Monday, August 15, 2005

The Hills are Alive...

People and places. That`s what traveling is really about. Okay, I know it`s obvious and also that I sound like the headline for a cheap cruise line brochure. But I`d forgotten how interconnected the whole people-meeting experience is with the travel experience, and vice versa. By random coincidence (or not?) you`re at a streetcar stop waiting to go to Dachau, and, as you don`t actually speak the language and can`t read the timetable, you ask the woman next to you to. Turns out it`s not coming at all, there`s a replacement bus service and you (okay I) would probably have stood there for the next 2 hours wondering what was going on. She kindly escorted me to the bus stop and, as usual, we get talking.

I`m slowly learning more and more about how Germans feel about the holocaust. Many, like this woman, carry a guilt around with them so heavy that when they speak of it, it`s almost tangible. Which anyone could understand. But at the same time, as a doctor I met in a Lebanese restaurant in Bonn said, why would you feel guilty about something you personally didn`t do, and would never do? It`s a good question, and one I certainly can`t answer. So I asked the woman at the bus stop. She said it was a part of her because her parents had been alive at that time. From speaking with friends my age and visiting museums here, I see – what I suppose is obvious but I never considered – that this is simply a cross the German people bear.

It takes most of a day to see everything that remains at Dachau, but I don`t think in a lifetime it would be possible to really absorb it. I expected to be bowled over by the horror and sadness of it all. Instead, I found I couldn`t wrap my head around it. The idea that human beings would treat each other in such a manner is inconceivable, I think, to most of us. And yet we try to take it all in, to keep something alive within us that we cannot name.

Of course, people I`ve met on the road so far have also infused my trip with comforts, joys and history lessons I never thought I would have. It`s because of a friend of a friend that I was able to see a 2000-year old Roman fortress and a witch tower on the outskirts of Frankfurt... and, to my absolute delight, meet his amazing family who wined and dined me and took me into their gorgeous home without question. It`s because of the family of a friend that I got to stay in Austria, have my crystals read (!), experience Salzburg (one of the most breathtaking cities I`ve ever laid eyes on, Empress Sissy`s former summer home, the ice caves of Dachstein, and the legendary town of Hallstatt. It`s because of a new friend that I got off the beaten tourist track in Munich and saw Starnberg Lake, and the jaw-droppingly sexy Tango Pasion the Prinzregententheater.

Always the cynic, I try to tell myself that this is what happens when you travel – you meet people who take you places where you meet more people. But I can`t help but be feel grateful that these people – kind of like travel angels – have made my trip into what it`s been so far. And it`s not just because of their talents as tour guides.

::: photos courtesy of Helmut Schwarz:::