“You Keep Silent Until the Grave or You End Up in the Grave”: Recsk National Memorial Park, Hungary

Reconstruction of Barracks No. 5.

Alllll the way back in 2020, a friend and I decided to adventure through northeast Hungary to visit the lovely vacation town of Miskolc [sounds like “meesh-kolts” in English], before making our way to the gorgeous city of Eger [sounds like “ay-guh” in English] and of course the wine region known as the Valley of the Beautiful Women before meandering our way through the Bükki National Park toward Budapest. On the journey west, we stopped at a virtually unknown site deep within the Hungarian countryside — Recsk Nemzeti Emlékpark (Recsk National Memorial Park).

Entrance to the memorial park (2020).

I was unsure what to expect or if we were even in the right location as my friend carefully drove up the country road leading higher into the protected Mátrai region toward Lahóca mountain. I had found very little information on the former labor camp, the memorial, or the area itself. An Atlas Obscura entry of three short paragraphs overviewed a brief history of one of Hungary’s gulags, a forced labor and imprisonment system concealed in secrecy. Similar to our journey around the former Soviet town of Szentkirályszabadja, a location chosen for its spot off the beaten path, the Recsk [sounds similarly in English “het-chk”] internment camp up in the Mátra mountains was selected for its isolation and ability to produce labor for the state.

We saw a sign to the right pointing us down a dirt road toward the former forced labor camp. Unbeknownst to us, if we would have continued straight just a few more minutes, the path would have led us to the one of the most important mining operations in Hungary’s history, a site of not only the largest gold ore and copper deposits in the country, but also a place of terror and remembrance, where culture, history, and geology intersect with human geography, environmental degradation, and memory.

Google Maps view (2011). The park is to the right and the road to the mine continues to the left.

The history and importance of the Recsk-Lahóca mine and the Recsk forced labor camp intersect with politics, culture, extraction, and labor over time; these stories are shared through accounts of survivors, but also in the physical landscape of the space.

I’ll try to not meander here but an understanding of the memorial at Recsk also requires an overview of the mining operations both historically and presently, along with how memory narratives are shaped in Hungary. Incredible work by Barbara Bank, Livia Gyarmathy, Géza Böszörményi and the State Security Historical Archive to collect information, research, and survivor narratives helped tell this story, along with a breathtaking gallery of forced labor camp sites, survivors, and their families by Daniel Kovalovszky.

Where are we?

Located 120 kilometers (74 miles) from Budapest and up in the Mátra mountains, the forced labor camp near the town of Recsk was established in 1950. The 1,500 – 1,800 people imprisoned here worked long hours in the nearby mine, linking the past and present of this industry to one of the most secretive internment camps in Hungarian history.

The Recsk mining operation today.
Source: Colas Hungary

I am not a geologist in any way (literally anything other than the 1993 release of Jurassic Park? no thanks) so forgive my attempts at summarizing the geological features and importance of this mine and quarry. Large amounts (some of the biggest in the world) of copper, gold, and silver are located in the sulphide mineral deposits in Recsk-Lahóca; estimations propose that the underground deposits include 5.6 million tons (12 billion pounds) of copper and 4 million ounces of gold. Non-metallic minerals mined here include Miocene andesite-ryholite rock and Oligocene clay deposits.

A stone from the mine in Recsk.
From the collection: An Infernal Play by Daniel Kovalovszky

Markhót first discovered copper and silver in the area in 1763, but the push for exploration ramped up in 1850, with the mine in Lahóca officially opening in 1852 by the Parád-Mátrai Mining Company. A boom in small-scale mining before WWI led to the Hungarian government purchasing the mine in 1926, with the most production taking place after the war period; copper and gold were located near the surface and were mined until the deposits were depleted by 1979. While in production, the mine produced fifty five kilometers (34 miles) of open stopes, drifts, and levels. During this time, large amounts of rock waste dumps and leeching from grained flotation tailings were also exposed to the environment, along with greater flooding due to increased erosion and the dumping of mine waste.

