Nazi Past in Nuremberg (Dokumentationszentrum Reichsparteitagsgelände)

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March 18, 2018 at the entrance of the museum/grounds

Dear readers,

This post will be about the Dokumentationszentrum Reichsparteitagsgelände  in Nuremberg, Germany. Also know as  the “Documentation Center Nazi Party Rally Grounds” in English. If you are interested in the Third Reich, want to know more about German history, and are interested in how museums portray historical events, this will be an interesting read for you. If not, you still may want to follow along and check out my thoughts as an exchange student in Germany learning about German history. Let’s begin!

Size and Scope:

The museum is umfangreich—with nineteen different exhibits. It told a full story from beginning to end of the Nazi regime. An average of eight different posters—each featuring a paragraph or two—were featured in each of the exhibits. The paragraphs were short and concise, and they were written in German but with audio guides offered in several languages. There were several accompanying images, artifacts and films throughout the museum that brought the story to life. Some of the films featured were: clips of Triumph des Willens, the celebrations during the Party Rallies and the last were interviews with Zeitzeugen (time witnesses).

Presentation:

I got the impression that everything was presented in a neutral manner. There wasn’t necessarily a negative take presented or straightforward critique. I also did not feel like the museum tried to stir emotions and ask for empathy for victims of the Holocaust. The museum presented facts in a well-organized structure. The flow from one exhibit to the next was simple. (In some art museums I have felt a bit lost not knowing how the flow of exhibits worked from beginning to end.) The story and timeline were fluid until the very end: many exhibits were in one large room; they were still labeled numerically but they were a bit scattered compared to the simple flow of exhibits leading up to this one large room. Throughout the museum, the lighting was relatively dark. Blacks, reds and grays dominated. Some rooms also had exposed brick walls. It was intentional to try to preserve as much original architecture as possible.

Reflection:

I had just done some academic readings about the Third Reich, so it was a good opportunity to review all of what I had read for only 1,50 Euro as a student. Overall, I think the museum told a cohesive and informational story about the former use of the facility by the Nazis for the party rallies and the Nazi rise to power. The planning of the grounds was done meticulously by Hitler, who worked hands on with architects and other developers. It was eerie to see how worried Hitler was about the aesthetics of Nazism. On the one hand, it showed how much effort was put into Nazi propaganda. On the other hand, it showed (in my opinion) how mentally unhealthy Hitler was. The combination of the two produced an unheimlich effect– considering how many people identified with the Nazi party, joined in on the celebrations and activities, and discriminated against fellow citizens with different religious, ethnic or political backgrounds.

One exhibit that I found very interesting was about the reception of Hitler around the globe:

In the democratic states of Europe and North America, the militarism expressed in Nuremberg and the unrestrained use of the propaganda machinery were criticized. In dictatorial or authoritarian countries such as Italy, the Soviet Union or Austria, reports usually reflected only the relations of the respective governments to the “Third Reich”.

Another exhibit that I appreciated was at the end—the film with “time witnesses.” As I mentioned before, the information in the museum was presented neutrally without a strong sense of criticism or negative outlook, but different perspectives were presented throughout the timeline of the museum, which strengthened the museum’s authenticity. This was especially true in the last exhibit: In the interviews with the time witnesses, some shared that they were head over heels for Hitler. They were so happy to see him. Apart from that, the interviewees also shared how/why they were susceptible to anti-Jewish propaganda. And how they felt united and proud.

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a photo from another exhibit that reflects well what the time witnesses had to say about the Third Reich
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anti-Jewish propaganda
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“Jewish business” “don’t buy from the Jews”
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“Jews- enter this place at your own risk”

Being in Germany today makes the idea of the Holocaust and Hitler’s regime almost unimaginable so I think keeping the history out in the open in locations like this, is the only way to make sure it’s not simply swept under the rug and will continue to be discussed in order to strive for a better today and tomorrow. That’s it for my reflection. To conclude this post, I have added some additional information from the museum below according to the timeline that was presented in the museum.

The Story—a timeline and additional things I found noteworthy:

Aufstieg der NSDAP: this part of the museum detailed the start of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (an anti-Marxist party which was also opposed to the democracy of the Weimar Republic and the Treaty of Versailles), the formation of the SA (“Sturmabteilung”), and the failed Beer Putsch of 1923, which Hitler went to jail for and where he wrote Mein Kampf. It gave insight to Germany after World War I… the war debt, poor living conditions, inflation, and frustration. It also covered Hitler’s hate for the Jews and the early propaganda that they were the ones to blame. It showed too that Hitler wasn’t working alone. There were others in the party and Nazi organizations formed rapidly. He was a talented speaker and could represent the party.

