And I’m in Germany again. Brett, on the other hand, is bobbing around like a cork in the Barents Sea, eating Russian food and dealing with things like the affect of the curvature of the earth on 2D maps and lack of satellite coverage near the North Pole. Me, I’ve moved into a place in central Munich for a month and am settling in to the closest thing I’ve had to a home since Beijing about this time last year. A whole month in one place! I’ve enrolled in a German course which starts next week, bought groceries and checked out the nearest pool to swim some laps. To be honest I’m looking forward to a bit of a routine. It’s strange having to feed myself again though, and it’s amazing how much mental effort is going into my daily meals. “What do I have left over?” “What needs to be eaten ASAP?” “What else do I need to buy so that I can combine categories a and b into a nutritious meal”. The things normal people do all the time but I just haven’t had to think about lately.
Just in case you thought I was actually growing roots and erecting a white picket fence: I’ve booked my flight to The States for the end of August, and am reading about Central America. My itchy feet haven’t disappeared that quickly. And although it feels like I’ve been here forever it’s only been three nights. Wait, really? Wow. Here I am worrying I haven’t finished my to-do list! I’ve been studying at home for three days and I’m still not fluent in German?? I might as well just give up now. I’m really looking forward to the classes and am curious to see how my level compares to other students. I assume in the listening section I’ll be pretty advanced but speaking I have an accent and reading/writing I’ll be behind.
But before I came back to Munich, Brett and I spent a few days in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. It was a cool city with a nice old town, though I have to say I prefer Riga’s old town. Even though Vilnius had some really nice churches and buildings, somehow it didn’t have the same atmosphere. Maybe we just didn’t give it enough of a chance - we were only there two days. I didn’t know this but back in the 15th century the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was actually quite big. Its territory stretched to the Black sea, including areas that now belong to The Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, Russia and Transnistria (Moldova). In the 18th century things declined, and for the next little while Lithuania seemed to swing between occupations by Russia, Poland, Germany and brief windows of independence. Unfortunately for the large Jewish population in Vilnius, one of Germany’s occupations was during the Second World War. About 95% of them were massacred.
Things weren’t great under Soviet occupation either, as we learned at the Museum of Genocide Victims. It focused on Lithuanian resistance to Soviet rule and the repression of that resistance and the local population. The building itself has an interesting history: it was first built as a court in 1890 but was used by the Germans in their WW1 occupation, then a Soviet prison, then the headquarters of the Gestapo in WW2, then KGB offices, prison and interrogation centre. Downstairs in the basement, away from most of the cells, is the execution chamber. On the explanation it noted that the people about to be executed stood in front of a wooden panelled wall so that the bullets wouldn’t ricochet and accidentally kill someone else. That would be an appalling loss of life I guess. All of the people held, interrogated and killed there were there for political reasons. There was also a poignant exhibition dedicated to those who were deported to remote areas of Russia, whole families at a time, and a section dedicated to their struggles to readjust if they were allowed back “home”.
On a lighter note, we spent a few hours wandering around the Republic of Uzupis, a bohemian area of town that has cheekily declared independence from Vilnius/Lithuania. It has its own president, prime minister, constitution, anthem, army (12 people) and holidays. April Fools Day is it’s national day, the day on which it declared independence back in 1997. Articles on the constitution include: “Everyone has the right to be unique” (article 5), “A dog has the right to be a dog” (article 12) and “Everyone shall remember their name” (article 27). It was a nice little area and we enjoyed a lazy few hours sitting in the sun, looking back over the rest of Vilnius as we had a drawn out dinner.
Of course we also saw plenty of churches in Vilnius, and a few other sights like the Gate of Dawn. It is the only surviving gate from Vilnius’ 16th century city walls and houses an icon of the Virgin Mary. The icon is highly revered by Roman Catholic and Orthodox believers, so when the Russians ordered the demolition of the city walls in the late 18th century the gate and its icon were allowed to stay.
Back in Riga we had time to squeeze in another Tex-Mex fix (though sadly they were out of brownies that night) before we headed our separate ways. We’ll meet up again in Montana at the end of August to spend some time with Brett’s family and show my sister Erica around a little. Then Erica and I will explore Central America for a few months, hopefully joined by Brett once he’s taken care of some admin back home. Then it’s back to Australia in November and December. At the moment we’re hoping to head to Iran before we move to Germany early next year.