2014 Conway Scholarship Report – Benjamin Lewis
To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.
Thanks to Professor John Conway and his generous endowment for the Conway Summer Travel Scholarship, this summer I had the privilege of embarking on a journey not only to Germany as a geographic location, but also back in time through the annals of German and European history. I am greatly indebted to Professor Conway for his generosity and guidance in my travel plans.
Having defended my Honours thesis less than a week prior, I departed Vancouver on April 22nd to begin my whirlwind tour of Germany. I began in Frankfurt, ended in Berlin, and visited Stuttgart, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Augsburg, Munich, Weimar, and Dresden along the way. Although I completed my thesis in British history (with a specific focus on the language used to bring about the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire in 1807), Germany is another area of great interest to me. Like most young boys, I grew up being fascinated by the grand, apocalyptic nature of the First and Second World Wars, especially because my grandfather fought for the Allies in the 15th Scottish division. Germany, because of its chaotic history, was naturally of great interest. Additionally, in studying European history I also found myself enthralled by the 16th and 17th centuries, particularly the Reformation and Thirty Years’ War, because of their complexity and remaining impact on German society. Moreover, I began learning German in high school and am still conversational, which was very surprising to most of the Germans I met. With a passion for German history, love of the German language, and a Rick Steves guide to Germany, I departed.
The essence of what I discovered about Germany comes in the form of Huxleyan wisdom. Penned on the back of a bookmark that came with my travel guide to Germany was this cynical aphorism by Huxley: “To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.” This seems to best sum up my learning experience in Germany: neither Germany nor the German people are what I expected them to be especially in light of their recently tumultuous history.
Naturally everyone has different expectations. No two people will see something or be impacted by it in exactly the same way. Before beginning this trip, I was under the impression that Germans were stoic, rational, strict, efficient, somewhat cold, and haunted by their history, specifically the Holocaust. Perhaps I had been falsely educated about how Germans are, or perhaps I was simply ignorant of the actual realities of life in Germany until this trip, but how wrong I was! I found Germans to be the opposite. Germans are warm, funny, kind – yes, still efficient – but also welcoming, talkative, and aware of their past, but progressing beyond the historical handicap it has proven to be.
To best sum up my trip and the things I learned, I hope to take you along with me through each city I visited and show you the highlights and what most impacted me.
Frankfurt, often jokingly called “Bankfurt” by Germans and foreigners alike, is not usually considered one of Germany’s most desirable cities to live it. However, due to its high cost of living, the lack of large tourist attractions, and the business-oriented men and women that the city draws, Frankfurt is an underdog in the German tourism industry. However, nestled between futuristic skyscrapers that deal in billions of Euros everyday and the Main (pronounced “Mine”) river is a tiny section of the old town of Frankfurt. The Römer square with the Römer (town hall) and nearby Paulskirche (St. Paul’s Church) transport visitors back a few centuries to the days before Germany was one unified country. While briefly in Frankfurt, I not only partook in their famous Apfelwein (apple wine), which was created in the 16th century due to a tragically cold winter that destroyed all the grapes, but I also visited Paulskirche, which was the 1849 site of the National Assembly which drafted the first constitution of a unified Germany. The church is a symbol for unity following the pan-European Revolutions of 1848, from which the German states were not exempt. When compared to the rest of my trip, few things in Frankfurt stood out in comparison to the other sights and cities, except for St. Paul’s Church. A central plan church with a large stone pulpit backed by a massive organ at the front, this church made one feel welcome immediately. It’s no wonder that the national assembly met here because there doesn’t seem to be one central focal point of the church. All are equal, no matter where one is sitting. It seemed like a good theoretical and practical basis from which to form a nation.
From the mixed historicity and current economic activity of Frankfurt, I travelled to Stuttgart (or more specifically, a nearby suburb, Weinstadt). Weinstadt – literally “wine city” – is a classic small, quaint, Swabian town, surrounded by its primary form of economic subsistence: vineyards. My connection to Weinstadt comes from a previous visit and strong friendships that were made with Germans of my age through a church there. This time in Weinstadt and Stuttgart is memorable for the depth of cultural understanding that was fostered there and that was accompanied by verrückt (crazy) things we did.
