See trips hub: Europe Road Ways

For themes of conflict, present in any country, see Studying War.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Circus! German Circus Tradition

The Circus in Germany

All over Europe, find traveling small groups of performers camped at the side of a road near a town; or large, elaborate and big-tented circuses, like this one found between Hanover and Celle. Find a history of circuses at ://

Recent history:  See Circus Williams, Great Circus Williams-Althoff, German National Circus, at ://  The tent colors and trailers are different from these that we saw, but the history of that particular group shows the appeal of feats of daring and skill.

From the circus site:

Englishman Philip Astley (1742-1814) began the first modern circus format, featuring equestrian trick-riders from the training schools of various military groups. An early showman was another Englishman, Jacob Bates who focused his activities in the German States, and inspired Astley.  Astley did not think up the round performing ring, however.  That developed naturally among equestrians because the centrifugal force generated by the rider and horse going round and round, enabled the rider the better to keep balance while standing up. A gallop in a straight line would not produce the same derring-do possibilities. Astley used a 62' ring diameter. The standard now is 42'.

There was a German equestrian named Carl Magnus Hinne (1818-1890) set up circuses in Germany, Poland, Denmark and Russia.  Names of old circus families that originated in Italy or Germany could well become associated then with Russia, or Denmark. 

Horse acts declined after WWI, but in Germany, the era between WWI and WWII was boom time for traveling circuses, very flamboyant.  As the core of the show, equestrian trick riders were replaced by and joined by balancing acts, tight-ropes, clowns, trapezes, acrobats, wild animal trainers (the German Hagenbecks, importers and dealers, spearheaded this), and menageries, and then booths for feats of skill and a reward of a pink fluffy stuffed something.   Then came formal schools in the different nations, serving a nationalized circus, or national interests. Other countries preferred permanent circus buildings to the traveling variety.

German and Italian tent-makers were considered tops for the Big Top, apparently.

1977:  Enter the Big Apple Circus, performing branch of a circus school (reintroduced the old one-ring idea); then the German Roncalli Circus brought back the old flamboyance; and Cirque de Soleil has been innovative; so circuses remain on the move.

Bergen-Belsen Documentation Center, Concentration Camp Memorial Park, near Celle

Anne Frank is Somewhere Here.
So is everyone else.  

Some scholarship challenges the numbers of German Jews killed, and the focus of the holocaust, see Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, by Timothy Snyder, review at ://  The impact remains. The Memorial Park itself is flat acreage with woods, and cleared areas, remains of structures, some relief maps, a few large memorials like the Polish Cross, and specific memorials to groups victimized, including Jews, homosexuals, Gypsies, Jehovah's Witnesses, the mentally handicapped, and "enemies of the state," including those who criticized the Nazi rise to power, see ://

Find a walk through the Memorial Park at  Memorial Park, Bergen-Belsen, Celle, Germany. There are isolated and grouped headstones (as memorials, not actual persons necessarily), a long pathway, cross-paths, and many, many raised flat mounds, deep pits into which hundreds of bodies were bulldozed, a mound made on top, flattened, and heather or other low brush covering, and a memorial set in the raised turf wall indicating how many souls were interred there:  750, 250, 1000 and so on.

Still, what happened there? A child, a visitor, would have no idea except that there are flat maps here, like toys, like a board game; and there are so many numbers for the dead.

So go into the Documentation Center, a modern building, with the photos, exhibits, relief maps, films.

The place was structured, meticulous rows, functions. Read Heinrich Himmler's speech to the SS at Poznan, Poland, in 1943 on extermination of the Jews in particular, at ://  Hear and see it at ://  A list of selected quotes: at including loyalty and responsibility only to own German blood, no one else ://

Bergen Belsen: originally a transit center. Later, an end-stop concentration camp. Germany

See the connectors between Bergen-Belsen and the labor and death camps elsewhere. Allies have been criticized for knowing what the railroads were being used for, yet not bombing the rails and stations to stop it. Aiming for stations and railways would have hampered the transit, without also killing the prisoners the bombing was supposed to help.  Is that so? Find other debate about bombing the camps themselves, which would have also caused deaths of thousands, see that discussed at ://

Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS:  "We have always selected the highest and abandoned the lowest.  As long as we maintain this principle, the Order [the SS] will remain healthy.  After the war, we shall really build up our Order .... it will provide Germany with an elite. This elite will provide leaders to industry, agriculture and politics and the activities of the mind." 

