Call It What It Is. Then END It.

See that little star in the middle? That's you.

See that little star in the middle? That’s you.

We interrupt this blog stream to bring you the latest. We have an explosive problem in America today…not a new one, but one that has been allowed to fester in darkness. Now we have a “president” who adds fertilizer to the problem, which has just boosted its growth. But the first step to killing this weed is to call it what it is. It is not an “alt-right movement.” It is RACISM and it cannot be euphemized into submission. There is no “alt-right”–that’s a name invented by racists to minimize and normalize their deplorable scummy hatred. QUIT USING THE WORD THE CRIMINALS USE TO HIDE THEIR CRIMES.

The media has enabled these losers long enough. But do we or do we not know a jackass when we see one? Who’s in charge here? WE ARE.

But when jackasses get a little attention, they get bolder and stupider. And dangerous. So these cowards marching with torches and flags and other B movie props that make them look like children indulging in a make-believe battle on some vacant lot of their misspent childhood deserve to be laughed at. Quit fearing them — that empowers them. Because the ignorant hate being challenged, pointing and laughing at them might slow them down a bit. Think about how you are filled with self-doubt when someone laughs at you. Even if makes you angry, you pause a moment. And in that moment, we need to educate them.

It is not an easy job but we need all hands on deck. Rule #1: Don’t engage in debate with them. There is no justification for any reason they might throw at you. They are scared and stupid and have no better communication skills than tantrum pitching.

The problem is, their tantrums are lethal. But there are more of us who love truth and justice. They are no match for our truth. But it’s up to us to deliver the victory.

Because they are dumber in groups (like most of us) I think we need a strategy to dilute them as a collective. They thrive on the optics of a mad mob marching in a big block, which the media loves to broadcast, and that perpetuates the cycle because the weaker losers at home watching these clowns think, “That looks badass. I’m going to join them.” And the bigger the crowd, the easier it is for the wimpy ones to disappear among the boisterous. Again, the result is better optics for the racists.

We don’t need a president. WE are America and we know what to do to honor our ideals.

So what if peace-loving people just, you know, got in there between them. What if instead of blocking them, we just walked silently beside them? Muffle their bullshit by spreading them further apart. In this symbolic way, we could accompany them toward the light. As more of us circle each one, they get surrounded by peace-loving people and that breaks up their collective voice.

I had a boyfriend who worked in a group home for the mentally ill. He told me the worst problem with group homes is that the healthy people are outnumbered, so the ill feed off each other’s sickness, which just makes everyone sicker. The more effective strategy is to surround the sick individual with many healthy people and support their healing. So the ideal group home would have 1 sick person and 5 or 6 therapists.

This sounds repulsive when we consider the sickness of racism. But racism is a disease, and the only way to cure it is germ by germ.

This is almost impossible when you have a racist at the helm of the nation excusing these guys and blaming their victims in the process. So ok, America, time to own this country instead of waiting for leadership to do their part. Don’t we already have enough evidence that we are not going to get any help from this administration? They are the root of the problem, so quit being disappointed that they aren’t fixing it!

We each need to lead this country in our own circles of influence. We don’t need a president. WE are America and we know what to do to honor our ideals.

So pick them off one by one. If they start talking bile and brimstone, check that shit. Don’t let them get away with euphemizing their stupidity. Make a slogan-free zone around your conversation. And if they come to your town to march, make a plan to infiltrate their shit with love. With Jeff Sessions in charge of the Department of Justice, we are not going to get any help. It’s up to us to BE America instead of just thinking we live in America. That means break up the marches by getting our asses in between them.

Think about the logistics of one big block of people confronting another big block of people. No one’s going anywhere until someone pulls out a weapon. What if our weapons were love and reason and just…physical space? Surround each sick individual with a group of healthy ones. Imagine if each racist had 5 or 6 peace-lovers near him saying, “I am going to walk with you because you are sick and need healing.”

Tell me what you think and let’s stay in touch.

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Berlin, the City that Shed Its Skin

As we headed back into Berlin, we were reminded of the special treachery that is driving in this crazy capitol with extremely risk-friendly bicyclists who eschew helmets in the name of freedom. I have to give my husband major props for bravely navigating the madness without incident. My man of steel (nerves)!

At the condo we showered, regrouped, then headed out to the Spy Museum, Joe’s pick for Berlin. From my list of must-sees everyone picked a priority; we hit everything on the list but two items. I’m proud of my planning, but I wish I’d added a full day to our time in Berlin; I hate to leave stuff on the table when circling back can literally take years.

