Tuesday, September 27, 2011

the Holocaust in Hamburg

It's been a week since I last updated, and the week just flew by. Most notable was my study tour to Hamburg with my Holocaust and Genocide class. The weekend was truly an eye-opening experience for me and the rest of the students as well.

The tour started on Saturday morning when we had to wake up at the crack of dawn to meet for the 4 hour bus ride to Hamburg (including a 45 minute ferry ride). On the way, we watched the movie The Pianist, which follows the struggles of a Polish Jew musician in the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto during WWII. While we were all tired, almost everyone watched the entire movie and it really set the scene for our trip to Hamburg. 

Our first stop upon arrival in Hamburg was the Bullenhuser Damm School, a sub-camp of Neuengamme from 1944. The Nazi doctor Kurt Heissmeyer was doing research on tuberculosis at the school, injecting the disease into 20 children who were taken from Auschwitz for his experiments. As the war was coming to an end, the children (along with 6 Russian prisoners of war) were killed in the school's basement because they knew too much. Heissmeyer received 6 prison life sentences for his actions and the school is used today as a kindergarden, which seems a little cruel in my opinion. There was also a rose garden on site as a memorial to all the victims of the tragedy.

rose garden memorial
Bullenhuser Damm School

After visiting the school, we were given several hours of free time to roam the city of Hamburg. Cara, Hannah, and I decided to walk on the main road taking in the historic sites of the city. We stopped by the harbor area for a photo-op with a giant anchor statue, further proving my life-long dream to be a sailor. We also discovered a charming little bridge where married couples over the years placed locks inscribed with their names and date of marriage. It was beautiful and I one day hope to place a lock of my own on the bridge. 

love locks 
St. Michaelis Church

While roaming Hamburg, we found the gorgeous St. Michaelis church, the most famous church in the city, complete with an epic statue of the archangel Michael defeating the devil above the entryway. After climbing what felt like 100 flights of stairs, we were rewarded with a breath-taking view of Hamburg, well worth the physical exertion from the climb. 

Hannah, myself, and Cara at the top 

After a delicious German dinner of steak and potatoes we headed to the Hamburg's red light district, St. Pauli. Considering how we don't really have many areas like this in the United States, it was a very interesting experience. The street was crowded with bars, clubs, and strip joints. However, the novelty of the area soon wore off as we prepared for our visit to Neuengamme. 

On Sunday, we started the day with a visit to the St. Nikolai Memorial, another Protestant church in Hamburg. The church was a focal point in the attacks by British and U.S. bombers in the summer of 1943, specifically the successful weeklong firestorm from late July to early August. The allies succeeded in starting a firestorm, which reached temperatures of 1,500 degrees F (hot enough to burn brick)! Many German citizens were killed in the attacks and 10% of the German war economy was destroyed (the goal of the attack). Considering how the church was a landmark for the bombers, it is amazing that a large portion of the church survived the attacks.

view from top of tower
St. Nikolai Memoial

After the visiting the St. Nikolai Memorial, it was time to reach our final destination, the Neuengamme concentration camp. After the war, most of the camp was destroyed and a new prison was placed on site. However, after pressure and protest from below, the prison was relocated and a memorial opened in 2001. Since most of the original structures were town down, place holders signify where the building would have been.

bricks signifying prison bunkers
original guard tower

Specific places visited at the camp are as follows:

roll call square: Most of the square has been covered up, but some areas are still visible. This is the place where roll call would occur twice daily (before the prisoners departed for work and once again when they returned). Sometimes the process could go on for 24 hours straight until the number of prisoners (dead or alive) matched what was registered. 

roll call square
internal prison: All that remains of the internal prison are traces of cells where prisoners were placed and tortured for offenses that weren't worthy of punishment by death. Prisoners would stay there for up to 2 weeks, most often with standing room only. 

internal prison remains

crematorium: All large camps had a crematorium to get rid of the evidence, in this case the dead bodies of the prisoners. There is a small memorial in its place today.

crematorium memorial

railway: The railway connected the camp to the outside world in order to deliver prisoners, supplies, and finished products (bricks and weapons). The small railcars help up to as many as 80 prisoners, and the trip to the camp often took days.


Commander's Villa: The camps Commander stayed here with his wife and 4 children. On the gate of the yard there is a depiction of the main building at Auschwitz. 

the Commander's Villa (and Torben)
the Dove-Elbe Canal

Dove-Elbe Canal: A canal that connected the camp to a branch of the Elbe River, which was hand-dug by prisoners, often times with no tools. The canal took 2 years to finish and required 1,600 men, which were referred to as "death squads," due to the fact that many of the prisoners working on the canal didn't survive very long. 

Brick Factory: One of the better places to work as a prisoner due to a roof over head and heat from the brick ovens in the winter. But hard work included pushing heavy carts by hand full of clay and then completed bricks. 