Swabia is a very distinct region in Germany. It is know for its thrifty inhabitants, its distinct dialect, and cultural cuisine. Before spending time in the Stuttgart area, I had no idea that Germany, a seemingly unified nation and nationality, could be so diverse. In terms of these Swabian stereotypes, I found them not to be thrifty, but to be lavish in the generosity. I was treated like a king and am still very grateful for their kindness and friendship. Linguistically, Swabians speak as though they cannot make any hard sounds. Their dialect is soft and almost lisp-like. Their food, like Maultaschen (German ravioli) and Käsespätzle (cheesy egg noodles) is historic and fantastic.
I spent two days exploring Stuttgart, getting lost on the S- and U-Bahns and in its grand boulevards contained by Art Nouveau facades. Although not one of my favourite German cities, Stuttgart’s combined zoo and botanical gardens is a sensational experience that I would highly recommend. In contrast to the zoo, the famous Mercedes-Benz Museum did not receive very high reviews from my friends, so I skipped it in favour of seeing the city by promenade.
While I enjoyed Stuttgart, ironically Weinstadt had more entertainment. Late one night, my local friends took me to a nearby tower on a hill over looking Stuttgart. We proceeded to rappel 100 feet down the tower in pitch darkness. It was terrifying, thrilling, and typically German. Germans (as will also be shown in my next story) love doing things outside. They have a culture of hiking, going on outdoor escapades, and being very well equipped for each task. They enjoy owning high-end outdoor equipment and being well prepared for tasking like hiking, rappelling, or caving.
The follow day after rappelling down the tower, we drove about an hour south to the Swabian Alps and a cave. The Falkensteiner Höhle (cave) is an almost 3 kilometers long tunnel through a mountain that was created by a stream. It is still being carved out by the water and depending on the height of the water, the two siphons can be impassable. The cave was first explored by goldminers in the 18th century and his since become a relatively popular adventure for local school and boyscout groups. I went with a group of 15 men and boys from the church in Weinstadt. After putting on wetsuits to combat the freezing cold water which could be anywhere from knee to chest deep, wearing steel-toed boots to combat the hidden toe-stubbing rocks beneath the surface, and with flashlights in hand, we entered the cave. Words cannot fully describe the experience. Once we were 500 metres into the cave, all natural light was gone, and I mean all light. When none of the flashlights was on, the darkness was paradoxically overwhelming, while also peaceful. In awe of the sheer loneliness and utter isolation of our hike, we trudged through the water and under stalactites, wiggled through tiny holes in fallen rock walls, and floated through the first siphon on our backs with only one inch of air between the water height and the cave roof from which we could breathe. The 2 kilometer, 3-hour long hike inspired feelings of one’s smallness and yet connection with those who had hiked this cave before. “Ben -1942” left a piece of graffiti for me to ponder. Was it historically accurate? There were Germans venturing here during the Second World War? Could this graffiti be authentic? I can only hope.
Arriving in a new place is always disorienting. It is often accompanied by mixed emotions of sadness and excitement, and always involves some minutes of confusion when trying to find one’s bearings. Such was my departure from Stuttgart and arrival by train in the tourist hotspot of Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Stepping out of the train, tourists walk around with guidebooks and maps in hand, heads darting up and down between maps and street signs, as if they were looking for the dots towards the big “X” marking the spot of their desired treasure, in this case, the old town of Rothenburg.
Rothenburg, situated on the Tauber River, was a flourishing trade city in the 16th and early 17th centuries. It charged tariffs for passage through its section of the river and also shipped textiles and crops to other parts of Germany. This walled city was taken over three times during the Thirty Years’ War, but made it unscathed, likely due to bribery of Catholic and Protestant generals alike, including the famous Swedish general, Gustavus Adolphus. Thankfully, following the war, economic devastation caused trade to all but cease entirely, as did the connected economy of Rothenburg. I say thankfully, because due to the poverty of Rothenburgers, the city was not able to rebuild or renovate and was essentially preserved as a medieval town.
Taken over again by the Wehrmacht in March 1945 as the war was coming to an end, the Americans began an airstrike, which destroyed 40% of the town. However, US Secretary of War John McCloy, whose mother had previously visited Rothenburg as a tourist, knew of its historical significance and called off the bombing, hoping to see the town someday himself. The Americans offered the German soldiers the opportunity to surrender, and in direct disobedience of Hitler’s command to fight to the last man, they gave up the town on April 17, 1945. McCloy was later named the Honourable Protector of Rothenburg.
