Fotoeins Fotografie

revisioning place and home

Posts from the ‘Jewish-Euro History’ category

Past and present histories of Jewish communities and culture in AT, DE

Danube, Donau, Christian Stemper, Wien Tourismus

My Vienna: 30 days of spring from the 6

Danube morning: photo by Christian Stemper, courtesy of Wien Tourismus (no.50401).

With this entry’s appearance, I’m on the other side of the world, 8500 kilometres away.

I dashed in and out of Vienna a handful of times between 2001 and 2003 when I lived in Heidelberg; but I have no visual records of that period in time. I’ve returned to Austria’s capital city for the first time since 2018. I wondered then how a stay in the Mariahilf, the city’s 6th district, would go.

That time is now, because I’m spending a month in the 6.

To minimize weight, I’m experimenting:
•   32-L backpack as the 1 and only piece of (carry-on) luggage, and
•   “no bricks no heavy glass”, but a compact mirrorless Fuji X70 camera.

The apartment location and neighbourhood are ideal. I’m within easy reach of the city’s U-Bahn, surrounded by the U3, U4, and U6 metro lines. I’ve already located a drugstore and several grocery stores, all inside a trivial 0.5 km (0.3 mi) walk. I’ve also been told I’ll have many Viennese coffees and several meals in the area.

There’s a lot to pursue, see, and do; and there’s no time to waste.

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My Berlin: the buried Bibliothek at Bebelplatz

On a clear cool late-autumn morning, a young child is looking through an opening in the cobblestone plaza. She looks up to the man standing next to her.

Daddy, why is there a glass window? What happened here?

The thing to keep in mind is that this square in Berlin is called Bebelplatz (BAY-buhl-platz), and not Babbleplatz. It’s easy to make the mistake. After all, a great repository of books was once created inside the building seen above, in what was once home of the Königliche Bibliothek or Royal Library.

But then came along a large racist blather.

Accompanied by a big ugly fire.

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My Prague: looking for Kafka & Palach in Olšany

Above/featured: A quiet leafy avenue in Prague’s Olšany Cemetery.

I can’t spend all this time in the Czech capital city, and leave without paying any respects to two 20th-century personalities of Prague. Franz Kafka was an early 20th-century German-Czech writer (e.g., 1912 Die Verwandlung/Metamorphosis), whose writings became known to the world posthumously, thanks to friend and fellow writer Max Brod. In the 1960s, Jan Palach was an important historical figure of opposition who died in protest against the Communist regime.

I’m in the underground metro, heading east from the city centre towards Vinohrady and beyond to Olšany. The sun’s out on a crisp mid-autumn day, and while deciduous trees are left wanting for leaves, the latter have piled like carpets of colour on the cemetery grounds. I’m looking for the graves of Palach and Kafka who are buried in Olšanské hřbitovy (Olšany Cemetery) and Nový židovský hřbitov (New Jewish Cemetery), respectively.


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Dachau: nie wieder, never again

Where: KZ-Dachau, 20 km northwest from Munich, Germany.
What: The blueprint by which murder became a methodical industrialized process.

I once thought I wasn’t prepared emotionally; perhaps I never would. But I couldn’t go further in my long-term examination of Germany and Jewish-German history without a visit.

It’s an overcast morning in early June, and a couple of rain showers accompany me along with a handful of other people, waiting for the site to open at 9am. A dark heavy cloak descends the moment I step through the main gate and into the site. There is dread, waiting. I promise myself to be open as much as possible, to really look and listen.

This is KZ-Gedenkstätte Dachau, the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site. The abbreviation KZ is “Konzentrationslager für Zivilpersonen” or concentration camp for civilians, although the initial terminology used by the Nazi Schutzstaffel (SS) was KL for “Konzentrationslager.”

There’s a lot to absorb. And maybe, it’s best not to.

Systematic torture and unrestrained cruelty. Forced medical experiments. Arbitrary execution by hanging or gunfire. The destruction of human dignity. The annihilation of hope. This camp as a “model” to broaden the scope and scale of industrial mass-murder. The first commandant of Auschwitz in 1940, Rudolf Höss, honed a career in brutality as SS support staff and block leader at the Dachau camp in late-1934.

I had planned to stay for a few hours at most and leave around noon. I didn’t notice the time. When I finally noticed clear skies and the change in sun-angle, I check my watch. It’s almost 5pm, closing time. Eight hours have flown by outside my bubble, which begins to dissolve.

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My Vienna: Holocaust Memorial, by Rachel Whiteread

Where: Judenplatz, in Vienna’s Altstadt.
What: Holocaust Memorial, by Rachel Whiteread (2000).

How do you commemorate or memorialize the absent or missing? How should the void be acknowledged, recognized, and remembered? Does the act of constructing a physical monument “draw a line”, creating a physical manifestation of marking an end that gathers and wipes away all subsequent future responsibility for remembering?

In Vienna’s Old Town, what was unjustly and violently removed from the city’s long historical memory and cultural identity comes into shape at Judenplatz. Under the public square are ruins of the medieval synagogue destroyed in the pogrom of 1421 with hundreds of Jews driven out, hundreds killed by burning, and the community erased. Directly above these ruins is the Holocaust Memorial which attempts to generate experiences and memories to address the void left behind after the systematic murder of 65-thousand people.

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