This school year, the main focus of my learning about history, was on the 19th and 20th century. I have tried to aquire a broad knowledge about world history of this era and have made the United States, the Netherlands and Germany the focus of more in-depth analyses.
Apart from this era, I have taken every opportunity to:
- visit a variety of museums
- visit historical places
talk with eye witnesses, especially from the 20 century (WWII - German soldiers, submarine personel, Dutch resistance fighters, Dutch and Dutch-Jewish people who had been in hiding, slave laborers Americans, Canadians; WWI my greatgrandfather who was 99 could still remember some events he witnessed as a little boy in Germany). My grandmother has been in hiding herself in WWII because her father had helped jewish people and when he was betrayed, they had to flee.
- read eye witness acounts of various historical events
Excursions and learning journeys
The city of Graz in Austria
In September 2012 I visited the city of Graz in Austria, to learn about its history and geography and to attend a medical congress to learn some in-depth human biology.
The historic centre and the castle "Schloss Eggenberg" are listed as a UNESCO world heritage. I took a guided tour through the historic centre and was fascinated by the many beautiful old buildings and structure of the inner city. One evening we dined in a restaurant on top of a hill overlooking the city. It was magical. We had to descend into a cavelike structure and then used the transparant Schlossberglift (Schlossberg elevator) to ascend the Schlossberg (casle hill).
The legend that surrounds the Schlossberg says that the devil, in the old days, witnessed an Easter procession. This image made him so furious, that he broke off a cliff in Africa and threw it on the ground at the site that, today, is Graz. That is how the Schlossberg came to be.
In the years to follow, the people of Graz built a fair and beautiful city around the Schlossberg and made it into a fortress. Allthough the fortress was destroyed by the French in 1809 as was agreed to after the war in the stipulations of the treaty of Schönbrunn, the Schlossberg fortress is mentioned in the Guiness book of world records as the world's most impenetrable fortress. Merely the bell (nicknamed "Liesl") and the clock tower were saved by the citizens of Graz by paying a ransom. As the site of the former fortress, a park was created.
If you would like to know more about the city of Graz you may want to read the paper I wrote about Graz or look at the photographs of my trip in the gallery below.
The city of Haarlem in the Netherlands
On the 5th of May 2013 I visited the city of Haarlem near Amsterdam in the Netherlands. The city has a rich history. Dutch writer Hildebrand painted a view of the city in his book Camera Obscura, while reading you can see the 'Haarlemse Hofjes' vividly. Walking through Haarlem you can visit these 'hofjes', courdyards surrounded on three sides by small houses, often inhibited by widows or nuns and financed by church or charity. They now are part of the beautiful green heritage of Haarlem.
In the 16th century, there was the Siege of Haarlem. The Spanish army laid siege to the city until the citizens yielded because of hunger.
In the second World War, the resistence was strongly active in Haarlem. Two Haarlem women in particular played an inportant role in the resistance. One was Hanny Schaft, also known as 'the girl with red hair' (later a movie was presented at the Berlin Film Festival). She was a communist and active part of the armed resistance. She was executed shortly before the end of the war.
The other woman was Corrie ten Boom, a deeply religious woman who, with her family, sheltered dozens of members of the resistance and Jews in their house. The family of Corrie ten Boom all died during the war, Corrie was the only survivor. We visited the house in the 'Barteljorisstraat' (nice detail: a street known in Dutch Monopoly), which still looks the same as during the war. In the bedroom of Corrie, a double wall was prepared so six people could hide safely.
When the Germans raided the house, indeed six people went into the hiding place and were saved, whereas the family ten Boom was deported to German concentration camps. Corrie and her sister were deported to the concentration camp of Ravensbrück. One of the subcamps of Ravensbrück is concentration camp Barth. This concentration camp is near were I lived in Germany and I have passed and visited it many times.