World on the Weekend: Germany

Child requested to learn about Germany, but she specifically noted that she did not want to learn anything more about the Holocaust “until I’m older”.   So she knew about that.

What she didn’t know was that in the twentieth century, Germany accomplished, to greater or lesser acclaim depending on whom you ask, the incredible challenge of reunifying what had become two incredibly different worlds split symbolically and physically by the Berlin Wall.

History, geography, political science

How does one explain the horrors of Communist East Germany to a child? 

I had already explained the original idea of communism by explaining how Israeli kibbutzim worked where everyone worked according to their ability and received according to their needs.  In fact, that is exactly what a family unit is.

However, communism as it was practiced by the Stasi was terrifying and repressive and the only way to explain that was to describe the extreme measures to which people would go to cross the wall.

First, though, it’s worth explaining the wall.  Dr Seuss wrote a rather charmingly horrifying book called “The Butter Battle Book” in which two adjacent villages go to war over which side to butter their bread.  A wall between them goes up, and each side sends an envoy with an increasingly powerful weapons.  The book ends with all inhabitants hiding underground while the two soldiers stand on opposite sides of the wall ready to drop the final bomb.  Although the book received some criticism for portraying the two sides as morally equivalent, as a story of a pointless game of dangerous brinkmanship, it is excellent. It was made into a lovely animated short film as well.

The real story is even harder to believe.  It began over a dispute as to whether the East German guards at Checkpoint Charlie had the right to demand that an American diplomat by the name of Allan Lightner show his documentation.  International agreement said he didn’t have to, but the low-level guard wasn’t taking any chances.  Pretty soon, both sides had tanks lined up.  The problem was, the tanks on the East German side were completely black with no markings.  Without being able to identify the tanks as either of East German or Soviet origin, the Americans were afraid to move.  As it happens, a US lieutenant and his adjutant drove across in a jeep (still agreed upon as a tentatively legal move) and somehow managed to sneak into one of the black tanks and discovered a Russian language newspaper.  This information was sent through a backchannel between the president’s brother, R.F.K. and a Soviet diplomat (there was no direct line of communication between the two superpowers, hard as that is to believe) and allowed both sides to diffuse tensions. 

This story can lead to interesting discussions with your child on how to resolve disputes on the playground. 

Music and dance

After a morning of heavy political discussion, put on your tutus and dance the afternoon away to Bach, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, and Wagner.

Stories and math

If your child is unfamiliar with Grimm’s fairy talks, remedy that with perennial favourites such as Cinderella, The Goose Girl, Rumplestiltskin, The Frog Prince and others. 

For the story of Hansel and Gretel, make a cardboard cookie house.  Take a cardboard box and cut it into a doll’s house, or use a doll’s house you have.  Draw and cut out cookie and candy cane shapes to stick on.  Draw patterns on the cookies and candies, or draw 2 and 4 way symmetrical patterns on the cookies.


Black Forest cake is always a nice treat.


We enjoyed reading and watching «The Butter Battle Book» and we learned a lot about the different ways people tried to cross the wall.  We even went outside and tried to find ways to scale our own garden wall, minus, of course, the threat of being shot at.

Dancing is always fun.  We listened to the different pieces of music and tried to decide how it made us feel: happy, sad, angry, excited.  Then we danced out those emotions.

The Hansel and Gretel house took the better part of the afternoon.  It was fun coloring the candy shapes, and of course we added things like sequins and glitter.  Our doll’s house looked simply fabulous!

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