In Hungary, as is with many other Central and Eastern European countries, the history of the past 150 years can be seen in the landscape; Recsk is no different. Industrialization and mining directly impacted the country’s economy, its landscape, and culture. For decades, the Recsk-Lahóca mine was the main producer of copper for Hungary. Similarly to other locations with a history of mining — including the Hungarian town of Oroszlany and American Appalachia — many in the small town of Recsk hold on to their history and culture, including the recent opening of a mining exhibition in the community center.

History of the Forced Labor Camp in Recsk:

The entrance to the forced labor camp in the 1950s.
Photo by László Kőrösmezey

During WWII, Hungary was aligned with Nazi Germany and after the war ended, the country fell under Soviet occupation. While the Soviet Union controlled and utilized avenues of propaganda and force, the communist party was unable to gain control through direct election within the country; as a result, the Soviets implemented a puppet government in 1947 and utilized the ÁVH (Államvédelmi Hatóság, the secret police) to maintain control. In 1949, Mátyás Rákosi was named the ruler of the “people’s republic” in Hungary, ushering in one of the harshest regimes in Europe at the time.

In the spring of 1950. Rákosi began national raids and arrests started in July. Hundreds of forced labor camps were established across Hungary.

The Soviet position regarding Hungary was to conquer the space — the imperial mindset of occupation — and to use the country for political and economic means. Utilized as a buffer against western expansion, industrialization and extraction operations were implemented across the country — including expansion of the aluminum oxide plant outside of Ajka — a policy also enacted in Recsk.

A Bohring drill used for deep mine drilling by forced laborers in a Csolnok, Hungary mine.
From the collection: An Infernal Play by Daniel Kovalovszky


On July 19th, 1950, the Recsk forced labor camp opened in the Mátra mountains near the Recsk-Lahóca mine. A former sheep pasture owned by the Barkóczy family, the Recsk forced labor camp’s structure and operations were similar to the camps (“gulags”) developed by the Soviet Union; Rodolf Garasin, known as the “Father of the Hungarian Gulag System” was specifically sent to Hungary to implement the forced labor labor camp structure across the country. In 1951, his decision to deport prisoners to camps for economic gain was enacted, policies that also included the transition from using the term “slave labor” to “employment of arrested persons in productive work”.

Fence and barracks.
Photo from the collection of Lívia Gyarmathy

Operated by the Protection Authority (ÁVH), the camp imprisoned roughly 1,500 – 1,800 people without legal justification, mainly opponents of the political regime including artists, intellectuals, and members of the clergy. While the Secretariat of the MDP initially hoped to imprison up to 4,500 people at Recsk, the water supply at the camp was only designed for up to 1,300 people. The first to arrive were 35 social democrats from Pest, who made the journey in a cattle car before being forced along the hourlong walk to the camp from Recsk station. These men built the barracks, barbed wire fence, and the watchtower that eventually became the forced labor camp. Later, prisoners from the Kistarcsa internment camp were also brought to Recsk.

“Regarding our alleged crimes, more than a thousand residents of the camp were divided into different groups. The larger groups included the social democrats – mostly old trade unionists, strike leaders who could not get used to the fact that they had to serve the interests of the state instead of the workers; old staff officers – who defected to the Russians in 1944 and imagined that they could organize an independent Hungarian army; functionaries belonging to different parties, (…) kulaks who wanted to disappear so that they could take their land, and poor peasants who were appointed as kulaks in order to disappear; so-called bad workers who were taken away to frighten their co-workers, and the best workers of the larger factories who were taken away to frighten the workers even more.” 

Excerpt from György Faludy’s memoir My Happy Days in Hell (1962).

