Okay … can I just say that the questions I’m getting in my inbox are getting steadily randomer and randomer.
And yet, I’m having fun giving them some thought.
Just so as not to confuse anyone reading this post:
The blog is (generally speaking) supposed to be about patterns and habits and how to change them. And (more specifically) how to use that information to put yourself out there and grow that cool thing you do.
Why? Because a. that’s my field of expertise and b. that’s what interests me.
Today’s Ask Havi takes us slightly off topic. Well, way off topic. But not really.
Because — luckily for NW who sent me this question — I can relate just about anything to patterns and habits. And nazis.
What can I say. It’s a gift.
Here’s the question, just so we’re all on the same page.
My husband and I are planning a first visit ever to Germany in September. He has a conference at the University of Heidelberg. We’ll only be there a few days and then on to another conference. I would love some “When visiting Germany advice ….”
I’m a bit nervous about the whole Germany visit because of family myths (or realities) — my father’s family were all Germans until the Nazis kicked them out — to put it nicely.
My father was never able to allow himself to visit Germany again — he felt a huge loss, understandably … but some of his sadness/resentment may have conditioned me a bit. Still, I am really, really looking forward to this trip.
Any travel advice, etc would be greatly appreciated.
Confidential to NW
Okay, you did say twice that you’re asking for “travel” advice, but it sounds as though you’re really asking for “making peace with Germany” advice.
Which is good, because I can’t give you visiting Germany advice as I’ve only ever been to Berlin, Aachen and Cologne. But I can definitely talk about the other part.
Because I’m Israeli. And because I’m Jewish. And because one day I packed up all my stuff in Tel Aviv and moved to Berlin.
But mostly because the people I work with come to me when they realize their fear and avoidance patterns are keeping them in some form of stuckification.
And clearly you sense that this is going on for you as well, or you wouldn’t have asked.
I don’t know if I can give you advice on this one, but I can share with you from my experience and offer suggestions. It’s a pretty big theme.
For everyone who’s not NW, use this as a chance to notice where your own fear patterns are keeping you from making peace with things. And for NW, let’s start with three points.
1. Pain is real. Let yourself have it.
Clearly you have pain around this. You have a history which involves pain and painful memories. As well as maybe a sense of obligation to your father’s history and his pain.
This is important. And this is why it’s not going to be helpful for me to tell you that actually Germany is a safe place, and maybe even the best place to do some healing. Even though that’s what I think.
Because that wouldn’t be fair to your pain. What pain wants is attention and legitimacy, so it’s always important to stop and say hi to the pain. To let it feel that it’s been seen and heard and cared for.
You are always allowed to have your pain.
That’s the thing about pain. Even when it’s no longer necessarily grounded in an external reality, or even if you know it’s not especially rational, it feels true. Which means that, for you, it is true.
It won’t always be true, because we have the ability to interact with pain, to learn from it and to resolve it. But it’s true for you right now. And if that’s where you are right now, let yourself be there.
Treat your pain with respect. It’s a part of you.
2. I can only share my own experience with this.
For the record, I’ve spent — all in all — about a year and a half in Berlin, and have never once had a negative experience.
No one ever had a problem with me being Jewish or Israeli — and I’m a sensitive flower, so I generally pick up on things even when not overt.
Whereas in the States I’ve had several (overtly) unpleasant encounters for both of those reasons. But that’s another issue.
Keep in mind, though, when considering my experience: Berlin is not Germany. Berlin is in Germany, but not of it.
Well, think about it like this. Berlin is to Germany what San Francisco or New York is to the United States. It’s just not really representative.
Not to say that awful atrocities didn’t happen in Berlin, because they did and have been happening for as long as Berlin has been a city.
It’s just that Berlin is very cosmopolitan and not really all that German. Berliners are Berliners first, German maybe second, but probably more like fifteenth, if at all.
You’re going to Heidelberg and I don’t know thing one about Heidelberg.
However, I do know this:
You’ll eat good food. You’ll breathe. You’ll notice what stuff presses your buttons and how you react to different situations. You’ll mourn for things that need mourning. You’ll celebrate things that need celebrating.
And you’ll meet lovely people. Lovely people who also struggle with pain, hurt and memory, because they’re human.
Which brings me to point #3.
3. Suspend all judgment, for your own sake.
The Germans don’t own atrocities.
The ability to do horrible things to other people is a human one, not a German one.
The ability to cave in under the pressure of fear, danger and an all-powerful regime is also a human one, not a German one.
God knows the Holocaust has a lot of lessons for the world — especially for those of us who are trying to make peace with a family history of loss and pain. But as far as I’m concerned, there is one particular lesson that is so much bigger and more important than the rest that it might as well be the only one.
The thing all of us need to take from this awful, awful experience:
Whenever we group a bunch of people together according to a certain characteristic, and we assign them additional characteristics based on their belonging to that particular group, terrible things will ensue.
And we lose a piece of our humanity.
It’s not fair to lump all Germans together. Germans are people. People vary.
It doesn’t matter now whether the people you are encountering are the grandchildren and greatgrandchildren of people who did horrible things. Or maybe they’re just related to people who were too frightened by an all-powerful regime to lose their own lives in opposition to said horrible things.
They’re here now just like you. Judge them one at a time. Work on your own stuff. Let them work on their stuff.
For me, being in Germany is very healing and very powerful.
It’s a chance to have my stereotypes proved wrong. It’s a chance to remember that all people have pain in their personal history. It’s a chance to practice some deep forgiveness of myself and of others.
But yeah, sometimes our emotional stuff is stronger than our mental awareness. And the truth is, I still haven’t made it to Munich. And am not all that sure that I want to. Something else to work on.
Oh, you have a follow-up question!
Thank god, that was all getting to be a little too heavy, even for me.
Also, I grew up on delicious German foods – lots of meat and pastries and potatoes in sauces- but now I am basically a gluten-free Vegan – who doesn’t eat sugar……. so any advice on that front when visiting Germany would be welcome, too.
Whoah, you capitalized the word “vegan” — you are German.
Anyway, I think you’ll be fine. It’s not like you’re going to Poland* or anything (shudder). Probably half the people I know in Berlin are vegan.
*Okay, that’s probably not fair. The last time I was in Poland was twelve years ago. It was vegetarian hell, but who knows how much has changed since then.
All that bio-eco-natural stuff that’s labeled “alternative” in North America isn’t really such a shocker there. Not in any urban environment, at least.
Just ask someone on the street where the nearest Bioladen is. That will get you to any of the many natural foods type of stores, which — unlike your local co-op — are all over the place.
I’m willing to bet that anyone who works at a Bioladen is probably also vegan (or — at the very least — eats according to a complicated system of rules and principles). They’ll help you figure out what to eat.
Yes, eating out might be a challenge, but hey, you’re a gluten-free, sugar-free vegan. You’re probably used to that.
Anyway, good luck with your trip. I wish you a wonderful time. Maybe you’ll let me know how it goes. I’d really like that.
Everyone else: any thoughts, insights, realizations?
Something that would be helpful for NW? Feel at home sharing and/or sending me your non-nazi-related questions in the comments.