The historicity of Rothenburg is palpable. Although partially rebuilt after the 1945 bombings, the town is still largely original. The town’s museums are filled with real cannons, rifles, halberds, and pikes used during the Thirty Years’ War. The Crime and Punishment Museum is also full of much more sinister medieval torture apparatuses and confusing, contradictory laws. The tiny streets run between tiny and misshapen houses that fit the curves of the road. The promenade along the wall provides an almost-360 degree view of the town and the central spire of St. James’ Church. Rothenburg was one of my favourite places in all of Germany and rightfully is a busy tourist destination.
After a lovely two days in Rothenburg, I left for Augsburg, another even older Bavarian city. The third oldest city in Germany, Augsburg is named after the Emperor Augustus who ruled the Roman Empire from 27 BCE until his death in 14 CE. Augsburg is also where a very good friend of mine named Arndt lives. I stayed with Arndt and his family for 3 days, and in those three days we explored Augsburg, visited the Nazi’s first concentration camp, Dachau, and took a day trip down to hike just outside Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
Dachau was my first experience of a concentration camp. About halfway between Augburg and Munich, Dachau was flooded with tourists, even in early May. License plates in the parking lot were for all European countries and far off German states. Dachau is a hauntingly bare and banal landscape, yet it is charged with emotion. Walking into the camp through small thickets of bushy trees removes the sensation that one is about to enter a concentration camp. Passing the information centre, you then reach the camp gate, with the ironic and evil motto “Arbeit Macht Frei” or “Work will set you free” in the iron gate.
Only the foundations of the bunk houses are left, except for one reconstruction. Other than that, a few memorial sites, and trees which confusingly line the centre corridor between bunk houses leading to the main SS building, there is little within the inmates’ fences and trenches. Just outside the main part, which was home to hundreds of thousands of people over the course of the Third Reich, are the gas chambers. A long red-brick building is home to this horror. Walking through it is overwhelming. Even writing about it brings me right back to those barren rooms and the accompanying emotions. Sorrow is the best descriptor. Although Dachau was not a “death camp” and these showers were not used for mass exterminations, some 150 people were still killed here. As you enter the waiting room where the prisoners were told to remove their clothing, you see the sign “Brausebad” or “Showers” above the entrance to the next room. Proceeding into that room, you enter a low-ceilinged room with what used to be showerheads protruding down. Following the flow of the crowd, the next room was empty and was used to hold the naked bodies. The next room over was a large room, which contains 3 sizable brick ovens for cremating the bodies en masse.
Being in those rooms and standing where dozens of others had stood, undressed, and unknowingly walked to their deaths was heartbreaking. The whole experience of Dachau was both overpowering and yet far off. Time and the erosion of the site and historical memory provided distancing from the sheer magnitude of the crimes that had been committed there.
In speaking with Arndt’s father, Stefan, I was reminded of how much more palpable and present their turbulent past is for Germans. Although he absolutely understood the impact and the terror of what the Third Reich did, he feared that present-day Germany is still internationally characterized as a country of Nazis. He cited an exchange student who had come from Jordan and stayed with them who was surprised by the fact that their house is not decorated with swastikas and Nazi paraphernalia. He understands the necessity of sites like concentration camps for preserving historical memory and acting as “lest we forget” memorials, but he dislikes how they are one of the main attractions for tourists to Germany and add to the perception that Germany is still full of Nazis.
On our long drive south to the Partnach Gorge outside of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, I discovered that like many Germans, Arndt had a relative who fought for Germany in the Second World War. Arndt’s grandfather and great-uncle, Stefan’s father and uncle, had fought for the Wehrmacht. Sadly, Stefan’s uncle died of starvation in a Russian gulag following the war. Stefan’s father on the other hand, survived the war by deserting. He was fighting for the Nazis in the Ukraine, near Donetsk, and as it seemed the Germans were losing the battle, he left. Ukraine, however, is not the closest place to Germany, especially in the middle of a war. It took him three months, but he walked, hitchhiked, and rode a horse back 2,800 km to his home town, Brotterode, in Thuringia, where his mother then hid him in their family’s chicken coop for another 3 months so he wouldn’t be shot for deserting. Also a part of their family history, Stefan still had documents from the Nazi government addressed to his family members, and ending the typical “Heil Hitler!” I was able to read, photograph, and marvel at these actual pieces of history that they had in their own house!