The forced labor camp eventually included eight wooden barracks that housed the imprisoned population. In December 1950, Recsk also included a separate punishment barrack, known as No. 5, where imprisoned men were tortured and isolated. Controlled by internal and external guards instructed to “don’t just guard them, hate them”, those imprisoned here were forced to work 10-14 hour days of back-breaking labor at the nearby quarry with little food and basic equipment, year-round. Survivor accounts by Géza Böszörményi and Ferenc Madaras state that hot water baths were only allowed once a month and moldy bread rations were transported into the camp on the same trains that brought manure. Hospital barracks were built in the spring of 1951, but provided little care for ailing imprisoned people.

Quarry working area.
Photo from the collection of Lívia Gyarmathy
Photo by László Kőrösmezey.

By winter 1951, overwork, freezing conditions, and guard brutality caused an increase in deaths at the camp. Historians believe at least 109 people died here. Imprisoned people killed at the camp were buried on site; even today, the mass grave has never been found.

József Jankech, an electrician installing the wiring at the camp, was shot by a drunken guard assuming Jankech was attempting an escape. He is interned in the Recsk village cemetery and the only formerly imprisoned person buried here.

In 1952, a lower camp was established just east of Recsk. Here, around 160-170 imprisoned people were forced to clear the marshy landscape to construct a building designed to receive shipments of stone via the railway (also built by forced labor) from the upper camp.

Ropeway built by interned laborers at Recsk that led from the lower to the upper camp.
The lower camp today.
From the collection: An Infernal Play by Daniel Kovalovszky

Those imprisoned here suffered unimaginable horror: malnutrition, exhaustion, and terror. They worked under inhumane conditions without access to adequate food, shelter, or medical care.

Photo of an imprisoned person’s shoe.
From the collection: An Infernal Play by Daniel Kovalovszky

Two escapes helped bring to light not just the conditions of the camp, but its sheer existence. József Dobó initially escaped the camp in September 1950, but after the ÁVH captured and threatened his family, Dobó returned from Czechoslovakia and back into custody. On May 20th, 1951, eight imprisoned men escaped; of the escapees, only one managed to avoid recapture and is the only person to ever fully escape the forced labor camp. Gyula Michnay fled to Vienna where he read the names of 600 imprisoned people across the airwaves of Radio Free Europe.

Photo of Gyula Michnay.

In 1953, the appointed Prime Minister Imre Nagy, following the death of Joseph Stalin, abolished internment camps closing the Recsk labor camp along with others across Hungary. Recsk survivors were released in the summer and fall of 1953, but forced to sign essentially an NDA before leaving the camp. After their release, many were supervised by the police or imprisoned at other locations until the 1956 Revolution. Only after the end of Soviet occupation did survivors begin to share their stories.

ÁBTL 3.1.9. V-107419: the document all released prisoners were forced to sign stating they would not speak of Recsk,

György Faludy, Hungarian poet, translator, and writer, was imprisoned in Recsk for three years after returning to Hungary following his time serving the with American forces in WWII (he originally left Hungary for Paris due to his Jewish ancestry). Once released, he moved to London where he worked as a translator. His memoir, My Happy Days in Hell, details his time in Recsk where he notes, “you keep silent until the grave, or you end up in the grave” — a proverb and mantra repeated by the people forced to sign the agreement.

Most of the camp was destroyed and trees were planted on the site. Many of the guards and leadership of the Recsk forced labor camp were never held accountable. János Varga – Vágottnyakú, the sergeant of the ÁVH and party secretary of the camp, settled in the Recsk village and retired as a miner.

The Mine during the 1960s-1990s:

The mine in 1979.

In the 1960s, huge deposits of copper ore and gold were discovered underground (900m and 1200 m deep). In 1967, open pit research continued and the deep mines also included limestone and cover rocks. By 1986, 87.5 kilometers (55 miles) of drilling and 550 holes into the Earth were completed. Operations to explore these sites continued until 1984, an effort that ended due to the combination of decreasing prices of copper and the increase in the profitability of oil.

