Displaced Yankee Productions | If you are handicap and need a bathroom, the Autobahn is the place to be

Theresa is sick of just talking to me and has been trying earnestly each evening to get locals to converse with her.  We are in yet another smoky bar where she is trying to chat up the crowd.  However, the young, hip Berliners with their slim cigarettes and practiced indifference are not proving to be a willing audience.   The longest conversation yet has been with a bartender who was obviously taking his bored indifference frustration out on me:

“I’ll have a Absolute Vodka Martini”

“You cannot.  You can have an Absolute.  Or a Vodka Martini, not both.”

“I can’t have a vodka martini made with Absolute?”

“Do you want a Vodka Martini?

“Yes, an Absolute Vodka Martini”

“You cannot”

“Fine, I will just have a Vodka Martini”

“I can make it with Absolute”

“So I can’t have an Absolute Vodka Martini, but I can have a vodka martini with Absolute?”

“Yes”

He struts away.  He better bring a very big drink. (He doesn’t)

Roma Memorial At Buchenwald

Theresa and I spend our last night in Berlin having dinner with documentary filmmaker Klaus Stanjek.  Klaus’s uncle Wilhelm Heckman was a Gay German man who was a musician of some renown prior to being arrested and sent to Dachau concentration camp.  He helped form a band in the camp and was later sent to Mauthausen labor camp in Austria, considered to be one of the most brutal.  The campsite was a huge rock quarry.  Mauthausen was also one of only two camps in all of Europe to be labeled as “Grade III” camps – the worst, toughest place to be sent. It was mostly used for extermination through hard labor in the rock quarry.  The SS guards would also amuse themselves with cruel tortuous means of killing the prisoners including sending hundreds of weak men carrying large stones racing up the long set of stone stairs called the “Stairs Of Death.”  When one would collapse and drop his stone, the others behind would be crushed by the resulting domino effect of people and stones.  The guards would also line up prisoners at the edge of a cliff and give them the option of getting shot or pushing the guy in front of them off the top.

Somehow, Wilhelm survived more than five years in this camp.  Though his skill as a musician was put to grim use and he and others were forced to play music when others were executed.  Wilhelm is in one of the most famous photos of this camp “The Execution Of Hans Bonarewitz”.

Wilhelm has since passed on but his nephew Klaus has graciously agreed to be interviewed for “Forget Us Not” to tell his uncle’s story as a gay man (pink triangle) targeted by the Nazi’s.

The next morning we begin winding our way across German to various camps over the course of the rest of the week.  By Friday, we intend to wind up in Dresden, a city that was fire bombed by the Allied troops at the end of the war.  Natalia Orloff, my Ukraine survivor was being transported from the labor camp she was held at to a death camp when they stopped in Dresden right before it was bombed.  She survived the bombing.

Our first stop is 4 hours away in the town of Bergin, the Bergin-Belsen camp system.  Poor Theresa is stuck in the car with no one to talk to but me for 4 long hours.  Again.  She solves this nicely with a few naps and a lot of snacks along the way.  And plenty of rest stops -every few miles on the Autobahn there are large signs for rest areas with handicap signs.  I’ve never seen handicap bathrooms so well advertised.  I may qualify for them after a few more days of driving in my little tin rental car being buffeted on both sides by 18 wheelers and BMW’s going at breakneck speed and zipping through lanes with abandon.  I’m so tense; I may not be able to move without assistance soon.

Bergin Belsen is another important camp in my documentary.  My Roma survivor Ceija was held both at Auschwitz and at this camp.  In fact, a large group of Roma and Sinti were held in their own barracks here.  I am half hoping for at least an exhibit because of this, but once again – pretty much no reference to the Roma’s.   I point this out one of the curators who has come out to speak with me about filming permits –(I intend to return here with my director of photography).  When I mention there seems to be very little homage in terms of remembrance, exposure and education about what happened to the Roma and Sinti, he nods in agreement, shrugs and says, “You are right.”  To their credit, his department is trying to change that and is working with a local group to help add an exhibit to their museum.

We move next to the city of Weimar and the Buchenwald camp system.  Unfortunately, while they have wonderful museums and educational buildings set up, there is very little left of the original site from a filming needs standpoint.  But they do have something that has been a long search in the making:  an honest to goodness Roma and Sinti Memorial!  Set in the place where their barracks were, it is a simple, haunting collection of stones carved with the names of all the camps they were held at across Europe.  We take about 500 photos with various lenses.

Back in the city of Weimar, our GPS is taking us on a merry tour trying to find our hotel.  Theresa keeps referring to it as a female. “Where the hell is she taking us?”  “What the hell does she want us to do now?”  While I suspect the GPS is not a sentient as Theresa is implying, I strongly agree with the emotion, especially after going down a narrow road that dead ends and requires even our little car to do a 50-point turn to get out.

While we are stuck trying to accomplish this maneuver, a cute little elderly German couple raps on our window.  Presumably to find out what the hell the stupid foreigners were doing.  We show them the name of our hotel and they cluck in a foreboding way and glance at each other.  We are not sure what it means.  My first though is that we are staying in the worst part of town in a dive.  But using their directions (in German) and our temperamental GPS we finally arrive.  It is beyond swanky and as it turns out, is a historical spot known for being the favorite hotel of the 3rd Reich.  Excellent.  That wasn’t mentioned on Hotels.com.

The next morning we are ready to set out for Dresden and are disappointed to have to get on the road so early.  The Onion Festival, which has been going on in Weimar for 360 years, was setting up and getting ready to kick in over the weekend.  Vendors, music and onions- thousands of them are on every corner.  Combined with the crisp fall colors and smell of sausages cooking in the air, we both just kind of wanted to kick back, have a beer and hang out with the locals.

Even if none of them talk to us.

 
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