Posted by: facetothewind | May 16, 2010

Stumbling blocks

Moving about Germany’s streets for the first time, I am a bit haunted by the not-so-distant history of this place. It all seems so peaceful and verdant now, that it is hard to believe these cobblestone streets, these majestic trees, and stately houses bore witness to families who where torn apart, yanked out of their homes and sent away forever to be murdered or worked to death at a concentration camp.

A man named Gunter Demnig, who was born just after WWII, started a memorial project “Solpersteine” (stumbling blocks) whereby he puts in brass cobblestone with the names of the family members of Jews, gays and other “undesirables” who were deported and usually murdered shortly thereafter. You can read about him here:

As an American who has never visited Germany, I’ve wondered if the pain of the Holocaust would still be palpable in some small way. Riding the train from Frankfurt to Leipzig I passed near Buchenwald, the Nazi work camp where some 56,000 people died of starvation, disease and execution. This is as close as I have come to making contact with the Germany I grew up with in war films and documentaries. Still, the Holocaust remains an abstract, unimaginable concept for me. And it seems from the street to be mostly erased by the recession of time. But today as we were walking, Sebastian pointed out to me my first sighting of the Stolpersteine. I stopped to examine and photograph it while some woman gave me a dirty look for blocking the entrance to her apartment.

The photo above shows a mother and her 2 children ages 19 and 21, who were taken to Auschwitz and murdered. Finally the Holocaust became real. And I’m blocking some poor woman’s access to her apartment. Sad isn’t it?

Here’s a video of the artist making the blocks…

We spied several others on our walks. Sebastian tells me there’s one going in next month for a gay person. I might try to get to that installation ceremony. I’m intending to visit Buchenwald later in this trip.


On another note, Sebby and I had a wonderfully bulky, bland traditional German lunch in a downtown pub. Great atmosphere – the food – well…I’d say traditional German food isn’t the lightest, healthiest or freshest of cuisines. But it wasn’t bad if you’re accustomed to boiled potatoes, overcooked peas and floppy white asparagus. The beer was pretty fab and voluminous, as expected.

Here’s Sebastian in front of the apartment – red circle is our unit…


And finally, you wouldn’t you like take a little bit of Asia home tonight, complete with Fu Manchu and buck teeth. Do you think this is culturally insensitive? Is it any worse than the busty woman on St. Pauli Girl beer? I’m not leading the witness, just curious what you think. Leave a comment…



  1. That sooooo would not fly in CA for sure!!!

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