An overview of the Recsk mine in the 1980s.
Source (photo taken by Lívia Gyarmathy)

A quick timeline of mine from the 1990s – today:

  • 1994: operations at the mine were managed by Enargit Kft, owned by Rhodes Mining of Australia and the Hungarian state property agency, AV Rt. The following year AV Rt. sold its shares to Rhodes Mining and two subsidiaries, including the Billiton Development BV (a Dutch company), who hired a Canadian mining company, CAMECO to decide the best way to extract the cooper ore in Lahóca.
  • 1997 – 1998: the Hungarian government closed the mine and flooded the shafts and roadways.
  • 2005 – 2008: the Hungarian state-owned company Mecsek-Oko listed the mine for sale.
  • Today: Nitrokémia Zrt., the owner of Recsk II (second portion of the mine operation), conducts reclamation of surface and underground operations. Currently, Recsk I is one of ten mining plants in Hungary owned by the French civil engineering firm Colas. The firm replaced processing equipment and upgraded technology in Recsk — changes valued at 2 million euros — and the mine remains in operation today. Producing products made of pyroxene andesite, trucks carrying materials from the mine drive past the turnoff for the Recsk Memorial today; in 2022 their revenue grew by 17% to 15.5 billion euros.
The Recsk mining plant today.
Source: Colas Hungary

A Visit to the Memorial (2020):

After pulling off the road, we parked in the small lot and made our way to the entrance of the camp. A cleared space in the forest, visitors can walk to the various monuments and signs before heading to the exhibit and the location where the barracks once stood.
A replica of the watchtower.
In the 1990s, based on stories shared by survivors, the location of the camp was found and a memorial site was built on the remnants of “Hungary’s most infamous gulag”. Created by Ádám Farkas in 1991, this is the Monument of the Penal Labor Camp of Recsk.
The other side of the monument with a list of names of those imprisoned here.
Signage at the entrance that offered information in a few languages. A lot of narrative to unpack here.
I found “Never again a state legalizing political dictatorshipalmost ironic considering the number of concerns raised by the European Union and human rights organizations on the increasing threats to the democratic process and freedoms under current Prime Minister Viktor Orbàn; his power has only centralized further since my visit in 2020.
Visitors can purchase tickets for a small fee to visit the museum and walk the grounds. The museum guide was super friendly and excited to practice English with us, noting that not many non-Hungarians visit the site. He kindly translated a few of the exhibits and explained a little of the history of the forced labor camp.
Exhibit in Recsk.
Walking from the museum to the location of the once-standing barracks and supposedly where the hospital (using that term loosely) was built.
An outline of where the barracks and hospital were built, based on survivor stories and work by historians. It is easy to see how enveloped in secrecy this forced labor camp could be in 1950. Even today, the location is isolated.
A 1990s reconstruction of Barracks No. 5, known as the torture barracks.
We walked further along the path toward the woods. This area was unmarked.
At the time I wasn’t sure what we stumbled upon here, but this structure could potentially be a reconstruction of the cesspool prison, where imprisoned people were forced to stand in two meter (six feet) deep pits all night before returning to labor in the quarry the following day.
The forced labor camp was built just 600 meters (less than half a mile) from the quarry.

Environmental Impacts of the Mine:

Surface and deep level mining transforms the landscape in a number of ways: disrupting rock formations, vegetation and water, while also causing erosion and further environmental concerns. Even after a mine is closed, we can still see the impacts of its operation both directly in the physical space, as well as the populations affected. Mining also changes the culture of communities there; railways and towns are impacted not only by construction (arguably both positive and negative) but also through the environmental impacts of the operations and the affects on the natural landscape.

“The Lahóca mine has generated more than 2.1 million metric tonnes of waste, as unprocessed ore, waste rock, and tailings, covering a total area of about 140 000 m2 in eleven dumps.

According to previous studies, the soil and groundwater are polluted with metals beneath and around the waste dumps (VITUKI Consult Rt. 1996), and near the dumps the Balata Creek has been supplied with polluted water and sediments (Gedeon 1962; Rukezo 2003).”

