Wednesday, December 19


This post has been a stumbling block for me. In the same way that I had to visit the longest-running Nazi concentration camp once I learned it was only twenty minutes from Munich, I have had to write about it. Obviously, that has been difficult. I went to Dachau over a month ago, and this post only arrives now. There is a lot about the experience I do not know how to put into words, much less have any explanation as to why. What exactly was this compulsion to visit Dachau, for example? If I figure the answer to that one out, I will let you all know. It is intimidating, too. I have read that the Holocaust is the historical event for every generation since. Everything comes back to it. To write about a visit to a concentration camp is to try and capture the essence of the Holocaust, and I am hardly up to that task. But now I just need to push through and get something down.

First and lasting impression? It was big, and it was empty. Granted, my hometown is small, but it would be no trouble at all to gather all its citizens into the central grounds. Movies like Schindler’s List and La Vita รจ Bella are so personal that you lose any sense of the scale of the Holocaust. Yeah, the families portrayed suffered everything, but you could fit a lot of those families in Dachau and it was hardly the largest of the very many camps. What remains is not even the entirety of the camp. A generous portion of it, including the ovens, is now streets or residential.

There were several memorials in the camp. At the far end, past the lines marking the rows of demolished prisoner housing, were three religious memorials. You want irony? The Catholic memorial was finished first, pushed through by a bishop who survived and dedicated a good decade before the Protestant one, which still came a few months before the Jewish memorial was finished and dedicated. At the other end, closer to the museum was some art: rough iron bodies at harsh right angles and triangles surrounding a chain. A short distance from there was a simple stone memorial with the words “Never again” repeated in three languages.

Reflecting on his own visit, my friend Emmett wrote that no memorials were necessary, the dry buildings were enough. I disagree. In a very literal sense, the buildings were memorials themselves. They had to be reconstructed because they were so shoddily built, but they were not enough. I guess I expected something a bit more sinister. If not the overt evil of skulls on pikes outside Minas Morgul than at least the sterile, technological dread of the Death Star, but Dachau was nothing worthy of note itself. There was no aura of dread around the ground, and even if the ovens remained, I doubt they would have warranted a second look. Without the walls cutting the camp off from the surrounding town, the officers’ and prisoners’ quarters would fit right in with the neighborhood homes which would inevitably grow up around them.

That is where I find the great horror of the Holocaust, I guess. It was not the loss of life, as high as it was. Were life so sacred, war itself would have been ended long ago, and there would be no arguments about capital punishment because it would not exist. No, I believe our inability to escape the Holocaust is how pedestrian it was. There was no frenzy or insane rage. The extermination lasted far too long for that to be an honest reason. It was a job that the Nazis convinced themselves needed doing, and they went about it without any special interest or passion.

I think I needed to visit Dachau to realize this. Yes, there are the books to read and films to watch, and they are necessary because the extent of it all is not contained in this single camp. Still, to actually see it is something else. The Holocaust and very notion of genocide borders on the unreal for this middle-class kid from small town Minnesota. I can imagine all the students at my university dead from gas and then cremated and then multiply that number by 1,500, but to actually believe it happened is near impossible. That is what the visit was for.

Here is Emmett’s post.

Tuesday, December 18

Considering the Rodrigo Y Gabriela concert

I did not come into my five months in Munich expecting much or even with plans. The general idea was to take advantage of those this unique stay in Europe and try as many new things as possible. Thus, I finally ended up attending my first proper concerts: Bloc Party, of which I have already written, and Rodrigo Y Gabriela. As an aside, I find it rather funny that my first concerts are attended in Germany but neither are German groups. Bloc Party hails from London, and Rodrigo Y Gabriela came out of Mexico by way of Ireland. Good grief, except for a “Wie geht es euch?” from Matt Tong of Bloc Party, the bands did not even try to speak German. Hooray for globalization and all that jazz, I suppose.

Anyway, Rodrigo Y Gabriela. My second concert. Rodrigo and Gabriela are an acoustic guitar playing duo. They met as members of Terra Acida, a thrash metal band in Mexico, and were discovered while busking in Ireland by Damien Rice. The world owes Mr. Rice a hearty clap on the back for that. They are amazing in every musical sense. Their talent and skill are undeniable, and their music is soulful and infectious. This is not music that just plays in the background. It captures your attention like that bombshell you pass on the street and causes you to nearly stumble over yourself when you turn to get that second look and confirm that God loved the world enough to create her. If you hear Rodrigo Y Gabriela, even in passing, you are not human if you do not find yourself tapping your foot or giving in to the rhythm in the least. Even more, their sound is unique. It is not flamenco, it is not rock, and it is definitely not the same three chords by some talentless fool with a pretty face. It is entirely their own. Rodrigo does the melody, and Gabriela takes care of harmony and rhythm. Yes, percussion, and as great as their sound is, it hits the mind-blowing level when you actually see what they have to do with their hands to create this sound. Kind of like that Yngwie Malmsteen guy, you lose the experience without the visual. You want an idea? Check out these live clips of Tamacun and Diablo Rojo and Stairway to Heaven on YouTube.

I love those clips. I appreciated the skill of Rodrigo and Gabriela still more after seeing them live. It is unfortunate that the clips only give the barest sense of the concert. Of course the atmosphere is charged, completely different from a solo listen in your room, but your impression of their skill only pulls a gold medal jump when they keep the insanity up for a solid two hours and their encore shreds even more than their opening set.

The music and performance alone made the 16 Euro ticket, 45-minute delay and last-minute change of venue more than worth it. The kicker, though, lay in their answer to a complaint I had raised earlier that day. There is too much irony in the world. All we participants in this postmodern Western world have is a feigned appreciation for anything because to actually care about something is to leave ourselves open to derision. I could and likely will write a post on this sometime, dropping the level of direness, but let us let it stand at that. For now. To return to the point, Rodrigo Y Gabriela’s concert was delightfully free of it all. Rodrigo took multiple bathroom breaks between songs and ran the frets with a bottle of Beck’s in one hand for one song. Gabriela’s related the story behind their song “FUIO,” or some such acronym. It was honest and devoid of any pretension. Come on, they were taking song requests within fifteen minutes. Best of all, perhaps, was when Gabriela started head banging and flashing the devil horns. She is the first person I have ever seen do that non-ironically, and it was wonderful.

I have only a single complaint, having forgiven the previously mentioned delay. The dual punches of Bloc Party and Rodrigo Y Gabriela, excellent live performers who are still fresh and exciting, as my first concerts has spoiled me. All future concerts are doomed to fall short of the great googly balls of perfect that these were.

Should you desire a second opinion on this concert, especially from someone who can write intelligently on the technical skill of the duo with the appropriate vocabulary, check out this post by my friend Emmett, who delayed his trip to Munich a week in order to catch the concert. Also, I introduced him to their music. I take his appreciation for their sound as a sign of great taste in music on my part.