Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A Jew in Germany

When we found out that we would have a ten hour layover in Frankfurt, we were faced with the choice of waiting it out in the Sheraton at the airport, or utilizing the time to see Frankfurt. We ultimately chose to see the city, and I found myself confronted by a range of emotions.

One day, visiting Germany for the first time may be a non-event for a Jewish person, but that time has not yet arrived. When the subject came up over Passover, several people in my family had a story to share about their gut reaction to finding themselves in Germany or even in a German speaking region of Europe. My brother in law recalled waking up on an overnight train in a German speaking city and thinking that he was in a movie. He realized that these scenes never end well for the Jewish people on the train.
My thoughts turned to a movie I once saw where the Jewish character admits that every time they see an elderly person in Germany, they can only wonder if the person was (is?) a Nazi. In high school, I was friends with a German exchange student. Since he was born 25 years after the end of the second world war, I didn’t give a second thought to his politics. In retrospect, I wonder what his parents and grandparents did during the war.
With all of this historical baggage on my mind, we exited customs and entered modern Germany. The gentleman who stamped our passport asked us nicely what our final destination was. When we told him we were en-route to Tel Aviv, he immediately asked us why we did not go during Passover. I was amazed that he was either Jewish or just very friendly to us. My next impression was how diverse the city is. We struck up a conversation with an Israeli couple on the train, had lunch next to an Indian-American family, and saw Germans of every color and ethnicity we might expect to see in New York or L.A.
It was a nice day, and we saw plenty of families with young children, hardly an image that recalls the Nazis. Then there were the German women, many of which were young, friendly, cute, and blond. It was hard to hold a grudge against their smiles.
In the end, I found Frankfurt to be a very cosmopolitan, international city. It was pleasant, if not especially charming, but somewhere along the way, it’s historical baggage was temporarily lost in transit.
As we touched down at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, I was once again both a witness and participant in the emotional release that occurs when a plane load of Jews returns to their homeland and applause breaks out. Some passengers even start to cry. It was at that moment that I realized that no one cheers when a plane lands in Frankfurt.

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