Chicago nach Berlin / USA / Deutschland
Reporting on music, sports, comedy and all things cultural from the Midwest to the Mideast and now onto Europe!
I feel like a sinner confessing to a priest. I apologize for my blogging neglect; it has been nearly two months since my last update.
Previously I was discussing my plans for a move to Berlin. I have started and promptly ended a new entry about my stay in Germany a dozen times. The problem was not that I had nothing to say, but rather, was what I had to say particularly Jewish, or the same ramblings of any American 20-something doing the whole ‘globe-trotting’ thing? Was the star around my neck the driving force of my experiences or the Bruce Springsteen hoodie clinging to my body with pride?
Currently I am in the Netherlands, and with distance comes the possibility to unpack certain scenes that happened in Berlin that a non-Jewish American or other traveler would have experienced differently, or not at all:
* My first shower in Germany. I was seven when my mother tried to explain the horrors of the Holocaust. It was always her policy not to sugar-coat things in baby talk (but how can genocide be sugar-coated anyway?), and she said that the Nazis (or did she say Germans back then?) killed the Jews in showers of poison, instead of water. She probably explained the whole history leading up to that ending, but all I retained from her lesson was the poison water. The next time I turned the faucet on to take a shower, I stood there for minutes, staring at the water. How do you know if it’s poison or not? My mother screamed from outside the bathroom, “Do you think I own ComEd (the utility company)?” My mother’s disapproval was more real to me than evil ghost Nazis in our pipes, and I promptly jumped into the path of the water. Fast-forward nearly two decades: I stood outside a shower in a town called Neuenhagen, outside of Berlin. I knew the water wasn’t Zyklon B and that, regardless of the NPD story on the front page of the local newspaper I read that morning in the breakfast nook decorated with medieval-style woodcarvings of saints, no Nazis were operating the piping system. But it felt weird. Taking a shower in Germany. Normal events bringing up atrocities in my mind. I finished with the shower and brushed my teeth. It felt like brushing my teeth.
* Finding this book in my host family’s bookshelf:
I have not contributed a new post in awhile for a couple reasons. First, I’m less than two weeks from my move to Berlin, which is taking up a lot of time and stress. Secondly, the tone of the blog has changed due to the circumcision issues and the attack on the Berlin rabbi, and as an American Jew not living in Europe yet, I didn’t know quite what I could bring to the discussion.
The circumcision thing baffles me, because that’s something that would never pass in America. A greater percentage of American men, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, have the procedure when they’re born. It would be hard to determine the legality of something so much of the population has experienced without harmful effects. And, most importantly, laws that forbid parents to do something that has not been deemed medically-harmful by almost all respected medical professionals, would be seen as government-sponsored anti-religious incitement. At the very least, it’s the definition of the term “Nanny State,” which we Americans hate so much. However, in Europe, it seems laws like these are becoming more acceptable — my cousin lives in The Netherlands, where a bill criminalizing kosher/halal slaughter was just abandoned, but the fact it made it all the way to the legislature for a decision boggles my American mind. READ MORE
Walter Rathenau, Foreign Minister of Germany during the Weimar period, once referred to Berlin as “Chicago on the Spree”; I guess that makes Chicago “Berlin on Lake Michigan.” Given that, one would think moving from one city to the other would not be a huge deal, besides all the bureaucratic red tape that goes along with any international move.
As a Jewish-American, my new address is downright controversial. Fellow Jews usually look at me like I just told them about my baptism plans. “You’re moving WHERE?!” Non-Jews look less horrified and more concerned for my safety, lest I end up in a time machine. “You’re sure you want to go THERE?!”
Constantly defending my interest in German culture and language is tedious, so I decided to enlist a buddy to take some of the pressure off of me. His name is Evan Kaufmann, a fellow Jewish Midwesterner (born in Minnesota), making a life in Germany. That life being one of a professional hockey player: first for the DEG Metro Stars, and now as part of the Nuremberg Ice Tigers. While he’s been playing for Germany since 2008, his story hit the US media this year, creating a fresh round of debate about his decision.
If I were so inclined, I’d title this entry “Oy-lympics,” but I’m afraid I would lose blog execution points for terrible puns, so I digress. Yesterday at the Women’s Floor Event Final in London, Aly Raisman of Team USA struck gold. Her impressive score of 15.600 was made sweeter by the choice of music for her routine: “Hava Nagila.” The NBC commentator mentioned the homage to her Jewish heritage as she walked triumphantly off the floor, as did Bob Costas in an interview with the Olympic champion later that night. Though, frankly, her hyper and adorable parents, who were spotlighted fidgeting throughout the Games, were quite the homage themselves.
Raisman is certainly not the first Jewish gymnast to represent the US and win gold. Kerri Strug famously secured the team gold in 1996 with her wobbly, but completed vault on an injured ankle. Coincidentally, it was Raisman on floor who was the last competitor for Team USA during the Team Finals. This time around, however, it was less dramatic as the gold was a given due to major falls by the Russians on beam and floor.
I love watching gymnastics regardless of the heritage of the athletes of course, but the fact that I can hear the US national anthem play because of Raisman’s “Hava Nagila” performance adds a special sense of pride to the victory. On a personal athletic note for Raisman, with her gold in Team and Floor, she becomes the third US gymnast, joining Shannon Miller (gold in Team and Balance Beam, 1996) and fellow teammate Gabby Douglas (Team and All-Around, 2012), to bring home two gold medals in a single Games; she also is the first ever American woman to win gold on Floor. Mazel Tov!
In gymnastics news from other countries of Jewdyssee note, Team Deutschland finished in a disappointing 7th in the Men’s Team Finals, but was redeemed by Marcel Nguyen’s brilliant silver medal All-Around and Parallel Bars performances and Fabian Hambuechen’s silver medal Horizontal Bar routine, adding to the bronze he got in Beijing. Team Israel was represented once again by Alexander Shatilov, who placed 6th in Men’s Floor and 12th in All-Around.