Short Stories From 10 Years Ago – March 23, 2004
Dachau & Nuremburg
Short Stories From 10 Years Ago – March 23, 2004 – I spent a couple of weeks in Germany a few years ago and have vivid memories of the country, the people and some of the places I visited.
I landed in Munich and was aware, even at the airport of how orderly everything was. The bus to the city centre was scrupulously clean and the driver – trim, and well dressed. My impression didn’t change when I arrived at my hotel and then went for a walk around the city centre. Impeccable shops, restaurants, walkways, parks and hotels.
Nothing out of place. Everywhere I went the people were elegantly dressed, but there was a marked rigidity to their sophistication. Later in my trip I noticed that the locals in Amsterdam were also elegantly dressed – but in such a lovely, carefree and casual way. The differences in these two cities and their people were dramatic.
Munich is a beautiful city and I was particularly charmed by the beauty of The English Garden. I walked around the garden at two in the morning, along with dozens of other tourists. Certainly not something I would do in Toronto’s High Park in the middle of the night. There was a distinct lack of ‘police presence’ in the city and after a few days in Munich it seemed to me that no one would ever dare behave in an untoward manner.
It’s the only city I’ve ever been in that has been so ordered. I’m sure there must be an underbelly to the city – but I never saw any indication of it. I also travelled along the Romantic Highway and saw some beautiful towns and villages. A very different feeling from the slow moving and relaxed, little villages of France, but charming nonetheless.
I spent time in two places in Germany that I felt compelled to visit, in part because my father was a World War Two veteran, but also because I felt it was the right thing to do. We are many years removed from the war now, but it’s essential that people never forget why Allied troops fought and died in Europe. Visiting places like Dachau and Nuremberg is a solemn tribute to the hundreds of thousands of people who died during the war years.
I left Dachau unable to speak and needing to be quiet and reflective. The pictures there are a grim reminder of anera that must never be forgotten. A time when cruelty and brutality over-powered all that was human in the German people, as they happily followed the dictates of a madman.
The other place I visited that left an indelible mark on my memory was the site of the Nuremberg Rallies. These were the most spectacular of the Nazi Party rallies. One can only imagine the setting as Hitler prepared to address the faithful at one of the night time rallies at the Luitpold Arena in Nuremberg. The speaker’s platform would have been draped with the Nazi insignia.
Flags flew on illuminated flagpoles and hundreds of spotlights lit the massive field. 100,000 soldiers marched and 400,000 spectators participated in these crazed religious-like ceremonies to worship at the feet of a self-anointed god. Hitler was apparently a gifted orator and he held the crowds transfixed with his speeches of German supremacy, perfection and coming world domination. These tirades were delivered using sophisticated loudspeakers so no nuance was missed. Hilter would harangue the crowd for hours at a time and no one dared to leave.
When I was there, I climbed up the steps to the platform where Hitler actually stood and spoke. I wanted to look out over the field and try to imagine what it must have been like to be there. As I stood atop the platform, I experienced a sudden, icy chill shoot down the back of my neck and into my spine.It was a sudden – violent and powerful jolt. I cannot explain this event. I recall thinking that I was standing on one of the most evil places on earth. It not an experience I’d want to repeat but neither would I have missed it.
I bowed me head and whispered a silent thank you to the people who sacrificed their souls so that my life is free, and I said a quiet prayer for all those whose lives were lost in the devastation that was the second World War. If ever you need a reality check concerning your “imagined” hardships in life – pick up a history book and read. It’s a reminder of the blessed lives we have, living in a free country. It’s something we should never take for granted.