Bookmark and Share


December 2002
I would greatly recommend a visit to Weimar.
We had planned to just base ourselves there and take trips around the region but found it so interesting we didn't go anywhere else. Interesting on various levels, from the historical cultural side: you will no doubt recall from your history books that the Duke Carl August of whatever princely state Weimar was in at the time wanted to be remembered as a patron of the arts and so encouraged the likes of Goethe and Schiller to work there – it is a Goethe Schiller town. Subsequently just about anyone who was anyone in arts lived there at some time, Friedrich Nietsche apparently drifted into insanity there (though they don’t make too much fuss about that) and in the early years of the last century the Bauhaus arts movement was formed there in buildings that still exist and that still look stylish and functional, which is perhaps more than can be said for all the output from the subsequently famous Bauhaus artists, but Weimar was the start of it.
The town became the seat of government after the First World War
The Weimar Republic is what people first say when you mention Weimar, experiments have shown us, though if you ask them what it was, they usually don’t know, and imagine it might be a breakaway state, it’s a name that has caught on in its own right.
Adolf Hitler Woz Here
As Weimar was the seat of government Adolf Hitler found it a good place to make speeches in his early days, from the balcony of the Elephant Hotel didn’t ya know, and during the Second World War it became one of the main headquarters of the SS, who were based in a fine historic building that naturally came to look austere, daunting and sinister. The German authorities don't want to knock the building down, but what do they do with it? Their solution is a creative one; they are leaving the facade and crushing the interior into lots of little stones, which they are then putting on display in the grounds as crushed history – do you like the symbolism? At first we thought it was a mis-translation and they were meaning potted history, but no, very definitely crushed history.
Bus to Buchenwald
We took the local bus out to where its destination indicator said it was going – Buchenwald. I’m not sure I quite understood before what the the distinction was between concentration camps and extermination camps, which with the exception of Treblinka were quite separate types of place. Concentration camps such as Buchenwald were originally designed as forced labour camps and Buchenwald had a large purpose-built armaments factory. There were never, at Buchenwald, all that many Jews. We’ve been conditioned I think to see the concentration camps as places where Jews were rounded up into and killed, but that is only a part it, the Jewish people have been a bit overly successful in monopolising the story. The factories in concentration camps were never all that productive and probably cost more to run than the outputs warranted, but then the Nazis weren’t renowned for being strong on business sense. I’m just re-reading Mein Kampf, or rather skimming bits of it as it’s really quite tedious, and being reminded that Adolf Hitler was really quite thick and uneducated, as presumably were most of his cronies.
Buchenwald was one of the more publicised camps because it was one of the earlier ones to be liberated (by the Americans) and in the presence of journalists. The conditions the Americans found there were horrendous though mainly caused by starvation which itself was caused by the food supplies drying up, as you’d imagine they would as the country sinks into chaos and food supplies generally become hard to come by, the people in the concentration camps would have been at the end of the line and couldn’t do anything to alleviate their situation.
Russian Monumentalism
In the 1960s the Russians, while using part of the old camp as a detention centre for political prisoners themselves, built an immense area of monuments, very monumental monuments, a plinth for each nationality that died in Buchenwald in significant numbers, and this now seems just as historically poignant as the remains of the camp itself. The day we went there was suitably still, cold and misty.
Five Differences Between East and West
There were five things we noticed in old East Germany Weimar and we wanted to see whether we were comparing them with Britain or with the West generally, so we got back to Frankfurt in time to spend a day there and do some research. These five were in addition to the much lower level of motor traffic, and the evident absence of supermarkets as we know them, which we knew are different in the East from the West.
Our five were:
1. Rucksacks. Fashionable in Britain, in Weimar only carried by schoolchildren. In Frankfurt, not so prevalent the the UK, but carried by quite a few people.
2. Blue jeans. In Weimar, everyone wears blue jeans. In Frankfurt same as the UK, some people do and many others don’t.
3. Dyed red hair on women. In Weimar some wonderful specimens looking like a strawberry ice cream on someone’s head. Frankfurt was like London – no noticeable red-crowning.
4. Mobile Phones. The odd one or two in Weimar. Frankfurt perhaps half of the London quota.
5. Smoking. In restaurants in Weimar, everyone smokes. At our last evening meal there, only some Russians and we were not smoking, we must have looked like freaks. In Frankfurt, notably more people smoking than you’d see in London, though nothing like everyone. We went to an old fashioned coffee and cake restaurant for our lunch in Frankfurt where, as is de rigeur in Weimar but now only existing in the very old fashioned places in the West, the ladies in the cafés sip their tea without even contemplating removing their hat, they keep their hats on. We were perhaps unfortunate in choosing a table at the Frankfurt café next to two rather disgustingly rich looking people who chain-smoked. I remarked to Hilary more than once that I wished that bloody puffing Wilhelm would hurry up and finish his Campari so we could get a bit of air in here. When the wealthy couple left they turned to us sweetly and said, ‘auf wiedersehn’, so I guess they might have understood English, I hope they did and the man is right now still looking up ‘puffing Wilhelm’ in his worterbuch with a puzzled wrinkle across his forehead. But the smokers in this Frankfurt café, looked at objectively, numbered only a few compared to Weimar.


Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails