Excerpt - Chapter 42


German Dichotomy—Weimar

I n Weimar one is confronted with the worst and best moments of modern Germany. Until 1989 this town in Thuringia was in East Germany and Trier’s twin city. This quaint town is much better known than its size would lead you to expect. It is a showcase for the liberal, broadminded rulers who supported and sustained some of the greatest minds in Germany’s Golden Age of Enlightenment in the 18th and 19thcenturies.

        Weimar also represents the dichotomy between good and evil, whose long shadow still haunts modern Germany. The second strongest economic power in the world at the time in the 1930’s, spiralling out of control and bringing misery to the world, conducting the biggest, most methodical genocide the world has ever seen.

Walking through the neat, newly-renovated cobblestone streets of the town centre, there are signs pointing to Goethe’s house, Schiller’s house and Franz Liszt’s house. On the square in front of the theatre stand solemn statues of these two giants of German literature—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller—a reminder that the bulk of their seminal work was written in this sleepy town. The present artistic director of the theatre is the great-granddaughter of Richard Wagner and the great-great granddaughter of Franz Liszt.

And then a few kilometres up the road and through the beautiful hilly woods, lies the Buchenwald concentration camp, testimony to the lowest, most brutal point in German history.

Buchenwald simply means beech woods. It was one of the first concentration camps to be erected by the Nazis after they came to power in 1933. In the first years they used it as a convenient place to put away any internal opposition.

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