Traveling to Europe with my soccer teammates sounded ideal, but as soon as I heard that the destination would be Germany, I felt conflicted. As a Jew, I am painfully aware of Germany’s inhumane actions of mass killing millions of Jews and others during the Holocaust in the 1930s and early 1940s. My grandparents refused to buy German products for many years. Should I boycott this Adidas-sponsored trip, I considered? Yet on August 17, 2018, I boarded a flight leaving New York City and heading straight to Frankfurt, Germany. The next five hours were filled with nervousness and excitement as I imagined walking in the streets of a country foreign to me, yet known to many of my lost relatives. I was ready to venture off on this experience and learn about a society, even if its past was confounding and tragic to me.
I came to Germany for two weeks with my entire soccer team: 18 13-year-old girls who were all excited for this once-in-a-lifetime experience. We played lots of soccer, including training with and competing in friendlies (which are matches that don’t count towards either team’s ranking) against German teams. The local soccer facilities and women’s professional FC Frankfurt stadium were amazing to play in, but a highlight was spending time with our host German teams and and barbecuing after matches with them. At first, we interacted awkwardly due to language differences; eventually, with soccer balls to kick around and the use of Google Translate, we made progress hanging out together. The German girls seemed to really care about how the Americans perceived them. I wondered if the Holocaust has caused younger generations of Germans to try even harder to associate their country with positive contributions, instead of the horrors of last century and intolerance.
We toured Frankfurt and neighboring towns and saw historic sites such as the medieval palace in Wurzburg. Walking along the Main River to the old center of Frankfurt and also touring the modern skyscrapers of modern Frankfurt, my biggest first impressions were the city’s beauty and cleanliness. Keeping kosher was challenging, since most meals have a serious amount of schnitzel, but I’m now a fan of strudel. On our guided tours, I was relieved to see plaques commemorating where synagogues used to be and two Jewish museums that persist, and to hear acknowledgements about the genocide and suffering that occurred there. A horrifying statistic I’ll never forget is that the Jewish population in Frankfurt had been 33,000 people in 1939, while only 602 remained by 1945. I felt heartbreaking sadness at times, yet I also learned from our guide about German losses and struggles with national identity resulting from WWII, and I gained a new perspective, too; I hadn’t thought about those challenges.
I will never forget visiting Germany during the summer of 2018. I bonded easily with new soccer friends, and I explored a breathtakingly beautiful new place with a complicated history. My grandparents were relieved when I returned home, but they also expressed pride that I did my best to keep kosher (really, vegetarian) and told people I am Jewish in a country with a tragic history for Jews.
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