Brandenburg Gate at October Festival of Lights

What do you think of when you think of Germany? We spent several weeks there in October—so Octoberfest tends to come to mind. We did see lots of beer, but no fests. In fact, some cities have their Octoberfests in September.

Other connections we Americans might make about Germany is to cars (German engineering, etc.) and that there are no speed limits on their freeways—still true even though the German Green Party recently proposed limits as a fuel-saving climate action. This was rejected by the German parliament as deleterious to the German car industry and to German pride. However, a number of cities in Germany (and in other large European cities) have banned diesel vehicles that emit certain levels of particulates and nitrogen oxides.

Also, of course, it’s hard for me to think of Germany without thinking of the two World Wars, the Nazis, Hitler and the extermination of Jews. During our visits with several German friends, we heard stories about how their fathers were taken prisoner by the allies in World War II. One was captured by the British in the defeat of Rommel’s troops in north Africa. He was held there, along with a number of Italian prisoners. The German soldier prisoners were a tattered and starving lot, in much worse shape than the Italians. His father told him that when the British assigned the Italian prisoners to kitchen duties they (the Italians) helped their German allies by tossing extra loaves of bread over the fence into the German compound. When the British discovered this, they replaced the generous Italian bakers for other Italian bakers, but the clandestine food pipeline continued. Finally, the British put Germans in the kitchen. The extra bread rations disappeared.

One more story, this from another German friend. She is a psychologist, and volunteered to be a first responder as a grief counselor at the 2006 FIFA World Cup, held in Munich, in case there was a repeat of the 1972 Munich Olympics when Palestinian terrorists murdered eleven members of the Israeli team. When all went smoothly in 2006, not a killing in sight, she told me she felt good, for the first time in her life, about being German.

Of course there’s also the Berlin wall. A month ago, November 9, was the 30th anniversary of the fall of the wall. (You’d think the world’s political leaders would have learned by now that walls don’t work.) When we arrived in Berlin, the city was celebrating a Festival of Lights.

Giant birds at Berlin Festival of Lights

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