Germany’s Not Fun
By Michael Boloker
The Baltic cruise took us to such wonderful ports as Copenhagen, Oslo, Tallinn, Helsinki, Stockholm and of course, that diverse city of Romanov opulence and Stalinesque poverty, St. Petersburg. Each had its own unique atmosphere and brought us the pleasure we had hoped for as tourists. Then there was Germany, Warnemunde to be exact. We had the option of taking an excursion by rail and bus to Berlin, a combined 6 to 8 hours to spend perhaps 3 to see several points of interest we had seen many times in movies. We decided it was not worth being herded around like sheep to spend mere minutes in so historic a city.
Instead, we walked through the seaside resort town, browsed the shops along the waterfront and decided to take a 15 minute train ride to the neighboring town of Rostock, which the ship’s tour guide had said was quaint and historic in its own right. When we got there a tram took us to the new town square which led to a pedestrian shopping street, crowded with locals and tourists. In reality it was a mall, similar to those in so many other cities. There was an H and M, T Mobile, even a TK Maxx, the change in the second letter noted. There was even a McDonald’s amid other kaffee shops. It was not what we wanted so we consulted a local tourist office, studied a map and found the back streets that proved to be charming in that old world way only European cities can retain.
The streets were narrow and winding, the cobblestones rough on the feet. The houses must have been a hundred years old, three or four stories, triangular facades peaked with stuccoed fronts. There was a university where Albert Einstein had once studied and received an honorary degree. There were some quaint shops, a park and an old town hall with a vast interior. We found St. Marian’s Cathedral with its spire which could be seen from everywhere which was our point of orientation.
I am always uneasy about being in Germany. I know it’s to do with my American-Jewish background, and despite the 70 years since the end of WW II, those German accents and the policeman’s uniforms still are disturbing. Rostock had been in East Germany, and that repressive regime must have taken its toll on the residents.
We found ourselves in a plaza by an old less ornate church, St. Paul’s. The street sign said “Alte Markt” and there were one or two stalls with vendors selling souvenirs. It was nothing much and we did not enter the church having seen enough of them in the other cities. As we strolled down a narrow block, we navigated so as not to trip on the uneven cobblestones. Then, at the base of one house, we saw 3 foot square concrete markers. Approaching them we read the inscriptions etched into each. “Siegfried Friedhof. (12-4-3) – (3-4-43). Died in Auschwitz.” “Mara Friedhof. (8-16-10) – (2-23-43). Died in Auschwitz.” “Daniel Friedhof. (1-11-08) –(5-8-43). Died in Auschwitz.” (names fictionalized)
Stunned, I studied the building and wondered who lived in it now. I realized the inscriptions were in English, perhaps placed there by some relatives returning to memorialize their lost, victimized relatives. I wondered what had happened in this town during the Nazi regime and what the local minister of the church just down the block had done. Was there a pogrom, a “selection,” a transport at the very same station where we had come into town? My thoughts were interrupted by that most ominous of two toned horn blasts continually repeated as either a police car or an ambulance passed nearby. I shuddered remembering the movie of “The Diary of Anne Frank” when those same notes echoed louder and louder as her arrest was imminent.
We stayed for a few minutes, our day now depressed by this most gloomy reminder of the past, before heading back to the tram in the town square to return to the cruise ship. We passed an elderly woman, probably well into her 80’s, gray haired and wearing a shabby coat, carrying some market bags. She smiled at us. I wondered what she had seen over the course of her life in this German village.
“I know. I know,” the protestors say about the deluge of holocaust material circulated, the museums and memorials all over the world. “It is enough already.”
But it is never enough.
from the October/November 2012 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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