July 31, 2013

The horrors of war - study trip in Poland - shaken, sad, upset, but I needed to see this

As long as I can remember – and I have a very good memory for things like that – I have been reading whatever I could get over about the second world war and especially what happened with the people of Jewish decent in the the occupied countries. At an early age I read Anne Frank's diary (follow the link to get to the official website) about the life of a child, later a young woman, in hiding in central Amsterdam during the World War II. I would try and imagine what it would be, being in her situation; She was at the same age, approximately, when she started to write her diary, never meant to be published, as I was when I started to read it. I read my mothers old copy of the book, and I read it again, and again, and again. I read everything I could find about Anne Frank, and I read similar stories. I visited Anne Frank's hiding place in Amsterdam, heard the bells of the church in the square outside, and I would, as I imagine many would, try and imagine myself in that situation.

View over the electical fence and a guard tower
At an early stage I felt the need to try and understand what the people of Europe had to go through during WWII - not just the people who died in the holocaust, but what happened and how it could happen - it has formed who we are, in so many ways, and it is something still so close in time. No-one was unaffected, definitely not in Europe, not even in the few countries that weren't directly dragged in to the war - Sweden was one of the few that remained neutral, but our neighbours were invaded and there was a constant fear we would be too, my grandparents and others have told me.

I have read the stories, met survivors and their children and grandchildren. Met the people that were tattooed and became a number rather than a name, met the ordinary citizens that weren't able to get food for their children, seen the traces of war, the bombed-out churches, the ruins. I have seen the bomb shelters, seen the money that lost value over night. Heard about having to seek shelter in the middle of the night.  The stories I have shocked me, I have cried, I have had nightmares. And yet I couldn't stop reading, because as horrible as it is, I believe it is important to never forget, to remember what happened, and to do our best to make sure it doesn't happen again. 

Due to especially Anne Frank and her diary the holocaust is probably what I read the most about, it is so horrendous, and was done on such a large scale that it's difficult to imagine - it is hard to understand how people can be so cruel, and on such a scale. For as long as I can remember I have felt a need to go see the concentration camps, to see with my own eyes, to try and grasp it. Millions of people sounds like a lot - but how can one visualise such big numbers? I needed to see if for myself. I especially wanted to see the one that I read/learnt the most about, the most horrible of them all. The one who got the name from the little town Oswiecim, in Poland, close to Krakow. Krakow is one of the most beautiful little cities I have seen, right in the middle of Europe, three hours by train from Warsaw, a city I recently visited.

The Auschwitz camp entrance
And here, in the middle of the beautiful green landscape, is Oswiecim. Or, as the Nazis called it - Auschwitz. Here the biggest concentration camp - death camp - is located. Auschwitz, or rather Auschwitz-Birkenau was the biggest camp, focused on extermination, on
murdering thousands time  thousands of people. It consisted of several smaller camps, the biggest and most well known being Auschwitz and Birkenau, which is why the camp is called what it is called - Auschwitz-Birkenau (follow the link to get to the official memorial/museum site).

The Auschwitz part was originally built for Polish soldiers while Birkenau, the largest part, was built up during the war, with one focus and one focus only; To commit the biggest crime ever committed, murdering innocent people; women, children, men. Birkenau is built on marshy land, in an area absolutely flat, with no protection from wind, sun, snow, heavy rain - and Poland definitely has the extremes of all of it - nor from the insects, the mosquitoes, nowhere to get away from the prying eyes of the guards, or the desperate eyes of the other prisoners who were starving, tortured, and more often than not ill with various deceases - without clean water and enough food you have no chance of staying healthy, staying alive. If you weren't sent to the gas chambers you would most likely be dead within months just from what you had to go through.

