Traveling through Germanic Languages and History

I’ve been traveling for the past week through Brussels, Amsterdam, Cologne and Munich. I have been trying to listen to as much Dutch and German as possible and collect all sorts of realia to learn more vocabulary. Of course I’ve also been going to educational places like Mini Europe, which I highly recommend for learning more about European Union geography and history.

I returned to Anne Frank House in Amsterdam after 5 years and it was still just as overwhelming, depressing, and humbling as before, yet it remained impossible to not be touched by Anne’s optimistic words in such a dark time. Otto Frank’s remarks on why he started the Anne Frank Foundation – to fight against the prejudice and discrimination of people of different races and religions – is partly the same reason why I learn languages. It’s not just so I can travel around Europe more easily. It’s so I can talk to people who are different from me and learn from them, and hopefully help them if they are being discriminated against because they are “too different” from everyone else.

Tomorrow morning I am going to Dachau, the very first concentration camp. Yet another reason why I learn languages: not merely to learn, but to experience, history. A lot of meaning can be lost in translation and we can never fully understand the how and the why unless we truly understand the language and culture. I know neither the perpetrators nor the prisoners spoke English so why should I only learn the history in English? I want to listen to the victims’ and survivors’ own words, not a translation.

I want to read Anne’s diary in its original version. The words that she actually wrote. When I read Hélène Berr’s diary in the original French last year, it really affected me because I knew the places and dates she mentioned and the significance of them. I could picture her life in occupied Paris until her arrest. It made the diary all the more real to me, instead of simply stories in a book. Anne’s diary is poignant enough in English, but I can only imagine at this point what it must be like to comprehend it in Dutch.