Auschwitz Birkenau

Sunny Day In Auschwitz

We went there on a Saturday in August. When we hit the road to do the 100km from Kraków it started to rain heavily and the photographer in me thought – all while thinking this thought is completely inappropriate –  that this would be the adequate weather to take some classical shots from this dark site, showing the essence of its sad history.

But when we arrived there the rain stopped and the hot August sun came out and stood out for our entire visit.

The severe significance – for me and probably for everybody else knowing history – was in me until I heard from Auschwitz for the first time at young age. Already the name “Auschwitz”, more than everything else, evoked this darkness inside of me. What humans are able to do to other humans. The pure evil. The dark side of humanity.

We arrived there and the emotions I have expected to come up were buried under a thick layer of tourism, noise, fancy colored clothes, bad organization and millions of people. Our Polish 3,5h-tour-guide spoke German with a strong accent and she told history and stories aggressively and without any shown feelings. I’m still not sure about my feelings towards this kind of rhetoric in this special place.

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Guilt Comes In Many Forms

As a German I surely have a special connection to the subject. I was raised, as every western German child, in a country that – at least from the early 70s – was highly aware of the guilt of their grandparents generation. When I went abroad later, it was always on my mind because the first associations made by fellow travelers from other countries  towards Germany, were football, Mercedes and Hitler. And even the characteristics related to Germans – like being punctual, being well organized and effective – were those which make people able to run concentration camps.
Sometimes I really wished to come from a country which is known in the world for its large variety of cheeses instead of its ability to cruelly kill people at large scale. I have never been proud of my country and I never had a clue of the meaning of patriotism.

When I look at history today I have a swift impression of what being proud on your country means, because we have been one of the only nations who really dealt with this kind of guilt. And this psychological work, makes Germany, not entirely but more than other countries, immune to populism and demagoguery. But maybe just in my hopes and maybe that’s just wishful thinking.
We’ll see. Elections are coming up.

 

Imagination vs. Reality

There are some pictures which are burned in the collective mind of everyone of us. The portal of the main camp with its inscription Arbeit macht frei made by Jewish blacksmiths. The thousands of glasses collected from the victims. And above all the gateway of the train entry to Auschwitz-Birkenau which was the last thing many victims saw before being sent to the gas chambers.

I was used to see this pictures in black and white and I saw a lot of documentations and fictional movies in which everything was dusty, dirty an grey.

But Auschwitz is green and clean. Well managed lawns, some wildflowers, thoroughly renovated buildings. People taking photos of each other, sometimes even in sexy poses, in front of the small train wagon which transported up to one hundred people into death.

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Human dignity is inviolable

I was well informed before going there, but I only became aware of the dimension of terror when I saw it. Auschwitz was the biggest place of engineered annihilation and strategic killing. Other than the inscription Arbeit mach frei on the entry portal suggested – prisoners didn’t come here to work but to die. That meant for example that they weren’t fed properly, with only about 500 calories per day but with a severe workload. If they wanted to survive, they had to steal food, for which they could be punished to death at any time.
Strategic Hunger, abuse, deprivation of family members and deprivation every kind of human dignity: They have been tortured and humiliated in every possible kind of way. I imagine that the most horrifying element of Nazi torture were the psychological effects of the permanent face-to-face with the knowledge of a coming certain and violent death. One of the SS officers told prisoners on arrival: The only way to get out of here is through the chimney.
Human dignity is inviolable.

The Endlösung, the Nazi regime resolution of 1941, specified the extermination of all 11 Million Jews in Europe over the coming years.

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Somehow – I thought, while walking down the infinite pathes of Birkenau Camp in the burning sun – somehow this could be only ruins of old buildings standing in a green field in the south of Poland.

