May 9, 2015

Pressed between history and culture, Germany is underrated

Hofkirche at Dresden on the left.

Dresden Opera building, Semper Oper.

Kunstakademie at Dresden right next to Elbe river.
"The country that does not protect foreigners goes fast under".

It's Pegida up, Pegida down these days in German politics. Given its tragic history and the ongoing trial of the NSU members who managed to kill ten foreigners without being detected for so long, the German edgyness about the subject is understandable. The birth place of Pegida, Dresden, was therefore a must see. Located by the Elbe river ("Florence of the Elbe") and heavily bombed months before the end of the Second World War, how to explain the fact that Dresden started this anti Islam movement with only 2% of its population being Muslim? When one looks at the rebuilding and hope going on in the city and the elegance, manifested by the opera building of the city and the Zwinger Palace, it is incomprehensible. However, when considering that even its landmark Frauenkirche remained in ruins for decades, one is inclined to think that it maybe be an obsession with conservation and purity.

A view from Zwinger Palace, Versailles a la Dresden.
Photo: Esra Turam.

Photo: Esra Turam.

The Semper Oper in Dresden.
The black stones are the remainders from the original
bombed Fraunkirche in Dresden with
Martin Luther statute in front.

Leaving Dresden with these questions, we visited the Buchenwald concentration camp. I was heartened by the fact that it was the 1st of May (Labor Day holiday) and despite that, the place was packed with so many Germans who came to visit with their families. In a room that contained a plan of the camp, our guide explained what building stood where, who lived in villas (the SS) and who died in what condition. Facts about the camp so spoke themselves, the guide did not have to make any conclusions after explaining anything. We were all left thinking how we might have survived in a climate of fear or what we would have done to save our children from politics of destruction or what ideals were worth to die or fight for. 

The entrance of Buchenwald
concentration camp.

The Nazis had an inscription at the entrance of each camp.
At Buchenwald it was: "Everyone to himself".

The barbed wire at Buchenwald once had
380 voltage to prevent people from escaping.

Prisoners of War were brought into this room thinking
they were undergoing medical examination.
Instead, they were shot dead.

We were at times devastated by the cruelty and the deep thinking that went into making people suffer. Similarly, tricks were used to create consent and compliance. For instance, prisoners of war were deceived with the appearance of a medical examination room. When they thought they were being measured, they were shot dead. At the entrance door of the camp, it read: "jedem das seine" (to each his own). A line that in religious thinking was supposed to be positive was turned upside down because every person in the camp was just a number. They were not to be called by their names. In a way, the slogan manifested to their loneliness and god forgottenness. In sum, what is left from the American bombing of Buchenwald is still enough to shake you especially with the crematorium and the ovens inside it. Apparently, once they have arrived in the area, the American army took the people living close to Buchenwald in order to confront them with what was happening there. 
Goethe and Schiller in Weimar.

A blast from the past: the Trabant of DDR.

Having drawn our lessons about political suppression, we then headed to Weimar, located next to the concentration camp. It is probably an irony of history that it was the Weimar constitution that got Germany into all of this to begin with. Walking in the structural birth place of the Nazi disaster, on the other hand, felt very poetic. Amid a flea market and Schiller's poems written in unexpected corners, we saw a statute of Schiller and Göethe and ended up at Frauentor, a very nice cafe and restaurant on Schillerstrasse across Göethehaus. Once we sat down, we realized one more time how pure the people in Eastern Germany really remained. Almost everybody was blonde. Maybe this is what makes them to fear the unknown? But why when your history is full of  things you can be proud of? 

Bach's statute in front of Thomas Kirche in Leipzig
where he composed and belonged.

Bach's graveyard inside Thomas Church in Leipzig.

German bakery at its best in Kandler, Leipzig.
Leipzig is the place of so many German things. Bach and Wagner lived and composed here as well as the Schumann couple and Mendelssohn. Today, at Thomas Kirche, one can visit Bach's grave and listen to an orgue concert during mass. Leipzig was also the birth place of German Reformation. At the same time, in 1989 churches turned out to be the place of refuge against the communist rule. Maybe this is why they are weary of non-Christians? In fact, a grandiose feeling surrounds the city with its buildings and huge train station, attesting to its once central location. The restaurant Auerbachskeller from 16th century that Göethe frequented still offers amazing food which really makes one think that why the German food, cakes and bread are so underrated.

Nikolaikirche in Leipzig, the place where
resistance to communist rule started in 1989, is 850 years old.

Spinnerei in Plagwitz, Leipzig.

Stolpersteine on the ground in Leipzig commemorate the Holocaust
survivors just like in other parts of the country.

In addition, Leipzig has an up and coming artsy neighborhood like Plagwitz with places like the Spinnerei, the cotton spinning mill turned into cultural center or restaurants such as Chinabrenner. Given all this heritage, it must have been such a destitute feeling for Germans until 1989 that all their cultural riches were left on the wrong side of the border. Those in the East, on the other hand, must have been left to take pride with cultural treasures that did not feed them. Maybe this explains their reluctance to embrace foreign "things". A desire to hold on to what they have for the future may be uncertain. A pity, when in their humble civility Germans have found so much courage to make good for the past.