I spent my fall break traveling across a smattering of countries in Europe: Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, and Spain. Through this experience, I was constantly reminded of the importance of place. The location in which people were raised greatly affects the outcomes of their lives—the situations they encounter, the personality characteristics they develop, the values they hold most dear. I’ve noticed this as I’ve compared the differences between people from the Midwest, East Coast, and West Coast, but it became particularly evident to me as I was walking along the remains of the Berlin Wall. This, perhaps, is because my heritage stems from Germany, as my grandmother was born in Berlin around the beginning of WWII.
My tour guide explained the economic climate of German prior to WWII in which the German currency was horribly inflated, and people were very poor and hungry. Thus, having a government that was providing work and food for people was a relief for much of the population, and as I read at the Topography of Terror exhibit, many Germans ignored the atrocities of the Holocaust because they were finally prospering. My great-grandmother, for instance, was grateful for the changes which were being made so that she could provide for her four children while her husband was serving in the Luftwaffe and was a POW during the War. For my grandmother, losing the War meant fleeing to then Czechoslovakia and having to later walk back to Germany. My German family was born and raised in a location in which it was conventional to be a part of the Nazi regime, to be against Hitler would have been much more challenging (although the right thing to do). Alternatively, my American family fought in WWII against Hitler, and when they won the War they got to go home. As Americans, it was easy to be fighting on the right side and against Nazi Germany.
For this particular moment in history my ancestors were living in the same time, fighting on the same land, and fighting for entirely different causes merely because of where they were born. I think this is a little bit humbling and thought-provoking to consider how greatly one’s identity and actions are affected by their surrounding culture, time period, and location.
Danielle is a student at Northwestern College studying at Florence University of the Arts during the Fall 2013 term.