But we saw the ramp where the selections of worthy and unworthy life took place, we saw the places of execution, the ruins of the gas chambers of Birkenau which were blasted by the Nazis shortly before leaving the camp, which proves that they have been well aware of committing a crime. We saw the 80.000 pairs of shoes, the thousands of glasses, the barracks, where thousands of people slept without heating during wintertime and under very critical hygienic circumstances, we saw the gas chambers and we saw the ovens where 1200 bodies a day were burned.

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I myself am not ready. I had to write down this words to clear my thoughts, to get rid of them, in a way to be able to go on with my life. But I’m not ready. I’ll never be.
Auschwitz confused me. On the one hand the numbers, the rational and visible part. The hectars, the size, the green lawns. It’s there, it’s real and it’s graspable under the bright sunshine. But it’s just objects. On the other hand the suffering, the torture, the mind sickness, the stains of blood under today’s green lawn, the extinction of so many families, which could have been on our planet today. It’s beyond comprehension. At least it is for me.
Even if it would be only a crowded touristic place today with a green, fresh lawn where people in bright colored cloths pose for photos in front of a train wagon, you cannot close your eyes in front of your knowledge. You cannot not cry inside.

 

This is one of the places where we can have the uneasy sense of the fact that the evil is a part of everyone of us. Our duty is to be aware of that and fight it at all cost. We have to decide against evil in every moment of our lives.

Because we are humans. And we have to act as such.

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9 Things You Probably Don’t Know About The Forest

Forest Knowledge 

Since some years I roam Berlins, Brandenburgs, Germanys and Europes forests. During the time I saw many phenomenons and asked myself a lot of questions which I googled or read about afterwards. Here is a collection of the most astonishing explications I found.


A One Hundred Year Old Beech Tree …

  • is 20 Meters high
  • has 600.000 leaves
  • it produces 12kg of sugar per day
  • takes in the CO2 Emission of 3 houses
  • evaporates 400l of water
  • and produces oxygen for ten people

Always think of a tree as somebody that makes it possible for you to breathe!

 

Sächsische Schweiz

 


The Age Of Trees

Normally they are cut down early for their wood, but trees are able to live much longer. Spruces can live up to 300 years, Beeches 250, Pines 500  and oaks up to incredible 1000 years which makes them one of the oldest living organisms on earth. Go to the article If Old Trees Could Tell Their Stories to read about the moving story of an only 400 years not-so-old oak.

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The Soil Is Alive

In a hand full of forest soil are more creatures than human beings on earth. They are the binmen oft he forest and transform dead organic material to humus which becomes new soil to feed new plants who create everything humans need to survive.

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The Communication Of Trees

When trees are attacked, for example by a parasite, they produce fragrances to defend themselves. But not only the attacked tree, even the surrounding trees do it. Those fragrances are very different from each other and represent the vocabulary of the trees. Worldwide there are already more than 2000 “words” discovered trees exchange with each other.

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There is an Antibiotic Atmosphere in The Forest

In a classic needle Forest you’ll find a lot of antibiotic fragrances which makes the air nearly germ free. And even if we as humans don’t notice them, it could be, that we react on the communication of trees.

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Shin rin Yoku – Bathing In The Forest

Is a form of therapy against stress and depression in Japan. Our immun system is stimulated by the forest and the effect last up to one week from our last forest walk. Blood pressure normalizes. Forest air has a different electric charge from city air and the oxygen concentration is much higher through photosynthesis. Both is good for human health.

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1000 Liters Of Water

Together with other nutritive substances the tree transports water from the roots to the leaves on the top trough capillary action. When it rains a tree can store up to 1000 liters of water.

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Crown Shyness

There is a phenomenon called Crown Shyness which means trees don’t touch each other and only grow their branches to the point that they can move in the wind.

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Planting trees means thinking of the survival of mankind

After every war or traumatic event people planted trees. The reforestation represented as a sign of hope, a vision that there will be a future even after the own life has ended. Because a tree won’t grow during your lifetime. I wish todays politicians would be as farsighted as those rangers of the past.