The Spy Museum had kitschy spots, but it covered the history of the Stasi (State Police) in East Germany well. It was nice to see evidence that it wasn’t just my imagination–that Cold War shit was real, and crossing into the DDR was like a spy movie. Exhibit A:

An actual Trabbi (the East German excuse for a car)...hard to believe people waited 20 years for such a POS. This one was a Stasi (the brutal State Police) vehicle, complete with licensing devices. Because communism is paranoid. Well, anything that goes against basic human rights usually is, am I right, Mr. Trump?

An actual Trabbi (the East German excuse for a car)…hard to believe people waited 20 years for such a junker. This one was a Stasi (the brutal State Police) vehicle, complete with licensing devices hidden in the door. Because communism is paranoid. Well, anything that goes against basic human rights usually is. Exhibit B: The current US administration.

The museum also has a cool exhibit on the Enigma decoder that Alan Turing used, and even a mention of the Zodiac Killer. The James Bond exhibit is severely cheesy, but then, all the spy tools from the 1930s-1980s were actually pretty funky. Given today’s high-tech spy gadgets we all willingly carry in our pockets, exposing our whereabouts and inner thoughts to anyone with a computer, those fountain pens and bowties with cameras in them, and microphones hidden in lamps (de rigeur in any Soviet hotel), seem pretty cartoonish. But they were cutting edge back in the day.

Lots to see, no wimps allowed.

After the museum we joined dear friends for dinner. They took us to the most amazing Indian restaurant (Madras) with the mulligatawny soup I will spend the rest of my life trying to replicate. Scott sent me his recipe; I have high hopes.

The next day was Go Time: Lots to see, no wimps allowed. We started at the Wall Museum at Checkpoint Charlie. When I had last visited, it was tiny. I remember an actual Trabbi with a dummy stuffed in the trunk to show how people smuggled themselves out of the DDR. Historic photos, actual border signs from the late ’60s/early ’70s. That was about it.

Oh my, how that museum had grown. It really helped that after the Wall came down all those Stasi files and more brave attempts and successes were now disclosed. A lot more cars with people stowed away in the seats and side panels, boats used to cross the shallow Baltic, and home-made hot air balloons. Incredible stories, but all true. And of course there was the story of the borders opening a crack, then swung wide. The Wall hammered to bits by jubilant Germans, and then the official dismantling, all those new laws and social shifts. It’s a lot to cover, but it’s largely devoted to the story of the 3 million people who escaped the DDR. So many amazing rescues and brave Fluchthelfer (escsape helpers). It was quite moving. Think of all the petty things we complain about everyday…and how people risked their lives to get what we have.

The best part for me was the section devoted to the end of East Germany. I remember standing in my friend’s living room in Boulder, Colorado, on Nov. 9, 1989, watching the news with tears streaming down our faces. No one I knew ever thought that would happen in our lifetime and yet we were watching crazy happy Germans partying on top of the Wall, no machine gun fire at all. As Katy had told my girls in Wampen: “That day the world actually got better.”

"The Wall is gone! Berlin is Berlin again!"

“The Wall is gone! Berlin is Berlin again!”

Outside the museum, the curators let the world know how the struggle for freedom and peace was faring with this timely message. Given Putin’s style, I fear it will hang there for a while, but I truly appreciate the effort:

A message for Putin on the Wall Museum. Egomaniacs, you are standing on our last nerve. Oppress the people and it will not end well for you. Just ask Erich Honecker.

A message for Putin on the Wall Museum. Egomaniacs, you are standing on our last nerve. Oppress the people and it will not end well for you. Just ask Erich Honecker.

After a much-needed coffee, we took the Ubahn to the Brandenburger Tor, which had straddled the Wall all those years. I can’t explain how great it felt to walk right through it. The atmosphere was a light and happy one, much different from my somber first time there. Even the sun put on a great show:

The Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate) in all her glory.

The Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate) in all her glory.

We walked through the gate to view the Reichtstag Building, which is quite impressive.

Dem Deutschen Volke! This is where the Bundestag, the current German parliament, now meets. Note the clouds reflected in the windows. Der Himmel uber Berlin, nah?

Dem Deutschen Volke! This is where the Bundestag, the current German parliament, now meets. Note the clouds reflected in the windows. Der Himmel uber Berlin, nah?

