Right now, I’m in Nuremberg, Germany. Sorrowful Andalusian flamenco sings from the speakers and my half-German, half-Greek host plants a complimentary glass of ouzo on my table. I suspect he’s trying to cheer me up.
Children cycle past, women in headscarves chatter in Arabic and a dog barks on cue like an immaculately trained Hollywood extra.
I stare at the bulb of the glass and try to make sense of it all.
All names that signify a spot on the globe. All names that signify horror.
Earlier today, I took tram number nine from the Hauptbahnhof to the Nuremberg Rally Grounds: the vast (and I do mean vast, a stadium covers around 10% of the area) complex built by the Nazis for the express purpose of stirring up National Socialist propaganda and broadcasting it to the globe.
If you’ve ever seen a photo of Hitler addressing an endless crowd of saluting “soldiers,” it’s likely you were looking at Nuremberg.
Today, a giant shard of glass pierces the entrance and the congress hall displays archive footage and a series of still photos that try to explain just how Nazism became a dictatorship through the democratic process that voted it in.It doesn’t waste its energy with emotive or theatrical language. The bare facts are traumatic enough.
Outside the congress hall, much of the area has fallen into disrepair. Some has even been converted into a sports arena.
I stride around the circumference of the boating lake, racing against the sun. As the shadows fall across the stone I reach the part. The part where Hitler stood, addressing the crowds of thousands with his rhetoric against the Jews, the disabled, the unusual, the unwanted.
I catch my breath.
Tweens play with bikes and skateboards on the cement as weeds watch them in the breeze.
Two lovers embrace on the steps.
And close to the plinth, a girl sits where Hitler stood. She wears pink, her ears are pierced and she reads a book in the glow of the falling sun. She looks at ease, at peace, and just occasionally bemused by the few silver haired Americans and then my good self who wander past her with cameras, aching for humanity, with humility, with a sense of loss – and great foolishness.
What does the chasing of history achieve? What does it matter where events took place and whether or not I can understand them?
And can the world ever stem the tide of horror that flows alongside its greatness?
But before I can reach any kind of answer, a kind man provides a glass of ouzo.
And I sit down to write.