Tragic camera moments. The exhibit regarding women prisoners notes the irony of women before the Bergen Belsen ID camera, not knowing what was coming; and out came a "camera" response -- they fixed their hair, made a shy smile, even a little coy, as though this were its own occasion. Please, like me. I see me. My aunts. Would we be different?

Plan your visit to Bergen Belsen so that there are several hours left at the end of the day to appreciate all the exhibits.  Films take time, the whole presentation is overwhelming - not in how it is arranged, because that is in manageable sections -- but overwhelming in the human sense. Those Germans look just like us. Does that mean we could do that, too. Reference to a few exhibit photos must be fair use out of such a total. Photographic and other teaching tools -- the information belongs to the world, is that so?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Bergen-Belsen KZ. Concentration Camp. Memorial Park Grounds

 Bergen Belsen Konzentrationslager (KZ)
Nazi Concentration Camp, Germany

Learn the KZ road sign for Concentration Camp because that will be on many signs to Bergen Belsen; the name, however, may not be given at all. This place began as a transport center, a way-station for prisoner destinations elsewhere; then it evolved into a Concentration Camp itself.  It is in Northern Germany, Saxony, near the town of Celle.

Of the camp itself,it is in two parts.  First, structures.  There are no structures left.  None at all. It is a Memorial Park.  The only way to get an idea of what happened there, without independent information, is ground level relief maps scattered about ("You are here," they point out from time to time, so you know which way to go next).

Second, there is an impressive - but removed emotionally since there are no physical structures to support what the Documentation Center "documents," a Documentation Center. See Bergen-Belsen Documentation Center. That building is large but appears almost as an afterthought:  It is as though Germany had been directed to maintain education centers for the concentration camps, they are supposed to tell what happened here, so enjoy your walk first, and then here are the pictures, Goodbye.  

The Center is indeed very large, with thorough exhibits including photos of inmates like Anne Frank who died here at age 15.  See if first, before the long walks outside. How else to orient.

We started with the outside, to see what we could learn if we already did not know about Concentration Camps (we have been to 
 On the outside walkways intersecting the park-like setting at Bergen Belsen, find only memorials, explanations on signs as you walk around the circumference and across, much heather, and raised mounds.

Much is in English.  Thank you.

Leave stones. The memorial custom in Judaism, we understand and have seen, is to leave small stones on markers, signs, graves. This dedication wall, "To the Memory of All Those Who Died in this Place," is covered with small stones and pebbles. The origins of the practice are Biblical, and sensible.  Honor, and replenish and preserve the site. See ://  We do not know the rituals, but do leave our stones everywhere.

The Obelisk at Bergen Belsen was erected between 1945 and 1952, see :// 

We were told that, immediately upon liberation, the Polish prisoners erected a tall wooden cross, just like this. It stood until it needed to be replaced; and has been replaced many times, but always on the same spot, same design. Imagine the spirit, for starving, abused, near-death inmates to erect such a structure.

This is a destination point for families but with so little to really show of the purpose of the place, and kids trotting about playing, what are they learning. That this is a remote park, and fun to visit. Or does awareness grow. But that takes returning, and returning.  The grave markers are all symbolic:  no-one knows exactly where anyone died and was interred.  Families could request monuments and stones, however, and many did.

The mounds blend in, no exotic plantings, heather and low growth the maintain the shapes, flat tops, large footprint, rectangular or square, angled sides, and the designation: "Hier ruhe 2500 tote," for example; here rest 2500 bodies.  Or 800.  Or 1000. There were 10,000 unburied dead at Bergen Belsen upon liberation, see the Auschwitz site above.  Of the 40,000 alive, some 28,000 of those died soon after liberation. The task of burial was overwhelming.  They started with heaving bodies onto trucks and piling them.  That was too slow, so the documentation center shows bulldozers pushing and piling them into holes, cover up, level off.  Over and over.

And those are only the individuals found at liberation.  The deaths took place for years, from starvation, beatings, mistreatment, disease.  This was not an extermination camp predominantly, as it began as a transit stop for the extermination camps and the labor camps; I do not recall gas chambers.  Perhaps they were built. But there were thousands of shootings and killings, and a crematorium for the dead. Need to check.

How else to communicate the overwhelming size of this place, on and on, many markers giving the function of the structure that had been there.

The danger is that the place will become just a nature walk.

The walkways go on and on.  It is difficult to see where to go next.

Bergen Belsen is a large memorial park - there is no one orienting feature until you make it to the far end and the Obelisk and the Cross.

Then suddenly a part will be manicured.  See the size of the burial mounds. There are byways and markers scattered, as well as in particular locations. They tend to retell a story, or give a name and relationship. Remembrance stones are on most of them.

