Germany Archives - St. Stephen's University

Forging Identity

By | 2017, Europe | One Comment

As I gaze back on the road we’ve traveled to date, I see the theme of identity steadily journeying alongside. This travel term has surfaced questions about who I am and where I belong, as travel tends to do, and I see the same questions being asked by the different nations we visit and defining their past and present narrative.

On a day trip to Girona, Italy, our tour guide Alex said that identity is fiction and “you choose the identities you want to embrace.” What an interesting thought he had. I guess I had never considered how much we are in control of our identities. At the same time, we cannot help what associations others have with our identity or what they are perceiving.

In Catalonia, the fight to preserve identity continues. The Catalan’s are unable to fully embrace their desired identity in part because of the larger state of Spain. They want to speak freely in their native tongue and continue their traditional customs but certain laws and the constant flow of tourism makes this next to impossible.

Slovakia’s budding identity is still forming as the post-Soviet nation has only emerged from Austro-Hungarian despot in the last 100 years. The ability to explore individual identity and private investment is still new to them and the messy tension of that transition is apparent.

The German identity has been so profoundly impacted by Nazism that, when speaking with them, it feels as though WWII happened yesterday. The events of the war are present in the minds and hearts of German people, informing the way they see themselves more significantly than I had imagined. Their history is in the open.

Identity is always shifting, growing, deconstructing and reconstructing. As much as identity is fiction it is real, fought over, and sacrificed for. I’ve found that the very questions permeating my curious heart are the same questions that have followed humanity in every place it has called home. It’s been amazing to see first hand evidence of the rise and fall of vast empires and to see human beings, consistently in suspense and incomplete, remain through it all.

Hello from Saxony!

By | 2011, Europe | No Comments

I (Shelley Perry) am now taking over trip updates from Angela Stanley who has moved into the role of overseeing the entirety of the kitchen component of the trip.

We have now entered the second half of the trip and with it has come some changes. The group ended their time in Italy with the first real rainfall of the trip. Venice brought with it new leaders (Shelley & Kendall Kadatz and I) while testing us (and our tents) with a thunder storm. Unfortunately the poor weather continued as we crossed the Alps but spirits remained high as clips of the Sound of Music were played during the long bus ride to Zell Am See–a picturesque ski town in Austria.  There we took a day trip to Obersalzburg to a museum called The Eagle’s Nest which was once Hitler’s retreat centre and bunker. Now the site houses an extremely informative exhibit on the rise of the National Socialist Party in Germany and the effects of Nazism on Germany.  The campground, set quietly on a pristine lake was a stark contrast to the noisy, busy sites in Italy to which the group had been accustomed.

From there we made our way to what was once the cultural centre of the Holy Roman Empire, Vienna!  With espresso to die for, Beethoven, the waltz, Gustav Klimt and copious amounts of Baroque architecture, what more could we ask for in one city? We even had the privilege of scoring tickets to the Opera (standing room only) to see Wagner’s Die Walküre!  Vienna also brought relief from the rain and the arrival of Peter and Mary Ellen Fitch. Sadly this meant saying goodbye to both the Thiessens and the Barhams as the trip leadership officially changed for the second half.

From Vienna we made a brief stop in Prague, Czech Republic where we met up with SSU alumni, John and Roberta Bartos, currently living in Moravia. Students were intrigued to see evidence of a country still emerging from decades under Soviet rule. Truly it is a city where Eastern Europe meets the west. The visit to the Museum of Communism was particularly helpful in understanding the countries tumultuous past and relatively peaceful revolution in 1989 (the Velvet Revolution).

After some more rain in Prague, the group was more than happy to arrive at our current accommodations near Dresden, Germany.  This is SSU’s second time at Rohrsdorf, a castle that has been turned into a Christian artist community. Here we will spend our 4 days cooking gourmet meals (with an oven), sleeping indoors, and taking an intentional mid-trip break to catch up on rest and work.  Our only program time took place today with a phenomenal tour of Dresden with a new friend and guide, Grit, who enlightened us on Saxon history, the firebombing of the city by the Allies in 1945, and the complicated process of transition for East Germany after the unification.

All in all everyone is doing well and we (the leadership) are continually impressed with everyone’s positive attitudes and care for one another.


Goodbye for now!

Shelley Perry

He Restores My Soul

By | 2010, Europe | No Comments

While in Dresden we visited the Frauenkirche, a church which was destroyed during World War II in the Dresden firebombing. The story of this church became intensely personal to me and has been colouring the trip for me.

