Monday, February 28, 2011

Anne Frank

Everyone knows the name and some of the story. She was a Jewish girl whose family left Nazi Germany for the Netherlands in 1933. Along with her older sister, parents and four others, she hid for more than two years in rooms above an office building. All eight were betrayed into the hands of the Nazis several months before the end of the war. Anne died of typhus in Bergen Belsen concentration camp just weeks before the liberation; she was fifteen years old. She kept a diary of her life in hiding and that is why we know her story.

I have had the privilege of visiting the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam twice within the last year. It is a moving experience and was no less so the second time. The story became a reality as I walked through the offices where business was conducted as usual while eight people remained silent through each day, fearing for their lives. And as I stood in Anne's room with pictures of movie stars and cute babies pasted to the walls, I could not help but see the author of this famous book for what she was- just a girl. A girl with a profound gift for writing and an amazing belief in the goodness of humanity, but just a girl all the same. She was growing up, she had hopes and dreams about her life, and she loved to write. Anne wanted to be an author and hoped she possessed the talent to write a great book that would live on after she died.

I have tremendous admiration for the courage and devotion of her father Otto Frank, who made Anne's dream a reality. He was the only one of the eight people in the house to survive the concentration camps. He spent months searching for his daughters, only to find out that they had died within a few days of one another. He read Anne's diaries for the first time after he knew she would not come home and was amazed by how little he knew the daughter with whom he had been so close. Her wishes to be a writer helped convince him to publish her story. Otto opened the hidden rooms to the public and established a foundation to help the story live on. But he was adament that it was not just about Anne. He wanted to foster communication and awareness to overcome hatred, religious intolerance and racial prejudice in the world. Sadly, over 60 years after the end of the Holocaust, it is a lesson that we still have not learned.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Rush hour traffic jam

Don't you hate it when a local farmer chooses 5:00 PM to herd his goats and sheep right through the center of town?! Village traffic was at least ten or fifteen cars deep! Aaron and I ran three blocks to catch up so we could take these pictures and marvel at the scene. We were laughing so hard. No one sitting in their cars looked very amused...
By the way, have you ever seen shepard dogs in action? They're really amazing!

Aaaah, the country life- how I will miss it!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Why change is good

I have been feeling bad about not writing as often as I used to and wondering why it seems that I have nothing to say. When I first arrived in Germany, I could hardly take it all in. Things were so strange and new and I noticed everything- big things like people walking to the grocery store regardless of the weather and little things like the weird adoption of English words into the German language. Shoppen in der City? Really?

Now it's been nearly three years and I have gradually grown accustomed to all the aspects of my life here. I don't even notice the thatched roofs on the houses that seemed so quaint and so "German" at first. I don't think twice, though I do still complain, about heading out with an umbrella if we need milk on a rainy day. Basically, this strange new world has become familiar.

It seems that making a big change in my life woke me up in many ways. I saw things differently, even the things that didn't change. I questioned routines and beliefs that I had always taken for granted. I changed. But human nature trumps all, and over time I found a routine, formed habits. I began to do things by rote, without having to think about them. Somewhere along the way I began to pay less attention to all the interesting things around me. And I believe that it is mostly a matter of paying attention, of choosing how we view the world that determines whether we find joy and humor and discovery in each day. It's not what we see but how we look at it. So let's see what today brings...

Monday, February 7, 2011

A few of your favorite things?

What foods would you miss if you lived outside of the U.S.? It's hard to really answer that until you know what your options are in another country. It is endlessly amusing for me to see what you can get here and what is generally not available. For instance, if you love Doritos you are in luck. M&Ms? Snickers bars? Mars bars? No problem. Pringles? Got 'em. Even Snyder's pretzels are here. Cola-cola appears to be universal so no worries there. But if you are a Pepsi drinker, you've got trouble. Root beer? No way! Butterfinger candy bars? Three Musketeers bars? Nope.

I love to bake and I have been frustrated by the differences in baking supplies. I can't find brown sugar (though I have found it in all neighboring countries), baking soda, vanilla extract (they use a powder/flavored sugar instead) or vegetable shortening.

The big supermarket nearby just revamped their International Foods aisle and I was tickled to see an American section. American food is international? Well of course it is in Germany. The nearby sections for Italian, French and Greek foods looked so exotic and sophisticated with their fancy pastas, olive oil, sun-dried tomatoes and stuffed peppers. The American section looked like an accumulation of products advertised during Saturday morning cartoons. The delicacies available, and presumably in demand, include marshmallows, Swiss Miss cocoa mix, Pop-Tarts, Aunt Jemima syrup, real Canadian maple syrup (that's funny, huh), microwave popcorn, peanut butter and Lucky Charms cereal. They also had Crisco and baking soda. Maybe one of these days I'll stake out the store and watch who buys all this stuff. Maybe I could make an American friend!