurants. We enjoyed a riverside lunch on the patio of an old mill at the Gasthaus Alte Mainmühle.

 

Luxembourg City with the Casemates along the right
Luxembourg City with the Casemates along the right
  • Luxembourg City, Luxembourg: Two-hour drive to a new country

Much of Luxembourg City sits in a bowl surrounded by the Bock Casemates, a defensive wall with passageways built into the cliffs. This provided storage areas for cannons and other equipment, soldier barracks, and escape routes both over and under the bridges.

The country of Luxembourg has its own language, Luxembourgish, though French and German are also commonly spoken here. The food served in the cafes leans more toward French cuisine, with quiches being popular lunch fare. We did, however, see a band of chefs with the typical tall white hats carrying baskets of pretzels to a town square. Luxembourg City has an extensive American cemetery, mainly the resting place of World War II soldiers, and is the headquarters of many European Union offices.

Symbol of Luxembourg City:  the red lion
Symbol of Luxembourg City: the red lion

A visit to the Luxembourg City History Museum provided some artistic insights into societal changes in the city (languages, politics, household appliances, commercialism, etc.). The museum also has a multimedia exhibit featuring a Luxembourg City legend of the mermaid or siren Melusina. A count had supposedly fallen in love with Melusina in human form and, when he discovered her true identify, she disappeared forever. The elusive mermaid is said to still be hidden somewhere along the Alzette River.

 

Frankfurt
Frankfurt
  • Frankfurt: Birdseye view

This trip to the modern city of Frankfurt consisted of a walking tour with sights such as the Altstadt reconstruction project, Goethe’s house, and the Alte Brücke (old bridge). The tour culminated with a visit to the top of the Main Tower, providing a view of the whole city.

 

Hohenzollern from afar
Hohenzollern from afar
  • Hohenzollern: Prussian kings’ castle, still family-owned

Atop a hill about two and a half hours south of here, near Stuttgart, sits Burg Hohenzollern. This castle still belongs to the family of the former Prussian kings. The current “Prince of Prussia” is Georg Friedrich, who studied economics and works for a marketing company. He and his wife Princess Sophie have twin sons, but only the oldest son will succeed him in the family’s nominal title.

Hohenzollern from the inner courtyard
Hohenzollern from the inner courtyard
Statues on the surrounding wall
Statues on the surrounding wall

Ich bin eine Frankfurter

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Reflecting on this day trip, I think if I had a week to travel around Germany I would probably skip Frankfurt.  But seeing as James and I are still without cars, we chose to hop back on the train on Sunday and traveled about half an hour northeast to pay a visit to this neighboring major city.  The regional train was jam-packed with passengers, most of whom had also brought a suitcase (or a cello) to travel back to the airport.  I thought that being squeezed shoulder-to-shoulder with everyone would make it easier to stand, but it turned out that I still needed to reach across and over several people to grab the nearest pole for balance.  Fortunately we weren’t standing in the bendy straw-like joint of the train – every time we went around a turn those passengers had to press themselves against the ribbed form of the shifting wall.IMG_1560

Like many of the recent days here, Sunday was chilly and mostly overcast.  It even sprinkled a bit, off and on.  We decided to introduce ourselves to Frankfurt by way of a Hop-On Hop-Off bus.  We sat on the upper level for a nice view of the Main River, museums, stock exchange district, and opera house.  There wasn’t anything of particular interest to hop off for, plus the rain combined with the cold made walking around uninviting.  Instead we listened to the English audio tour with plug-in headphones and learned a little about Frankfurt’s history.  Most of Frankfurt was destroyed during World War II so the reconstructed city has a very modern urban feel.  In fact, there are many areas of the city currently undergoing construction for the addition of brand new apartment and office buildings.IMG_1562IMG_1563IMG_1569

After the bus tour we did walk around a bit, passing through Frankfurt’s soon-to-be-opened Christmas market.  In true modern city style, Frankfurt’s wooden Christmas booths are mostly topped with a big tacky plastic Santa or candle like some Americans set out in their yards.  We also headed to Atschel for dinner, a restaurant/bar that serves apple wine, a local specialty.  I had tried apple wine once already in Mainz diluted with mineral water because it’s supposed to be an acquired taste.  This time I tried it straight, which was so-so.  It looks and tastes like hard cider but with a sourer flavor.  I also tried Frankfurter Schnitzel, a tasty variation of the traditional meat cutlet served with a green herb sauce.  We sat on benches at a long wooden table along with a number of other apple wine-drinkers from Germany and England.IMG_1578

Finally we headed back to the train station to make our back to Mainz.  Our final, and perhaps most exciting, adventure in Frankfurt involved thwarting a shoplifter just before it was time to board.  There’s not really much to that story, other than that we reported a young man who we saw walk out of a book store with an armload of winter hats.