The Frauenkirche was originally thought to have survived the bombing, however, two days afterward, the dome collapsed thereby reducing the church to stones and dust. It stayed this way until the reunification of Germany in 1990. The church was then reconstructed using the blueprints from the original church as well as sandstone from the same quarry the original sandstone was from. All the rubble was gone through to see what could be reused. Some of the stones were placed back where they had been originally, other stones were used to make up entire sections. The church was consecrated in 2005.

At the beginning of the trip Gregg Finley read to us Psalm 23. He emphasized verse three which reads, “He restores my soul”. In Jeremy Wiebe’s philosophy 300 class last semester we read an article on sexual violence, I don’t remember the author or the title of the article, but there was a particular sentence which stood out to me, I will paraphrase: “When our lives are shattered and lying in pieces we are given the opportunity to pick them up and choose what we want to keep and what we want to throw away”. Is it possible that the restoration of a church such as the Frauenkirche could speak not only of the restoration of  a building but also of individual human souls?

Last semester was very difficult for me, not academically, but personally. I spent most of the semester bitter and angry, broken hearted and lost; my life felt, and to some extent still feels like a pile of rubble. Just as the rubble of the Frauenkirche was gone through, some reused, some thrown away, so am I going through the pieces of my life, choosing what I want to keep and what I want to throw away. And just as the Frauenkirche was restored to its original beauty and brilliance in the Dresden skyline, so is God restoring my soul.

Everything is not lost

By | 2010, Europe | No Comments

Our experience visiting Dachau, the first concentration camp in Germany, is difficult to put into words. The first thing I noticed was the immense amount of sadness throughout the camp. Even though many years have passed since it was in use fear and sadness still lingers within its walls. I walked around the camp for hours on what felt like blood and bones. Scattered across the grounds I found barracks, gas showers, and crematoriums, all these places made me question humanity and the evil we are capable of. I don’t understand how people can torture one another in such a way as to dehumanize them, or the hatred that one can feel towards a different religious group or race. All these questions left me feeling quite disturbed. What struck me the most was a video in the museum; it was an interview of a former prisoner who was retelling his experience of living in the concentration camp. Despite the cruelty he faced, and the vile living conditions he was subject to, this boy still found the ability to smile and even laugh. I was amazed at a human being’s ability to endure suffering and then eventually overcome such a horrendous event. Where does that kind of strength come from? These people were striped of everything that made them human, yet some were still able to find restoration. It makes me wonder where we find this kind of strength? Is it hope? Or God? Or both? I don’t know because I don’t think I will ever know what it felt like to be in their position. This idea of restoration seems to be a major theme on this trip. I have seen it quite literally in Rome while watching a Caravaggio piece being restored. I saw it again in Dresden, Germany at the Frauenkirche Church, which was burnt down in the fire bombings of WW2 and then rebuilt using some of the original bricks as a symbol of restoration to the people. The concept of restoration has continually been showing up in the conversations I have had with other students. Through seeing art and architecture restored and hearing other people’s stories of restoration I have realized one can find great strength and even hope in overcoming their own experiences. Nothing can compare to what the Jews endured, but I feel blessed to have seen evidence of restoration in my own life, my friend’s lives, and all over Europe.

Where’d the Bad Guys Go?

By | 2010, Europe | No Comments

The past few weeks, the carnage and slaughter and senselessness of the World Wars have been a common theme for our program days.  It began with our stay in Dresden, a cultural mecca of pre-war Germany that was levelled ruthlessly during WWII without precedent, literally disintegrating thousands of civilians in the middle of the night as they huddled in their bomb shelters; it is now a city alive with a sense of restoration and commemoration of the past.  Next was Dachau, the Nazi concentration camp that became the model and training centre for the running of all other camps during Hitler’s dictatorship, where thousands of lives were worked away, and tonnes of innocent blood soaked into the ground that is now a garden.  This past week, we’ve seen the front lines of WWI–Vimy Ridge and Hill 60, and Ypres–where men threw themselves headlong into the work of killing and dying; where men suffered and slogged witlessly in the trenches and tunnels of bloody, muddy, otherwise insignificant kilometres.

A few days ago, we visited a museum focusing specifically on the battles around Ypres in Belgium, called the ‘In Flanders Fields Museum’ in recognition of John McCray’s famous poem.  Here I learned that Belgium had been promised the ability to remain neutral but found itself overrun with the armies of its neighbours, forced to fight or fall, because of its bad luck to be in between the two great enemies, France and Germany.  Poor, unfortunate Belgium!  The entirety of Ypres was reduced to rubble after three battles meant to defend it, and is now surrounded by over a hundred cemetaries, many of the gravestones marking the graves of soldiers “known only to God.”

