Notes on 2014’s German adventure

I have apparently hit the point where I am incapable of writing anything longer than about 500 words these days, so herewith is a collection of quick observations about our experiences in Germany and the Netherlands last month, vaguely in chronological order. Pictures are here.

The hegemony of English. As generally happens when I go aboard, I’m amazed at the way in which English speakers are accommodated. You can walk into pretty much any restaurant in Japan, for instance, and ask “英語のメニューがありますか?” and actually get something beyond a blank stare; I am, however, extremely skeptical that a Japanese person could walk into a random restaurant in Canada and be treated in a similar fashion. This may help to explain why the Japanese seem to do all their touring in large groups, but it also underscores that speaking English represents a privilege or an advantage that other linguistic groups don’t have while moving around the planet.

Everywhere we went we managed to get by with English. Because the trip was thrown together in a very short period of time, I had basically no opportunity to learn any German, beyond the usual politenesses and, because of the little guy, “Haben Sie ein Autokindersitz?” I speak even less Dutch, and every single person we met in the Netherlands spoke better English than I do. I can’t say that German- or Dutch-speakers with a poor command of English would do as well in the United Kingdom or North America. Somehow it doesn’t seem fair…

Dachau. We’d debated whether we wanted to go out to Dachau. It’s an easy trip from central Munich on the S-Bahn, but because the little guy was still having timezone problems, he was very fussy (and had a really annoying habit of having crying fits whenever we were in a museum or somewhere else quiet). Still, we went out on our last full day in Munich, which turned out to be Corpus Christi and therefore a holiday in Bavaria (so nothing else was open). I’m glad we did. There are few places I’ve been in the world where I’ve felt the weight of so much history pressing down; though it is a sterile place, and the barracks and “infirmary” have been destroyed (the two that exist are reconstructions), and they’ve put a museum up, it still feels evil. Worse, it feels deliberately evil. Walk around for a while in the museum section and you’ll eventually come across a large desk that kept detailed files on every prisoner in the camp. People did this, and they were very, very systematic about it.

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