Die „Machtergreifung“: The putsch failed so Hitler realized he had to pursue power through legal means. By 1930, Hitler’s party was in the Reichstag. The SA was fighting communists on the streets. The Great Depression led average citizens to agreeing with Hitler’s anti-Semitic propaganda. The Weimar parties could not stop the Communists or the Nazis. There was traditional campaigning alongside terror tactics. In 1932, the Nazi party was the largest in the Reichstag but without majority. There were some actions taken to outmaneuver Hitler but being the largest party they were able to elect Göring as Reichstag president and started to influence things from inside the government. Chancellor Papen left office and President Hindenburg elected Hitler as chancellor. Other posts were given to members of the NSDAP and the SA & SS marched through the streets of Berlin. Attempts to control the Nazi party failed.  And most seemed sure that Hitler would not turn German democracy into a dictatorship. But it wasn’t long before things changed.

Die Anfänge der Diktatur: The time covered here was the turning point. It set the foundation for the horrible things to come. On February 27, 1933, the Reichstag was set on fire. For the new government, this was the excuse to override important fundamental rights and to create a permanent state of emergency. The Nazis also used the state’s means of power to fight their political opponents without hesitation. In March 1933, the first concentration camps were built. Book burnings, but above all first boycott actions against Jews.

„Führer“ und „Volksgemeinschaft“:

  • Gleichschaltung (“forcible coordination”)- organizations that held democratic ideas were destroyed.. communisis were crushed by the police.. the SPD was banned. By June 1933, there was only the NSDAP. The largest mass organization of the Third Reich, the “Deutsche Arbeitsfront” was created. All associations and clubs were connected to and decided by the government. Nazi propaganda dominated popular culture and entertainment.
  • Volksgemeinschaft (“people’s community”)- people of all classes were united to achieve a national purpose. A major focus was the youth and there were a handful of youth organizations (Hilter Jugend; Bund Deutscher Mädel)  that preached Nazi propaganda. The intentions were to strengthen and preserve the German Volk and Greater German Reich. There was a strong sense of national and military pride.

Der Führermythos

  • Hitler was considered the greatest German, the greatest statesman, as the first artist and builder of the nation, after the beginning of the war as the greatest general of all time. The myth draws Hitler as a unique genius and at the same time as a simple man of the people.

„Stadt der Reichsparteitage“

  • There were both political and practical reasons to make Nuremberg the place of the Rallies of 1927 and 1929.  The Nazis had a strong base early on in Nuremberg and in Middle Franconia and they were also supported by the state police director.
  • Nuremberg’s past as an imperial city and as a city of medieval imperial diets could easily be reinterpreted in the sense of the “National Socialist Reich idea.”
  • In Nuremberg, the Nazi regime used the slogan “from the city of the Reichstag to the city of the Reichsparteitage”. Thus, the National Socialists claimed to “complete German history.”

Baugeschichte des Reichsparteitagesgeländes

  • Eternity and monumentality were the principles of the Nazi state & party architecture. The buildings for the Nazi Party Rally Grounds were to impress and at the same time intimidate, demand discipline and convey a sense of community. The architecture was put at the service of propaganda and power demonstration. As a self-styled “supreme builder,” Hitler often dealt in detail with the major construction projects.

Zwangsarbeit für Nurnberg

  • Tens of thousands of prisoners of war and forced laborers from all over Europe were brought into forced labor camps on the Nazi Party Rally Grounds between 1939 and 1945 in and around Nuremberg.

Die Reichparteitage- Ablauf eines Rituals & Reichsparteitage als Erlebnis

  • The Nazi party rallies served the internal and external self-representation and were intended to stage the “Volksgemeinschaft” and the “Führer-Mythos”. Parades, the omnipresence of uniforms and military demonstrations were directly related to the preparations for war by the Nazi state. Above all, however, the Nuremberg rallies appealed to the feelings of participants and spectators. Politics were not intended to be understood here, but “experienced”.
  • Mass rallies, military performances, speeches, meetings of the Nazi organizations, propaganda exhibitions, folk festivals, fireworks, concerts and opera performances made up the ritual of the party rallies. Christian and Germanic customs were presented as well as representation of Italian fascism.

Die Organisation der Rechtsparteitage

  • The Nuremberg Rallies were governed by the NSDAP leadership, which gave instructions to the party congress of the city of Nuremberg. The party congress distributed the tasks such as transport, accommodation and meals of the participants, traffic control and so on. The congress was also responsible for decorating Nuremberg and for the reception of Hitler. To finance the Reichsparteitage, the NSDAP members had to give a contribution. Admission was also required to attend the events.

Das Urteil des Auslandes

  • I discussed this section previously with the newspapers from abroad. But for the international reputation of the Nazi State, the presence of foreign guests of honor at the party rallies was extremely important. Except for the Soviet Union, all important states (such as the USA, France and England) were represented by diplomats at the party rallies. I still find this shocking how accessible Nazi Germany was and why the global sphere did so little to end the Nazi dictatorship.

