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European lessons: Curiosity, history, and revelation page 2
Visions of Germany and France, by Karen Owen

 Munich's Marienplatz features the Ratskeller, where conversation between tourist and resident is easy.
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Date published: 11/25/2012


Within this "socialist" country, everyone we spoke with--including a 70-year-old female doctor sitting across from us on the high-speed train to Paris--expressed hope that President Obama would be re-elected. (The doctor could not begin to wrap her brain around the idea that so many Americans would reject national health care such as the program--she told us--that worked so well for the German people.) Evening and morning newscasts focused heavily on the second and third Obama-Romney debates, which occurred while we were there.

My husband and I again rode the subway for the long ride to the Munich suburb of Dachau. We felt we should pay our respects to the millions of innocent victims of the Holocaust. The concentration camp there remains a stark reminder of the excesses of absolute power and propaganda machines. At the visitors center, a film is shown in an an appropriately unadorned theater of hard wooden seats; the audience--mostly German--was warned that the photos to come would be graphic. This was no exaggeration.

Exuberant secondary-school students who were laughing and texting on the way over to Dachau with us on the subway became respectful, silent.


On television that night, a two-hour program was shown as part of a series on World War II. Over and over, we could hear the words: die propaganda. The documentary was straightforward--telling it, as Howard Cosell would have said, "like it is." I was impressed by this openness, thinking how nice it would be if more of us discussed aspects of our own shameful past (slavery, the Jim Crow era, Massive Resistance, the Indian wars) and our imperfections today.

The following night, a documentary on neo-Nazis in Germany was featured. We weren't in the country long enough to see live evidence of this, so I'm thinking (hoping!) that this is a small group--the lunatic fringe, so to speak--much as what little remains of the Ku Klux Klan in America.

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Karen Owen is Viewpoints editor of The Free Lance-Star.