Out East Road Trip Days 4 & 5: Washington D.C.

You can see a lot in two days.  Especially in D.C., where the streets overfloweth with monuments and museums.

Because it would take me about three years to write a witty paragraph about every place we visited, here is a pictorial representation instead, for your convenience and mine:

The Library of Congress, complete with outstanding Civil War exhibit.  I was cruising through it, not very interested in accounts of battles, when all the sudden there was a letter Walt Whitman had written.  There was the signed Thirteenth Amendment.  They aren't overly showy with their authentic artifacts in D.C.  It's up to you to pay attention and discover what's there.

The Library of Congress, complete with outstanding Civil War exhibit. I was cruising through it, not very interested in accounts of battles, when all the sudden there was a letter Walt Whitman had written. There was the signed Thirteenth Amendment. They aren’t overly showy with their authentic artifacts in D.C.; It’s up to you to pay attention and discover what’s there.

Outside the Newseum was a display of state newspapers.  Minnesota was solidly represented.

Outside the Newseum was a display of that day’s front page from every state’s newspaper. Minnesota was solidly represented.

So, there was this house.  And it was white.

So, there was this house. And it was white.

The Capitol, where Minnesota's own Amy Klobuchar set us up with a tour led by one of her interns.  Also, I randomly spotted the Speaker of the House walking into his office, flanked by a few security guards.  No big deal.

The Capitol, where Minnesota’s own Amy Klobuchar set us up with a tour led by one of her interns. Also, I randomly spotted the Speaker of the House walking into his office, flanked by a few security guards. He stopped to chat about the upcoming Bachelorette finale.  He was team Brooks.

The Smithsonian First Ladies' exhibit, where we saw Michelle Obama's  inauguration gown (and shoes, which were refreshingly Holly-sized).

The Smithsonian American History Museum’s First Ladies exhibit, where we saw Michelle Obama’s inauguration gown (and shoes, which were refreshingly Holly-sized (aka about a 10)).

I will interject here to say that my favorite part of the entire D.C. trip was the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History’s exhibit Written in Bone: Forensic Files of the 17th-Century Chesapeake.  I could have stayed there all day; I have a soft spot for anthropology, and an even softer spot for history and mummies and mysteries.  The exhibit was about the human remains found at early settlements such as Jamestown, and what the bones tell scientists about the person they belonged to.  There were about five different skeletons on display, but before you got to view them and learn their stories, you learned what physical clues archaeologists look for to determine how a person died, how they lived, how old they were, etc.  It was an extremely well-organized exhibit that allowed you to feel, for about an hour, like a real archaeologist.  Truly a dream come true.

The Lincoln Memorial, which we only found after an extended hike.

The Lincoln Memorial, which we only found after an extended hike.

The man himself, looking imposing.

The man himself, looking imposing.

Where MLK stood to deliver a rather famous speech.

Where Dr. King stood to deliver a rather famous speech.

The Vietnam Memorial.  The little girl in the distance was an accidental (but beautiful, in my humble opinion) capture.

The Vietnam Memorial. The little girl in the distance just makes this picture for me.

Other visited spots that didn’t allow photography: The National Archives (The Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Bill of Rights, Magna Carta, LAND GRANT FILED TO CHARLES INGALLS, etc.), and the Holocaust Museum (exceedingly powerful.  Thoughtfully, provocatively arranged.  I almost burst into tears when I saw the piles of shoes which had been taken from concentration camp inmates).

Truthfully, I didn’t expect to enjoy D.C. as much as I did.  I knew I’d like the museums, but I didn’t think I’d like the city.  But it was lively and beautiful.  And filled with friendly people.  I certainly didn’t expect that, but let me tell you, Mom and I never stood on the sidewalk holding a map open for more than two minutes without a stranger walking over to help us find our way.  What’s more, when I somehow rubbed up against something (I suspect an escalator rail) and had black grease streaked across the rear of my white shorts, a woman stopped me to ask if I knew (I didn’t). What greater kindness is there?

Dachau

I never did post, in my travel blog, about my visit to Dachau.  It’s something I’m going to post about now, not because I can’t think of anything else to write about, but because it’s important.

I had been wanting for a long time to visit a concentration camp.  I’ve always been interested in learning about the Holocaust, not so much the mechanics of it, but about the people affected.  The ones in the camps, the ones peering down at the camps from tall, gunned towers, and the ones who hid from the camps, both successfully and unsuccessfully.  So when my study abroad group visited Munich, I decided to jump ship and abandon the churches tour in favor of the camp.

Dachau Concentration Camp is only about 30 minutes by train and by bus from Munich.  We didn’t miss the dark irony of taking a train out to such a place, and the closer we got, the more solemn everyone became.  My stomach actually started to ache as we squeezed onto the bus and began hurtling toward the camp itself.

When the bus dropped us off at the KZ-Dachau stop, we couldn’t see anything.  There was a sign,

and there was a visitors’ center immediately on the left, but besides that, we could only see the wide road ahead.  It was lined with thin woods on either side.

We walked up a little farther up the road, and came to the remains of the railroad which had shipped prisoners to and from the camp (you can see the platform on the left):

And then we turned to the right, and saw the gates of Dachau.  The gates were iron, and twisted into the middle part were the words “Arbeit Macht Frei,” or, “Work Makes One Free.”

This was eerie on its own, seeing the iron-wrought sign I had read about in so many books, but the very moment I passed through the gates and into the camp, a huge gust of wind blew into my face.  It was only the kind of wind, I suppose, that blows across large open spaces, but the timing of it was what struck me.  I was walking through the same gates that arriving prisoners had walked through, that guards and Nazi officers had walked through, that U.S. soldiers, come to liberate, had walked through.  I was so freely and casually strolling through gates that had clanged shut behind so many thousands of people.  30,000 of those people, 30,000 of those innocent, ordinary people, would never get to walk back out again.

I don’t think that anyone knows what to expect when visiting such a place.  Obviously there is going to be some sort of emotional reaction, but you don’t know what is going to trigger it, or how.  I wondered if I would actually cry, or if I would be shocked and angered at the atrocities committed.  I wondered if it would be hard to see things, or if I would be interested, as I am in most museums.

What I felt, in the end, was quiet.  The entire time I was at Dachau, I didn’t want to speak to anyone.  I just wanted to look by myself.

The bunker

Where the bunkers used to be.

Scattered throughout the camp were chapels that had been built post-liberation. They represented the faiths of those in the camp.

Terribly ironic

The crematorium

The gas chambers, which were built but evidently never used.

The scenery around the camp was lovely, but not when framed with barbed wire.