Jordan, G., Anton Van Rompaey, et. al. 2009. “Spatial Modelling of Contamination in a Catchment Area Impacted by Mining: A Case Study of the Recsk Copper Mine, Hungary.” Land Contamination & Reclamation 17 (3-4). Available here.

Located in the Mátra Mountains and the protected Kékes Forest Reserve, the Recsk-Lahóca mine is surrounded by beech and evergreen forests, along with oak trees and grassy areas. The Reserve itself is known for its beautiful views, camping sites, hiking trails, and diversity of plant and animal species. While the volcanic history of this area lends to the discovery of highly coveted mining operations — more than just the operation on Lahóca were opened — the unique landscape has also been severely impacted by mining. A 2009 study found that the Recsk mines had a “strong impact on the surface environment” with issues of contamination and erosion. The exposure of rocks containing sulfide to the surface (including land, water, and air) increases oxidation and the contamination of metals into the landscape, a process known as Acid Mine Drainage (AMD); even the non-operational facility still produces AMD that affects vegetation — stemming from waste dumps — along with other sediments that pollute the water and chemistry of nearby streams (although not further). A Msc study in 2003 found that a majority of these waste dumps and flotation tailings were disposed of improperly, increasing rates of erosion, and as a result, more materials washed away and potentially leeching into the environment.

“The Lahoca shallow mine shafts and audits together with associated waste rock dumps emit acid mine drainage and solid material of waste and tailings due to the erosion the main environmental impacts of acid mine leachate include destruction of vegetation and landscape, high intensity corrosion of linear object of infrastructure and acidification of soils and groundwater with heavy metal pollution of Cu, As, Cd, Co, Zn, and Fe…

Recsk Deep Complex produces limited acidification due to the high buffer capacity of the host Triassic carbonates. Na, Cl and SO4 emissions from mine water are however significant… Wastes produced are not dangerous due to specific geological conditions and careful waste dump remediation. The estimated area of landscape destruction is 100,000 m2, including 5 km2 complete ecosystem destruction and 4 km2 surface water impact with NaCl and SO4.”

Jordan, G. and M. D’Alessandro (eds). 2004. “Mining, Mining Waste and Related Environmental Issues: Problems and Solutions in Central and Eastern European Candidate Countries.” Joint Research Centre of the European Commission, Ispra. Available here.

Future of the Site:

The Recsk Memorial Site:

View of the new proposed park.

In 2020, Réka Földváry Kis, the head of the National Remembrance Committee, announced that a new national memorial site would be built at the former labor camp in Recsk. After an extensive competition, designs by Egyheted Stúdió Objekt, and ZDA-Zoboki Építésziroda were awarded with the project, with an expected opening date of 2024 or 2025.


“One of the starting points of the architectural concept of the memorial park was that the location itself should become a symbol, and thus remind the ordeal of more than 1,800 prisoners held in inhumane conditions, reveal the real face of the communist dictatorship, and invite the visitor on a historical journey to experience the memory.

The basis of the architectural concept is that the historical core of the camp and with it the specific landscape character must be preserved as fully as possible. Due to reasons of historical loyalty and mercy, no building that is not directly related to experience and memory can be placed in its current area. The link between the past and the present is represented on the one hand by the landscape, which has hardly changed substantially in the last 70 years, and on the other hand by the prisoners’ barracks.

The Csákánykői quarry, the former site of forced labor, is still in operation. Thus, the mine itself cannot be part of the visitor route and our architectural concept, but the route from the camp can be. To solve this, the concept uses abstract tools, thus integrating this important place of remembrance into the renewed memorial park.”

Epitesz Forum. 2021. “A Symbol of Oppression – Recsk National Memorial Park’s Award- Winning Architectural Concept”. Epitesz Forum. Available here.

