Monday, June 15, 2015

Dachau Memorial

As part of the eighth grade curriculum at our school, and across all schools in Germany, the kids study World War II. They read Holocaust biographies, wrote articles and essays and then visited the Dachau concentration camp memorial, only a thirty minute drive away. I went along on the field trip, a bit anxious on how Tori would take all that sadness, but mostly because I was invited by Tori and the school! I’m guessing this won’t happen next year in high school. Anyway, it was a beautiful day. Our first day of sunshine. Everything was green and just the right contrast of life and death and renewal to make the experience approachable for grade eight.  While there, Tori told me she was surprised that we had not been before as a family. And she was right.
We took Phil and the twins back a few weeks later for a tour. Dachau has been in the news lately as many events were held, even at our school, celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Dachau camp liberation by US troops on April 29, 1945.
There we wandered around the grounds, entering through the infamous cast iron gate with the words : arbeti nacht frei. On the day we came with Tori’s class, we entered with no gate but by the time we exited the gate was there. Apparently, the gate was stolen earlier in the year and after much deliberation, a replica was made and put back in place. The memorial consists of the museum, the bunkers, the gas chambers and crematorium and memorials from the Christian and Jewish faith. All was sad of course, though the bunkers and crematorium, almost unbearable to think about. At these times, we left our guide and pondered the sites on our own.
We learned that the Dachau camp was established in 1933, first for political prisoners, and was used as the example for other concentration camps in the years that followed. It was stressed that Dachau was a work camp, not an extermination camp, though this distinction was mostly lost on us.  A map in the museum showed the Dachau camp plus all the so called subsidiary camps in the area. The map, exactly where we live, was covered in red dots indicating camps. The prisoner labor in German industry shocked us. Not only the well known 4,000 prisoners working at BMW but notes of 5 prisoners working at a downtown bakery. Over 12 years, over 200,000 prisoners were held at the camp. Over 40,000 prisoners were killed in Dachau.
On April 24, 1945, just days ahead of the American liberating troops, the prisoners were marched from Dachau to the Austrian border. The starved and ill prisoners were marched through many little villages we know, including the one we live in and the one the kids go to school in. On the day Tori studied this at school, she and I rode our bikes five minutes from our house to the Dachau Death March Memorial, on the main road and in front of the cemetery. We were saddened to learn that Himmler, the German Chief of Police, who increased the terror at Dachau, was from our tiny village. But we were also slightly cheered to hear that a former mayor from our village came up with the idea for marking the death march path with memorial statues. And that the anniversary is marked every year.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Twelve year old twins

Unbelievable! Time is really flying by these days. Not just because it’s the end of the school year. Not just because we’re moving in a few months. Not just because we’ve had away sports events every weekend in May. While life has been getting busy, so have the twins. Busy growing up. The twins, long ago called the babies, are now twelve. It’s hard to believe but the teenage years are almost here.  Before then, we’re savoring all remaining bits of childhood, including biggish birthday parties!
Royce had her party a week early, planning it around not only her sports but her siblings sports and her friends sports. In Germany, May is filled with numerous religious holidays. I think every week in May was a 4 day school week due to the holidays. We took advantage of one of those holidays to have Royce’s friends over for a Madagscar themed party. Royce wanted a scavenger hunt and she got one. Nothing says party like a pack of girls running around the house. Afterwards, we had a talent show and ate a five layer rainbow cake. We made balloon animals and rearranged furniture so all the girls could sleep in one room, together and giggly. It was Royce’s fourth birthday party at our house in Germany, with one friend from the 9 year old party coming to the 12 year old party, including the in between ones. A reminder that the twins really did grow up in Germany.
Adam’s party this year was a day of go karting and BBQ, including a few close friends and two high school juniors he knows and admires through swim team and boy scouts. Both older boys came and helped explain the go karts to the younger boys, basically adding a layer of coolness to the event that Phil and I could not produce. The go karts were pretty fast. The kids wore helmets and all sorts of safety belts but they did get knocked about from time to time, particularly then they missed a curve! Royce and Tori were cautious drivers, moving to the right when faster people wanted to pass. Not all the sixth grade boys followed these rules of the road so politely! After the twenty five minute race was done, the track provides everyone with stats; who went fastest on what lap. Clearly, the discussion of the stats was almost as fun as the driving.   
On the twins’ actual birthday, we had our morning rituals of balloons and candles in the breakfast. Then the ritual of me bringing in over fifty cupcakes to school! The kids had sports after school and Adam had a volleyball game at BIS, the other international school, north of Munich. Royce went to track practice and then came home to wait for Adam to have her birthday dinner and cake and family hoopla at about 9 pm. A busy day, a busy May. Time waits for no one but it’s good to know your twin sister waits for you, at least on your birthday.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Planes, trains and twins!