„Triumph des Willens“ [1934]

  • the official Parteitagsfilm directed by Leni Riefenstahl
  • the film was much more than a documentary–it was propaganda, that conveyed the most important political message of the party rallies: the connection between the Führer and his Volk
  • In a third of the film, Hitler was featured. Other scenes featured shots of people waiting in anticipation to see him
  • therefore, the film not only shaped the image of the Reichsparteitage but also Hitler’s image

Die „Nürnberger Gesetze“

  • In 1935 many versions of new laws about citizenship and racial separation were discussed until two new laws were established that received Hitler’s approval. The two laws are grouped together as “die Nürnberger Gesetze” (the Nuremberg laws) and consisted of: 1) a Reichsbürgergesetz, which de facto created a two-class society- with one group having all rights and a second group receiving only minor rights. 2) “Gesetz zum Schutz des deutschen Blutes und der deutschen Ehre” (a law to protect “German blood and honor”)- making it illegal to have “interracial” relations. Attached to that law were several propaganda concepts such as “Rassenschande” and “Blutschande” to shame Germans into following the laws. The Nazis even recognized “full” and “half” Jews according to how many of the grandparents were Jewish. Terror only worsened after these laws and the social isolation of the Jews was accelerated. The Gestapo had a new target–racial violations of the law. The laws were an intermediate step along Hitler’s plan, which was followed by complete loss of rights for Jews and their deportation to the east.

Der Weg in den Krieg: The German Reich attacked Poland on September 1, 1939. Two years later the war expanded into a world war. The Nazis had been preparing for war since the very beginning. Germany’s recovery began and Hitler achieved great foreign policy successes. The first victims of race and biological “measures” were the sick and weak. Between 1933 and 1945 approximately 350,000 people were sterilized due to alleged sickness. During the start of the war, the sterilization turned to euthanasia. At least 200,000 people were killed at the hands of the Aktion T-4/Euthanasie by the end of the war. Such measures only led Germans to being more susceptible to anti-Semitic and anti-Bolshevik propaganda, when they too lost family members and friends at the hands of the Nazis.

Have you heard of Martin Niemöller? He wasn’t mentioned at the museum but he had something important to say:

„Als die Nazis die Kommunisten holten, habe ich geschwiegen; ich war ja kein Kommunist.

Als sie die Sozialdemokraten einsperrten, habe ich geschwiegen; ich war ja kein Sozialdemokrat.

Als sie die Gewerkschafter holten, habe ich geschwiegen; ich war ja kein Gewerkschafter.

Als sie mich holten, gab es keinen mehr, der protestieren konnte.”

(First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.)

Vernichtungskrieg in der sowjetischen Union

  • Under the name “case Barbarossa” Germany attacked the Soviet Union in June of 1941. This started the war, which was Hitler’s main concern–his goals of: permanent appropriation of “living space” in the East, annihilation of Bolshevism, “solution of the Jewish question”, exploitation of raw materials and labor.
  • The Jewish population living in occupied Soviet territories was killed by mass shootings at the same time that plans were made in Berlin for the systematic murder of all European Jews. That was in fall of 1941.
  • In order to kill the large number of Polish Jews, the SS erected three pure extermination camps near the former Soviet border: Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka. Polish Jews were also murdered in the extermination camps Chelmno, Lublin-Majdanek and Auschwitz-Birkenau. Between July and October 1942, more than 800,000 Jews were killed in Treblinka alone. Finally, the extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, also called “Auschwitz II”, becomes the central location of the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question in Europe”.
  • In February and March 1943, 23,000 Sinti and Roma were deported mainly from the German Reich to Auschwitz and isolated there in the so-called Gypsy camp. Most died of hunger and disease. The last 3,000 survivors were sent to the gas chambers in August 1944.
  • In total, at least six million of the Jews who fell into German hands lost their lives – through manslaughter, forced labor, malnutrition and illness. Just over half died in extermination camps. The total number of murdered Sinti and Roma is still unclear, estimates vary between 100,000 and 500,000.

Zweiter Weltkrieg:

  • The Soviet Union was to be defeated in a rapid campaign like other state of Western and Northern Europe. There were initial successes but winter of 1942/1943 in Stalingrad (Saint Petersburg) proved that German forces could not complete Hitler’s conquest program. During the same period, British and American troops were displacing the Wehrmacht from the south–from North Africa, Sicily, southern and central Italy. The Allied invasion of northern France in June 1944 opened a third front against the German Reich, whose situation was becoming increasingly hopeless.
  • Nevertheless, Hitler continued the fight. It was not until the Red Army occupied the Berlin government district that Hitler gave up and took his own life in the bunker of the Reich Chancellery. The German Wehrmacht finally surrendered on the night of 8 to 9 May 1945. Overall, the human losses in this war are estimated at more than 50 million.

Der deutsche Widerstand- Although few in number there were priests, workers, and students who tried to resist the Nazi regime. According to the Gestapo, only 2 out of every 1,000 were against the regime. The first wave of resistance was immediately after 1933 by underground organizations of the workers’ movement. But they underestimated Hitler and were not prepared to resist the dictatorship. Communists were forced to establish illegal associations due to the massive police persecution. The final wave of resistance was after the attack on the Soviet Union. Resistance had gained strength by this time and it ends with a failed attempt to assassinate Hitler in 1944.