Hungary’s problematic “reckoning” with history — and the government’s decisions on how to commemorate events — is marked with outrage from communities of victims and survivors. The House of Terror, opened in 2002, is a popular tourist spot in the country’s capital, but many accuse the museum of using propaganda to tell partial-truths of Hungary’s complicated political history, avoiding the role of Hungarians aligning with both fascist and communist parties, and manipulating historical knowledge to perpetuate current political agendas. While touted as a museum, collections of objects and archival information are largely absent. Near the House of Terror is the recently-unveiled Holocaust memorial built in Szabadsàgtèr (Freedom Square), igniting anger for its passive depiction of Hungarian involvement in the Holocaust; the monument, opened by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government in 2014, was constructed without input from Holocaust survivors and the community built an alternative memorial front of the massive structure to challenge this interpretation of history. The monument depicts Hungary as a victim of Nazi Germany, rather than an active participant in the deportation of the country’s nearly half a million Jewish citizens.

The Mine and City of Recsk:

Area under reclamation at the Recsk I mine site on January 17, 2014. Photo: Péter Komka.

In January 2023, an andesite mine in Recsk was opened. Many residents were outraged to learn of the new operation that, in some spaces, is just 200 meters (650 feet) from residential buildings; many accused the local government of not notifying citizens or asking for their input in the decision.

Andezit-Bau Kft, the company operating the mine, is co-owned by István Fiák, who sold the company to the family of Fidesz (ruling political party in Hungary) MP Lajos Kósa. The mayor of Recsk stated that the justification of the approval was due to “long-term economic development of the settlement” and the impact assessments were approved by multiple offices including the Environmental Protection Department and Waste Management Department of the Heves County Government Office; the permit is approved until 2026 with extraction of an area of 32.71 ha (80 acres) and operations expected to last 40 years.

Residents are divided on the decision: many are worried that the operations are too close to their homes while others who identify with the mining past of this area welcome the new facility. The first mining explosion occurred in February 2023, sending many running outside of their homes in fear.

This mine will supply stone to the Paks II nuclear power plant set to open in southern Hungary in 2032. Backed by Russian technology and finance, the plant is the “biggest single investment in Hungarian history”. Construction is controversial — even before the Russian invasion of Ukraine — as political opponents asked for similar investments to be made toward renewable energy (already 10% of Hungary’s energy production) and potentially a reversal of a current law that bans the construction of windmills within 10km (6.2 miles) of a settlement. Both were ignored in favor of construction of Paks II.

As with many places of memory and sites of heritage, interpretation and memorialization will shift and change. In the case of Recsk, the memorial site of the forced labor camp is promised an elevated significance in both infrastructure and public remembrance. This, next to a quarry where these same victims worked tirelessly under abhorrent conditions, still remains in operation, with even further mining facilities opening in the area. For this small Hungarian town rich in mining history and culture, the juxtaposition between holistic and victim-centered remembrance along with the very real issues of employment, extraction, and energy facing Recsk today, demonstrate how difficult presenting the issues of historical significance can be, particularly under a governmental regime with clear political motives.

“… remains are emblematic of the uneven and conflicting trajectories of historical and cultural transformation: at once out of time and yet all too present.”

Nadkarni, Maya. 2020. Remains of Socialism: Memory and the Futures of the Past in Postsocialist Hungary. Cornell University Press.

Here, like any place, context matters. While we might lump Hungary into a post-Soviet jumble of countries, the Hungarian experience under Soviet occupation was different from their neighbors. The push to show how “western” Hungarians were in the transition to capitalism after 1991 led to developments of historical narratives that we see in the production of memory spaces in Hungary both during that time — for example, the creation of the memorial space in Recsk and the removal of Soviet statues from Budapest to a central location outside of the city — and today with the delayed opening of a Holocaust museum due to historical white-washing and the controversy surrounding the stories told at the House of Terror.

Associate Professor of History and Jewish Studies at Rutgers University Paul Hanebrink notes: “In Hungary, as elsewhere, the ethics of historical memory and commemoration are both global and local at once.”

Photo from the mine today.
From the collection: An Infernal Play by Daniel Kovalovszky

Reading: Chain Gang All Stars (Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah)
Watching: Succession Season 4 (HBO)
Listening: Flood (They Might Be Giants)
Baking: These delightful Penovani khachapuri bites from Polina Chesnakova


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2022 Year in Review: Favorite Books

My reading wrap up for 2022!

