Notes from Germany: Sunday Afternoon
The two highlights of my tour so far:
1) I am drinking a beer from a vending machine.
2) My limited German led me to tell a nice old tailor lady “Es ist verrucht in zwei platzen,” which means my pants are twice as wicked.
Sunday was entirely given over to a walking tour of Frankfurt am Main, led by the very capable Dave of Frankfurt on Foot / Insider Tours. I can’t recommend it enough at this point; though it seems like a touristy thing to do the fact is there’s a lot to be said for having someone who really knows the city guide you around.
I’ll also just point out that making a living by walking around a city you love and pointing out cool things to tourists who are paying a lot of attention to you may be my new dream job. Perhaps I could host StumbleTours, in which we carry open containers through the streets of Eurasia’s finest cities until I lose the lot of them and start again.
Going over everything we saw – the Dom, the Romerplatz, the Madonna of Frankfurt – would take most of the day, so I want to focus on the real design-oriented highlight of the tour:
The Jewish graveyard.
I’m not going onto any rant or political statement. As far as I can tell most of the original Nazis are dead in the ground and the new ones would be fucking bastards with or without history to be their guide.
From a design standpoint, though, the holocaust memorial stands out. The walls around the cemetery are studded with iron boxes which thrust forth from the wall, each embossed with the name, date of birth, and (when known) date and place of death of one of the victims of WWII.
I’m told that Jewish tradition places stones instead of flowers on tombstones, as flowers are transitory while stones remain. I’ve always thought that was the point of the flowers for death myself, but I can understand the sentiment. The area around the graveyard is gravel for ten feet all around. This is partly to allow people to pick up stones to place on the memorial markers, but also partly to make those standing at the monument feel off-balance and less than comfortable.
From a design standpoint, I think this is fantastic – implementing the sense of touch in a way you can’t control really adds to the already sobering experience.
The stumblestones are a similar idea, a nationwide art project and the brainchild of one Gunter Demming. They’re four inches by four inches, made of brass and embossed with similar details; only these are set into the streets of cities throughout Germany, outside buildings where victims once lived and laughed. The idea is to trip your memory, to make you realize that everywhere you walk, death walked before you.
Munich’s banned them in the city limits, sometimes neighbors tear the stones from the streets, but he keeps at it, working to ensure you remember what’s come before. Given the amount of dogshit that was strewn purposefully around the Holocaust memorial, I’m glad he is doing it – even if using the plaques to brain supremecists would be a better use of the metal.
It’s not that all we saw related to such things, just that they hit me the hardest. I enjoyed the Romerplatz and the medieval history but of course I already knew a lot of it. The wartime and postwar information is less woven into my personal areas of interest and I’m glad I learned more about them.
We’ve eaten well, of course – anyone who’s keeping track of my diet should be weeping greasy tears by this point. I don’t know how much more schnitzel I can physically consume before my pancreas leaps into my own mouth, and the fact that beer comes in full litres makes evenings considerably more interesting than they might otherwise be.
Speaking of which, it turns out that Thursday – the last day of training, the day before I fly back home – marks the start of German Carnival. As Bacchus is my witness, I don’t know what I should do.
I know what I’m going to do, of course, but not what I should.
Photos of Heidelberg and Frankfurt are now available as well, on Flickr.
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