Die Nürnberger Prozesse: On November 11, 1945 the trial of the “main war criminals” began in the jury courtroom of the Nuremberg Palace of Justice. 21 leading representatives of the National Socialist regime were tried at an international court for their crimes against peace and humanity. In the Palace itself is a museum about the trials.

 

Let’s finish this post with a few photos of the grounds. Since it was snowing, I didn’t explore the grounds outside of the museum. There are also bus tours that you can do to learn about the different areas and usages of the grounds. However, I did get to see the unfinished Kongresshalle, which you will see below.

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The Kongresshalle (“congress hall”) planned for 50,000 people is the largest remaining testimony to Nazi reign architecture.

Getting Started with Studying Abroad

Dear readers,

I would like to discuss “studying abroad” for American college students.

Studying abroad is a rich experience to undergo during your college years. The first time abroad is life- changing. You see yourself and your native culture with different eyes. You get to experience everyday life of those who live thousands of miles away from your native country and listen to new languages. You also get to see, firsthand, the wonders of the world–whether it be something historical in a city or a gorgeous landscape.

But studying abroad isn’t cheap. It also isn’t easy. It requires thought, decision-making, and planning. Your approach and attitude truly change how you perceive your time abroad. You should pick the right country for the right reasons. Everyone is different, so you have to decide what the “right reasons” for you are.

Your internal reasons for studying in that place should outweigh the external reasons.

What do I mean exactly? Your reasons for traveling to Germany are: because you have a German girlfriend/boyfriend, you like the German language and you want to ski in the Alps. International relationships can be very interesting and fulfilling, but if that’s your only reason for traveling abroad, your time there may be very challenging and frustrating since you do not have a personal connection with the country itself.

But when you are also interested in the country because of its language & culture and you have travel goals, the trip will feel much closer to your heart. How much you enjoy it will depend on your attitude (and maybe the weather and people around you) but you’ll feel more of connection with the place when there’s something inside of you that brings you there.

 

However, I must admit: sometimes you just have to start somewhere. Everyone must be bad at something before they can be good at it. A new experience may give you the motivation to start an entirely new chapter in your life… And I want to share my story with you.

The first time I traveled to Germany seems like so long ago. And I’ve changed in so many ways since then. Although every day wasn’t perfect… I wasn’t so outgoing and definitely didn’t have an idea what learning and speaking a second language meant, I experienced being abroad for the first time and had some encouraging, fun experiences.

The first program I did was not connected to my university in any way and it was open for all people—not just college students. I pretty much found it by chance. It’s an easy story to tell so I will start from the beginning:

I knew that I wanted to learn how to speak German so I decided to start courses at Goethe Institute Atlanta. While browsing their website, I also read that they offered classes in many German cities for international learners of German language. I can’t remember exactly what was on my mind then but I decided that I wanted to take a course in Germany to speed up my German learning and see the country for the first time. I did have some unrealistic expectations though.. thinking that four weeks would be enough to have me speaking the language. There were certain days where I held some conversations but I still spoke a lot of English. I also didn’t study intensively or use everyday interactions to practice the language.

What I gained from that experience was that I left my native country for the first time. I had my first experiences navigating to new places, using public transportation, and buying food from different places. I also met many international people. I changed time zones. I didn’t have any air conditioning. I used a new currency. That was June- July 2015.

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There are a few other things I want to share about that time that maybe be insightful for you: First will be about the language school I attended. Second will be a specific experience I wrote about during the time. And before sharing my second time abroad, I will include a few more things that stand out to me about my first time in Germany.

The Language School

 

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The reasons I chose the location I did were as following: I wanted to be in a city near the place my grandmother was from. I wanted an apartment with WiFi. I wanted the apartment location to be close to the school so that I could go by foot. And this school even had a cafeteria, where I had breakfast and lunch. Apart from that, the prices were good. The city seemed cozy and inviting. And although it was small, it seemed like there would be enough activities to stay busy and have fun.

I remember everything seeming like it was going really fast—at the airport and at the train station. And I thought Germany was absolutely beautiful. I loved looking at the countryside while riding on the train. I didn’t feel far away from home but I definitely felt American. Europe had a different flair than USA. It felt more serious, more competitive, and more elegant. It wasn’t the first time I had feelings of being critical about my native country and native culture, but it became much more obvious for me. It seemed most Europeans were cosmopolitan and multilingual. Nobody made me feel bad for being American. In fact, even though I was shy, I had an open heart and was curious, so many people reached out to me and I had a great time.

I shared a bedroom so it would be cheaper. We had a private shower and toilet. In the basement of our place was a shared kitchen for the building. My roommate ended up being another American girl who had some experience traveling in Germany already and was going to stay in Austria for a year. We weren’t the best of friends but we got along well enough. She showed me where the supermarket and other things in town were. And she was part of a bigger group with whom I spent a lot of time.