Who doesn’t install a library onto their pirate ship?

Similar to last year’s post, I’m listing my favorites as inspired by The Stacks podcast hosted by Traci Thomas. I read from February 1 – Jan 31 so this post is late, but not as delayed as you might think (I say as I justify finalizing a 2022 post a month after I intended).

The return of Chuck Klosterman in 2022! Be still my millennial heart.

But in Classic-Spilis style, I also added a few of my own lit awards because allthethings.

This year’s literary hero — Lexi from Euphoria.

Let’s get into it —

My Reading Statistics:

2022 at a Glance:

The Stacks 2022 Questionnaire:

Two Books You Love:

I can’t say enough great things about this book. I read Hersey’s work on a long-delayed train ride from Wrocław to Kraków, furiously taking notes in my phone as the snow drifts outside became deeper and deeper.
“We are not machines. I keep hearing about the ways we exhaust ourselves to be seen as valuable and I am wondering when we will shift to see our inherent worth.” Intersecting grind culture, capitalism, and the influence of white supremacy (historically and at the present) I am just so grateful for this book.
The matriarch of Gullah Geechee traditions across the Sea Islands, this year Mrs. Meggett published a cookbook of recipes and heritage spanning centuries. As many white chefs in Charleston earn money and fame from traditional Black and Gullah Geechee recipes, I was happy to see her finally receive the credit she — and her community — deserve. This book is pure joy, history, and food.

One Book You Hate:

Here’s the thing: I am coming around to romance fiction but this one was a lot of yikes for me.

Last Great Book Someone Recommended to Me:

Recommended by my lovely friend, I took a lot away from Melissa Urban’s book. I’m still learning how to set and share the boundaries I have for a better mental and emotional health… its nice to read that I’m moving in the right direction.

Book I Love to Recommend:

This book is sooooo good and I love recommending to library patrons! Intertwining memoirs of Black pop stars and the iconic author herself, this nonfiction book reads like fiction. I loved it. Also how gorg is this cover?!

Book That Made Me Laugh

I just love Bob Odenkirk.

Book That Made Me Cry:

This collection of stories interwoven into a novel about how climate change and a virus changes humanity now and in the future was a good read; I liked some chapters more than others but Pig Son is so brutally beautiful and tragic that it left me sobbing.

Book That Made Me Angry:

A book on the medical apartheid and environmental racism that overly affects communities of color, especially Black Americans. The figures and stories in Villarosa’s work (along with the author’s own journey) are a reminder of just how angry I am at the American healthcare system.

Book That I Felt I Learned A Lot:

I learned so much about the history and identity of Black members of the Creek Nation. A powerful book on identity, marginalization, and government interference into Native American governance, and memory.

Book I’m Embarrassed I Still Haven’t Read:

I am OBSESSED with the great Olga Tokarzcuk and was so excited to read her 2022 book. Clocking in at over 500 pages, The Books of Jacob just kept falling to the back end of my TBR last year.

Book I’m Proud to Have Read:

This incredibly researched book tackles the commonly whitewashed history of Indigenous people in North America. Starting before Columbus reaches the shore of the continent, the book covers Native American resistance despite unimaginable violence and genocide during European colonization, colonial rule, and under the American government.

A Book People Would Be Surprised to Know I Love:

Okay I’m mostly drawn to nonfiction and rip-your-heart-out-fiction, but this quick read about a woman finding her self-worth through her passions and being herself was such a fun book. I’m really a pushover for a story about cooking and getting back at your awful ex.

Book I would Assign in High School:

The discovery of the Clotilda is more than just the uncovering of the last ship to bring enslaved people to the United States; it also tells the story of Africatown, its inhabitants, and the continued legacies of chattel slavery and environmental racism.