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Eiche Oak Tree Stories of old trees grunewald

If Old Trees Could Tell Their Story

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Yesterday I crossed a more than 400 year old oak tree in Berlins biggest city forest , the Grunewald. She stands near to Großes Fenster a small beach with a great view approximately 1 km north of the land bridge to Schwanenwerder.

Passing older trees, did you ever think of what this creatures have already seen in their lives?

 

What is this trees history?

  • At first – like every existing tree today – she was lucky because she was the one who survived the competition with thousands of other oak tree seedlings and the appetite of animals.
  • In the beginning of the 17th century she was born right into the Thirty Year’s War where half of the early Berliners where killed and the city has been nearly destroyed.
  • This was a time where the tuberculosis killed millions of people, where the inquisition and the persecution of witches took place, where Shakespeare wrote Macbeth and where Copernicus’ claim, that earth revolves around the sun, was reinforced by Galileo, a discovery that pretty much rocked world’s history.
  • The oak saw Napoleons entrance to Berlin and the beginning of the industrialization.
  • A lot of trees where cut down in this time but the Berliners started to realize the value and the beauty oft he forest. They protestet and the Grunewald became a protectet area from there on. Today it is the biggest city forest in Germany.
  • During the second world war the oak stood in the middle of a battlefield between russian and german soldiers.
  • After WW2 she was a part of West Berlin, while her colleagues on the other shore of the Havel and only some kilometers more, where suddenly part of another country. In 1989 the wall came down and they where fellows again.

 

Today the oak still stands there. Peaceful and dignified in the garden of the German Water Lifesavers Society (DLRG).

Go and listen to the stories she has to tell.

 

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Cartajima Refugio

The Refugio Hostel In Cartajima – Traveling And Feeling At Home: Priceless.

I had quite a trip these holidays. As I hiked solo, the trail was more or less deserted and there were no other hikers around, I felt quite lonely on some of the evenings.

Most of the time this is not a problem for me because I need this kind of solitude. But on some evenings I just craved talking to someone else but an Andalusian senior citizen with a strong incomprehensible accent. Do not get me wrong: This is why I learned spanish and this is why I travel but above all a conversation gets interesting when you share at least some similar experiences. And neither can I deny the exhaustion which comes with talking to someone who is barely comprehensible.

In this case the best thing to do for me is to look out for a hippie-style hostel where I’m quite sure to meet some likeminded people and if the hostel is in a hiking area I’d maybe even meet some hikeminded ones 🙂

This is how I found the Refugio Hostel in Cartajima, 18 kms south of Ronda. I booked a room by phone and got there in the evening. Botz, the british host, opened the door and told me that there are no other guests, just us. A short disappointment came up in me, but volatilized quickly as I saw the 300 years old house with its fantastic roof terrace into the surrounding mountains. And above all when I sat down with Botz and we started talking.

What I want to say since the beginning of this article: There are those rare people in hospitality business who really know what they are doing. Who have this delicate intuition what to do and what to say while completely staying themselves. Who let you be yourself and let you feel like you’re belonging here since a long, long time.

This is Botz. I had some wonderful and crazy laughing evenings and even a long hike with him. He loves the mountains and the Andalusian countryside. He traveled a lot. He is completely in love with a girl from Austria. He was a drummer in Amsterdam. He was a chef and the food he is offering is just wonderful. He looks like an argentinian, younger version of Iggy Pop.
And he made the last days of my holidays a pure blast.

This days in places like this, are not about five star perfection. You won’t have television, room service or infinity pools. Sometimes you won’t even have hot water*. But you will feel like home.

So if you ever get to Andalusia go visit Botz and the Refugio in Cartajima. You won’t regret it.

*this is NOT the case at the Refugio! There was always hot water 🙂

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Awarded

Thanks!

I’d like to thank Jenny Stephens, from https://exploreadventurediscover.wordpress.com for my Liebster Award nomination! She writes a great travel blog.