Getting to Germany was a big step. But the language school was helpful with getting us students there and situated. There was a bus waiting for us at the train station to drop us off at the school. Once at the school, we received information about our accommodations and were able to drop our bags off. We also did an interview as part of the placement test. Since it was already late, the actual written test was the on the next day. So I ended up showing up to my class once it had already started. No big deal except no English was allowed!! That was understandable since we were a classroom full of international students learning German.

The reading and writing weren’t the hardest part of the course for me. Listening was pretty hard. So was speaking. Especially the pronunciation. I remember asking my Turkish friends from the school like “what should I do.. my head doesn’t want to understand German?” They said that I just need to learn more. I didn’t realize then how important it was to train listening and practice speaking– preparing for situations and correcting mistakes. We often had writing assignments for homework. In class, we did presentations of what we wrote. We still trained basic grammar. We played games. And we had a workbook that guided our learning. We did many types of activities to get us interacting with the language and to start talking about everyday stuff. I didn’t love going to class but it was okay overall. I also didn’t do much revising in my free time.

 

My First Experience at a Train Station in Europe

Here is a short account I wrote during that summer: So what does it feel like to be outside your home country for the first time? ~July 2015~
When my plane first landed on July 6th, I exited the Frankfurt airports only to come back into the airport to go upstairs to find the underground train station. At first, using the train ticket machine seemed impossible because it did not connect to Stuttgart Bahnhof. An Italian man named Luigi saw that I was having trouble and at first asked me if I was Italian. He suggested that I take the train to Frankfurt Main and so I took the train there with him. When I exited the train station, I walked up and down the same street until a guy working at a hotel saw that I needed help—he took me to Frankfurt Main train station. He spoke with someone who worked at the train station to get me to the right platform, but unfortunately it was not the right one for the ticket I bought. I didn’t know to print off the info either because the ticket doesn’t automatically have the platform number on it. I tried to ask a lady for help and look for the right platform, but I ended up missing the train and had to wait for a few hours until the next train came*. During that time span, I ordered a small strawberry milkshake and a mineral water and I paid a Euro to use the bathroom. There, I changed my top since I was feeling a little gross after being in the same outfit. Then I sat around some more before my train arrived. I was on the train (I reserved my seat) and the lady came by to check my ticket. It was a pretty nice ride to Stuttgart Bahnhof and I was exhausted so I may have drifted off during some of the train ride. At Stuttgart Bahnhof, I was having a difficult time finding Schwaebisch Hall-Hessental in the search results, but I finally found it. When I was waiting for the train, some people saying the train wasn’t coming today, so we were redirected to another train.

*By the way, there is always a large billboard with the train times and each station displays the trains too. But for some reason, I simply couldn’t find the platform that matched my train ticket. :/

 

Great Memories from My First Summer Abroad

You probably could tell that I wasn’t used to navigating in Germany or using trains, but the story goes on so let’s continue! Another good thing about this location was that the city was pretty easy to navigate and there was a pretty awesome program planned for that month by the language school. Each week there was a Stammtisch at a different restaurant. That was a good way to practice German, meet the other international students and enjoy an evening out. The school also had its own little bar that was open on Friday nights. Drinks were cheap and there was good music. Of course there was dancing too! The school really offered such a diverse and fun-filled summer program. There were dance classes. You could go out and draw the city. You also had the chance to participate in a local summer fest and bring food from your country. In addition, we toured a local brewery. They served us free beer and dinner. Well, I think the tour cost 3 Euros. We also took a bus to Neuschwanstein castle. We had the whole day there and also got to visit the town nearby. My summer there was more than just planned events though. I had a blast eating ice cream with my friends, watching movies at home, going to the movie theater, and many other little experiences.

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There was one disco in Schwäbisch-Hall that we went to several times. I had such a blast dancing and meeting people from all around the world. One time I even went to a bigger disco outside of the city and I really loved the atmosphere of German discos. I always went with friends so I felt safe and comfortable. Because it was summer, it was such a great time to have a beer in a Biergarten. It was my first time to have a legal drink! (since I was only 18) And it was such an exciting experience to order a beer and get a Pfand back when I returned the glass. There was also a fair and I had a great time seeing the beautifully decorated rides and having a feeling of being back in USA.

Two good things that I did back then were: 1) I enjoyed myself. Just by participating in activities, meeting new people and being immersed in German language, I learned a lot without stressing myself about learning. That is something I learned the hard way this go around during my exchange year here. Studying is a good thing. And if it is something you enjoy, there is no harm in it, but real life interactions and experiences are much more memorable than just taking notes. 2) I lived in the moment. I wasn’t trying to see all the major cities of Germany in one month. I didn’t have to record every moment on my phone. I took it day by day and focused on what was in front of me.

