At World Travel Market in London last November, on US election day as a matter of fact, I had a conversation with an American delegate who had voted Trump. It wasn’t so much that he liked the guy, he admitted, as much as he hated Hillary. Despised Hillary. Turned purpled and frothed at the mouth just talking about Hillary…
My conversation with this well-heeled travel industry executive included the following remarkable exchange:
Me: So, you’re saying that given the choice between Hillary and Hitler, you’d vote for Hitler?
Him: In a second!
I mention this now because I recently visited Nuremberg, Germany, which, despite a thousand years of history and once exalted status as the “unofficial capital” of the Holy Roman Empire, will now forever be associated as the staging ground for Adolf Hitler and the German National Socialist Party’s rise to power, eventually precipitating a world war, the Holocaust and the one of darkest chapters of European history.
Certainly, the Bavarian city has plenty to inspire a modern visitor: a pretty cobblestoned old town, hilltop castle, renowned sausage, beer and gingerbread, and arguably the best Christmas market in Germany; but it’s the link to its Nazi past perhaps that resonates most with visitors, who flock to the city’s former Nazi Rally Grounds, where World War II essentially began, and on the other side of town, the Nuremberg Palace of Justice and Courtroom 600 where it ended, as the top Nazi leaders who survived the war were prosecuted in the Nuremberg Trials.
This is possible because Nuremberg has acknowledged its history and “obligation to the past” by preserving and explaining it at a Documentation Centre at the Rally Grounds and another exhibition at the Palace of Justice.
More than simply tourist attractions (and classrooms for local school children), the sites are a living, breathing commentary on not only the past, but the present (Courtroom 600 is still, in fact, in use).
Indeed, guide Anne Hayner Hefner of History for Everyone, says she is hearing more and more comments from visitors reflective of today’s worrying world, which has seen the rise of strongman leaders and far right and populist movements across Europe and from the U.S. to Turkey. And the comments aren’t necessarily what one might expect. For example, on more than one occasion, Michigan-born Hefner has been incredulous to hear former US president Barack Obama compared to Hitler – a statement that hardly requires the Documentation Centre’s shocking portrayal of the terror and devastation wreaked by a dictator responsible for the deaths of over 17 million people to illustrate the sheer idiocy of the comparison.
For its part, the Documentation Centre plays history straight, giving a matter-of-fact portrayal of the rise of National Socialism in Germany, including presenting the “pre- conditions” – both political and economic – that set the stage for the movement. Historical photo displays and audio commentary continue the story of the Nazi’s manipulation of the nation through unparalleled use of propaganda and terror against its own citizenry and institutions to remove any opposition.
Perhaps less moving than sites like the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Israel or the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, a tour of the Nazi Rally Grounds/Documentation Centre is still moving. It’s easy to forget going in the utter darkness of the Hitler regime, or perhaps not even realize if you weren’t there.
Nazi architect Albert Speer’s Rally Grounds does not fully hint at the depths of the Nazi depravity, and is generally unremarkable, except in scale. However, Austrian architect Gunther Domenig’s Documentation Centre design is a masterpiece of both design and symbolism. Not only did he literally cut through the original brick structure of the Congress Hall using contrasting glass and steel for construction, he ensured his museum would only touch the Nazi building where structurally necessary. Open at the beginning of the one-way “road” through the history of the regime, the exhibition space slowly closes in as the Nazi’s constricting grip on Europe and the decency of human kind tightens through the years. By the end, the ceiling is barely higher than the tallest visitor.
If the Documentation Centre descends into darkness, the Nuremberg Palace of Justice and Courtroom 600 provide some light. The site’s exhibition certainly chronicles the aftermath of the war and the fates of the main Nazi war criminals who were tried there (including some who were not convicted), but it also shows the beginnings of international criminal law, leading to the present-day International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Nuremberg’s modern mission to be a “City of Peace and Human Rights” isn’t limited to these historical sites and exhibitions. “The Way of Human Rights,” opened in 1993 in the centre of town, is an outdoor walk-through work of art by Israeli artist Dani Karavan flanking the German National Museum and symbolizing “the force of momentous ideas.”
In either case, Nuremberg’s accounting of its own troubled past and vision of the future is commendable and, in a perfect world, these sites would be required viewing for all, not least those who, if unwilling to look themselves in the mirror, should at least be confronted by a mirror of the past.
In a corner of the Documentation Centre, in the middle of Albert Speer’s grand monument to Nazism and the intolerance and racism it stood for, there’s a rack of tourism and community notices where, on my visit, I noticed a flyer for an upcoming forum on German Jews and Culture. It was just one among dozens, but the symbolism was outstanding.
I’m no less angered that there are a growing number of willfully ignorant people walking past that rack every day who would actually equate Hitler with Obama or Hillary Clinton; and whether their prejudice is directed at Muslims, Mexicans, or even Muggles for that matter, I take at least some small measure of comfort knowing that the presence of that one little flyer would have Adolph Hitler and Albert Speer spinning in their graves.
This and That
- La Nouba, one of Cirque du Soleil’s most popular shows, takes its final bow at Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney) on Dec. 31. No word on what comes next.
- As a self-proclaimed “ambassador of fine French dining in the sky,” Air France has enlisted famed French chef Daniel Boulud to create dishes for its business class menu on flights from Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. The Michelin-starred culinary master will create a new dish every month, inspired by both French and international culinary traditions, through February, 2018.
- Sandals Resorts is adding 12 more of its popular Over-the-Water Honeymoon Butler Bungalows at Sandals South Coast, Jamaica. They are now available for booking for stays effective Nov. 1.
- Phoenix will again be on the WestJet’s fall flight roster from Alberta this fall. Flights from Calgary start Nov. 9 and Nov. 11 from Edmonton.
- Getting to Acapulco will be easier for Quebeckers starting Jan. 3 with new Sunwing service from Montreal. Seasonal flights continue through March 21. Flight and hotel packages featuring the all-inclusive Resort Mundo Imperial and Princess Mundo Imperial starting from $1,675 p.p. including taxes and fees of $430 p.p.
- Interjet, which begins new non-stop service between Montreal and both Mexico City and Cancun this summer has revised its schedule. Service will now fly Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays to each city starting July 13.
Russell Markel, President and Founder of Outer Shores Expeditions, on the growing movement to end the Grizzly Bear Trophy Hunt in British, noting that bear viewing generates 10 times more revenue than hunting
“Our position on the grizzly bear trophy hunt is simple: it’s time to end it… There’s no justifiable reason to continue this archaic practice of slaughtering these ecologically critical animals for trophies."
The Documentation Centre in Nuremberg, Germany.