Sunday, January 27, 2013

For Hannelore

Today is the Memorial Day for the Victims of the National-Socialist Regime. As a foreigner in Germany, especially because I live so close to Nuremberg (which is known throughout the English-speaking world as the scene of the Nuremberg Trials), it's hard not to see traces of the Third Reich and its atrocities in everyday life. Germans have a difficult relationship to their past: many feel a burden of responsibility for what their grandparents may (and may not) have done, a kind of collective guilt for the horrors committed in the Second World War.

So how do you commemorate the victims of the National-Socialist Regime? Well, in our little town, there are a number of silent reminders. One is a photograph in our local library:

Overlaid on a glass wall overlooking the courtyard of the former town hall is a picture of the Jewish citizens of the town, who were rounded up as part of the Kristallnacht pogroms. It is one of the most chilling things I have ever seen: when you stand in the right place, the ghostly figures of the people below seem to come alive. It's not pretty, it's unapologetically harsh. It is what happened.

And every house that lost inhabitants to the Nazis has a small gold stone set into the pavement on the ground outside for each person that died. I read them compulsively, I can't help it. I won't step on them, I pause to look at them and remember the names. So this post is for my neighbour, little Hannelore Benesi, born in 1935, deported in 1943 and murdered in Auschwitz.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Away in a Manger

Today I used a few minutes of baby sleep to do whirlwind tidy-up, putting away a couple of errant Christmas decorations that had somehow managed to hang in there till now. And I came across a little gem that I wanted to post about before Christmas. Were this not such an important find, I wouldn't write about such an unseasonal item, but I think you're going to want to see this ...

My mother - who is, as we've already established, an All-Round Good Egg with a philanthropic bent - was much taken by a selection of Advent calendars, handmade by a Peruvian Women's Collective. The idea is simple, but particularly enchanting for children (and those young at heart.) The calendar consists of a landscape scene depicted in felt and 24 little pouches

each containing something that pertains to the Nativity, which can be attached to the scene by its Velcro fastening. So we not only have astronomical features like the sun, the moon and a very dashing star

but there are all of the people who appear in the story of the Nativity, many lovingly dressed in Peruvian costumes.

And there's also a plethora of mammals, reptiles and birds. This is where it starts to become a bit shaky, as it includes what looks like a zebra with udders, a lion, a dodo and another animal that might be a grizzly bear. The Peruvian Women's Collective have decided to eschew the traditional donkey and cow in favour of something more exotic. Good for them.

However, on the 12th December, things take a strangely political turn, as the Peruvian lasses decide to tackle hard-hitting Christian issues face on. I'm talking about Creationism, folks, as our South American ladies make the radical decision to include a stegosaurus in their Advent calendar.

Frankly, readers, I was stunned. While the elder lemons of various Christian churches grapple with the idea of whether Adam and Eve had to watch out for dino turds in their post-Eden world, the Peruvian Women's Collective bravely includes a dinosaur as part of the flora and fauna in suburban Bethlehem four thousand years later. Not since Galileo has there been such a barefaced challenge to accepted teachings. Did the stegosaurii graze there in flocks? Were they part of migratory herds? Was this one stegosaurus at the watering hole when he heard a commotion at the stable and wandered up for a gander? In any case, as the pouches for the later dates did not contain little bloodied limbs or a manger reduced to kindling, I think we can safely assume that the dinosaur cuddled up next to a shepherd and the zebra-cow and beheld the infant Jesus with a modicum of respect.

And thus, for their foolhardy decision to spit in the eye of science, I take my cap off to them.
Peruvian Women's Collective: I salute you.