Despite the interest I have in the history of the Third Reich and the experiences I had while staying in Augsburg, Stefan pressed upon me the new idea that being under the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) had actually been a much more impactful and traumatic experience for his generation than the Second World War had been. For the older generation he suggested that the Second World War had a greater impact, but considering he was born after it and had actually lived through physical persecution and attempted murder at the hands of the GDR government for his involvement in the Free Church movement, the GDR was a much more relevant time for him as a middle-aged German.
One final comment about my time in Augsburg before moving on to Munich, is that by spending time with Arndt and his parents, I came to realize how broad the range of accents in Germany is and how I can barely understand some of the regional dialects though they are still German.
Especially when compared to Augsburg, Munich is a massive, bustling, and cosmopolitan city. Notable for hosting the annual German cultural event known as Oktoberfest, Munich is not solely a haven for Bavarian beer, but its city centre is dotted with historical landmarks. For example, right around the corner from the Rathaus is the Church of St. Peter, known colloquially as “Alte Peter” or “Old Peter.” This Roman Catholic church was build in 1180 in the Gothic style and is still home to daily services and masses. I stumbled upon this church, went inside hoping to take a look around and perhaps a photograph, but I ended up staying there for over 4 hours, through 2 different services, and made a friend in a old Romanian German woman named Barbara. She was tiny, looked worn either by poverty or by living frugally, and almost lived in this church. In her earlier life, which seemed far removed from her now, she had been married and had since lost her husband, and she was a German teacher. Although our conversation was in somewhat distorted German, I was able to understand that she was both surprised and happy to meet me, a young Canadian, in the pews of an old Catholic church. The time that I spent sitting there in that church chatting to Barbara in whispers and sitting through Mass in German reminded me that I am just a blink within the great span of history.
While in Munich, I was also able to meet up for dinner with a friend of mine in the famous Hofbrauhaus. The Hofbrauhaus in the centre of Oktoberfest. It is a large restaurant and pub that serves beer – lots of beer – and traditional Bavarian food. They claim to sell 10,000 Maß-es (1 litre tankards) of beer each day! Beer in hand, customers slide up next to soon-to-be acquaintances on long wooden benches at long wooden tables, which only adds to the warm, familial atmosphere. It expresses the typical Bavarian experience: rich food, endless beer, good company, a historical setting, Polka music, and Lederhosen.
From Munich, I also took a day trip down to Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau, two lavish castles built by Ludwig II of Bavaria, a troubled and mysterious ruler, who was perhaps insane and was likely murdered in 1886.
Moving on from Munich, I took the train north to Weimar. This small city is quaint, clean, and friendly, which may be an apt description of much of Germany, but especially applies to Weimar. I loved my time in Weimar!
Weimar was the seat of governance of the interwar democracy that ruled Germany from 1919-1933, known as the “Weimar Republic.” The Weimar Republic was left with the difficult task of navigating Germany through the years following the Treaty of Versailles and Germany’s international culpability, while at home there were serious economic issues and social problems arising from the “stab in the back” theory as to how Germany lost the First World War. The weaknesses of the Weimar Republic and the systemic issues it ultimately failed to overcome allowed for a smoother Nazi take-over in 1933.
Unfortunately for the city of Weimar, as the Nazis came into power, it would lose more than its political power. Weimar has always been an artistic hub. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Weimar was home to both Friedrich Schiller and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, both famous poets and writers on a variety of topics. Also, in the early 20th century, Weimar was home to the Bauhaus movement, a new style of modern art that sought to produce a Gesamtkunstwerk or “total work of art.” With the Nazis rising to power in 1933, the Bauhaus movement was persecuted as it was considered “degenerate art” and many of its leaders left Germany for artistic refuge in the United States.
Weimar is also notable for its proximity to Buchenwald Concentration Camp. Having already visited Dachau earlier in my trip, Buchenwald was not as entirely shocking as it could have been otherwise. Although it contains no gas chambers, the SS in Buchenwald had other horrific means of killing their prisoners: including hooks on a wall from which to hang prisoners until suffocation, and having a false height measurement on a wall, which, once the prisoner was standing with his back against the wall, a hidden SS officer could open a small slit in the wall and proceed to shoot the inmate in the back of the neck.
The most painful thing to see in Buchenwald was the view it had of the surrounding countryside. The concentration camp sits atop a hill, sloping down the hillside. From the camp prisoners could look out over the rolling, beautiful German countryside and yet feel the despair of being trapped. The paradox of the place is agonizing. To have such glorious beauty just out of reach contrasted with such immediate terror is one of the greatest crimes of Buchenwald.
