muse: n. a source of inspiration

Reflections on Traveling to Germany

As the child of German Jews (well, half-Jews…but we’ll leave that story for another time), I was raised in a home that had a complicated relationship with Germany. For many years my parents spoke German in the home, food was definitely inspired by my parents’ German roots, and my parents often told colorful stories about their German upbringing. But they didn’t long for their homeland. My father never made it back there, and my mother only visited years and years after coming to America, stating upon her return, “these are not my people, and this is not my home.” They were Americans.

Going to Germany wasn’t particularly high on my list. Unlike many of my friends, it wasn’t on my “never” list, but it wasn’t in the top ten, by any means. But, when Centropa offered me the opportunity to travel there as part of the 6th Annual Centropa Summer Academy, I wasn’t exactly going to turn it down.

2012 Centropa Summer Academy Participants

In many ways, the trip was extraordinary. The most amazing parts have little to do with where you’re going, to be honest. It’s the opportunity to learn, share and travel with educators from US, Israel, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Czech Republic,  Finland, Serbia, Macedonia, Sweden, Lithuania and Poland. It’s the small conversations: the ones that happen over beers (which, being German ones, were pretty awesome), while sitting on the train, and while standing amidst ancient tombstones in Worms, that impact you. It’s hearing about how non-Jewish kids in Poland are learning about the Holocaust; how Jewish kids in Haifa are using 21st century technology to connect with non-Jewish kids in Mannheim and how non-Jewish public school students in Graz, Austria are honoring survivors that cause deep reflection and growth as an educator.

Having stated all that, however, the travel is amazing. When I reflect on what I saw, what I heard and what I learned in those 9 days – both about the locations I visited and about myself, I’m incredulous.

Briefly – a few highlights from visiting Mannheim (which we used as a base for visiting Heidelberg and Worms):


The Jewish community in Mannheim is minuscule, but mighty. We met Shoshana, who exuberantly told us about the synagogue and the people it serves. The congregation warmly welcomed us, fed us and even provided a few people who were willing to share their stories for us to interview and make movies. We saw Mannheim’s Holocaust Memorial (um…interesting) and were introduced to Stolpersteine – the stumbling blocks that are embedded in the stones under your feet and serve as memorials to Holocaust victims. Each block has the name and fate of one person and is placed in the street outside the victim’s last residence.

Mannehim was our base for spending the day in Heidelberg and then seeing Worms before moving on to Frankfurt. Heidelberg was adorable – it’s the quintessential German small town. Pretty roofs, the whole package. The highlight for me, though, in Heidelberg, was hearing from a small group of young men who have participated in a student exchange with a school in Haifa, Israel. Hearing these non-Jewish German men talk about visiting Yad Vashem with their Israeli friends brought tears to my eyes. That’s what international sharing is all about!

Next – Worms


July 25, 2012 Posted by | Centropa | , , | Leave a comment

Getting ready for Germany…are we there yet?

Once again I’m traveling with Centropa for their annual Centropa Summer Academy. This year I’m excited that it’s Germany: Mannheim, Frankfurt and Berlin. I really can’t believe that I’m doing this again – it’s a phenomenal opportunity and a wonderful, educational and stimulating way to spend ten days, but simply exhausting! I’m glad I have three weeks after I return before school begins to recuperate. Oy – only three weeks?

Are we there yet?

Of course I’m worried about how I’m going to entertain myself while I’m on the plane. I’ve already been to British Airways’ website to scope out the in-flight entertainment (excited to watch Salmon Fishing in the Yemen!), and I sprang for the iTunes Essential George Gershwin collection, but I want to put some movies on my iPad too. I mean, what if my video player thingie doesn’t work? Or what if I’m bored at night (yeah…right) and need to have something other than German TV to watch in the room?

Unfortunately, season two of Downton Abbey only got me through my last three trips (thank you, Downton Abbey – that was six blissful flights!), and there wasn’t another TV season I wanted to download. I do have some DVDs, though, that I want to watch but I’m not bringing my laptop – just the iPad (it’s so much lighter and easier to get through security!), which, of course, does not have a DVD player.

Now…I know you’re not supposed to do this. I would NEVER suggest my students do this…But if you already own the movies you want to bring on DVD, and let’s say you wanted to watch them on your iPad…you could rip the movies using Handbrake. Be sure to choose the iPad preset. Then you end up with a .m4v file that you could throw in iTunes and transfer when you sync. Easy peasy.

The only problem is that those movies can be pretty heavy – reaching 2 gb. That’s a lot of real estate on an iPad, so…

You might want to bring them along on an SD card. If you have the Apple iPad Camera Connection Kit, you can do that. You just have to set them up in a way that your iPad will recognize them and know to import them as media. This post on CNET will be very helpful if you’re thinking about doing that.

Finally – I decided to spring (amazing how these trips cost SOOOOO much!) for a really good set of earphones. I wanted good, I wanted noise canceling, and I wanted small. I also didn’t want to spend more than $50. This is not as easy as it sounds. I researched a lot of companies, and finally settled on Thinksound. What got me were the reviews on Amazon. Now, many of those reviews mentioned having cable separation problems, so the big question is why did I pay $50 for earphones that could break? It’s simple – every single one of the reviews also stated that as soon as they contacted the company, they were immediately contacted by the company (in many cases, the president) to arrange for a replacement. I also really loved that they’re made from wood, and that the product has a low footprint packaging-wise. I appreciated not having to dig out the scissors and deal with those nasty plastic clamshell packages which fill up my recycling bin. They came in a lovely little brown box, with their own little cloth bag for storage. I was using them in about two seconds after receiving the package and they rocked. Pun intended.

Oh – and I also bought a new suitcase. But that wasn’t interesting.

I hope to post lots from Germany – stay tuned.

July 3, 2012 Posted by | Centropa, Lifelong learning, Technology | , , | Leave a comment


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