A journey of emotion....
Berlin and Krakow (or, in the respective languages - Berliner and Cracow)
Sunday 3rd February - Sunday 9th February.
Sunday 3rd February -
I arrived at Ryde Pier head at approximately 6.23pm, 7 minutes earlier than the original suggested time... I was eager! We were regestered into different teaching groups, where we discovered that Mr. Jackson had suspiciously chosen the most attractive girls and most feminine boys for his group. Myself, Laura Kennedy, Vicki Christopher, Bella Hoyle, Tom Morgan and Stuart Austin, where among such students.
I forget what time it was when we made the short crossing over to Portsmouth (the city with the very original title), and loaded our ridiculously heavy luggage onto the coach with high expectations. Speedy Laura had managed to reserve 4 seats for the 4 of us who wanted them - me, Laura herself, Bella and Vicki. These seats were situated behind the very very front seats at the top of the coach. It had been our intention to sit on the very very front seats, but once there, we had discovered, to our dismay, that to watch the TV from such an angle would have prevented us from ever moving our heads again. We let some other people suffer this misery instead. Those people were - Ozzie, Tom Morgan, Mr. Brazier (who's name we like to pronounce in a northern accent, with emphasis on the 'a' so it sounds like we have a terrible sense of humour) and Mr. Windsor.
We arrived at Dover at about 11pm, after a painful showing of 'Pearl Harbour' which proved too lengthier film for a group of 63 students and 6 teachers all extremely excited, and although afraid to admit it, where dying to yell out every 5 seconds 'Are we there yet?'
As well as Pearl Harbour being the very wet film that it is, our coach too was getting wet. Yes, we were leaking. Squeals of excitement could be heard for miles as the first little drips fell on some poor teenage head (or maybe it was a teacher, but whats the difference?), but by the third leak, it seemed quite serious, but as it was left alone at the time, I am going to leave it alone now.
On the enormous ferry, with the fantastic opportunity to roam the boat, look at the exciting shops, and laugh at the constant swaying motion of those in the corridors, I simply brought a tooth brush for 80p and sat down at a table. Although, I cannot deny, even here, it was not easy to hold in the odd giggle as people passing by looked, as Paul Whitehouse likes to say in that low gruff old mans voice, that both Mr. Brazier and Mr. Jackson try despertaely to imperosnate, very very drunk.
Monday 4th February -
We arrived in Calais at around 2am, it was at this time of morning, when it seemed so appropriate, that another film was shown - Shrek. I don't remember the times of every single service station stop, which is lucky for you, as
it could get quite tedious. The films I remember watching on that long, fun filled, enjoyable journey were American Pie, Road Trip and Toy Story 2. The Youth Hostel came into site at about 5pm, until the bus drivers realised this wasn't the Youth Hostel at all, and we arrived at the real one at about 5.05pm. Even though we had only spent 4 days there one whole year ago, Laura, Bella, Vicki and I all felt like we were home. On the third floor as we had been last time, we were sad that the view from our window was not exactly the same as it was last year, because 16 year olds like that sort of thing - views. Our first dinner in the youth hostel was, to be frank (sorry, just to stop myself in my most wonderful trail of thought, but where does the expression 'to be frank' come from? Was there once a man named Frank who avoided white lies? Or is it just one of those pointless English sayings
that someone said once and it sounded good and now is said an awful lot? Who knows?) anyway, to be frank, it was hostile! The cold pasta, which I am sure could have been nicer with some forethought, was deliciously smothered in some sort of orange, tomatoe and carrott source with suspicious lumps in it.
But I am speaking for myself, this was my vegetarian option, and in truth it wasn't that bad, infact, it was quite nice, I just write that it wasn't, and make sarcastic comments for amusment purposes.
A pool tournament began that evening in a room which consisted of several chairs, large windows, which were large enough to throw someone out of if they got annoying (infact I am surprised they didn't throw me out) and a pool table. I did not take part for fear of killing someone. I am not good at pool. I did however, with the most intelligent sense of humour that I have, take amusing pictures of peoples bottoms.
Sleep that night was welcomed after a shower and a nasty experience with my new toothbrush. (It made my gums bleed. Do not laugh at this.)
Tuesday 5th February -
Day 3, and so far my historical knowledge has grown no larger. But today, that would change....