With so many burial mounds, appreciate the variety of shrubbery used to differentiate them without requiring upkeep.  It all is rough. Heather. Excellent.

Artifacts are still being found as they rise to the surface.  People leave them on markers.

Now: Of all those who died in the Holocaust, we all know of the Jews.  They have advocates, and funds, and justifiably memorialize that group.  There are other groups targeted by the Third Reich, as being less than Aryan, or the chosen Superiors; the Gypsies (here memorialized as Roma, Sinti, Zigeun, the homosexuals, the Jehovah's Witnesses - did you think of that?  

Here is a specific marker to the often-forgotten.

The marker here specifyies groups targeted :  
  • Juden, 
  • Sinti and Roma,
  • Zeugen (Gypsy groups), 
  • Jehovahs, 
  • Homosexuals.  
 See the Holocaust Glossary at http ://, click on Concentration Camps, and find that the camps began in 1933 with Dachau, Buchenwald and Sachenhausen (near Berlin) for the enemies of the Nazi regime.  Those initially forced there were defined as Gypsies, Jews, homosexuals, the handicapped, mentally disabled, Jehovah's Witnesses, communists, monarchists, socialists, "asocials" and other actual and potential political enemies.

Among the Juden: Anne Frank and Margot Frank:  no known actual place of burial. 

Finally, see the Obelisk, and nearby is the Documentation Center and a Memorial Religious building.

The numbers are unfathomable. But, after seeing all the mounds, the visitor is persuaded that tens of thousands were killed and killed and killed.  Do see the park first, then go to the big memorial structures and then the documentation center.  Otherwise, the numbers are just ho-hum  It took us a long time to walk the full perimeter of this Camp, and we also got lost in the by-ways.  

Now:  gas chambers here?  Yes, say several sites.  No, says the Institute for Historical Research; the researchers at  The conditions at Bergen Belsen were generally better than elsewhere until 1944, when most of the mass deaths occurred from conditions, starvation, epidemics, and the prisoners surviving showed those effects.  Gas chambers, repeats Institute for Historical Research, no.

The problem at this kind of Memorial Park without structures where someone (particularly children, who need to carry this memory along, is that so?) cannot see, and remember (even if there is some little sign saying so): is that without a sign that here was a gas chamber, or its reconstruction, is that we don't even think of how so many people were murdered.  Neglect, absence of treatment unto death, beatings, shootings, and the epidemics and starvation.

Germany.  The impact of concentration camps here is muted. Visit Mauthausen in Austria. Austria Road Ways, Mauthausen Concentration Camp. There is a gas chamber, intact, places where hangings took place, tools of the killing trade. By pulling facilities all down, as happened in Buchenwald and here at Bergen Belsen, even in anger and reprisal and remorse and guilt, what is destroyed is a means of passing on the memory of what hate, polarization, propagannda and demonizing do.  We are coping with that in the US and may not pull out. Fodder Site: The Way to Mauthausen.

For any nation:  which groups are targeting our own children for domination. Prime the children.  Bellwether Haiku. Nicens Baby Tuckoo at Shooter Camp

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Hannover: Detail, War Memorial Door Panels, Marktkirche; Theology and War

Hannover - Hanover
War Memorial Door Panels, Marktkirche, Hannover
a/k/a Lutheran Church, Hanover
Market Church

Spellings affect search results. For Hannover, also search for Hanover. Visit Hannover for these memorial doors, a teaching and remembrance. Marktkirche. Market Church.

This set of doors is one of the finest, most moving set of war memorial constructs we have found as to WWII. Germany usually does not go out of its way to present what happened to Jews and others, and its own citizens, in the war.  Usually it chooses to downplay even the concentration camps as parks, neat and tidy, with somber documentation centers getting concrete but the outside -- how would a child ever learn the magnitude.  Bergen-Belsen -- hard to find, all leveled on the outside as to actual buildings. So spend time with the doors.
 The sequence:  First set, the panels of the war experience.  Second set, the return to normalcy.  Third set, the theological reconciliation representation.
Panels show great detail.  Click on any to enlarge.
1.  The War experience, WWII

Hannover was severely bombed, including its suburbs and surrounding villages.

The doors open at that center divider line.  


2.  Return to normalcy

Then see what appear to be returns to humanity, afterwards.  Is this a child being returned, extending its arms to a familiar person; return to ordinary occupations like farming.  The time frame is ambiguous -- happier times before;  or a return to normalcy after. Fill in your own caption, setting.  These are not official here, just a best effort to distinguish each.


3.  Theological reconciliation, forgiveness represented