After an afternoon in Buchenwald, all I wanted to do was be alone: read, write, and introspect. But I made friends in my hostel and had what I still consider to be the best part of my entire trip. As I was chatting with a girl from my room, the receptionist at this tiny hostel overheard us talking about Vancouver. Having spent the past year in Vancouver, she joined our conversation, which then led others to eventually come and sit with us or jump into the conversation while they were making dinner near by. This evolved into a 5-hour long conversation and was followed by a midnight trip to a run-down, crammed, smoky pub. In our conversation at the hostel, it was just myself with six others, all German and from all different parts of Germany. For hours, we shared stories, joked, punned (in German!), and got to know one another. Although I stumbled over my German and needed their help in translating, to be so fully immersed in a culture where you can fit in fluently was one of the greatest gifts of the entire trip!
Within this group with whom I was chatting, I met Germans who were actively anti-Nazi. Two of the girls in the conversation, both local university students, were planning on going to the train station after dark to tear down the campaign signs for Germany’s modern day fascist party for the upcoming election. I was thrilled at this idea and wanted to come with them, but they forbade me because it is illegal to tear down any political signs due to freedom of speech, and they could have been fined up to 600 Euros if caught, whereas for me, a foreigner, they weren’t sure what could happen if we were to be caught. Simply put, meeting Germans who (although in defiance of the law formally) would actively fight against ultra-right wing hateful ideologies was unbelievable.
My time in Weimar only furthered my realization of the misconception that Germans are strong, stoic, and cold people. Once again, I found them to be the opposite. They are lively, fun, welcoming, generous, caring, and actively combating the ills of their country’s history by influencing its future.
Again with mixed emotions of both sadness and excitement, I left my friends in Weimar and headed for “the Florence of the Elbe,” Dresden. The core of Dresden is divided into two main geographic and cultural sections. On the south bank of the Elbe river is the older, more historic part of town, Altstadt. It contains all the main tourist sites, like the Frauenkirche, Residenzschloss, Historisches Grünes Gewölbe, Zwinger, and the Albertinum. On the north side of the river is Neustadt (new town), a younger, more hip area of town, where students tend to live and congregate in an abundance of bars. Although I was staying in Neustadt, I spent little time there, and instead roamed around all that Altstadt had to offer.
Dresden, like many places in Germany, raises some unique questions about what is to be considered historical. In February 1945, as the war was clearly coming to a close, the Allies fire-bombed Dresden which ended up burning down most of the city. Historians rightly think that the Allies bombed Dresden as revenge for the German bombing of London. Dresden had little reason to be bombed in 1945, other than the fact that it was one of the few well-preserved German cities, and one of the most beautiful at that. The case of Dresden seems to be in direct contrast to that of Rothenburg, which was saved from total destruction by Allied bombs.
Dresden, like most German cities, underwent significant reconstruction following the Second World War. Every city I visited and almost every tourist attraction in each city had been at least partially destroyed during the war, and had since been rebuilt just as they were before, or as close to that as possible. However, the amount of historical reconstruction that has taken place throughout Germany, which is best epitomized in Dresden’s rebuilt cityscape, begs the question: are these sites original and authentic, or should they be considered copies and reconstructions? Do the Frauenkirche or the Historisches Grünes Gewölbe or the Zwinger count as “real” sites of history, or should we see them like forged paintings that have been copied from an original? I do not doubt the beauty, extravagance, and accuracy of these representations and reconstructions, but my time in Dresden raised questions of this sort that I had not yet considered.
Berlin, the final stop in my tour of Germany, was also severely affected by bombings during the war, but that legacy has faded due to a more menacing one that followed on the heels of the end of the Second World War. Berlin’s recent history is a tale of two cities. It is in Berlin that the divide between East and West Germany (and East and West Berlin) is most acutely seen and felt. Of the 15 museums I visited in my 5 days in Berlin, 6 were dedicated exclusively to the GDR or the Berlin Wall, while only 4 related specifically to the topic of the Second World War, and the other five spanned German or world history in general.
