Monday, November 19, 2012

FALL BREAK: POLAND & GREECE

If there's one thing I love about schools in Europe, it's the fact that they get a week off for fall break. DIS is no exception; last week was our final travel break and I elected to take two other classes that travelled during the time. Auschwitz: From Memorial to Genocide and Classical Greece took me to Krakow and Athens and despite the jam-packed days, the break was incredible.

Poland
I've always been morbidly fascinated with the Holocaust which is way I was thrilled to be able to take a class on the subject and then travel to Poland to see the camps. I realize that "thrilled" is the wrong word to use but I can't find a word that properly conveys both my excitement and the gravity of the sites we would be seeing. Krakow, much to my surprise, was absolutely beautiful. The old city center was impeccably clean and the winding side streets had buildings from every major design period that all fit together in perfect, eclectic harmony.



It was hard to wrap my head around such a gorgeous city being so close to the world's worst Nazi death camp. After walking around the city, our teacher, Torben, led us on an exploratory adventure to find Plaszow, the camp portrayed in Schindler's List. Most of the buildings are now piles of rubble and the area has been transformed in to a park with a few memorials at the top of the hill. As we walked along the newly graveled path, we watched a mom pushing her child in a stroller past the debris and stepped over a few empty condom wrappers. Call me crazy, but a concentration camp is the last place on earth I'd want to go on a walk with my child or to roll around in the hay.





(Torben's expression in this photo is 100% who he is as a person. He's awesome)


The Plaszow visit wasn't on our official agenda but I'm glad we went. It was an incredible contrast to Auschwitz and made me rethink my initial shock at seeing the camp used as a park. We toured Auschwitz I with a guide before moving on to Auschwitz II-Birkenau (the actual death camp) with Torben as our guide.







The camp was shrouded in mist and as we walked through the brick foundations and old ash fields, I was surprised to find myself feeling both haunted and at peace. Walking the barracks and seeing the remains of the crematoriums was eery; walking through the mass grave sites was not. At the back of the camp is a large field surrounded by tall thin trees. It's marked with three simple black tombstones and is Europe's largest mass grave site. An estimated 250,000 people's ashes are in the field; bone fragments can still be found in the dirt. I know it sounds crazy but I found the field to be absolutely beautiful. The grass was green and the area was peaceful. I'm not Jewish nor am I religious, but I'd like to think that the people there have found some sort of peace. They are visited by millions of people every year, many of whom leave flowers or place stones on the headstones (an old Jewish tradition). Their grave is full of wild flowers in the spring and the earth has been churning up their remains for decades, ensuring that they are never forgotten. It was there that I began to understand the camp-turned-park at Plazow. Despite the atrocities, the park and field were peaceful. For all those who met an early and inhumane death, I hope they have found comfort in the fact that their grave is a beautiful place that can be visited and enjoyed for generations to come. I'm sure there are people who will disagree with me or find my observations horrible, but as Torben pointed out, Auschwitz is an experience that is different for everyone and will last a lifetime. I've been back for less than a week; I'll have my whole life to let the camp's impression work its way in my head and heart.

Greece
After a heavy trip through Poland, landing in sunny Greece was a great way to spend the last half of the break. As an art history major, seeing the ancient sites was a dream come true. Add that excitement to some much needed sunshine and amazing Greek food and you've got a recipe for one very happy girl. We toured the Acropolis, the sites at Delphi, the citadel of Mycenae and several other theaters, ruins and towns. I don't have as much to say about this trip besides the fact that I not-so-secretly wish I were Greek and could probably eat stuffed grape leaves and baklava everyday for the rest of my life.






Tyge, the teacher, was insanely knowledgable about everything we saw and I was surprised at just how awesome the sites were. Looking at pictures of the Theater of Epiduorus cannot compare to standing in the center and hearing the effects of the perfect acoustics.




I was definitely a little sad to leave the warmer temperatures and sunshine of Greece but coming back to cozy Copenhagen felt like coming home. I have four more weeks left in the semester. I cannot fathom how time has gone by so fast. I've got two more weekend trips and lots of pre-Christmas festivities planned which I'm sure will do little to slow down the clock. World traveling makes the days go by fast and I plan to savor every last minute I have left of this adventure.

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