I studied modern history for my higher school certificate, and was taught for several years by Miss Stroud. Her name somehow suited her: she was short, sturdy, brusque. She had harshly bobbed dark hair and was rumoured only to have one ear as nobody had ever seen both of them. She was also one of the best teachers I ever had, and made history – a subject I didn’t really wish to take, but I was even less attracted to geography and it was a case of one or the other – a thing of intrigue and fascination. Through her enthusiastic and critical tutelage I learned about China’s Cultural Revolution, the throb of USA and Soviet relations, a serial killer course popular with students (which I suspect she loathed to teach), and both World Wars. Miss Stroud was the first person I’d ever come across that took holidays to see places she had a historical interest in – the idea of taking a vacation to learn was incomprehensible to me at that time. She also, despite her brusqueness, telephoned every one of her class on the day that our HSC results were announced and congratulated us individually on our efforts.
The World War classes included, of course, the role of Germany both through the Weimar and the Nazi years. While not initially as fascinating as – say – Jack the Ripper, the rich detail espoused by Miss Stroud converted a room full of teenagers. I remember many heated discussions throughout the semester, not only about the actual occurrences but causation, society and legacy. Impassioned as teenage debate can be, it remained theoretical and abstract, hard to align with mid 90s rural Australia.
I’ve been to Germany a few times, a solid decade ago now, and these trips were memorable (or not, as the case may be) only for their intake of beer. Thus, when given the chance to head there this weekend to meet up with Tim’s sister and her partner who are currently living in Berlin, we jumped at the opportunity. We decided to meet in Nuremberg, about halfway between our two surrogate homes. A prominent city in the middle ages and Roman times, Nuremberg also has significant history for Nazi Germany, being the site of Nazi party annual rallies, then a battlefield, and later where the post war trials were held. Word on the street was that there were three main things to experience: the rally grounds, the medieval castle and Nürnburger Bratwurst. We rolled into town on Friday (some later than others, due to an erroneous train connection) and bright and early the next morning, thanks as always to our daughter, we made our way to the rally grounds.
Located slightly out of town, the incomplete Kongresshalle reminded us (on its exterior) of the Colosseum. Intended to host 500,000 people, the structure was never completed but is now a museum capturing the history of the site and explaining the rallies that were held for over a decade nearby. As I have previously mentioned, our girl does not care for The Cultures, and as such she commenced wailing right about the same time I started viewing the introductory video. She and I legged it through the vast building and wandered outside while Tim, Dom and Ro took it all in.
Apart from the impressive venue, and intricate explanation of history, Tim found that the exhibition made comprehensible the transition from a somewhat-out-there right wing state to extreme facism. Tucked away in our high school classrooms, the horrific outcomes of the Nazi state are incomprehensible, almost a caricature. It’s so hard to understand how not only a country but a considerable part of a continent can transform in this way; yet this exhibition explained the social and cultural changes that both led and allowed this to occur. It did not undermine or deny the wretched outcomes but it allowed an insight into how they occurred, making it no longer an abstract notion but something of which, under the right circumstances, any society could perhaps find itself. The other intriguing aspect of the rallies was their purpose. They were not used for education as such, but rather for the experience, a propaganda fuelled hedonistic mob, implying other parallels with the Colosseum.
Following the reasonably heavy morning’s excursion, there was nothing for it but a beverage. Happily, we had lunch planned – a belated birthday celebration for Dom – which we backed up with Delicious Gin (and Nürnbergers, which when covered with mustard and curry ketchup were delicious).
This morning we arose – happily not as painfully bright and early – and decided to tick off number three: the castle. Our wee tour guide rallied us together.
It had rained overnight, but the morning was clean and clear, and the sun shimmered off the streets as we made our way into the old walled city.
The castle, although unclear as to exact time, dates circa 1105. Guarded by a wide moat and solid walls, it sits atop the city and boasts a beautiful view.
The castle is apparently considered to be one of Europe’s most formidable medieval fortifications. Frankly, anything boasting a double-headed bird would keep me at bay.
We spent the morning strolling around its grounds, and wandered home through the Old Town.
A starkly different experience from the rally ground the day previously, it emphasised the richness of German – and indeed all – history, the same richness and complexity enthusiastically shown to me in a classroom some twenty years ago. Not for the first time, I wished that when Miss Stroud called me to wish me well for my future I had thanked her. Not simply for teaching me about Jack the Ripper (because I was totally the student that loved it the most) but showing me a love for history, for places and people and events and motives, that continues to influence me – and, it turns out, my holiday destinations.
Our three Nuremberg must-dos complete, and a hearty German breakfast consumed, we went our separate ways. Hotel, Laidey and I returned to Rotkreuz – where we only have two more sleeps until we move to our new home – via Rheinfalls in northern Switzerland, where we watched the water flow.