I could write page after page about all the emotions that welled through my head and heart seeing the thousands and thousands pairs of shoes, the shaved-off hair that was meant for the textile industry, all the empty suitcases that would never again be packed with things, suitcases that showed that no matter how desperate things were, the people who packed them must have had some sort of hope, some sort of wish that there would still be a chance that they could come home again. Most never did. More people than there are inhabitants in the biggest city of Sweden, my native country, died or were murdered in the camps and to and from them.

The train tracks that lead into the Birkenau camp
The train tracks that took the people straight up to the Birkenau camp, where selection was made - if you were lucky; Sometimes there was not even any selection but everybody was sent straight to the gas chamber.

Row after row with simple bunk beds that had to be shared with many people, the “toilets” in Birkenau that you were only allowed to use for a few minutes and only twice per day, the torture chambers in one of the blocks in Auschwitz, where the windows were blocked so you could hear the screams of the others, and listen to the sound of the people being murdered, but you couldn’t see what was actually going on – that's even worse than seeing it, I'd imagine, as you you know you are probably next and you don't know what to expect...

The empty tins having contained the deadly Zyclon B, the crystallised gas used to murder so many - 12 cans were enough to kill 2000 people, that's how deadly it was - the double rows of electrical fence, designed to keep the prisoners from escaping but equally efficient when you had lost your will to live; people committed suicide by throwing themselves onto the fence. Standing there I imagined the ticking sound that must have indicated if the power was on or not. The ash pits where some of the ash from the crematories was spread out, and the area around where you can still see tiny bone fragments, glittering in the sun, white and shiny. I saw them but thought it was just little stones in the gravel. And then our guide told us what it really was - the bone fragments that wouldn't completely burn into ashes, the remainings that had to be crushed - by other prisoners, prisoners that knew that they would most likely suffer the very same destiny.  

Map showing where the people came from
I am not going to say anything more, not now, because no matter what words I use, they will not be enough. I will let the pictures speak for themselves and let you go through the slide show. There is however no picture in the world that can fully describe what happened in Auschwitz-Birkenau, and what happened in other camps. Everybody need to see this, and everybody need to remember it, remember how cruel we humans are capable of being. We have a shared responsibility to educate each other and our children, so that we remember to respect and care for each other, so that we remember that this must not be allowed to happen again.

We are all humans, we all share similar hopes, dreams, fears and fantasies. Let's remember to always speak up when someone is treated badly - because that's where it all starts; Losing respect for each other one step at a time.


July 30, 2013

After Berlin, Poland was next

Me in Warsaw
After visiting friends and eating well in Berlin, I took the train to Poland. Warsaw (Warschau, Warsaw) as well as Cracau (Krakow) had been on my list for a long time, and suitable enough good friends moved there recently - so I could both visit the city and see my friends. 

I also wanted to sort out my last details for the visa to Taiwan while visiting Poland, something that in the end didn't work out for various reasons (the embassy in Warsaw only deals with people registered in Poland) but that was more from convenience than anything else. 

I very much enjoyed Poland. It is amazing to see how a city like Warsaw, which was more or less wiped out during the war, have been able to regain its former strength and beauty, like the bird of Phoenix in the Greek mythology, the bird who would come back to life again and again and again, as beautiful as before, after having burnt itself. 

I am very glad I went but I have to come back many times, because there is so much to discover, and I want to do it slowly, bit by bit, allowing myself some time to take it in as well. Poland, in the middle of Europe, have so much history and so much to offer; Not just the stories about the time during World War I and World War II and the time in between as well as the time after, with the communist rulership and being inside the iron curtain during the cold war, but long before that. There is a lot to see and discover in Poland; Not the least the beautiful Baltic area, where the coal miners and their children would come to regain strength. But I will have to return to that!  

