For me, the Jewish identity is very strong. All of the time, it is a big part of me. But never do I feel so Jewish like when I am within the German borders. Not when I am among the Israelis. Not even when I am by the Lower East Side.
Maybe five, six times I was to Germany. Always business, never pleasure. Like many Jewish people, Germany makes me uncomfortable. To walk on the ground. Where it happened, the epicenter.
You can never forget, not for a minute. Everywhere you go, there are plaques to tell you right here is where they killed this many Jews, over there is where they burned that synagogue.
And the older people, maybe it’s a prejudice, but you can’t help wonder what they did or did not do. Did this one join the Nazis? Did that one hide the Jews? Did the other one look the other way?
For the first trip to Germany, I was in Frankfurt. I was by myself over the weekend, intent to keep busy and active. I got a tourist map that displayed artwork for several attractions and I set about a walking tour of the town.
A picture of an ornate looking structure was labeled “Kaiserdom”. I followed the map expecting to find some king’s palace. Instead, it was an ancient cathedral. OK, some history.
An illustration of a few gabled buildings named “Römer” led me to a lively plaza in the oldest part of town filled with beer gardens, sausage stands, and costumed oom pah pah bands. OK, a little tradition.
A drawing of some trees marked “Palmengarten” brought me to the botanical park to enjoy the greenhouses, flowerbeds, and a lake. OK, a bit of nature.
It was going so well that I decided to use the remaining sketches as my compass, confident that each image would guide me to a pleasant spot.
In this way, I came to see the chorale rehearsing at the Alte Oper, the animals frolicking at the Zoologischer, the socialists demonstrating on the Zeil; the various sights and sounds of Frankfurt.
Finally, I had visited all of the destinations on the map except for one. A grand, imposing building called Hauptbahnhof. It was a very long walk and this made me hesitate, but I was having such good luck and it was a truly glorious day.
So I walked and I walked and I walked. As I got nearer, it seemed that a large number of pedestrians, mostly locals, were going my same way. I thought to myself that this must be some special place to entice so many people.
When I had walked for more than an hour and the journey’s end was at last in close view, it was clear that I had reached Frankfurt’s grand central. The railway station.
Although I was exhausted — did I mention that my foot was encased in fiberglass? — I turned around and commenced the long walk back to the hotel. What else could I do? Get on a train? A Jew? In Germany? Are you kidding?
© 2013 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.