Brick Factory with push carts

Clay Pit: There was only one clay pit still existing at the camp today. This was one of the worst jobs due to the wet conditions of the pit. If a prisoner happened to slip in the mud, the SS officer would consider the prisoner to be "resting," which mean certain death. They worked all day, from sun-up to sun-down, with a high mortality rate (around 50% for the entire camp-approximately 50,000 deaths). 

last existing clay pit

We concluded the trip with a visit to the camps museum, which included displays from the beginning of the war to its end, containing victim descriptions and reactions. It was hard to imagine the living conditions of the prisoners on a daily basis and I am still struggling with an appropriate reaction. 

prison built on site after war
bunks (2-3 prisoners per bed)

On the bus ride home, we watched another relevant film called The Downfall, which explores the final days of the Reich, where senior leaders began defecting from their beloved Fuhrer, while still others pledge to die with Hitler. The movie was just as enjoyable as the first movie, and offered an insight into the inner workings of the Third Reich's downfall. 

After a final ferry ride from Germany to Denmark, we arrived home in Copenhagen, tired from our trip but also changed for the better. 

roomz and I on the ferry home

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

bikers, religion, and Josh Groban lovers

Another busy weekend has come and gone and I find myself looking back in astonishment at the speed of the past four weeks I have been in Copenhagen. On Friday evening I received a bicycle from my host parents' friend to use for the duration of my stay here. While I am too intimidated by the sheer amount and speed of bikers in the city center to actually ride my bike to school, I will be enjoying nice bike rides around my neighborhood's lake.

On Saturday morning, my host dad and I went for my first bike ride around the lake. The weather was wonderful and I enjoyed the scenic ride, spotting several swans and their duckling swimming in the lake.

swan living in my lake
Speaking of bicycles, Copenhagen is currently hosting the UCI Road Race World Championship! Over 70 streets are closed to cars throughout the city, which (as you can imagine) has caused some major congestion on the trains. Cara and I stopped to watch a few of the male riders starting the third wave of their timed races. It was very exciting to watch and be a part of the biking culture that is so central to Denmark.  Here is a movie clip I captured of a biker starting his third wave:

On Sunday, I met up with a few friends to attend a church service at the First International Baptist Church. It was my second time attending, I am really enjoying the community and fellowship of Danes and internationals alike. However, it was interesting to learn from my host parents that the Danes are not really religious people and that church attendance is very low (less than 10% of population). Regardless, I plan on attending on a regular basis and even joining a bible study that meets weekly starting tomorrow. 

Josh Groban in concert
After church on Sunday I went to a neat Italian restaurant to meet up with fellow Josh Groban fans before his concert at the Falconer Center. It is amazing the power that music has in brining people together of all nationalities. At the meet and greet I met people from Norway, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, and the United States (New York City). Even with the language barriers, we were able to communicate quite effectively through our love of Josh and his music. The concert itself was the best one I have been to yet. The smaller venue allowed for a more intimate performance with audience participation that really gave you the feel of his charming personality.  After the concert I went with my new Danish friend Emilie to wait by his bus hoping to get an autograph. It didn't take too long before he came out and we were both able to get our posters signed and considered the evening a great success (even if we didn't manage to get our picture taken with him).

getting an autograph

star-struck Emilie and I with our signed posters

Thursday, September 15, 2011

tombstones, riots, and spiraling staircases

What a busy week it has been! On Tuesday afternoon I met with my Buddy Network for some exploration of Norrebro (the same place I went for the international cooking festival). Our first stop was the Assistens Cemetery, where many famous people are buried. The most popular gravesite is that of the most famous man in Denmark, Hans Christian Andersen.  His beloved fairy tales are enjoyed around the world, and include stories such as The Princess and the Pea, The Little Mermaid, and The Ugly Duckling. While his gravesite was interesting, my favorite site is that of Nobel Prize-winning physicist Niels Bohr.  Being both a science nerd and an extreme lover of owls, you can see why I found his tombstone extraordinary.

Tombstone of Niels Bohr

graffiti at site of old Youth House

Our second stop was to the original site of the Youth House (Ungdomshuset), which served as an underground scene for music and varying leftist groups from 1982 to 2007.  Reclaiming the building, the government ordered all occupants to leave. However, when the youth refused to leave, the building was scheduled for demolition.  This led to mass protests by the youth activists, resulting in riots in the streets with fire, broken glass, and general chaos. You can see for yourself the street riots: The Last Days of Ungdomshuset. Now, the old site has turned into an unofficial dumping site, covered in colorful graffiti.

After walking around the immigrant neighborhoods of Norrebro, we decided to stop and eat dinner at a great Arabic restaurant called The Arabic Madhouse. I wasn't feeling too adventurous, so I stuck with the good old standby beef burger with potatoes on the side. Perhaps when I return I will try something a bit more exciting. 