July 26, 2013

There Are Wonderful Markets in Berlin As Well - Boxhagener Platz

Boxhagener Platz in Berlin - A Great Way To Spend a Saturday Morning

If you leave Boxhagener Platz hungry, it's your fault
There are wonderful markets in Berlin as well. Visiting again in Juiy 2013 - just a week ago - I decided to discover the outdoor food market on Boxhagener Platz, in the eastern part of Berlin, not very far from Berlin Ostkreuz. The square is fairly small, and it's not directly on Boxhagener Strasse, as one would expect, but very close. I first arrived in Wizmar Platz, mistook that for the market square, and was disappointed that the market was already over. I was wrong. And luckily I realised I was - with the help of the map at the bus stop (a good travel tip, by the way, bus stops often have a map over the area around where you are - no expensive roaming needed to get to those maps). 

Boxhagener Platz - see link for map - hosts a small market on Saturdays - but who says size matters? It doesn't! The atmosphere on the Saturday market is great, and so is the selection - be amazed by the smoked fish, sample the cheese, check out all kinds of fruits and vegetables, have a coffee, chat with the vendors. Tried wonderful raw food biscuits, and especially the raw food fascinated me, it is something I could do myself when I come to Taiwan - not all student accomondations have kitchens. 

Shopping for vegetables
It fascinates me how different Berlin is to Düsseldorf, the city I spent years in. Düsseldorf has nothing like the outdoor market on Boxhagener Platz. In the same way the food market I visited in Munich (München), Viktualienmarkt, has it's own identity, so does the Fischmarkt in Hamburg, and so do many others. 

It seems every important city, every key place, has its own style of markets, and it's own types of food. I adore it.

And never can I get enough of food markets! The more I travel, the more I learn, the smaller the chance (or the risk) that you'll find me in a supermarket...

July 24, 2013

Everybody goes surfing

One of the most unexpected sights in Munich (München), Germany is the surfers that regardless of the weather and the temperature are frequently seen walking through the town, dressed in wet suites or at least carrying one, with a surf board over the shoulder or under the arm. Munich is landlocked, and the boards are not for windsurfing, they are normal surf boards. Not the big type a beginner surfer like myself would be using, but the smaller ones that only the people who know how to surf would carry. How can this be, what are the surfers doing in town? Well, there is an explanation for it: The English Garden - Englisher Garten (follow the link to get to the official website)...

Where the river builds up a wave, the surfer goes to surf. An amazing sight! It's not for beginner surfers, you need to know what you are doing, but it is fascinating to watch. And if you are a good surfer, maybe you want to try yourself? Throw your board onto the water, jump after, and see how long you will be able to stand up?

I could not do it, and I would strongly advice you talk to the locals to get an understanding of how it works and if you need to contact someone special before you get your feet wet - I imagine you may want to get a safety instructions before as well.

Watching anyone can do though, so when in Munich, head down to Prinzregentenstrasse (see map)  and check out Eisbachwelle (Eisbach wave). It is something you have  to see to believe...  

July 20, 2013

Viktualienmarkt - The Number One Food Market in Munich?

Hello Munich - Viktualienmarkt has everything

Viktualienmarkt,  in the centre of Munich (München), very close to Marienplatz, what a place!  This may well be the food heaven of the city or even of Southern Germany, at least when it comes to accessibility and selection. Prices is a different story, just like with Carlsplatz in Düsseldorf Viktualienmarkt is on a tourist spot and as such you pay - but it is still worth it, coming here now and then; Sample some cold pressed olive oils, try some jams, smell the strawberries, be offered cherries by a smiling salesman and not be able to resist - the cherries that is, no the salesman.  

July 18, 2013

The beauty of seeing Europe before leaving for Taiwan

On the road

In the beginning of the month I officially left Düsseldorf, although to be honest  I left already a long time ago, having been on the road for the majority of the time since I went to Champagne middle of May. But I am not in Taiwan yet, I am travelling Europe. 