I think the hardest thing about all of these experiences is having to acknowledge and coming face to face with the conviction that Canada, the “good’ side, also slaughtered and rejoiced over fields of battle strewn with snuffed out lives and spread the myth of the glory of war.  Admitting that there was no “good” side in these horrific events, realizing that all that really mattered were the lives that ended and the lives that only half continued and the lives that were left behind, has definitely been a challenge for such a determined believer in the romanticism and heroism in everyday life as I am.  Why is it so easy to glorify the victory of the Canadians at Vimy Ridge–the troops who didn’t even have their own country yet, idealized with wonderful comraderie and determination–after all, we did what the powerful French and British couldn’t!  Why is it so unpleasant to see the shell ravaged territory, to hear of the Allies, the “good guys”, creating killing fields, deliberately trapping the young, hapless “enemy” into several crossfires at once?  Why is it so easy to make a monster of another people, and not realize that this tactic is one of the most dangerous enabler of that sequel to the Great War that was to end all wars??

The In Flanders Fields Museum brought this home in a new and poignant way with its indiscriminate display of both sides, any nationality involved in the war, from any “side”.  Here’s a few of the quotes they had:

I caught sight of a German the day before yesterday. He was building fortifications 50 metres away from me. I had to kill him, didn’t I? I took a rifle, quite calmly I took aim, and he fell. And yet I can see the features of that man with perfect clarity.  I think it’s very much like a murder. Horrible!” -Maurice Laurentin

They came out of their trenches and walked across unarmed, with boxes of cigars and seasonable remarks.  What were our men to do? Shoot? You could not shoot unarmed men.” -Count Gleichen, Christmas 1914

The night of Christmas Eve, 24.12.14, it was my privilege to play Father Christmas and to carry a Christmas tree to my company commander in the trenches at the very front.  There was a new moon, and the bright starlit sky was lit even more brightly by the tracer bullets from the two front lines.  For me, they were beautiful Christmas illuminations.  Nothing was heard, except machine gun fire from time to time, or a short burst of shots.  Sometimes an infrantryman would shoot to the left or to the right of me, but I knew that the enemy would not use me as a target, despite the light which was as strong as day, because I was Father Christmas, and I was carrying the decorated tree.” -Carl Muhlegg

“All sorts of stories have been circulated regarding the meeting of the enemy and British troops between the trenches.  Luckily the troops holding our immediate line of trenches just waited until the Germans got out of the trenches, then they let them have it, rapid fire; it stopped any of this ‘scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’ sort of nonsense.” -Bryden McKinnell

I for one see no accusable monster here. I’m ashamed to have ever believed in “the enemy”.

Germany and Onward!

By | 2010, Europe | No Comments

The trip is nearing its end and as it slowly creeps upon us I anticipate it more and more.  I have thoroughly enjoyed being on this trip but at the same time I await its end with a certain amount of excitement and anxiousness. We are currently in Belgium and have just completed our day trip to Bruges in which many of us enjoyed a tour of a local brewery.  Before arriving in Belgium we traveled from Paris, which was both an expensive and beautiful city. Prior to visiting Northern France we enjoyed staying in Zug Switzerland, which had a lovely lake to swim and cool down in.  Over all of the other countries I think that I was most fond of Germany. It was my favorite because of the people there.  I remember that they were very friendly and helpful whenever I stopped to talk with them.  Part of my positive impression of the German people was formed by our hosts in the castle where we stayed just outside of Dresden.  I also remember having a very friendly taxi driver who I spoke to on our way home from the soccer game we attended in the city of Dresden.

I also appreciated the architecture that we saw in Germany, such as the Glockenspiel and St. Michaels Church.  The Glockenspiel is a great example of German material culture.  It shows the German peoples’ love for art as well as music.  St. Michaels is also a prime example of material culture.  I was especially intrigued by the the statue of the archangel Michael defeating Satan on the facade of the church. During the Reformation it was viewed as St. Michael defeating the Protestants, as the majority of the people in the city at that time were Catholic.  The statue also reminded me of our myth course as it can be viewed as a mythological battle between Michael and Satan as well as the Protestants.  Overall, Munich was a great city for viewing the material culture of the German people.

Matt Caldwell