On Wednesday I ventured into the city for the first rehearsal of the Copenhagen Business School international choir. The group is a good mix for Danes and international students (mostly Americans). We sang through a song called "Joga", which had emotional melodies and haunting lyrics. We also sang Michael Jackson's "Heal the World." I am not sure yet if I will be returning next week due to scheduling conflicts, but it was a fun night singing with some Danes. 

Round Tower spiral
After class today Cara and I decided it was time we visited The Round Tower, which was an architectural project of Christian IV. The tower was built from 1637 to 1642 as an astronomical observatory for scholars of the time. However, the equipment soon became outdated and a new observatory was built. The view of Copenhagen from the top of the tower is simply breathtaking and definitely worth the ascent up the towers spiraling walkway. 

view from top of Round Tower

Cara and I at the top!

After a long day of school and exploring the city it is very nice to relax on the couch with my host family and a good cup of tea.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

short study tour galore!

The past three days I have been on a short study tour to Glucksburg (in Germany) and Ribe (in Western Denmark) with my core Sustainability in Europe class.  We traveled by bus with a group of 22 students, our teacher, and our class coordinator. The following is a brief account of all the exciting points of the trip.

Day 1 (Glucksburg, Germany)

We started our trip with a 4 hour bus ride to Glucksburg, Germany where we visited Artefact: The Centre for Appropriate Technology and International Development, where we met our awesome tour guide Verne. The center is a non-profit organization dedicated to the application of economically viable, ecologically and socially appropriate technologies for sustainable development. We actually stayed at the guest house on site, which was completely run on renewable energy sources (mainly solar, wind, and biogas). The site was very educational and attracts visitors to Germany's first "Energy Park," where visitors can view and participate in hands-on demonstrations of the energy technologies.

Artefact guest house

wind turbine at Artefact

After exploring the facilities at Artefact, we headed off for a guided tour of Glucksburg Castle. The castle was named after the motto of the Duke Johann the Younger, which states "Gott gebe Gluck mit frieden" (God grant happiness with freedom). The castle is also Germany's largest "water" castle and one of the most significant family houses in Northern Europe, housing at one time a future Danish King (Christian IX) and members of the Norwegian and Greek royal houses.

Glucksburg Castle

We once again returned to Artefact for a bonfire with friends and more time for exploring the energy park. This allowed the chance to bond as a class and visit with the two pigs also housed there.

Day 2 (Glucksburg, Germany and Ribe, Denmark)

farm showing solar, wind, and biogas resources
We started off the day with trips to various renewable energy installations in the area. The first stop was to a farm that employed solar, wind, and biogas energy sources. The excrement from the 110 cows housed on the property is mixed with corn and burn to power a turbine, which then produces electricity. This electricity is then used on the farm to power everything, sold back to the grid, or used by neighbors to heat their farms. The farm also produced electric cars and motorcycles, as well as pedal bicycles with back-up engines for a "little help pedaling uphill."
electric car

We next stopped at a solar farm, which consisted of hundreds of solar panels spread out in a large field. The solar panels rotate with the sun to capture the largest amount of sunlight possible, no matter what time of day. Having the panels rotate actually produces 70% more energy than stationary panels, producing a total of 800 kW of energy!

Kai, Katie, me, and Marissa with solar panels

turbine installation

The next stop was very cool, and something that not everyone gets to see in the lifetime. We went to an installation of a wind turbine. When we were there, only the support tower and motor was in place, while the blades lay on the ground in all their 60 meter long splendor. The amazing part of the process is that local families (about 150 total) paid for the turbine to be installed, which will produce 2.5 MW of energy.

After we had our fill of energy installations, we headed off to Ribe for a guided tour of the Ribe Cathedral. The building itself had a splendid exterior and houses the most glorious pipe organ I have ever seen. I only wish I could have heard it played. The decorations in the cathedral ranged from very traditional to very modern. The modern art works were done by Carl Henning Pederson from 1983 to 1987 and are in stark contrast with the historic nature of the cathedral. The paintings still to this day are a source of controversy among locals.

controversial modern art
impressive pipe organ at cathedral

We then had time to explore the little town of Ribe in small groups. We stopped at historic places like the Tower Fortress, Viking marketplace, and the old City Hall. We also got a chance to stroll the tiny, romantic streets of the town and take in the picturesque houses along the way. And if there is one thing I can say about DIS, it is that they treat their students well. After walking around Ribe we went to a very expensive restaurant for dinner. We were served salmon appetizers, a main course of veal with vegetables, and a dessert of Crème brûlée. We then had a complementary cider tasting in the restaurant's bar.

a romantic street in Ribe
Day 3 (Ribe, Denmark)

