My husband and I just returned from a trip of over three weeks, first to the East Coast to cheer on our incredible grandson as he graduated from college, and then to Central Europe for a trip with nine other graduates of UC Berkeley (Go, Bears!). We were in Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, the Czech Republic, and Germany, concentrating on the major cities of Warsaw, Krakow, Budapest, Bratislava, Vienna, Prague, and Berlin.
Being a language nut, I was particularly interested in trying to figure out words that were cognates or somehow resembled English words. In Poland, I did see some I could figure out (and plenty I couldn’t). But Hungarian, apparently, is unlike any other language in the world. Some say it has a distant relationship to Finnish, but Hungarians reject that idea. I was at a total loss and understood nothing except “pizza” and “espresso.” Czech and Slovakian were almost as incomprehensible to me, but German was at least partially understandable, except for the fact that one word may consist of three other words all strung together—and German makes you wait for the verb at the end of the sentence. Mark Twain wrote a very funny essay on the German language, and if I weren’t brain dead from jet lag I’d make an effort to find it.
We visited Auschwitz and Birkenau, a shattering experience. We saw Holocaust memorials in every country, but the most rewarding experience for me was spending four hours in the Museum of German History in Berlin. An entire enormous floor is dedicated to Germany from WWI to the present, and nothing was sugarcoated or omitted from the years of Hitler’s rise through the end of WWII. Many atrocities were shown and acknowledged. Schoolchildren visit and learn about their country’s past. I left hopeful that hideous past will not be repeated in Germany and Austria. I am not naive enough to think the world will be cleansed of atrocities, but some seem to have died and been buried. I can only hope that will be true for the many current horrors in Africa and elsewhere.