We paid respects at the memorial to the Roma and the Sinti, which was a placid pond surrounded by panels of glass telling the story of these 500,00o who were abused and murdered by the Nazi regime.

Next we walked to the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe. Maybe you’ve seen stories of how people have disrespected this monument. Of course nothing could do justice to the victims of the Holocaust–any attempt is going to fall short–but I feel this memorial fails in many significant ways. First, it is set close to a very busy intersection, so it’s not quiet enough to begin with. Additionally, because it’s such a busy corner and because there

 The walls rise around you, perhaps to symbolize the way evil rose up around the victims.

is no fence or meaningful border around it, and no sign that I saw as we approached, you can stumble upon it and not realize you’re at a memorial. It’s a grid of thousands of massive rectangular concrete stones of the same size but varying heights. The shorter stones are around the edges, so as you walk in between them deeper into the center, the walls rise around you, perhaps to symbolize the way evil rose up around the victims. You can glimpse the paths between the stones, but that’s part of the deception–you think you know what’s next, but the ground dips and rises in the middle in subtle slopes that give the impression of rising (false hope), only to sink lower. So maybe it reflects the confusion of hope that may have glimmered and baffled the victims as they struggled to stay afloat in such a cruel and unpredictable reality. Or at least, that’s what I had to come up with on my own, because there is really no guidance at all in what you are experiencing and what it means. Memorial visitors don’t need to be bonked on the head, but with no written or labeled context, a memorial becomes generic, and therefore is no memorial. There seemed to be another part to it, an underground exhibit of sorts, which we stumbled on purely by accident, so there’s something wrong there.

I will say it succeeded in being disorienting in a labyrinth-like way. But what I found really disheartening was the lack of reverence from many of the people walking it. Some people allowed their kids to actually run through the stones. But the worst were the people around the edges, who were sitting on the stones as if they were park benches. The Jewish photographer Shahak Shapira had already commented on this with his photoshopped solution to other horrible behavior, so I guess I naively thought word had gotten around. But the security personnel that patrol it had to frequently remind people they were at a memorial and to please be respectful, shooing them off the stones. I think setting the memorial back from the sidewalk with more green space around it to allow for quiet, and maybe a low fence and significant signage could have served the cause better. There’s no excuse for people behaving like that, but you have to wonder if they even knew they were at a memorial. It really disturbed me that there was no visible reference to what this memorial is actually about. Like the murder of a people for their religion. Kind of central to the story. And if we don’t tell the stories….

I’m not the only one who has had such a reaction. In fact, I found this harsh but pretty accurate critique while looking for pictures online to check my memory of the space. My searching confirmed that nope, there is no fence around it, and the only evidence of signage I found was the sign outside the underground exhibit. So it wasn’t that we didn’t notice a sign where we entered the space; there wasn’t one.

We walked miles and miles that day, and ended the night with dinner in a quiet Italian restaurant on a wide, mostly dead street (pockets of the east side of town are still struggling for that economic miracle, evidently). The next day I met with another friend, then it was off to Wiedenbrück to see my German “mom.” I hated to say goodbye to Berlin. It still has a sassy graffiti habit I admire–the need for self-expression through spray paint had sunk into its colorful soul, evidently. But, thankfully, it had shed that most oppressive concrete overcoat.

Next up: Planet Wiedenbrück






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Katy’s World

Pulling into Wampen, I wanted to know it in all its seasons, to see the nearby town of Neuenkirchen with its beautiful church, and to see the bigger city of Greifswald and its university, where Katy’s husband works. But we only had about 20 hours and then it was back to Berlin and a brief dive into a very complicated history. Mostly I wanted to feel her home, the sunniness, the dampness, the cool air. I wanted to fill up on the colors, the plants, and yes, the Baltic Sea. I imagined it cold and brooding, windswept and stormy, anything but placid. Basically, I wanted to gorge myself on the sensory buffet I had only sampled through Katy’s letters.

Well, that’s a lot to ask of a place, but Katy’s world did not disappoint. I can’t express the joy that welled up in my heart when I saw her beautiful face. Climbing out of the car, though, was a vine-y affair, as anything green there grows with a mad rush, and her driveway was lined with ground cover I didn’t want to crush. But what a joy to hug a dear, long-time friend. If only we could have something like that to look forward to more often.

