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Being new in the WordPress neighborhood, I naturally want to make a good first impression – so it really bothers me that the 90 posts I transferred here from my old, soon-to-be-obsolete blog platform arrived without most of the punctuation. The result is incomprehensible dialogue, run-on sentences, and 2nd Grader spelling mistakes (its, dont, wasnt , etc.) All of this is truly embarrassing for a self-described English major, so there is nothing to be done, but go back to old posts and, one-by-one, replace those tiny markings. I have just started and can tell already that it is going to be a total pain the asterisk.
I come to Milwaukee every other year and there is always something new. This time it is Salted Caramel ice cream and a lion (or cougar? or really big dog?) that is apparently on the loose and roaming the streets on the north side – not all that far from here. The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune both published big articles about it today. The internet is having its fun and the lion now has its own Twitter account and hashtag. My daughters are refusing to go on a bike ride with me.
I recently heard that Milwaukee’s Summerfest is one of the largest music festivals in the world, spanning ten days with countless stages. It has been going on forever, too – I remember it from my childhood. It is followed by a series of different “ethnic” events (Germanfest, Irish Fest, Polishfest . . .), but they all end up being Milwaukeefest in the end, featuring brats and beer and, of course, cheese.
This weekend I went to my favorite festival – a smaller one – in a quirky and hip neighborhood with a rich counter-cultural history – but it is still in Milwaukee, so the main attraction was the “Wine Tent” with its 40 types of cheese to sample. We decided on a Thai restaurant for lunch and even the sushi turned out to have cheese in it.
“What does that word mean - Holocaust?” my younger daughter asked me. Her voice was a little quieter and her eyes a little bigger than usual.
We were on our way from Potsdamer Platz to the Brandenburg Gate and had just reached the edge of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. A sea of concrete blocks laid out in seemingly ordered rows and columns. It is one of the modern works of art that moves me most.
”Didn’t you learn about that in school?” I asked her.
My older daughter chimed in ”That comes in the 8th Grade. She will have it next year in History class.”
Standing there at the edge of memorial, I gave my younger daughter the five minute introduction to Hitler, the Nazis, WWII, concentration camps, and genocide. We turned to the memorial and I asked her ”Look at those concrete blocks – what do they make you think of?”
“I dont know . . . maybe gravestones. Or coffins.” From our perspective, there at the corner, there seemed to be an ocean of them spreading out to the left and right.
“That could be. Or each one could represent a block of people I think of each one as a group of people brought to a camp or sent into a gas chamber.”
People lumped together into uniform concrete rectangles and deposited side by side in straight rows. But if you looked closely, you saw that each one was slightly different some were larger or smaller, taller or shorter, wider or narrower, level or inclined, upright or slightly tilted. They threw shadows and created waves. Just one or two blocks were missing.
”Do you see how they are laid out in even rows? For me that shows Hitler’s attempt to create a sick kind of ORDER - a neat little solution to the supposed problem of the Jewish people in Europe. But once you get inside, you will see that the paths are all uneven and go up and down – the cobblestones make them hard to walk on and you have to watch your step.”
We stood in silence for a while. Unfortunately, I had to watch while a young girl got up on top of one of the slabs so her boyfriend could take her picture. She crossed her legs, leaned back on one arm and did a cool movie star pose, smiling brightly for the camera. I glanced at my daughter and was relieved to see her looking in a different direction.
”Why did the people let that happen?” she asked quietly.
That was a tough one. I thought back to my first experience at this memorial. Once you got inside, it was like being in a labyrinth despite the straight lines. You passed between the slabs of concrete - sometimes you could see over the tops to the others, sometimes they towered over you. At each intersection you could look left and right and see other people a ways off: An old woman looking down and stepping carefully so she wouldn’t trip. Little kids playing hide-and-seek, oblivious to the meaning of their current playground. A young couple with a selfie stick having trouble finding a good angle for their picture. Some people walking slowly in contemplation. All of them coming into each other’s line of sight for a brief moment and then disappearing again. No one greeted anyone or even looked into another person’s eyes. I thought “this is how it must have been” for the people living through the times. Wandering lost and alone through the new Order.
I finally told my daughter that I couldn’t answer her question at that moment. She has grown up so far in a bright and colorful world where people are basically good. Now at the age of 13, she is beginning to learn about humankind’s shadowside and long long history of atrocities. I told her she should just walk around in the memorial and see how it all made her feel. We would meet up at the other end and talk again.
Berlin – Day Two: East Side Gallery, Neue Heimat, Mauerpark, Freischwimmer, White Trash Fast Food