On my first night in Berlin, I met some young men around my age as I was walking along the street. After we exchanged names, they asked me why I was in Germany. I told them how I was travelling around on a scholarship studying German history. Immediately one of the guys stopped, put his fingers up to his lips (as a “Hitler moustache”) and raised his arm in the air and said “Heil.” I was shocked. He began to laugh, which signified that he was making a joke. All the Germans I had encountered thus far on my trip tended to be quite sensitive about the topic of their history. Although they may discuss the Third Reich and the atrocities of that dark part of their history, they will only share if they know they will be heard. So when this young German went the whole nine yards in his impersonation of Hitler, I asked him if that was common to joke about. He responded that it was for people his age, because they weren’t alive during the Holocaust, nor were most of their parents even, so for them, it wasn’t a sensitive topic. Historical memory and sensitivity, to him, was of a bygone era. Now, joking was okay… or so he claimed. His interpretation of historical license conflicted with my friends from Weimar and their deep opposition to anything even bordering on fascism or ultra-nationalist political ideology. Perhaps some young Germans no longer see the Holocaust and its historical impact as their own concern or in relation to themselves; whereas, others hope that treading more softly on these issues and fighting modern day neo-Nazis is their best chance to continue reconciliation and to rid Germany of its Nazi reputation.
Germany as a country, with the exception of this young man and his friends whom I met in Berlin, does not take the Holocaust lightly. The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, and the Topography of Terror exhibit in Berlin are testaments to how seriously the German government takes its role in attempting to right the wrongs of the past, or at least to be honest about what happened. Both of these museum monuments were hugely impactful to me. The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe was poignant and emotionally piercing, while the Topography of Terror was thoroughly factual and followed the entire bloody history of the Third Reich and its eventual decline. The Topography of Terror exhibit actually sits on the site of the former SS Headquarters. It is an emotionally moving and intellectually stimulating exhibit, and was likely one of the best I saw with respect to the Second World War.
Of all the museums I saw in Berlin, the Germany History Museum was by far the most robustly stocked and enjoyable. It covered the history of German lands from pre-Roman times up until the end of the GDR, and was filled with real historical artifacts that took one back through the ages of shifting monarchies and technological revolutions. Better than any other museum, it brought the past to life.
My time in Berlin was not limited to museums. I walked throughout the eastern and western parts of Berlin, through Unter Den Linden, the Brandenburg Gate, and the Tiergarten. I attended a Protestant church service in the Berliner Dom and visited the Kaufhof Des Westerns (KaDeWe) shopping mall in West Berlin. With my love for art, the Old National Gallery was a natural choice, as were the Pergamon Museum and the Gemäldegalerie. The DDR Museum, dedicated to what life was like in East Germany and East Berlin during the Communist era, was a hands-on experience. From climbing into a Trabi to learning about the Stasi, this museum made me feel like I was actually a citizen living in the real conditions and daily life of most East Germans. I visited the Museum at Checkpoint Charlie and also the Berlin Wall Mermorial, which is the longest remaining stretch of the wall and curves river in east Berlin. I spent my days learning and experiencing different eras of life in Germany, from Holy Roman Empire rule, to the Third Reich, to the GDR. My nights were a combination of wandering Berlin with a beer in my hand or seeking out the best gelaterias the city had to offer.
As a Canadian friend of mine who was also visiting Germany this summer put it:
I think my knowledge of Germany as a country has been pretty constricted to what I've learned from museums and history classes about the World Wars, but it's been incredible to see for myself that that's not what Germany is like today at all. I think the country is beautiful and has great people who are devoted to environmental innovation and a determination to contribute to making the world a better place to live.
The perception of German people I had prior to this trip was one of cold, efficient, stoic men and women, but I was so very wrong. The perception of German history that I had prior to this trip was one dominated by the Second World War and the remaining war guilt, but I had entirely missed the impact and the hurt that Germans were subjected to during the GDR. If I have learned anything on this trip, it’s that in spite of their history, Germans are friendly, hard-working, self-sacrificing, life-enjoying, open, and loving people, not the strong, stoic, pseudo-Nazi perception that many, like I, have had of them historically.
My summer month in Germany was an enlightening trip of intellectual expansion and cultural growth. I have a new understanding, appreciation, and love for this country, its people, and its history. I thoroughly loved my time in Germany, and I have been opened to new aspects of German history, and to the tenderhearted side of Germans by being welcomed into their homes and shown hospitality beyond what I could have imagined!
Germany is not as it seems – or at least it is not as I thought it to be in any way, shape, or form. Aldous Huxley was entirely right when he said the purpose of visiting other countries was to realize that everyone else is wrong about them. For this opportunity to travel and learn how wrong I was about Germany, I am very grateful to Dr. Conway!
- Benjamin Lewis