It is wonderful to see Europe, of course, however the wandering around Europe with occasional stop-overs to say hi to friends and sort the last bits out in Düsseldorf has been very good for me in many ways, not the least from a cleaning-out perspective. Every time I have stopped by I have also stopped by my former home to get rid of things, and every time I have done so, I have gotten rid of things I the last time I was over decided I was going to save, either to take with me, to put into storage or leave with friends until I can pick them up. Now I keep thinking "do I really need this" - and I have managed to get rid of a lot. I still have a lot of things but nowhere near what I had before. 

And the charity organisations are hopefully happy too... 

Can someone explain why we humans are such pack rats? And yet I am far from the worst I have seen...

And soon I am wandering off again...

Dancing Through the Night - If That Is What You Feel Like

Hamburg Nights

Hamburg is however about so much more than history even if history is found in every corner, in every part of the city (keep your eyes open and you will see a lot of little reminders of what once happened here: The big fire, the war, the ship building, and so forth) – Hamburg is a modern and trendy city.

Overlooking the inside of the Hamburg fish market,
The fish market, Hamburg
We went home in the evening, after having been out dancing, only to get up at 6 am and head down to the fish market (Fisch Markt), an enormous market open on Sunday, until 9:30. Part of it is a street market, and that's where we went, but many come here after a night out, straight from the club, only to continue dancing and drinking. The night clubs are on every corner and there is live music playing at 6:30. While we were drinking coffee (yes, that was much needed) the party goers were continuing with their beers and their singing. It's an odd mix between people looking absolutely fresh, having been in bed early the evening before, and those still continuing the party – and then those of us who had been out but went home and slept a few hours before getting the shopping done – in our case smoked mackerel, strawberries, apricots, avocado and coffee – a delicious breakfast. I liked it – but next time I am not going home in between... Or I am going to bed much earlier the night before, that is another alternative.

July 17, 2013

And From Paris, the Trip Went To Hamburg

Oberhafen Kantine, the crooked house
Since I left work in the end of May I have been on the road; Sweden, UK, France, and in June it was time to do some travelling in Germany as well. The morning after a birthday party that I visiting Düsseldorf for, I got on the train to Hamburg. Hamburg, a city I haven't visited as much as I should have; It's a wonderful city, and with it's history as a ship building city and with a big harbour it reminds me a lot of my home town, Gothenburg (Göteborg) in Sweden.

Lucky enough to have a good friend very interested in finding out the hidden or unknown secrets of a city, I this time got to see things I hadn't seen before; Having coffee in this little cafe, a former canteen that was to be torn down but was saved last minute – notice how the bridge is built around it. It's a very special building, crooked and twisted; I got seasick just entering as the floors weren't in level at all, but rather leaning away and up from the entrance. The name of the place is Oberhafernkantine (see the link), and it is a former canteen that was turned into a café. Visiting it is an interesting experience! 

St Nikolai, the church ruins
Not an unknown site but equally interesting and dramatic is St Nikolas' church (St Nikolai) on Willy-Brandt-Strasse 60, a church ruin that is now reminding us of the war. The church was was bombed and destroyed during WWII and only the outer walls and the tower, or part of it, survived. The church was not that old, it was built after the church that used to be in the same location was destroyed in the great fire in Hamburg 1842 (which, if I am not mistaken, just happens to be the same year the Opium War ended in China and Shanghai started to grow into the world city it is today. Not that there is any correlation, except for me making my way to Asia to learn Chinese (mandarin)). 

The church ruins now work as an important reminder of what bombs can do, it is and incredibly strong experience to stand there, watching the remains of the church, listening to the bells ringing and imagine how it must have been before the bombs started to fall. 

A plaque on the streets of Hamburg, with the name of the person picked up here, with the date and how and where he/she died
In memory of another life lost
Another quite dramatic detail in Hamburg that I didn't notice before; The various plaques on the streets of the city; These serves as reminders of a war more horrible than we have ever seen, from a world perspective: WWII. Outside each and every house where a person of Jewish decent was picked up to be taken to concentration camps or otherwise mistreated there is a plaque to make sure the person isn't forgotten. It includes the name of the person, his/her birth date, what happened to them and when, Seeing it was very emotional, and I stopped and read many of them. He or she who still says “don't mention the war” when talking to or about Germans, needs to rethink. Germany has definitely dealt with the history and continues to deal with it.