We went to the Wansee Villa, which I understand a lot more since I watched the Conspiracy programme with the fantastically sexy Colin Firth, who is to always be admired (apart from in The English Patient, when to admire him would be about as insulting to Ralph Fiennes as telling him he looked better with a pie on his face and a walrus on his leg.)
Anyway..... The Wansee villa is a place of great importance, and not to be joked about. It was in this very building where the infamous Wansee Conference was held, hosted by Adolf Eichman. Here on January 20th 1941, Heinrich Himler sentenced over 5 million Jews and other ethnic minorities to their death. Knowing this, and having been there is an experience enough, in three days time, we would see evidence of the 'solution to the Jewish problem' which would realise the suspected evil that once existed in this very place.
The Reichstag was the reason for our next stop of the day. An impressive building - home of the German government, and of great significance to the Nazi rise to power. This visit is not all about experiencing high levels of security, and lovely views, although some people very much enjoyed both these things. Hitler became chancellor of Germany on January 30th 1933. When he won another election in March, the Reichstag gave him power to make laws without its consent. Although he was now chancellor, Hitlers power was limited. Only three of eleven government ministers were Nazis. The Nazi party had less than half the seats in the Reichstag. Hitler looked for ways of increasing his power. Using every kind of propaganda, as well as mass meetings and parades, the Nazis aimed for a big win.
The Nazi election campaign was given a boost on February 27th 1933 by an unexpected event. The Reichstag burnt down. It was a communist called Marinus van der Lubbe who was caught at the scene of the blaze. Historians disagree about how the fire was started. Some say that the Nazis started it, and accused van der Lubbe so they could blame the communists. Whoever started the fire, it was very convenient for the Nazis. A few facts about the Reichstag for you there.
Our next visit, was by no means a historical one - futuristic maybe. The TV tower - its farely big, a few metres higher than the Eifel tower, but nothing to go flying your plane into. With a single lift, and no emergency stairs, we felt about as safe as a cast member of Final Destination. We had little chance to enjoy the movement of the revolving cafe as, it seemed, everyone in the world insisted, it would be far to expensive to sit there for a while. Something I am still wondering about. The views from here make the TV Tower worthy of a visit from Michael Palin.
After our exciting, jam - packed day (which sadly involved very little jam), we went back to the hostel to experience another 'hot' German meal.
In the evening, a trip I was very much looking forward to - a journey to Checkpoint Charlie. About 30 minutes coach drive, or 5 minute walk away from the hostel, Checkpoint Charlie is of great historical importance in Germany. The crossing point from East to West, still used less than 20 years ago.
In the museum, I learnt of some of the ways in which people tried to make their way from one side of the Berlin wall to the other. One woman laid accross two suitcases, which had been cut to fit her inside, astonishing pictures of this were displayed in the museum. Others hid in car boots or even bonets in hope of being smuggled succesfully. It was here I brought a genuine piece of the Berlin wall.
A very educational and interesting Day 3.
Wednesday 6th February -
Today a trip, had I known about in advance, I would have let down the tyres on the coach. The Resistance museum brought back memories of hour long talks, after a 24 hour trip, of aspects of Nazi Germany I had not yet learnt about. It was in this very place which last year, I fell asleep and began to snore, during the far from exciting, black and white showing of German soldiers marching and occasionally speaking German. However, on this occasion, I was to be pleasantly surprised. The talk and tour lasted no more than an hour, and was extremely educational and beneficial. Our guide spoke better English than me! It was here we learnt about how different social groups resisted against the Nazis, an interesting contrast to what we had learnt so far. After our visit here had ended, our history learning had finished in Berlin, so we went to the zoo!
A very nasty zoo I have to say, no room for the animals to go for a run! We wanted to communicate with the monkeys, but Mr. Jackson is never there when you need him!
Zoo was followed by shopping, the one thing everyone had been very much looking forward to.....
We were lead, agonisingly, to a large shopping centre called KaDeWe, which can only be described as the German version of John Lewis, only everything is 10 times as expensive. Despite our comical pleads to various teachers to go to the same shopping centre as we had done the year before, we were told to spend two and a half hours at KaDeWe. Of course, Bella, Laura, Vicki and I spent no more than two minutes there. We later found out the teachers had also been elsewhere. On this shopping trip, I managed to purchase the most flared pair of trousers in Germany. Bright red, and so fantastically flared that should I need to smuggle anyone back across the channel, I should have no trouble. Laura, who felt no need to buy clothes, but would rather have something amusing to throw at walls, brought a fake willy - one which, when you throw it, quite ingeniously sticks to walls, windows, tables etc. A toy Miss Elliott loved to fondle.