On our final day of the study tour we spent time at the Wadden Sea Center. The area is famous for its rich flora and fauna and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site due to the Sea's importance for migratory birds. All different types of birds visit the low tidal marshes of the Wadden Sea to rest and eat up for their coming migrations. One of the bird species that we saw there was getting ready to fly for West Africa for the winter season. We also got a chance to wade in the water and use nets to catch small shrimp, fish, crabs, and mussels. All of these organisms are vital to the ecology of the area and the migratory birds resting there. 

me in my fishing gear
the Wadden Sea
Besides the interesting and educational visits, my favorite part of the study tour was getting to know my fellow classmates. The bonding that occurred during 10+ hours of bus time and late nights chatting at our hostels was unbelievable. I felt that before the study tour, no one in our class really knew each other and were hesitant to socialize. But after this experience, I am eager to get back to class tomorrow and catch up with all my new friends.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Viking ships, sheep droppings, and spicy oxen

What a busy weekend this has been! Here is the quick recap of the important events:

On Friday night I met up with my Buddy Network, a small group of American DIS students and local Danish students. My group leader is named Charlotte and she is studying for her masters in international communications. We decided to go to Tivoli (Denmark's version of Hersheypark) to see the free rock concert given every Friday night. The band was called Nik and Jay, and from what Charlotte was telling me, they are two guys who everyone hates, but listens to anyway (kind of like Justin Bieber). The concert was so crowded that I couldn't even turn around where I was standing. But besides the crowd, I had a great time exploring Tivoli and made plans to return before it closes to actually try the impressive rides.

the most expensive restaurant in Tivoli
warrior Viking ships
After too few hours of sleep, I woke bright and early on Saturday for an all-day viking adventure with my Nordic Mythology class.  We started out in Roskilde with a visit to the viking ship museum. The small museum only had five exhibits, all ships that were found in the bottom of the fjord (dating from the 11th century) and restored to the best of their ability. We also had time for the viking ship "playground," where we could dress up in viking clothes or practice writing in old viking letters.

My friend Moira and I on the playground.

Next we made out way to a burial chamber from the Neolithic Age (beginning around 9500 BC). The chamber was enclosed by a stones surrounded by a grassy mound. The doorway to enter the chamber was so tiny I couldn't help but feel I was entering a hobbit's home in Middle Earth. Inside the chamber it was pitch black and I could barely stand up, but soon enough we had lit some candles and were discussing Neolithic burials.

entrance to Middle Earth

We then visited another burial site, also pre-viking age somewhere in the Danish countryside (which is truly beautiful). At this site, many large stones were placed over burials in the shape of a large ship, which we were told symbolized a coming home (or rebirth) feeling. Unfortunately,  many of the stones were missing, having been taken to form gravel, which was very expensive to import at the time.  Across the street we also stopped at the place where it is believed that the great hall from Beowulf was located.

After what seems like ages, we finally arrived at an old viking fortress in Trelleborg. Our first stop was a replica (and 'a bad one at that' according to our professor, Morten) viking hall. This type of hall was traditionally where they spent all their time. They would eat and talk on the same benches where they slept and "spent time with one another under the blankets," also a quote from Morten (who looks very much like a Viking himself). We also tried mead (also known as Viking Blood), which is a very sweet liquor derived from honey.

traditional Viking hall
Also at Trelleborg, we saw the remains of the actual fortress, which now is just cement filled post holes where the original buildings once stood. However, the some of the original mounds surrounding the fortress and part of one of the gates are still there today. To my pleasant surprise, sheep are allowed to graze all over the fortress grounds. The sheep were adorable, but their numerous droppings were hard to step around. 

adorable local sheep
Our last stop was to a small church in Fjenneslev. The church was very simply decorated with white walls, which we learned were at one point brightly colored. At some point in history, someone had decided to paint the walls white to keep the integrity of the building intact. What a shame. But the two towers of the building have a well known legend around their origin. As legend goes, the church was built as a farm-church by a man named Assar Rig.  However, Rig was away at war during the construction so things were left to his very pregnant wife, Fru Inge. If she were to have a boy, she was to build a great tower and if she was to have a girl, nothing was to be added. When Rig returned from war he found that two towers had been added, because his wife bore twin boys. Sadly,  this tale is only a legend. Truth be told, the wife did have two sons, but they were born at different times and certainly not twins.

Fjenneslev church

After returning to the city on Saturday night, I went to an international cooking festival for dinner with Cara and Chelsea. The festival was located in a poor neighborhood consisting of many immigrants, but the food was ethnically diverse and delicious. I surprised Cara (and myself) by eating spicy oxen meat with a pita and even spicier sauce. We washed it down with wonderful carrot cake and a mojito (minus the mint) all for about 75 DKK (which is under $20).

Cara and I enjoying some spicy oxen meat

I am sorry this was such a long recap and I hope I didn't bore you at all. There was just so many interesting things to recount.