If you keep your eyes open you will find many little reminders, not the least of the war. It is said that the people working in the offices that once was the factory where Cyclone B was made, the gas that was used in such an awful way, to murder millions of people, aren't too happy to be reminded about what actually happened in the building where they now work.

Hamburg history goes back so much further though, there are reminders from the ship building era (on Reeperbahn the ropes where made, and that's said to be what the name comes from - just like “Masthugget” in Gothenburg (Göteborg) Sweden is where the masts for the big ships where made), and there are reminders from the Hansa, with the big buildings around the harbour area where taxation took place. You can still see the marks where the big fire started 1842, and the bar where the sailors used to go when they first came back in from the big seas still has the bills pinned to the ceiling – the bills that were to pay for the next beer when the sailor would next return. All over the city you will find these little memories of a time long gong - both the positive and the negative sides of history. 

I love Hamburg for making history so much alive and for making sure that it's all, both the good and the bad, that is remembered. 

July 04, 2013

What's cooking in Paris - Place d'Aligre is my food heaven

I have returned to my food heaven. France. It's a country I have come to love and I love it more and more every time I come here. Is there any other country that does cheese and meat with the local wines as well as France? Taiwan are definitely as passionate about their food but the Taiwanese kitchen is different from the French.

I am here to travel. And to eat... Right now I am in Paris. And I love the French capital; It may be overpriced and full of tourists, and the Parisians speak so fast that it takes me a few seconds extra to understand what they just said in French (which can be intimidating) but it is also very diversified and has a lot to offer; If only you know where to go and what to do. 

This time I have access to a kitchen - and I am taking every opportunity to use it. We have been eating carrot- and ginger soup, we have been having lemon chicken casserole, mushroom- and goat cheese risotto, ratatoille a la Ann-Katrin (a secret ingredience being the carrots boiled in juice from citrus fruits). I have been roaming the food markets, especially my favourite on and around Place d'Aligre, where the one of the oldest food markets in Paris is located - walking distance from Gare de Lyon. The smell, the sounds, all the people around - it is making me happy. The fruits and vegetables are bursting with flavours and everything is very juicy, and very fresh. I will never buy fruits and vegetables in a supermarket again, if I can avoid it - not the least considering the prices are much better here than in the supermarket. 

And not only that. Shopping in the open market is excellent for language training. The vendors may not be born in France in all cases, but they do know how to discuss! And if you don't understand the language, they will show you. Don't tell me that Parisians aren't flexible and aren't trying!

So come and discover my passion - the French food markets! 

July 01, 2013

To say goodbye


To say goodbye is the hardest thing I know. I don't handle goodbyes very well - and it doesn't matter if it is me leaving or someone else.

I am not leaving, I am merely changing locations.  For now. 

Leaving do:s; Well, I don't have the guts to organise my own.  I am happy and excited and thrilled to go to Taiwan. I am 120% certain about my decision. And yet I know that leaving Düsseldorf will be one of the hardest things I have done. So I avoid thinking about it. 

However, even though I haven't officially left Düsseldorf, Germany yet, in reality I have. I am spending the summer travelling around Europe, getting inspiration, while I am also studying. Yet I haven't really told my friends that I have left. Not for real. Because as long as I still haven't packed up the last things I will still make some stop-overs to fetch things and to organise the last bits. 

But at some point they will notice. Until then I will keep on not being very clear on my official leaving date (and to be fair, I don't have my tickets booked yet, I will have to take care of that very soon though). And until then, I will continue to travel Europe. This ship has already sailed - there is an ocean out there and I am here to explore it.

Written from a cafe in Paris...