In the evening, we were scheduled for a night in the hostel, getting our things packed ready for tomorrow. After another mouth watering (or puke -provoking) meal, myself, Felix, Daryl, Vicki, Sam, Paul and Laura engaged in a game of 'seaters anonymous' - a game I would recommend to any people with no history of sanity in the family. We sat in chairs around a small table in the downstairs area of the hostel, and every time a new person came over to join us, we would stand up and clap them, before I would say 'Hello, and welcome to seaters anonymous, please take a seat.' Wewould take it in turns to each describe how our seat made us feel, once we had gone round in a full circle, we would all stand up and move to another seat. We had to act with complete sincerity and listen to what others had to say. It was a great deal of fun. I most enjoyed listening to Paul explaining that his seat made him feel like an astronaught, in a southern American accent.
It was while we were happily playing 'seaters anonymous' that Mr. Jackson and Miss Elliott sped over to us (unfortunately not with excitement about the game) and told us quite dramatically to quickly go to our rooms, and stay in them!! With no time for questions, or a chance to bid our fellow seaters farewell, Laura, Vicki and I madeour way to the third floor. On our way up the stairs, I heard Laura say 'Lucy, have you heard this? Daryl said we have to go back into our rooms because of the stalker.' Extremely confused and feeling a bit like I was in one of Mrs McGuffins french lessons, I paused on the stairs...... as the lights went out. We all got very scared and pushed our way through the nearest door - what fun - now we were living like the famous five! Once in our area, we were greated by a group of 5 or 6 girlies sitting on the benches with Miss Elliott. The rumour was confirmed ... there was a stalker in the building!! We sat around for a few hours, at first, we jumped at every sound, but once Laura got her willy out, the atmosphere changed!
It was around about this time, we heard a rather amusing tale, of a notice displayed on one of the toilet doors. Eager to make this a memorable toilet door, we rushed to the place of amusment, cameras in hand. Here on the door of the girls loos, was a sign - 'Out of order due to constipation.' This was a sign which had been translated into English by the Germans, who clearly did notcome across the world 'blocked' or 'blockage' in their translating book!
Safe in the knowledge that should the stalker find us, he would be immediately scared off by 10 women throwing a willy about, we enjoyed the rest of the evening.
Thursday 7th February -
Off to Poland, a much anticipated journey. Well, it was a bit longer than we had originally thought, as we had been held up at the border for two hours, while a silent Polish man collected our passports and played 'spot the difference' between passport photos and the people. Mr. Windsor proved do be awful at this game, and handed Hattie, Laura's passport.
The film, I had been much looking forward to watching on the journey, was 'Schindlers List.' It was the first time I had seen the film, and although knowing Steven Spielberg had directed it, I wasn't sure what to expect. I wasn't disappointed, and despite how harrowing it is, and the emotional effect it has, I would recommend this film to anyone. A great way of illustrating a very horrific subject. Although, I must stress, from what we saw the next day, there is so much more that one film couldn't possibly teach you.
The second film, was a very dramatic change. We watched Coyote Ugly - quite possibly the worst film I have ever seen. I don't pretend to be a film critic, I would never want to be one. (Critics haven't got a clue what they are talking about, otherwise they would be doing the thing they are critisising! What I have just said, suggests I should be a critic for saying that.. and that.. and that!) Anyway... I am allowed to critisise this film - as I am going to make films one day!!! Coyote Ugly was a pathetic, pradictable film, with an unoriginal plot. If you were watching it for the first time, you would know it word for word! If this plot were a real life case, then the cast would be pretty stupid, and probably all on drugs!
As we entered Poland (which, by the way, was before they put on Schindlers List), the sky changed - or at least it seemed that sudden. I wasn't the only one trying to take pictures through the coach window, at the sun which was shining through a blue cloud which covered the sky. It looked like there were hundreds of 'stairways to heaven' beaming down. I only mentioned this, as it is something I distinctively remember, and felt it to be extremely symbolic of our educational experience in Poland.
