I just got back home from my trip to Deutschland. I’m doing my best to stay up till 10 so that the jetlag doesn’t ruin my sleep schedule. When I arrived in Germany I asked my friends to keep me up. Despite my protests, they successfully did so. Now I’m hoping that writing this email will keep me up. 

I had a great time! Saw old friends. Walked around Christmas markets. Explored the old fairytale towns of Idstadt and Rüdesheim. And drank some Riesling by the the Rheine river in the Rheingau wine region.

The special bread this Thursday and Saturday by the way is the German style Schwartzbrot. This is pure coincidence. I ate some while there. The one from Ursa Bakery is better. Tut mir Leid, aber tut mir Leid nicht, Deutschland. (“Sorry but not sorry, Germany”)

Throughout Germany commemorative plaques called Stolpersteine (literally stumble stones) eternalize the lives of those lost during the Holocaust. They are laid into streets and sidewalks in front of the last known addresses of victims before their deportation and eventual murder. It is always chilling to stumble across these stones while walking to a bus station or going for an after dinner walk. Despite how much I’ve studied the history of this region, how a crime of such magnitude occurred will never cease to perplex and horrify me.

I visited Germany in 2006. It was a spur of the moment decision to go. They were doing quite well in the World Cup, which was actually taking place in Germany at the time. After they they played a remarkable game in the quarter final, I realized that this may be the only time in my life when I could see Germany win the World Cup in Germany. I booked a flight immediately after they won the quarter final. Annnd they promptly lost the semi-final a couple days after. I still had a great time. Germany won the 3rd place match while I was there. And I celebrated with all the Italians around town after Italy won the final against France. It was all somewhat disappointing for Germany, but the excitement that soccer brought out in people made the atmosphere lively, fun, and exciting. 

The stark contrast between the 2006 trip and this trip reconfirmed for me that Germany has since the Holocaust become a bastion of human rights. Every single person I interacted with was protesting the World Cup, which is going on now. Not a single bar or restaurant had it televised. This is because Qatar, the country hosting the World Cup this year, imprisons anyone engaged in same-sex sexual activity. And if it is a Muslim, they face execution under Sharia law. While Germans have been the most outspoken against the Qatari government today, all of this is complicated by the fact that the German government just decided to buy gas from Qatar for the next 15 years as a way to reduce dependency on Russian gas. All very messy.

While the atrocities of the 20th century–the Armenian Genocide, the Holodomor, the Holocaust, Cambodia, Darfur, etc etc etc –are all in the history books (well, some history books), evil acts are not confined to history and they are not confined to distant places. They are widespread, under our very noses, twisted within the wild realm of geopolitics/international trade, and are often closer to home than is readily apparent. Even many of the foods stored in our kitchen pantries are produced via them.

Pictured below are stones down the street from my friend’s house in Wiesbaden.

On the left reads:

“Here lived Henrietta Leoni. Born 1870. Deported to Theresienstadt (this was a waystation to the extermination camps and also a “retirement settlement” for the elderly in German occupied Czechoslovakia) 1942. Died in Feb 21st. 1943.”

On the right reads:

“Here lived Heinrich Leoni. Born 1908. Deported to Lublin (a ghetto in Poland) 1942. Murdered August 4th 1942 in Majdanek (a concentration camp adjacent to Lublin).”

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