I just returned from 3 days of travel with my core course European Memory & Identity,a course in the humanities department which focuses on understanding how people form their personal and ethnic identity using both institutional narratives (such as history taught in school) and social memories (the stories your grandmother tells you). One of the most awesome things about DIS is how the travel is integrated into your class, allowing you see great new cities, while simultaneous having a great experience with a core group of Americans who share your academic interests. Over three days we traveled to several sites within the Schleswig-Holstein region along the Denmark/Germany border. The border has been in three different places in the last 150 years, so people who have had family in the region for generations tend to have a mixed identity, somewhere between German & Danish.
Our first stop on the tour was the Duborg Skolen, a Danish school within Germany. We talked to three different students who attended the school including a German whose parents thought that the Danish school methods would cope better with his ADHD, a guy with a Danish father and a British mother, and a girl who said she considered herself completely Danish.
Later that day we visited Glucksborg Castle, and finished the evening with a fantastic dinner at Hansen’s Braurei in Flensborg—a town within Germany that seems almost completely Danish from my perspective.
The next day we visited Frøslev—technically a Danish concentration camp from WWII, with a very different story than any other camps in Europe.
During WWII, Denmark peacefully collaborated with German forces. There were some Danes who even joined the German army, but Denmark’s collaboration was not indicative of widespread support for Nazism, but of a desire to save as many Danes as possible. The Danish resistance and saboteurs were aided by the Danish police force throughout the war, in spite of their supposed collaboration with Nazis.
When the Nazis insisted that Danish Saboteurs and & Resistance had to be punished, the Danes asked for the right to build their own camp right on the Germany/Denmark border in which they could ensure that any Danish prisoners had enough to eat and good living conditions. By the end of the war, German rations had gotten so tight, that the Germans guarding the camp demanded to be fed the same food as the prisoners. During its time as a camp, no one was executed, however it was used to hold and punish Nazis for war crimes following the war. Today the camp serves as a museum, as well as hosting a boarding school and even offices to Amnesty international.
After, we continued to Hamburg to understand how German cities have shaped the memory of WWII with monuments and publically funded art projects. For instance, in the streets of Hamburg, Stolpersteine or “stumbling stones” are laid into the sidewalks near the homes of those persecuted by Nazis in order to commemorate them.
This Nazi propaganda art was put into dialogue with a new piece of art that depicts the atrocity of war on the innocent.
On a lighter note, Hamburg is also home to the largest model train exhibition in the world, and it was AWESOME, by far the first thing I’d recommend to anyone who intends to visit Hamburg.