Once I returned to USA, I did experience some reverse culture shock. My friends were there to pick me up from the airport. And everyone was excited that I was back. Somehow I felt sad and even missed Germany. The stress about finding the right gate at the airport was over. I could easily use my mother tongue. But I missed Germany’s beauty, I viewed USA differently and I felt a bit bored being American in America. Alright. I will conclude this part by sharing what I remember about how I felt before I left: I honestly wasn’t nervous. I wasn’t sure what to expect. But I didn’t have any big worries. It felt like a big experience, but overall, I was relatively relaxed and neutral about it. Following are a few photos of the trip. =)

 

Second Summer Abroad

I’m not going to include as many details about my second summer abroad (the following year). My intentions are to compare the types of programs, how I handled things, and complete my college story in relation to traveling and studying languages. In May 2016, I spent another month in Germany. With the same type of language school but in a different city. This time I was in Mannheim. And I had a goal to really learn German. I was still nervous about exploring the city of Mannheim on my own, but I meet a handful of good friends and we had some good times in the city. This time I also had friends from my German class and we spoke only German together. I got to visit Heidelberg and Darmstadt with a group from the language school. I also made it all the way to Aachen to visit a new friend I had made. And at the end of my trip, I spent about five days in Stuttgart, where I visited my great uncle and also did some sightseeing. Here is a little text I wrote in Mannheim about arriving to Germany for the second time:

Mein Flug nach Stuttgart war gut. Ich habe einen alten Mann kennengelernt. Er ist Amerikaner und liebt seine Familie sehr. Ich konnte nur ein bisschen schlafen. An der Passkontrolle habe ich Deutsch gesprochen. Heute Morgen bin ich zuerst zum Stuttgart Bahnhof gefahren. Dann bin ich mit dem Zug nach Mannheim gefahren. Ich musste mit der Strassen- Bahn zur Sprachschule (Goethe-Institut) fahren. Im Flughafen habe ich nach dem Weg gefragt. Es war einfach Goethe-Institut zu finden. Ich hatte ein kurzes Interview, aber ich hatte den Test schon online gemacht. Ich beginne in einem B2.1 Kurs. Ich werde versuchen, nur Deutsch zu sprechen. Mit anderen Studenten habe ich nur Deutsch gesprochen—auch mit den Angestellten Goethe-Instituts. Hoffentlich habe ich einen schönen Besuch hier und lerne viel Deutsch.

(My flight to Stuttgart was good. I met an older gentleman. He is American and really loves his family. I was only able to sleep a little bit. At the passport control, I spoke German. This morning I first travelled to Stuttgart train station. Then I travelled to Mannheim by train. I had to ride the trolley to the language school. It was easy to find the school. I had a short interview, but I had already done the test online. I will start in a B2.1 course. I am going to try to only speak German. With the other students, I have only spoken German–also with the employees of the language school. Hopefully, I will have a nice visit here and will learn a lot of German.)

 

Leaving Germany for Russia

So now it’s time to finish up this entry by including some information about my Russian trip and explaining a bit more how study abroad works at my home university in USA. Before we apply to any programs or scholarships at my university, we have to visit an informational session at the study abroad office. There you learn about the types of programs offered, scholarships, how to raise money and you have the chance to ask questions. Our study abroad office has a website and also an online platform you use to apply for the programs and also any scholarships from the study abroad office.

During the informational session I learned about AIFS (American Institute for Foreign Study.) With AIFS, I either wanted to visit a Spanish-speaking country or Russia. In Germany (2015),  I met some Russians which got me interested in Russian culture. I thought summer of 2016 was a good time to start learning Russian. Before I left, I skyped with a teacher for a few months and could read the alphabet and knew some basic words. But communication was very hard. Looking back, I don’t regret going when I did. However, I could have studied the language, culture and history more intensively before I left. I was still learning German and studying at university and in May of that year I was in Germany for a month so I probably wouldn’t have had enough time to do any more than what I did. And maybe, two trips abroad in one summer was too much. I had already been away from home for a long time and I didn’t have enough time to invest in preparing for the Russian program since I was in Germany. But anyway, let’s continue.

RUUSKI

My program to Russia was with AIFS, which is an external program from my university. I had to do additional paperwork to get my courses transferred and to receive my summer scholarship for the coursework I did. One form was called “intent to study off-campus” which was for the financial aid office. The other form was about the course work and I had to have each course personally signed off by a professor. For example, an art professor signed off for the Russian art course. A politics professor for the politics course and so on. Then I had to have my advisor do a final signature before I turned it in to the study abroad office. That is a different process than study abroad programs that are from my university–organized by professors. For such study abroad courses, you sign up the same way you do for normal classes and fill out your information on the online study abroad platform. And for the year exchange I am doing now, you register study abroad place credit holders and when you bring your transcript back after the exchange, then you can get the credits added.

And here is a quick snapshot of the Russian study abroad program:

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Even though I made it to several museums and different places in addition to what was included in our program, there was still so much I wanted to see and do! The program was awesome. The city was awesome. Five weeks just wasn’t enough. I would recommend a semester there to make full use of all the options and see more of the city and do nearby excursions.

