When I first started researching Europe for my first solo international trip last year, I looked at many countries France, Spain, Scandinavia…. But Germany wasn’t really a country I considered in particular. Then I zoomed into going on a long distance cycling & camping trip. This brought Germany into my radar. Because it is the best place to start out – keeping in mind the costs and infrastructure both. So Berlin it was! At the end of the trip it turned out to be the one European city I felt I had spent some time in (15 days) and it was awesome.
Before this trip happened, apart from it being some sort of ‘finance powerhouse’ and a hub for Cars – I had no other association with Germany. Except of course the holocaust crap that happened in WW2. And that was my main association with Germany. As I find with so many people at least in my Indian circle – Germany brings thoughts of Hitler, nazi and concentration camps. And here I was planning to cycle and camp in the countryside, solo! God knows how many concentration camp spots I would pass by on my own.
And I did. I passed by a few concentration camp spots.
But the way they had dealt with it – their infamous and really big blot on history – was really good. I could relate with them. And it made me wonder – how does one deal with an infamous past that you as an individual aren’t responsible for, but as a race, as a country you are!
In Berlin in many places there are placards that talk about the lane or area being predominantly Jewish before the Nazi party came into power and then of course they were all herded off. There would be a small bench to sit on and think about that dismal time period by the placard.
“Reflect on it”
The Sachchenhausen concentration camp had a board that highlighted another important message which struck a chord with me – it urged people to see that such a crisis doesn’t take place again.
“Learn from this”
This is a strong way forward.
Reflecting & Learning from such a past is all we can do really!
The Hitler-Nazi episode was just one such blot in humanity’s past. When I visited Budapest I realized the extent of damage done by the Soviet labour camps during the same period. We recently have something similar going on in Myanmar with the Rohingya Muslim minority. And these are just a couple – there are so many more such dark history chapters all across the world. And we as humans need to know of them, accept them, reflect & learn!
This solo cycling trip, amongst other things, painted a whole new picture of Germany for me. I now think of friendly people, cycling infrastructure, picturesque country roads, lakes, boating, camping, eating potato and lots of good stuff. The people tend to be shy and they have this thing about making mistakes – they won’t take a chance. They refuse to talk in sign language because well you could misunderstand… & they are paranoid about their privacy – sharing an email with you is not the most common thing they will do but at the end of day they will help and create a caring situation for a solo woman cycling around – and that is what counts. 🙂
So, as I hunt for last bits of my gear for my next cycling trip in Melbourne, Australia I do miss Berlin. It is not that Melbourne is too expensive or it isn’t awesome in it’s own way. It is just that Berlin was for some reason easier on me or maybe it just seems that way in hindsight.
Here in Melbourne, I just have to dig a bit harder to get that one budget priced equipment. And the whole city is in front of me like an enigma.
And so I find myself writing this post down, sitting by the fireplace of my AirBnb host in Melbourne.
Travel can truly change the picture you are carrying in your head of a place. It definitely did that for me with Germany. And this country which I didn’t majorly feel for at all, is now a truly special one for me. Because it was the first place where I started my long distance cycling chapter, it will probably always remain so.