The ride was a bumpy one - the roads were awful, and in comparison to Germany, relatively empty.
It took us ten hours altogether to get to our extremely wonderful 4* hotel, which was quite possibly, the nicest hotel I have ever been in. Apart from their hazardous showers (but more about that later on)......
It was about 8.30pm when we arrived in Krakow, and even in the dark, it looked pretty. Now, I am going to say this, as it will become important later on, I remember leaving my passport on my seat and forgetting to pick it up andput it in my bag. I realised this when we got off the coach and told Hattie. Hattie will back me up on this one. Anyway.....
We were taken inside, and got into our groups. I was to be sharing a room with Laura and Hattie. Once he key was in our hands, we hurried upstairs to inspect our room. WOW! 3 enormous beds, bedside tables, one of those big posh lamps, a seperate toilet room, seperate shower room, wardrobes, shelves, chairs and a table, a TV with sky channels, a telephone, and best of all - a balcony!!! Fantastic!
The meal was fantastic also. It began with yummy noodle soup, followed by some sort of cheesy squadgy thing with rice, and then a not - so - apitising - when - you -feel - like - you've - eaten - a - horse, pudding. It was all very posh - waiter service you know. In comparison with Germany, this was a dream!
After dinner, we were allowed back up to our rooms, which was great, coz it was about 10.00pm, and after a ten hour journey, we all wanted showers. Big mistake!!
I opted for first shower, so I could go to bed earlier....another big mistake!! Unlike the ones at the Youth Hostel in Berlin, these showers were POWERFUL!! Well, at least, they are, if you keep turning the taps round so far that they get stuck!! I think I will now metion, that this shower had no door on it, just a shower curtain, and you stand in a tub like sqaure wherethe drain is, which is about 30cm away from the bathroom floor. This tub like sqaure was beginning to fill rather rapidly, and it was at this point, I realised the taps were stuck. Confused, and a little terrified, I almost fell out of the shower! Grabbing the nearest thing to hand - a hair towel, I ran in to Hattie and Laura, who were quite shocked by the whole experience! The floor of the bathroom was all wet, and as the bathroom had no door either, the water was finding its way onto the carpet of the next room. Too dry and unsure of what to do, Hattie and Laura refused to attempt to turn the taps off, but insisted on screaming instead. It was at this point, there was a loud knock at the door. Without considering my naked self, covered only by a small towel, Laura opened the door to Mr. Jackson! At the time, I was more concerened about the flooding than anything else, and after I had explained what happened backed into the room with a door!
Luckily Mr. Jackson managed to turn the taps off and when Hattie had the same problem when she showered, Laura was able to turn the taps off before the flooding happened again!
Once we were all safely showered, we got into our comfybeds and enjoyed a good nights sleep!
Friday 8th February -
Nothing can prepare anyone for Auschwitz, and this is 2002.
I will have trouble explaining this one, as it is not so much what you see, hear, or learn in Auschwitz, but it is what you feel.
The journey there was full of aprehension, I knew this was going to be an experience I would remember for the rest of my life. I think everybody else felt the same.
It was not very cold when we left in the morning, but only an hours drive away at the concentration camp, I felt cold like I have never felt cold before.
Outside the infamous gates, I was able to look in, and already I felt numb. We werent even inside yet, and I was unsure if it was only me who felt this way, but as I looked around, everyones faces appeared drained, expressionless, mouths slightly open. Everyone was numbed by the feeling. The undescribable feeling.
I couldnt feel the wind at this point, but I could hear it. As we moved towards the gates, they shut in our faces. Our guide pushed them open again. Symbolic I thought - nobody was EVER meant to enter Auschwitz.
Once through the gate, the wind hit me. Icey cold wind that is constantly blowing against you, in whichever direction you turn. Already, it was impossible to think of anything else.
Inside the buildings, it was like walking into history. Its like you are breathing different air. I heard every word the guide said and it all went in, and I understood what she was saying, but some sort of block wouldnt let me think about it. The words would flow, with no time to consider a response. Only when I had left Auschwitz was I able to think about what was being said.
Some people were able to think though, and it got them, and they cried. Other people were already crying because they didnt know how to react to the feeling.
We were walking around the most evil place on this earth, and whether you believe in evil or not, this was it.