Another suggestion I have if you do a similar program where a large group of students are all together is to make friends with two smaller groups. People with similar interests tend to group up fast so be very outgoing in the beginning! Don’t be afraid to do things alone either, but I truly suggest trying to have two different groups of people that you connect with and can do things with.

It would take several blog posts to cover a full-reflection (as well as a report) of what I did during my time in Russia. But I’m sure you are a bit curious how it was to be in mysterious, dangerous Russia, so I want to share my perception of Saint Petersburg and how it changed over the five weeks I spent there. My first impression was like wow, it is so beautiful. And I noticed immediately that the atmosphere (how the people behaved and the appearance of the country itself) seemed a lot more distant, serious and melancholic than Germany. For at the least the first two weeks, I was so impressed by the many things to see and felt like it was amazing to see the city both as a tourist and exchange student. Later on, I ended up feeling sad, too. Even doing everyday tasks required a lot of effort and I felt very un-Russian. I felt a bit alone and far away from home. And by my last week there, Saint Petersburg ended up warming up to me. I met new people casually in public. I ended up hanging with a friend who had broken away and done their own thing the previous weeks. My coursework was coming to an end and slowly I was making use of the Russian language.

When I returned back home to USA, I made the decision to apply for a year-long exchange in Germany. I ended up not getting accepted into the program, but I had already made the decision to spend a year in Germany. So when applications for the Erlangen exchange from my university rolled around the following spring, I had to apply! I have been living in Germany for 7 months already. And I am not ready for my time here to end.

That was my introduction to studying abroad for American students. Each day I experienced something special. I also encountered new things that helped me grow as a person. My first two summers abroad were just the beginning! I plan to share several posts about my current study abroad here in Erlangen, Germany.

 

Enjoy the spring,

Stephanie F.

First Time Visiting a Concentration Camp (August 2017)

Dachau

September 1, 2017: I saw a concentration camp for the first time this week. I was in Munich before I traveled to Erlangen. I went on a tour to Dachau. Even though I was physically at the place, it was still hard for me to picture the terror that occurred there. Because something so terrible, yet so controlled is simply unthinkable. The tour guide really knew a lot about the history of the concentration camp and I learned a lot of details that I previously did not know. For example, that Dachau was used as a safe place for refugees in the 1950s.

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Memorial artwork to commemorate the lost lives during the years 1933-1945

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On the grounds of Dachau near the maintenance building and entrance
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a multifunctional unit that was used for registering new inmates; the quote on the roof of the building is translated as: “There is a path to freedom. Its milestones are Obedience, Honesty, Cleanliness, Sobriety, Hard Work, Discipline, Sacrifice, Truthfulness, Love of thy Fatherland.”

 

Dachau was the model for other camps. It was first. The quote on the front gate of the camp reads “Arbeit macht frei.” Working was supposed to “rehabilitate criminals and other wrong-doers.” There were some German speaking victims who lived in the camp, but many came from different countries and could not speak German. The largest group of prisoners came from Poland, followed by Germany and then citizens of the former Soviet Union. Therefore, some of them could not even understand these quotes, which were supposed to guide their every-day thinking. As soon as they arrived at Dachau, prisoners were stripped of their individuality and basic human dignity. It did not matter if they had a uniform that fit or shoes that matched. Their entire body was shaved. They were placed into a category according to “the crime that they committed.”  (See below.)

marking system

Arbeit macht frei
front gates
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liberation by the Americans

 

Apart from having to work 12-hour shifts after only eating a thin soup, the victims were subjected to various types of torture by the guards. The fear and discipline there was so intense that guards barely had to supervise when prisoners admitted new prisoners or had a role as a leader among fellow prisoners. Many prisoners died from starvation and diseases since hygiene was so poor and quarters were so close. Although the Nazis tried to keep it hidden, many prisoners committed suicide by jumping onto the electric fence surrounding the grounds.

The first crematorium was too small to keep up will all the deaths and a second had to be built. (The second featured disinfection “showers” in one part of the building.) Apart from the physical abuse from guards (some really awful forms of torture were used) and lack of nutrition and individuality, prisoners also lived in extremely crowded conditions. Where 200 men should be living according to the size of the housing, 2,000 men were living there. The beds were not divided but rather a huge wooden bunk bed.

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The barracks
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Each of the 32 former barracks are no longer standing, but they are indicated by the foundations you see here.
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The perimeter fence
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“Remember how we died here”

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gas chamber disguised as a shower room “Brausebad” ; reported to have never been used
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the first crematorium

 

The true situation of the camp was not portrayed in newspapers as such. Work camps were supposed to be something good for the country. The Nazis didn’t build murder camps in their back yard in order to hide what was happening in a neighboring country like Poland. There were numerous concentration camps in Germany and a few death camps as well, but Dachau is not considered to be one of them. It is still estimated that there were 200,000 prisoners at Dachau and deaths as high as 30,000.

