European Diary: Room 425, NH Hotel; 7:12 p.m., Sunday; June 20, 2004; Köln, Germany

We stalked up and down Frankfurt’s Kaiserstraße (home of Dr. This-and-That’s Sex Shoppes) to Die Zeil, great shopping streets, pregnant with junkies, hookers, screeching loonies and burghers.

This area of town – and northern Europe in general – has had an explosion of immigration over the last 20 years. The U.S. has had years of experience assimilating waves of immigrants. The last major immigrant group in Europe, the Jews, the Germans and their enthusiastic collaborators tried to kill. Most of these immigrants are Arabs and Muslim Africans, although the Turks have been in Germany for 20 or 30 years. This reaction against intolerance that allowed the Holocaust has driven many of these countries, including Holland and Germany, not just to allow people in, but to subsidize their dwellings, give them money and tend to all their physical needs. But because they don’t have to work, and in many cases due to language and cultural barriers, are not given jobs when they are allowed, they wind up isolated.

In Paris, the outskirts are ringed with Stalinesque apartment blocks filled with unemployed Muslims who have no stake in society. In Germany, they’ve arrested dozens of Al Qaeda operatives, in Holland imams, resident in that country due to its liberal policies, spend their time telling their followers that very society is doomed and it’s up to them to hasten its downfall – to keep having children so that they will overwhelm the Europeans with their negative birth rates, and that gay Dutch should be killed. Its is a kind of suicide to allow these people in, provide them with all their physical needs, and isolate them culturally.

In America, work is the great integrator. If you don’t speak the language, or figure out how to communicate in spite of it, you don’t work; if you don’t learn the customs, you don’t work; if you don’t become a member of the society you live in, you don’t work. And, without a European-style cradle-to grave safety net, you don’t work, you don’t eat, rent a place to live, stay in the country. (This idea has its own set of problems and qualification, specifically as regards migrant workers.)

How Europe will deal with this is beyond me to say – how to keep your tolerance and not close your gates and minds but not commit suicide? Maybe it’s a question for the U.S. as well. There are always people out there glad for any excuse for “order.”

Yesterday we rented a car at the Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof, drove to Gelnhausen, east in Hesse, the province where Frankfurt lies. It was the picture-perfect Germany of tourist brochures and postcards – 600-year old, half-timbered houses on cobbled streets, old churches, the Rathaus and synagogue, surrounded by rolling, hedged green farmland and groves of trees. Barbarossa reigned from there for a time and Napoleon had a major battle there.

Roth, my mother’s family’s town of origin, was a couple kilometers up the road, now officially part of the municipality of Gelnhausen, perched in small cobbled streets on the hillside. You could see how they must have left their houses every morning, walked down onto the valley floor to their fields and walked home again in the evening. It was Saturday, so I couldn’t look in the archives or anything, but it was good to see. S. loved it.

After that we drove east to Erfurt and Weimar, where we kept passing clustered, red-roofed towns with a single 14th century church bell tower or spire, and castles, including, at one point, three castles on three nearby hills, guarding the entrance to a valley, called, “Drei Gleichen.”

But Weimar’s antique polish, and all the rest of it, was violently cancelled out by our visit to Buchenwald, which S.’s father endured. It was immense and a cold rain was falling over the vacant grounds, muddy with tan mud. It was the kind of weather that gave us a more physical picture of that time. I can imagine many things, but the scale and depth of the cruelty and spiritual sickness, cowardice and sadism that the Germans allowed to penetrate their society, and subsequently exported to (or elicited from) every other country they occupied, is beyond my formidable imaginative capacity to understand. Germany is rotten with its own turned blood. You can smell it where ever you stand.

At one point, right outside the fence, there was a very smartly placed plaque that indicated a hunting area – a miles-long, ten-pointed star cut through the brush so that horse could be ridden. The hunting land belonged to the local duke in the 18th century, whose widow, the Duchess Anna Amalia, had a salon of Europe-wide repute, and whose attendees included the poet and playwright Goethe, who, the plaque said, a played a role in the debut of his play Iphigenia in Tauris in the Duchess’s palace, which stood 1,300 meters from the edge of Buchenwald. I said to S. – in 200 years, they went from Goethe to Buchenwald. Just Imagine that.


We arrived extremely late at nigh to the NH Köln Hotel on the Holzmarkt, the old lumber market on the Rhine. It is a fantastic hotel. Our room looks out on the river and over to Deutz. The Dom is nearby. Today we visited the “chocolate museum” across the canal. It is on a spit of land that separates the canal from the Rhine. We also returned the rental car. Driving around Köln was a bit of a trial. Driving in the middle of the night from Weimar was more of one, however. Especially when the main road – in the middle of the woods – is closed and you get to take a near-fatal split-second detour. Whee.

Buchenwald was hard on S. but she was able to order research on her father through the archives there.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s