Don Whitfield invites you to join him in Germany this June.

What made me leap at the opportunity to lead the upcoming Travel Pursuits trip to Germany is the prospect of experiencing first-hand the places and people which are the source of so many of my lifelong impressions and interests.

Most of us have lived through the decades in which Germany was one, then two, then one again, its division both literal and metaphorical, an emblem of the deep rift defining world politics in the West during the last half of the 20th century.

On our MADE IN GERMANY trip, we will see a prosperous, self-aware, modern country, de facto leader of the much-vexed European Union. At the same time, we will become aware of some of the stresses in contemporary Germany as it grapples with the presence of large resident non-German populations and its place in world politics as an economic but not a military powerhouse. Peter Schneider’s novel, The Wall Jumper, will help us reflect on what fracture lines and radical divisions such as these mean to a society, both politically and psychologically.

The bombing of Dresden

As long as I can remember Germans and things German have been in my life. Early on, Germany was a place where history had been made, where the triumphs and tragedies of collective human actions had been played out on a great and terrible scale. Like so many people born just after World War II, some of my earliest memories are of my father and his Army veteran friends telling stories about their experiences in Germany, first in combat and then in the army of occupation. It seemed strange then that they always spoke so warmly and admiringly about the German people, who after all had recently been the enemy. The hospitality shown to the Americans and the civility of the Germans inspired respect among the GIs.

I like to think these impressions helped me later to recognize the complexity of human situations and the difficulty of understanding the true character of historic events. And I hope that in our reading and discussion of Gunter Grass’ novel, Crabwalk, which traces the lives of three generations of a 20th-century German family, we will be able to explore some of these complexities. This novel, along with Nietzsche’s essay, “The Use and Abuse of History,” will provide many ideas for discussion as we make our way through the three, formerly East German cities of Dresden, Weimar, and Berlin, each of which has played a significant role in the history of Germany.

It struck me recently that six out of ten classical composers in a list of “The Greatest” put together by a music critic for the New York Times were Germans. I then reflected how in my own “acculturation” though the years (and perhaps your own as well) the Germans figured prominently, not only in music, both as composers and performers, but also in literature, philosophy, scholarship, and of course science. We can all name the Names. This incidence of outstanding accomplishment in the incubator of one culture seems too high to attribute to chance.


Faust pondering a pact with the devil

I hope that in our journey, we can gain some understanding of what it is about Germany that has been conducive to this unusual range of accomplishments. With that in mind, we will read and discuss Part One of Goethe’s Faust, too complex to reduce to one overarching meaning, but often said to embody the soul of German creativity and ambition, both for better and its opposite.

These are some of the reasons I look forward to the Travel Pursuits trip to Germany next June. For me, and perhaps for you, too, one of the pleasures of travel to places about which I have an array of scattered impressions, is to see for myself, first-hand, the reality of the place –  to see it as it is now and to listen and look carefully for signs of how it may have been in that most elusive and treacherous realm, the Past.  I hope the authors whose works we discuss – Gunter Grass, Goethe, Peter Schneider, Nietzsche – will help us see beneath the surface of things, even as we enjoy the summer weather, good food, pleasant accommodations, and the beauty and interesting sights of Germany right here, right now.

I plan to travel lightly – one small piece of luggage – but I will carry with me many, many questions that I hope will unfold and deepen as we travel together. And I invite you to bring your own questions. Here are just a few of mine.
• What  do Germans of different ages – young, middle-aged, and old –  think about the role their country played in the history of the 20th century?
• How do Germans think about the position of prosperity and leadership  that their country holds in the European Union? What is their perspective on the United States and Canada?
• What are the  lingering effects of the many years during which Germany was a divided country?
• Why has Berlin emerged as such a vibrant, cosmopolitan center of art and culture?
• Where can you get the best black bread?

I hope you’ll join me in discovering your own personal Germany, whatever your experience and preconceptions may be.

Don Whitfield

To learn more about or to register for Made in Germany: Tales from Three Cities, please call Ann Kirkland at 1-877-633-2555.



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