Sometimes the best things in life are the simple things.
Since most of this trip was not planned in advance, we spent some extra time buying train tickets and trying to reserve seats, which more often than not, must be done at the train station and could not be done online. So, the overnight train trip from Budapest to Nuremberg was spent sitting up in a seat, with too much air conditioning, no leg room, frequent stops and bright lights. (The overnight, un-air conditioned train ride through Poland during a heat wave was still worse. Just imagine six people in an enclosed cabin, only five-and-a-half seats and one window.)
After a very long night of no sleep, we arrived at the Nuremberg train station, gathered our bags and walked 30 minutes to Carlos’ cousin’s house–unannounced, of course. The housing complex was very well organized, with houses lined up with small walkways between the backyard gardens of one row to the front doors of another row. Each little house was narrow, but was three stories tall plus a basement. The laundry was in the basement; the kitchen and family room were on the first floor; two bedrooms, a room with a bathtub and shower and then a room for the toilet were on the second floor; and the master bedroom, small office space and balcony were on the third floor. Each house had a small backyard with enough room for a small patio with chairs and a small shed for bikes or a large garden.
Cars were parked in a separate communal structure, but each person had his own space, if he had a car. There was a metro stop and small grocery store within a 10-minute walk from the house. The main train station was approximately a 30-minute walk from the house. It was a very special experience to live with a German family for a week as there were many differences from how I grew up in the United States.
On our first day in Nuremberg we spent the afternoon catching up with Carlos’ cousin, telling her about our trip and getting to know her two kids–Aisha and Niko. Late in the afternoon, after Niko returned from school, we took Aisha to her ballet class. From ballet class we walked to the nearby park and played soccer with Niko to pass the time. Being able to walk or bike to the park, school and the grocery store gives these children a lot more freedom to grow up without their parents observing them at all times. Children also spend more time outside, playing in the park and playing with friends who live nearby.
Most of our trip in Nuremberg was spent with family, cooking, doing laundry, playing soccer at the park, reading bedtime stories and even washing a few dishes. After many long days of travel, it felt wonderful to be in a home and be surrounded by a family. And these children were amazing. Being born in Germany, they spoke German, they were also fluent in English, switching effortlessly between the two languages. As their mother is Venezuelan, the children were also learning Spanish. They comprehended most commands in Spanish but could not yet create their own sentences or converse comfortably in the language. I loved observing how the children and mother would flip between languages. Loving and adoring words were often in Spanish, general conversation was in English–most likely for the benefit of their guests–and when the children got angry or excited, they would often switch into their native German.
The two small excursions that we did take while in Nuremberg were both highlights of our trip. Carlos and I took a day-trip into downtown Nuremberg one day to visit the Dokumentationszentrum. This museum tells the story of Hitler’s rise to power in Germany and his subsequent fall. This museum will forever be ingrained in my mind because it is one of the best curated and best architecturally designed buildings I’ve ever seen. The building itself sits atop land that was designated by Hitler to become the Nazi headquarters. The regime fell before the building could be finished. The Documentation Center used the remnants of that building and added on to create the museum. When entering the museum, visitors are met with a large triangular protrusion from the front of the building and must climb a set of steep, black metal stairs to enter. The architecture is cold, and this protrusion gives a sense of hostility as well as aggression; it perfectly sets the tone for a museum about the rise and fall of the Nazi party. The reason I think that this museum is so successful is in how it told its story.
Though we all know the story of Hitler after he came to power and decided upon the ultimate solution to his Jewish problem, very few know how he gained power and how he ultimately fell, along with his party, at the Nuremberg trials. The story at the Document Center started from the very beginning, giving some background on Hitler’s childhood, his family and how he became active in the German government and slowly gained power. The focus of this story was politics, government, military action and power. I found this unique because most stories focus only on the individual stories of Jews and the terrible situation they were forced into. This narrative is incredibly important, but we cannot understand fully what happened to the Jews if we do not understand how Hitler and his regime came to power and held that power over the people of Germany and subsequently Europe. Carlos and I spent a lot of time remarking that we saw similarities in Hitler’s rise to power when compared to modern day governments throughout the world. The more we educate people and they understand how governments can slowly be corrupted, maybe we can prevent something like this from ever happening again. That is the importance of the Document Center.
On a lighter note, we also spent an afternoon visiting the town that holds the Guinness world record of having the most breweries per capita. It’s a small town with a lot of breweries and a ton of a really great beer. And some of the best schnitzel we had in Germany.
While in a neighboring town, we also visited the family castle of Claus von Stauffenberg, the man who attempted to assassinate Hitler. Anyone seen the 2008 movie Valkyrie? Yeah, I’ve been to that guys house. And by house, I literally mean castle.