If someone tried to escape the camp, they would have most likely failed due to the ditches and large electric fences around the grounds. There was also an SS academy (SS: “Schutzstaffel”- a Nazi security group) nearby as a final threat. Prisoners also saw the academy when they were walking by foot to the camp during arrival–a threatening introduction to Dachau. Sick were kept separately until they got better (if they got better). Even some experiments were held there such as tests with air pressure to see what humans could withstand as well as hypothermia experiments. Hundreds of prisoners suffered, died or were executed in the medical experiments.

Political prisoners, who had attempted to murder Hitler or who had committed similar crimes, had larger quarters in special facilities. For example, Georg Else, a Swabian carpenter who attempted to kill Hitler on a lone mission, lived under relatively favored conditions until he was shot dead in front of a wall in Dachau. Else had installed a time-bomb in the Munich Beer Hall, where Hitler commemorated the anniversary of the failed Nazi 1923 putsch. Due to foggy weather, Hitler changed his travel plans to an earlier train ride and the bomb went off after Hitler was already gone. Such political prisoners were killed before the camp was liberated by Americans under Hitler’s orders. If seeing all these horrible facilities as an informational museum wasn’t heart-breaking enough, they also played a film that told the story of the Holocaust and of Dachau with original footage.

There are also numerous artistic and religious memorials throughout the grounds that commemorate the victims and urge us to never forget. WWII and the Holocaust are discussed to great extent in American schools. What isn’t discussed enough is the 150 years leading up to the Nazi siege of power, which teaches us how such horror developed due to political instability and poor living and working conditions. The horrible crimes that were committed were not based on a single decision, but were part of a long process of terror, propaganda and total control by the Nazi government. We might be aware of fascist aesthetics and hate among others, but would we be willing to stand up to it? Would we be passive and live off the struggle of others? Or would we too become a victimizer when our governmental authority tells us that it is okay? (A video series about social psychology– to help us understand how such horrible things could happen anywhere)

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“Never Again”
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The colors and symbols represent the marking system used to label inmates. However, on this memorial piece there is no pink represented (for homosexuals)
Memorial Artwork
“May the example of those who were exterminated here between 1933-1945 because they resisted Nazism help to unite the living for the defense of peace and freedom and in respect for their fellow men”

 

The following photos are of the various religious memorials at Dachau.

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Jewish memorial

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more than 6 million Jews fell victim to Nazi tyranny
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The Mortal Agony of Church Chapel
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Protestant Church for Reconciliation
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Russian Orthodox Chapel

 

That’s it for this entry! I shared what I learned about the camp during the tour. I introduced the camp and some of what happened during the Third Reich. The Third Reich is a very extensive topic in German History. Too much has been destroyed and lost to even paint a full picture of every atrocity that happened at Dachau. But, we know enough to hopefully never allow something like the Holocaust to happen again. And I hope that you are feeling grateful rather than depressed after reading this. I strongly recommend Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. The book is a response to the question: “How was everyday life in a concentration camp reflected in the mind of the average prisoner?” Frankl was a psychologist and Auschwitz concentration camp inmate.  It is a book that very well may change your perspective about the purpose of life.

Currently, German students take day trips to such camps to learn about the Holocaust. Learning about history is just as important as being aware of what is happening in the moment all around the globe. Remember, not all Germans were Nazis and not all Nazis were German. We should never forget, be informed of today’s news and self-reflect. Thanks for reading about my experience at Dachau!

 

Sincerely,

Stephanie F.

What to Pack for a Study Abroad in Germany

~Here is my first attempt at writing a list of what one may need for a study abroad in Germany. ~

Things to bring if living abroad for an extended time:

  • refillable water bottle (Water is not free in Germany! Do not expect a glass of water to come with your meal. You will have to pay for a bottle of still or carbonated water. In summer when you are travelling, having a bottle will save you money because you can easily refill in the bathroom or at public fountains. The water quality has to follow European Union standards so it is quite okay to drink from the faucet.)
  • power converter (you can order online before your trip)
  • recyclable bag (2x) (Another difference between USA & Germany- you pay for the plastic bags when shopping in Germany. So save yourself money by taking a recyclable bag with you before shopping. Use less plastic.)
  • “book” bag (You mean need it for your classes or to take what you need for longer bus rides/excursions.)
  • smaller purse (Having a smaller purse–or maybe just a wallet–is convenient when you go out to a bar or club.)
  • rags (at least 4 or 5)
  • 2 towels
  • nail clippers
  • Band-Aids
  • sheets (if you know the bed size) & pillow (if you have the space)
  • 2 folders for paperwork
  • a journal to write about your trip in
  • some loose paper and a few pens and pencils
  • 2 books to read
  • photos
  • a laptop
  • umbrella

Things to buy shortly after arriving:

  • sheets, comforter & pillow
  • cleaning supplies (spray, wipes, toilet bowl brush, broom & dustpan)
  • Advil
  • hand soap
  • a candle or air-freshener
  • detergent
  • dishes & dish soap
  • clear tape (to hang photos)
  • a small lamp
  • scissors (if needed)
  •  a small plant

Best,

Stephanie F.