Katy gave us a grand tour of her microcosm. One of her degrees is in botany and her brain is encyclopedic. Some people really know their surroundings, but Katy is on intimate terms with everything that grows, slithers, cackles, purrs, or hops. She’s my inspiration– it’s because of her that I own several books on flowers and growing zones. Because of Katy (and those field guides) I can look up unknown plants by their structure and flowerings. I’ll never be as good as her, but I sure like trying. She’s like science made human…more of that, please.

The tour included:

This handsome gent. Katy can tell the frogs apart by their habits.

This handsome gent. Katy can tell the frogs apart by their habits.

Katy's chickens, Monique and Gertrude.

Katy’s chickens, Monique and Gertrude.

Garden snails.

Garden snails.

A million tiny miracles across her yard.

A million tiny miracles across her yard.

I took a ridiculous amount of photos of bees, poppies, and the fields. After her husband came home and we had Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cake), we walked the half kilometer to the Baltic. It began to rain and we were thrilled. I’m sure the Baltic has its sunny days, but we were perfectly content with this:

Stormy scene...

Stormy scene…

...and clear jellyfish. Works for me!

…and clear jellyfish. Works for me!

That night we were blessed with a fabulous dinner, a quick tour of her front yard and green house (from which she gifted me with a perfect gerbera daisy), and an astounding sunset in Katy’s backyard:

2017-07-11 21.16.12 (1)

We talked late into the night. In the morning, Katy and I had a long talk over breakfast. When the girls and Joe got up, she told them one of my favorite stories: What it was like when the Wall came down. Katy was still living in Göttingen and I’ve saved all her letters from that time. She told the girls about how everyone–EVERYONE–was out out on the streets celebrating and welcoming the East Germans. She saw a West German grandma sticking chocolate bars under the windshield wipers of all the Trabbis (the East German “papier-mâché cars,” as Katy described them) on the streets. She saw an East German family staring at all the produce in the grocery stores. They were seeing stuff they’d never (ever) seen in the East for 20-some years. As they looked at an eggplant, their child asked them, “What is that, Mommy?” The mother didn’t know, and read the little sign, not even sure how to pronounce the word. (Katy: “They never had broccoli or eggplant. They knew peas, carrots, cabbage, potatoes, and beans. Stuff they could grow themselves, nothing imported.”)

Little details like that are one reason I’m recording this here. To share a bit of what it was like to live in the Cold War, in Germany, near the Front at what none of us knew at the time was the tale end of that era. I don’t think people who were born after that time can imagine what a triumph the fall of the Soviet Union was. Having traveled a bit through it myself (Russia, Ukraine, East Germany, Czechoslovakia), I’m glad I took good notes.

Of course, these are just my outsider impressions, but I absorbed as much as I could of the stories of families divided, the chagrin of having been misled by a genocidal maniac, the cruel karma of being punished by an even crazier one. Look, superlatives are pointless here, and anything I can write is, well, inadequate. All I can do is try to show a slice of the fascination I felt over the stories, and hope that others will want to know more. I have students and children who weren’t even born until after the Wall came down, and I am constantly looking for new ways to show them a bit of what it was like then. The Germans fucked up and they know it. They have made many noble attempts to own up to their horrible crimes, and nothing they do will ever make up for it. But at least they try. In America, we have never fully owned the genocide of Native Americans, let alone atoned for it. We have yet to fully address our crimes of slavery and the brutality against black bodies that continues to this day. We are so far behind the Germans in owning our shit, and I want to learn more about how we move forward. So count this history among my obsessions.

After our breakfast conversation (communion?), which I never wanted to end, we had to head back to Berlin. Katy had a lot of family coming up that weekend for her big birthday party and we all had a schedule to keep. As we dragged our feet to the car, I tried not to feel how my heart was being stretched. Ever since I left the cocoon of my hometown at age 18, I have always wanted to be two places at once. And once I had crossed that big ocean, the tear in my heart had only grown bigger. When I fell in love with Germany, “home” had bifurcated. A part of me would always want to be where I was not, even while deeply enjoying where I was. And I had no one to blame but myself.

Unless you’ve done something similar, you can’t understand. But as we pulled out of her severely botanic driveway, as Katy waved a sad but grateful goodbye, as I tried not to cry just yet, I realized something. It is risky to care for people you can’t be with any more. It is risky to put yourself out there in the first place, to make connections and leave your home, which is suddenly, bewilderingly more than one place at a time. It is risky to love, and it is risky to leave. And that is all I can say about that.

Katy and me.

Katy and me.

The farewell flower of friendship.

The farewell flower of friendship.

Next up: Berlin, City of Renewal






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