Yesterday we all traveled to LMU (Ludwig Maximillion Universitat) to meet Franz J. Muller (mit umlaut) who was a member of the White Rose during WWII. Having taken my freshmen seminar in the RC about survivors of the Holocaust in which we had the opportunity to meet two or three survivors, I knew to expect a bit of...how shall I say...being star struck. Many emotions and confusing thoughts arise when you meet someone you highly respect and have read about indirectly for years.
Here was history, live and in person, and I couldn't think of a thing to say or ask him. Many things played into this but the language barrier was probably the most frustrating for me. I wished so much that I could formulate my thoughts into a cohesive sentence that would make sense to him. I experienced this many times before the program started as I traveled around Germany with my English-speaking parents, but this was the first time that it really bothered me having only taken Intensive I.
Once we had all gotten over our initial shyness, it is safe to say that we all came away from that meeting refreshed and in awe about his attitude. He conveyed the importance of having a sense of humor during a time when few laughed and explained some of the things he did to “quietly resist”. For example, something I found absolutely ingenious and hilarious is that instead of saluting and repeating the required Nazi salute, Heil Hitler, they simply added a “t” to the end of heil—making the phrase into a whole new meaning, “heilt” meaning to make well or heal. Although it was necessary to say it fast to go undetected, he said it was one of the best resistance techniques in order to stay “nearly” free.
Some interesting quotes from Franz:
“We are old men now, joking about the Nazis”
“It was a stupid part of human history-that’s it”
“They got beheaded [Hans and Sophie] and I got 5 years in prison”
My sketch of Franz and a group photo:
After meeting with the one of the only surviving members of the White Rose, something I will never forget, we all went our separate ways to have a little free time before Theater. I chose to join a group exploring the city around Marionplatz and visit a few local shops. An experience I need to share, however odd it is, takes place in an inconspicuous prepared foods deli where we stopped to eat lunch. Once we were all satisfied with full stomachs, it was, of course, time to use the restroom before departing. Having been in Germany for about two weeks now, I have learned to always take advantage of a free bathroom when the opportunity arises. Differing from the United States, Germany often charges you to use the bathroom in public places and I have learned to always carry spare change around. Anyway, for all the bathrooms I have been in throughout my lifetime, I have never experienced a bathroom quite like this.
Imagine the scene: a door labeled with the obvious sign “WC”, that leads into a cramped corridor revealing four other options to take. A door marked “private” in a handwritten scrawl, a door marked Damen, one for Herren, and an unmarked, locked door. Which do you take? Well, I chose to go with the safest option I could think of—Damen. Expecting this to lead to a row of stalls, I was confused and surprised to find another cramped corridor. This time there was only one option, yet I was unsure what to do with the door I had just left. There was a lock on it. Gee I don’t want someone to walk in on me…maybe I should just lock it. But where does the next door lead? Should I leave it unlocked until I know I’m in the right place? What is going on? Where am I? Having finally made the decision to be safe than sorry, I barred the way against unwanted company, and opened the next the door only to be surprised once again by a cramped space containing a single toilet with another lock on it.
We’ll never know what exactly the four doors were for or why each one had a lock, but we eventually concluded we had just survived our first vortex in Deutschland.
My day ended with a viewing of John Gabriel Borkman at the Kammerspiele. I have learned to be patient at German theater, as I don’t understand a lot of what is going on during dialogue, and to wait for the moment when the big picture comes together after a few general ideas. This play in particular was very fascinating, with a set containing a giant vertical wall with tunnels carved out into it for the actors to walk in and around and fans blowing paper chaotically through the tunnels and into the front rows of the audience every now and then. I’ve never seen anything quite like it and I find that I am always amazed at the differences in German Theater from America.
An unsettling experience followed the play that left us shaken and thoughtful. One of the main actresses was pulled in a harness up into the air for a long period of time in the final scene with huge theater lights lit behind her facing the audience. When the lights went out and she was finally lowered to the stage, they all began to walk to the center to take their bows. However, she was only able to take a few steps before she collapsed onto the floor. At first, the audience was taken aback and began to think it was part of the performance as her character had been dying in the final scene from a long illness. Yet it soon became clear this was not acting as the actors rushed to her aid and called for a doctor. “Jezt kein Theater” still rings in my head as the audience realized it wasn’t okay. She did wake up eventually and they led her backstage, but I was still shaken for some time as we walked back from the theater.
Although fainting actresses haven’t been a common theme, I am still continuously amazed at seeing live German theater and exploring Munich and I am very thankful to have this opportunity.