Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Under the Dome

Because of new technology, I now have a sense of how far we walk every day.  We’ve been averaging between 7 and 8 miles of walking a day.  That works out to between 750 and 850 calories a day.  And that’s how I can afford to eat what I do when I’m here.

Perhaps I’m also burning off extra calories from worrying.  As of this evening, I’ve less than 72 hours before I arrive in Prague and still no word if the university has paid the hotel.  I’ve done everything I can do, so I have no choice but to wait.

Today’s agenda involved visiting some of the memorials in downtown Berlin, 
 and then touring the Reichstag Dome.

I think the students enjoyed it.

We ran into a colleague whose students were also touring the Dome (I knew he was going to be here, but we weren’t able to get matching tour times).  We all chatted a bit outside while he waited for his students, and then we headed off to Friedrichstraße for lunch before heading north to Oranienburg.

Instead of waiting 20 minutes for the bus, I decided we would do the 20-minute walk from the train station to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp.  Oranienburg is a quiet suburb of Berlin with a very German feel to it.  The students commented on the shape of the buildings and the pointed roofs (to keep the snow from piling up in the winter).  Eventually we reached the camp just after the bus we would have taken.

I skipped the audioguides this year and just led the students through the camp.  We talked about the role of a concentration camp and how it’s not part of the penal system (that’s its distinguishing characteristic).  I brought some readings with me, so sitting in one of the so-called “Jewish barracks” – built after the mass arrests following the November Pogrom in 1938, we read about a German Sinto (an ethnic subdivision among Roma – aka Gypsies) and his experiences of imprisonment in Sachsenhausen and other camps. 

Some of the students seemed quite shaken, though I warned them that Sachsenhausen will be the “easiest” of the camps we visit.  It has so few remaining structures.  Here we only saw the foundation of the gas chamber (for executing prisoners, not mass extermination) and the ruins of the crematoria.  When we get to Mauthausen, they’ll all be intact. 

I took them to the DDR (East German) memorial and talked about its design and who it memorialized (political prisoners) and who it chose to forget (everyone else).  From there, it’s a relatively short walk to the place of execution, which was our final stop.  By then it was 4:50 pm and we’d been in the camp for over two and a half hours.  I could see the students were getting very tired, so we headed out to the bus stop for the 5:17 bus back to the station.

On board the train it began to rain (it had been threatening to rain all afternoon).  I had planned on having a debriefing session to process what we saw this afternoon, but by the time we got back to the hostel after 6 pm, I could see everyone was very hungry and tired.  I will try to carve off some time today for that.  We’re visiting the Information Center for the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe this morning (Wednesday) and afterwards will be a good time to do that.

I heard some of the students mentioning that they haven’t had any vegetables since they arrived in Germany, so I reminded them (being a good Jewish mother), that there are vegetables on all the menus, they just need to order them.  So as not to be a hypocrite, I went to a place I liked in Prenzlauer Berg and ordered half a pound of asparagus for dinner (along with a schnitzel).  They poured a ton of hollandaise sauce over it, but it was very good.

Back at the hostel, I checked to see if the university has paid my hotel in Prague yet.  No answer.  I woke up this morning to find a message from 3 am my time that they now have a purchase order and hope to pay the hotel shortly.  I just wrote back reminding them that it’s now only 53 hours before I arrive in Prague.  If they don’t pay by Thursday night California time, not to bother, since we’ll be checking into that hotel (hopefully) 2 am Friday morning (California time), and, assuming they haven’t cancelled my reservation, I’ll be paying by credit card (hotels do not extend credit to guests).

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