Yes, Christmas, New Year and the prospect of writing up and preparing my Memorial Site tour have meant this blog has slipped down my list of priorities as of late, and to be honest I doubt I'll be regularly blogging again until about early February, by which point I will have delivered my first tour and the pressure won't be so strong. However, while I'm here a little catch up wouldn't go amiss.
Christmas was very much up to expectation, i.e it was on December 25th. All similarities with previous Christmasses I have experienced end there, as this year I assisted with a meal for the homeless in the centre of Munich. It was a very powerful experience seeing people who have almost nothing receiving food kindly donated by the Bayerischer Hof, one of Bavaria's best known restaurants. Everyone recieved presents as well and despite the church in which we ate being freezing cold, I think we all went away well fed and feeling very Christmassy indeed. The day after, on what we in the UK call Boxing Day and in Germany is simply '2. Weihnachtstag', I was invited to my boss's house for lunch with his family. As Christmas is to everyone, whether they believe in God or not, a family time, it was nice to spend a part of Christmas in a German setting.
After Christmas my holiday time started in earnest, with a trip up north to everyone's favourite city, Berlin. Despite the usual nightmarish experience with German regional trains (€18 one way but with no guarantee of arrival time) I had an amazing time with fellow volunteers in Berlin. During the day I visited cultural sights, museums and the like. I had to check out the new Hitler exhibition at the German Historical Museum, which although a little lacking in direction is a significant step forward for German remembrance culture. It fitted the usual Nazi exhibition standard; a room with a television broadcasting crackling voice recordings of Hitler addressing the people and crowds cheering him while the walls are filled with display boards of children in Hitler Youth uniforms. The most interesting part was the section at the end exploring the German's relationship with the figure of Hitler in the post war period, including a section on the recent "Downfall" parodies. In case you haven't seen them, they are videos of the 2006 film "Downfall" with English subtitles that play on Hitler's anger for comic effect, so for example he hears that Ronaldo has signed for Barcelona and criticises the entire Man U front bench.
More interesting was an exhibition on the eleven months between the Fall of the Berlin Wall and the official Reunification. We forget today that German Unity was by no means guaranteed with the bankruptcy of the GDR, and it was only following the first free elections to the People's Chamber and long discussions with the 'Two plus Four' group that Germany was able to reunite on 3rd October 1990.
I was also able to check out the newly opened DDR Museum, which focussed on everyday life in the GDR, as well as the Gay Museum, for which one of our volunteers works. With the latter I felt it was not able to decide on which path of Gay History to concentrate the exhibition; the political struggle through legislative change or the long fight for social equality. The two, though occasionally intertwining, were motivated by very different people and factors, and without that core fact being outlined from the start I felt the exhibition just became a long litany of graphic images and the long ongoing fight for acceptance.
Of course I'm not as nerdy as I sound and got to enjoy a few evenings with friends, including two visits to what must be Berlin's best kept secret, a Karaoke bar on the Bülowstraße. Although the DJ wasn't the best at comparing the evening's entertainment, we all had a good time and got to belt out some classics as well. On New Years Eve itself a few of us headed down to the Linden to watch the fireworks. While the state provided fireworks were rather lame, many people had brought their own to fire off at midnight, so the place looked and sounded like a very colourful warzone. As Germans are only allowed to purchase and use fireworks between the 29th and 31st December, there is a rush to use them that completely defies every instinct for Health and Safety. You can be walking the ten minutes from the U-Bahn to your apartment and feel bombarded by rockets and firecrackers falling from the top floors of buildings. An Israeli volunteer friend of mine with a rather dark sense of humour reacted by saying "The allies are coming, though I'm not sure if it will be the Russians or the Americans!". Such is life for an ASF volunteer
Anyway, must be getting on. I'm attending a Youth Meeting in Dachau in a couple of weeks time which concludes at the Bundestag, so I'll write a bit about that when it's been and gone. And of course my first tour of the site in German, with a friendly Grammar School educated group. Happy January.