“I’m from East Germany, but I’m not a communist.”
My maintenance man was quick to reassure me, as he probably figured I’m an ignorant American who doesn’t know much about the split between East and West Germany and thinks all East Germans are communists. It’s sad that stereotypes like this exist, but from what I’ve learned about German history, I don’t think the stereotypes are only between Germans and Americans. It appears that the separation and reunification of Germany also created stereotypes within Germany between East and West Germans, not unlike the divide between the American North and South. But Germany is working to fix this.
In the past 25 years since the reunification and 70 years since the end of World War II, Germany has experienced a lot of reconstruction, both in social and material ways. As we toured the Residenz Museum and Treasury (where the Wittelsbach family lived and ruled), we saw some original rooms and artwork, but also a lot of rooms that had been destroyed during the war and are now reconstructed and refurnished to display the correct time period. It was beautiful to walk through and crazy to think that the royal family needed all of that space and all of those decorations.
After the war, the students helped rebuild the university and added a museum of the White Rose resistance movement against the Nazis. Stone duplicates of letters and pictures from the movement are also scattered throughout the cobblestone courtyard, creating a somber, yet beautiful tone.
Reconstruction is still happening now. I can look out my window and count over ten yellow cranes doing some sort of work. A church in Odeonsplatz (Theatinerkirche) is a getting a new facelift, the Frauenkirche (where I’ve gone to church twice) is partially covered with scaffolding, and the even the U-Bahn station in front of Studentenstadt stops running at 9:30 p.m. so the workers can add a new roof.
I can’t even escape it when I’m traveling. Last Friday, I went to Regensburg (about an hour and a half away by train) with three other friends, and we strolled around in the sunny weather and gazed the beautiful buildings. Regensburg also has a famous stone bridge that crosses the Danube (Donau in German), but it is currently covered with construction material. Thankfully we could still cross it and see the beautiful view of the city.
That day we also spontaneously travelled to Walhalla, which is about a 30-minute bus ride from Regensburg. It looks like the Parthenon in Athens, but it was finished in 1842, so it’s a lot less worn down. Walhalla looks out over the Danube, and was the perfect place to relax and take pictures. We walked down the many steps afterward, and I went to touch the river, because you can’t get that close to a major body of water without touching it, right?
Anyway, to point out the obvious, construction is everywhere (even right next door to my house at JMU). It is very necessary: to keep up with the expanding population and to fix things when they break. It’s neat to see how places change when we add new structures and experience the sentimental value and fascinating history of older, important buildings. On a bigger scale, it makes me think about finding the balance between welcoming new things and knowing when to put effort into maintaining old ones.
I learned today that JYM is the oldest study abroad program from America to Germany, created to help our cultures understand each other so that we can avoid conflict. A pretty cool idea if you ask me. I’m really enjoying exploring the history and culture of southern Germany and interacting with the German people, like the maintenance man. And thanks to him and his fancy tools that cleaned out my drains and pipes, water will not seep into my closet every time I shower.
“Then the world was broken
Fallen and battered and scarred
You took the hopeless
The life wasted, ruined and marred and made it new.”
–“All Things New” by Steven Curtis Chapman.