Category Archives: Germany

Eyes on Fall

I feel a bit like a little kid; there’s a new season called fall and I’m playing in it all over again. (Some of you know this season as autumn rather than fall, and my favourite dictionary provides a lovely explanation as to why this might be.)

At the end of October, my Toronto family and I went for a beautiful walk an hour or so north. There was so much that reminded me of growing up and playing on the nature trails not too far from our neighbourhood. We used to climb all of the fallen logs and run through piles of leaves.

Regardless of the word you use to describe this time of year, this is the season of falling leaves and the crunch they make underfoot, of apples picked from trees and pumpkins from vines. The texture of the air changes, daylight grows shorter, shadows grow longer. Food gets warmer, coats thicker, and lush green gives way to all shades of red, orange, yellow, and finally brown before the leaves are gone entirely.

In Montreal at the beginning of November, further north and further into the season, the leaves were different yet again. Montreal is a city of bright skies and the colours made me smile at a time when smiling was difficult.

I took a walk through the park near my apartment in Weimar shortly after returning from Canada. The steel-grey sky and occasional drizzle reminded me why this time of year, just too early to start thinking about the holidays, is sometimes overlooked. But the calm and quiet of the path minimized distraction and held opportunities to experience beautiful things.

Here in Weimar, now definitively in the middle of November, we have had some very cold nights. And days, for that matter, but it’s dark at night here, very dark, and I’ve been spending time outside remembering what cold feels like. Damp cold that gets into the bones, crisp cold that leaves fingers, toes, and noses tingling, and then a brief respite from temperatures just above freezing that seem balmy by comparison. There is majesty in clear skies and sharp, brisk nights and seeing so many stars.

It’ll get colder, everyone says. Get ready.

I’m not.

But in the dark and the cold, surrounded by naturechanges and beneath stars, my body, mind, and heart are very much awake.

“Lift your gaze and linger.”
Weimar, Germany – November 2021

Stumbling Stones

Several weeks back, I looked over the notes I took years ago as my grandmothers regaled me with stories of our extended family history. I looked over the family tree that my grandmother’s cousin, who I’ve never met, had painstakingly put together, complete with full names and the dates and locations of births, marriages, and deaths. Somehow, the story feels different on this side of the world.

One evening heading home from climbing, an American friend asked how my family had responded when I said I was moving to Germany.

Later, a German friend told me he had been wondering that, too, but as a German, never would have asked. He walked with me through town and pointed out buildings the Nazis had built and used as offices. A small sign, so nondescript that it’s easy to miss, explains it. No fanfare.

It took several weeks of lessons before my German teacher told me she had been afraid to ask about my family history after learning my name for the first time.

My history students and I are studying the period of European diplomacy between the World Wars and it hasn’t yet come up that I’m Jewish. It might. What is obvious is the depth of understanding these young people have about propaganda, hate speech, power, victimization. They do not take today’s world for granted because they know what it cost.

Yesterday I photographed the first stumbling stones that I saw when I arrived here. Before I knew what they were. Before I knew how they got there.

Hier wohnte. Here lived.

Here lived.

Hier wohnte.

As a memorial, the stumbling stones, or Stolpersteine, are not without controversy. (Is there such a thing as remembrance without controversy?) As of December 2019, 75,000 Stolpersteine had been placed in Germany and they are in other countries, too. But not everyone agrees that accidentally tripping over a stone and then recognizing its significance, even if it forces you to kneel before the victim, is dignified. I can appreciate the disagreement because it means that people care. They care enough to argue about the best way to honour lives taken.

It is one thing to be steeped in history. It is another thing entirely to learn from it.

Do you not know that a man is not dead while his name is still spoken? – Terry Pratchett, Going Postal

Zwiebelmarkt

Before accepting a job in Weimar, Germany, I looked it up on Wiki Travel. (I didn’t do this until after moving to Seremban, Malaysia and, well, if the only thing Wiki Travel has to say is that your town is near the airport, I wouldn’t suggest moving there.) I knew the basics of Weimar – home to the Weimar Republic, after all – and there were a variety of other mentions that caught my eye, one of which was the Onion Market. When I arrived, locals and expats alike told me, “Let’s just hope the Onion Market is on this year.”

A few changes due to Covid notwithstanding (no Queen of the Onion Festival, no pre-dawn opening, only four stages with live music instead of ten, a manageable number of visitors rather than the 250,000 that usually flock to this town of 65,000) it was!

Zwiebelmarkt was part food festival . . .

. . . and part harvest festival (I made my way to several farm stalls before it got too busy) with specific attention given to onions, which I will never see the same way again.

There were opportunities to buy onion-themed gifts and other household items (my contributions to the regional economy include a bouquet of dried flowers and a couple packs of spices) . . .

. . . and opportunities to sample onion-based foods. I can vouch for Zwiebelkuchen (onion cake) and Zwiebelsuppe (onion soup).

There were performances, too, of both the musical and circus variety, as well as a special carnival area for children, which was not too far from the medieval fair where some really fun bands played.

“Why did you choose Weimar?” a Weimar native asked as we drank beer and wine, sang along to Incubus and Radiohead covers, and used her sky app to find Jupiter and Saturn.

Many reasons. I can’t honestly say that onions were taken into consideration, but I’m glad they have become part of this experience.