Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Jonathan im Deutschland - Second Day

German beer. A multitude of flavours but the hangover tastes the same.

Ali and I got up a little later than we'd hoped to and had German breakfast; toasted rolls with meats. I could get used to this - it's a solid start to the day and comes with seriously black coffee. The German people approach mornings as something that needs to be fought against, and stocking one's stomach with Brot und Bratwurst is an excellent starting step.

Speaking of starting steps, we took our own out to the car. Ali lives in the absolute middle of nowhere; the Black Forest encroaches on the back garden. But the views are spectacular, she tells me, and I'm hoping for some sun before the end of the week so that I can show you. In the meantime, however, you'll have to be content with pictures from the charming little town of Limburg.

Before that, however, we went to see something else. It's at a place called Hadamar, and it looks completely bizarre surrounded by modern buildings. It's really just a wooden hut:

It's the parking garage for the buses that brought victims of the National Socialist's insanity to the victims of their regime. Those considered mentally insufficient were taken from nearby asylums by bus, brought here, and taken to an underground room where they were gassed by nurses and doctors. From January to August 1941 10,072 human beings were asphyxiated by carbon monoxide, and the administrator of this lethal poison was not an ideology but a human being. 

Other human beings then threw the bodies into incinerators, usually two at a time, which meant they burned improperly. As a result a thick pall of stinking smoke hung over the town. The people of the town knew what was happening; people arrived on buses and never left. More than ten thousand people arrived by bus and never left. According to contemporary reports, children in the town would taunt each other: "You'll end up in the Hadamar ovens!"

On the occasion of the 10,000th corpse burnt, the staff had a party in the crematorium and toasted their successes. Remember: it had taken only 8 months, from January to August, to exterminate ten thousand and seventy-two people and utterly destroy the evidence.

And then they had a fucking party.

People. People did this to other people. Not an ideology, but people who decided that their own lives were more important than the lives of the people they gassed to death.

Evil starts, says Pratchett, when you stop treating people like people and start treating them as things.

There's a memorial there, too. A spike of stone, with an inscription: 

Mensch, achte den Menschen

My very rough translation of the script would be: "Man, look after mankind." If you have a better translation, do please suggest it, because my German is old and rusty as all hell.

There are also stones scattered about which look like children have inscribed them. Quite how infants managed to scratch these designs into solid rock is beyond me, but they're beautiful nonetheless.

In thanks for the sacrifice
Nonetheless...what a silly thing to say. They're beautiful because they are. 

 After this rather sobering tour, we headed out to neighbouring Limburg, which was rather more jolly. A beautiful little town, with a sprawling, wandering Altstadt (old town) which has at its peak a glorious cathedral. The cathedral is 750 years old. That number is just ridiculous, and as you step inside you feel every second in the weight that presses down on you and the towering dome that you see flying high above the altar.

Even now, as an avowed atheist, there is nothing like a cathedral to inspire total awe in me. It just went on forever. Over the altar hangs a chandelier, and the cord just goes up and up and up until you feel dizzy at the height. On the walls scenes are painted, and for the first time I saw a second floor to a cathedral. It was blocked, but the view from there must be incredible.

It's also worth noting that Assassin's Creed should not be played by anyone more impressionable than me, because I found myself idly wondering whether, if Ali caused a distraction, I could jump on the altar, up to the chandelier, and then shift my weight so that it swung close to the second floor. A short leap properly timed would see me at my goal.

I didn't do it, as I'm here typing and not in a cell, but it was a wonderful idle thought.

I noticed the crucifix, as I am wont to do, and it shocked me. I should stop being so easily shocked, but this Jesus had skin tones. This was still more wrong than a Jesus wrought of wood, because this guy was whiter than the driven snow, but the ethnicity of Jesus wasn't what shocked me. It was the blood.

Blood ran from his hands, down his arms, down his sides. It ran from the crown of thorns on his head and stained his loincloth. It was absolutely one of the most violent depictions I've seen in a while.

In any case, here is that magnificent building:

Was already 500 years old when the US was formed. Still has no nuclear weapons.

Tonight we're having spaghetti and hitting the hay early as tomorrow we're on the 9am train to Frankfurt. So I'll be getting up at about 7.

I'm on holiday, and getting up before I would normally. And I'm loving it.