Tori and I had the strange experience of being the only people home over a recent weekend. Phil was away as were the twins. Phil is often away. Tori is often away too. But the twins? For a long time, they were the ones waiting at home but not anymore. Adam took the train to Vienna for a four day drama workshop and Royce flew to Warsaw for a middle school track meet. Once both twins were away, I cried and cried, missing the days of them holding our hands to cross the street, the excitement of taking off in a plane with them, the travel journals we used to keep. (thanks to Annie for kind emails during the crisis). Now they were doing all that on their own. Well, maybe not the journal part. Remarkably, Tori weathered the separation dry-eyed, with even the smallest hint of a smile.
It is a fun aspect of our lives here; the travel associated with our international school. Last year, the twins went on a school trip to Berchtesgarden, the south Tirolean bit of German, known for beautiful lakes, mountains, salt mines and Hitler’s Eagles Nest. This year, Tori went to northern Italy for a weeklong school trip. She travels to math competitions (this year Toulouse) as well. But the real travel, the almost every weekend travel, comes with sports. Why? Well, our school competes in a league with other international schools; the closest are in Zurich, Vienna and Frankfurt. One of the furthest; the Hague. Yes, we took a 15 hour train trip (one way) for a swim meet!

Typically, students have to be in sixth grade to travel with sports teams. Tori has been traveling with three sports for three years but the twins are new to it. They are sixth graders this year with Adam on the volleyball and Royce on the track team. Both were on the swim team and traveled with me to meets, but this was not nearly as exciting as travel with no parent on the bus, train or plane. It’s amazing how fast they got used to the new routine; sports bag, suitcase, passport, go.
When the kids go to another school, they room with families. Typically, they house with another kid from our school and stay with a family for a few nights. The kids eat with the family, make a little conversation, learn a little about their lives. They always report back on the nationality of the family and the languages they speak at home. One time, Tori was staying with a kid from our school who only spoke Russian. The family she stayed with only spoke Spanish. Except for their daughter who spoke English. Tori said the whole thing was great. Why? The Spanish dad worked at a chocolate factory and brought home samples! We’ve enjoyed hosting kids from all over the world, including a boy from Vienna, who was a twin and born at the same hospital in Maryland as our twins!
We have a “travel” phone that kids get to take with them and I long thought this was the excitement of the travel for the twins. Typically, Tori goes away and never contacts us. I mean never. Once she was gone for a three day tennis tournament without a single message. Royce and I assumed she had lost her phone, was upset about the loss and then played poorly. But no, she won all her matches and was too busy and excited to call. The twins, perhaps from seeing the no message stress up close and personal, are better at keeping in touch. Royce’s Warsaw family did not have wifi but she quickly figured out which cafes and restaurants did. She would buy a small drink and send a message and go back to run a race. Adam does even better. The softball (Tori) and the volleyball (Adam) teams often travel together. Adam reports  via texts and calls on all volleyball points scored and then recounts Tori’s games too. He basically our man on the inside, reporting on who Tori is talking to or sitting with if he gone over all sports. A little personal interest story along with all that sport stats is nice.