I know very well that it isn't there any more, that you can no longer hear the cries of dying people, or see them in their thousands starved, freezing, tired and ill. I know there arent people on their way to certain death, or to torture, to lonliness and horror. But they have been, and they are dead, and it happened. It DID happen. This is real, and no one could imagine anything worse. Ordinary people. Children, Mothers, Fathers, Brothers, Sisters, Grandmas, Grandads, Uncles, Aunties, Cousins, Friends. Being in Auschwitz, is seeing the evidence, feeling the evidence, and knowing what happened, knowing that it did happen. And that, is like seeing it actually happen.
People, just like you and me, were forced to their deaths in this place. No chance of escape, no hope. Seperated from their families and friends, alone. Auschwitz wasn't just about death, it was about humiliating people, and making them suffer. It was about putting each and every one of them through something more evil than their worst nightmare. A fear, that unless you have experienced it, you will never be able to comprehend.
These were human beings, they had feelings. They weren't stupid, they were scared.
Visiting Auschwitz now, an element of that fear is still there, it lingures in the atmosphere. You breathe it in.
The cold is there. The freezing cold, and you can feel it, but you can't think about how cold it is, you're mind is too busy dealing with the effects of being in Auschwitz.
There was a time, when we were going through the museum, that I thought I might never cry again. I felt more upset than I have ever felt in my life. I had never felt like that before. So very upset, too upset to cry maybe? No. When we entered the room with the glass case full of hair, something got me. Something got me in my throat, and I couldn't move. That could be my own hair from my own head - you can feel the fear. In the same room was a glass case of childrens clothes, and childrens boots. They had no strength, all they had was innocence, but they too were guilty in this Nazi regime. I cried then, and I wanted to cry, I wanted to let it all out right then, but something wouldn't let me, something tried to stop me, and that was myself. Even though I didnt know it at the time, if I had let myself go then I wouldnt have been able to function properly, I wouldnt have been able to walk, or see, or listen. This did happen to one or two people, one or two people, who, perhaps sensibly showed their emotion, maybe it damages you more if you don't.
It makes you question the existance of god more than anything else could question it. If God does exist, then why is Auschwitz here? Maybe God did exist once, but died when he realised what he had created.
You canot imagine what the victims of the holocaust went through, you cannot imagine how they felt. This was more than death. They saw their friends and family die. Murdered. They were treated worse than you would treat a rat. This was organised torture. 1000 people would sleep in a block built for 52 horses. They had nowhere to go to the toilet, and if you werent lucky enough to get onto the top or middle bunk, you would end up with your head in the mud. They had nothing to wash with, all their hair had been shaven from their bodies, their was no chance of warmth.
The average life expectancy of anyone in Auschwitz was three weeks. Three weeks of humiliation, being made to do pointless jobs such as carry heavy stones from one place to another, and be beaten if you stop. Knowing if you fall ill, you will be sent to your immediate death.
The things they went through we cannot imagine, and a lot of it we will never know.
But being in Auschwitz can show you something.
Inside the gas chambers, and the crematorium, there is still a linguring smell. Burning, and you know everyone else can smell it too, and it doesnt make sense. After almost 60 years, how can it still stink? I did not say one word the whole time I was in Auschwitz 1, and niether did anyone else, but when I went into those gas chambers, the minute I walked through the door, and I didnt know who I was speaking to, but I just said 'the smell.' When I walked into that room, there were only two other people in there, but it felt like I was surrounded by people, right up close to me. It was something in the air. 'That is nonsense' a lot of people would say, but unless you have been to Auschwitz you cannot be expected to understand.
Auschwitz 2 - Birkenau, was so much bigger than I had expectedit to be. It seemed to go on for miles, and in one direction you could not see where it ended. All this space was used for death. All this space was filled with hundreds of thousands of people, some alive, some dead, some unsure.
I don't know what it was that I felt that day, but I know everyone felt it. I am glad, because it changes the way you see things, it changes the way you look at life. I think, it makes you a better person.
It took me a week to wake up. I didnt want to do anything when I got home. It was all I could think about, and I think it will be in my mind somewhere, every day for the rest of my life. Maybe I should have let it all out then, but it's hard to know what to do, it's hard to let it in.
Nothing can prepare anyone for Auschwitz.