The Liebster Award 2016 is an online award that is given to bloggers by other bloggers. The earliest case of the award goes as far back as 2011. Liebster in German means favorite. It’s a great way to explore new blogs and expand your network.

 

My Nominations

I just want to nominate those three writers. I don’t know them personally, but reading their blogs, I got the impression of some really extraordinary people and I want to get to know them 🙂

https://jennybruso.com
https://simonbeckford.wordpress.com
https://hello-mountains.com

 

The Rules

Official rules of The Liebster Award 2016 if your blog has been nominated and you have chosen to accept it, are below.  I’ve found varying rules on the internet, so hopefully I have included them all!

  • Thank the person who nominated you, and post a link to their blog on your blog. Try to include a little promotion for the person who nominated you.
  • Display the award on your blog — by including it in your post and/or displaying it using a “widget” or a “gadget”.  Images you can use for your 2016 Liebster Award can be found here.
  • Answer your nominator’s questions and create 11 questions for your own nominees to answer.
  • Nominate about five blogs that you feel deserve the award, who have a less than 200 followers.
  • Give 10 random facts about yourself
  • List these rules in your post.
  • Once you have written and published it, you then have to: Inform the people/blogs that you nominated that they have been nominated for the Liebster award and provide a link for them to your post so that they can learn about it.

 

11 Random Facts About Me:

  1. I love the sunrise but I always miss it ’cause I sleep too long
  2. If I’m swimming in a lake I always think of sea monsters
  3. I’m a hiker and I’m afraid of heights
  4. I love Nutella (I just changed to another brand called Samba)
  5. I’m afraid of the world developing backwards in terms of tolerance
  6. I hate gender marketing (it’s one of the reasons the world develops backwards)
  7. My second toe is longer than my first one
  8. I hate clogged tubes and the bffff-sound when they unclog
  9. Sometimes I’d like to have a armpit hair-do
  10. Mosquitos love me
  11. I own R2D2 socks

 

 

My Responses to Jennies Questions:

What inspired you to start writing a blog?
I wanted to conserve my experiences and my photos. And I wanted to share.

Tell me three things people might not know about you?
I’m a Salsa Dancer. I took ballet classes. I work as an experience designer.

Where do you find inspiration for your writing?
As I write about hiking, nature is my biggest inspiration.

How has your attitude to blogging changed over time?
At the beginning I was less outgoing, now I know exactly what I want to share (and what I don’t want to share).

What’s one of the best places you’ve ever been and why?
Cuba. As a consequence of the system, people look at the world differently. And it is a beautiful country.

Name three things you always put in your backpack/suitcase.
Water, map, my Dad’s whistle.

Name a few favourite books (preferably travel-related) – I’m always looking for new recommendations!
Water Music, T.C. Boyle.
Zauberberg, Thomas Mann.
Cien años de soledad, Gabriel García Márquez.

What’s the first thing you do when you arrive in a new place?
Take a walk.

How will your blog look in 5 years time?
Really no idea.

How would you describe your travel style?
I prepare a lot out of anticipation. I read, I look at blogs, I learn languages. I will go there completely informed. But when I’m finally there, I will do everything spontaneously.

Any travel goals for 2016?
Not yet. Chile?

 

 

My Questions:

  1. Did you ever think about not taking a camera on your hikes?
  2. Are you afraid at night when you camp solo?
  3. What do you do against it?
  4. Which human quality/characteristic would you like to have (more)?
  5. What makes you angry?
  6. In which situation have you ever wanted to stop a hike and why did/didn’t you you do it?
  7. What is the best funny quote you found lately?
  8. What is the best serious quote you found lately?
  9. What was your favorite hike ever and why?
  10. Why do people vote for Donald Trump?

 

Why I Hike

When I set off for the first time to walk a long distance intentionally, I recognized, that the act of walking – as long as I’m on my own and I have only the idea of walking in mind instead of reaching a location – does something strange to my thoughts. They were different and […]