A Book I would Love to See Turned into a Movie or TV Show:

This quirky fantasy adaptation of my favorite folktale hero / villain Baba Yaga is just so bizarre, lovely, and heartbreaking. I have no idea how this could be designed for a screen but I’d love to see it.

Book That I Would Require the Current President to Read:

For allthe reasons.

Additional Book Awards:

Best Non-2022 Book I Read:

A powerful book about one American family attempting to survive together.

Book That Makes Me Want to Travel:

I loved this gorgeous book by Syrian and Palestinian chef Reem Assil.

Favorite Young Readers Book:

A very sweet graphic novel about being yourself and embracing who you are ❤

Favorite Young Adult Book:

This colorful adaptation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is all about mistaken identities, self-discovery, and making it through high school as the new kid.

Best Cover:

Just a dream cover (and a great book).

Most Creative:

Unpacking all of the beautiful intricacies of St. John Mandel’s work is not a task I could ever complete so instead I’m just going to say how lucky we are to live in a time to read her books. Sea of Tranquility is stunning.

Favorite Debut:

I’m still thinking about this debut by 21 year old Leila Mottley (born in 2002 I can’tttttt) loosely based on a true story.

Book That Will Change Your Life:

I mentioned the Carrie Mae Weems exhibit in this post and the incredible accompanied book for that collection, A Great Turn in the Possible, is the most comprehensive volume of her work ever published. This combination had a huge impact on me.

Favorite Memoir(s):

Phew I read McCurdy’s book in a day and just… so many things to say here. What a survivor and great writer.
This brutal graphic novel by Kate Beaton about her time (surviving) as a worker in the oil sands is one of my favorites of the year.

Book That Confirms How Much Work is Left to Do:

Loved this collection.

Best Book for Elder Millennials:

The return of one of my favorite authors I read as a teen — Chuck Klosterman! Truly the 90s were an absolute wild time and his account of culture and politics was a fun and informative read.

Most Likely to Become a Classic:

With beautiful writing, this personal account on the history and culture of the American South through the lens of a roadtrip home is one of the best of the year.

Title That Feels Like a Conspiracy but Confirms Its Not Me, Its the System I’m Forced to Live Under:

It is truly mind-blowing how little we know about half of the human bodies that inhabit this planet. The knowledge gap on vaginas, reproductive systems, and menstrual cycles is just so accepted as “normal” that it can make you feel like you’re the problem, when really its that society doesn’t give a shit about meaningful scientific research or care beyond “not a penis” or “are you trying to have a baby or not”.

Most Ashlyn-y:

I love anything Zuza Zak publishes but especially an entire book on my favorite Polish dumplings.

My Favorite Books of 2022:

5. Budmo! Recipes from a Ukrainian Kitchen (Anna Voloshyna)
4. Pierogi: Over 50 Recipes to Create Perfect Polish Dumplings (Zuza Zak)
3. New European Baking: 99 Recipes for Breads, Brioches, and Pastries (Laurel Kratochvila)
2. Arabiyya: Recipes from the Life of an Arab in Diaspora (Reem Assil)
1. Gullah Geechee Home Cooking: Recipes from the Matriarch of Edisto Island (Emily Meggett)

5. Savvy Sheldon Feels Good As Hell (Taj McCoy)
4. Night of the Living Rez (Morgan Talty)
3. Swimmers (Julie Otsuka)
2. Thistlefoot (GennaRose Nethercott)
1. Sea of Tranquility (Emily St. John Mandel)

5.The Grimkes: The Legacy of Slavery in an American Family (Kerri K. Greenridge)
4. Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands (Kate Beaton)
3. Shine Bright: A Very Personal History of Black Women in Pop (Danyel Smith)
2. Carrie Mae Weems: A Great Turn in the Possible (Fundación MAPFRE)
1. Rest is Resistance: A Manifesto (Tricia Hersey)

Cheers to all the books we’ll read in 2023!


Reading: Bad Cree (Jessica Johns)
Watching: The OC (YOU KNOW IT) (HBO)
Listening: Entering Heaven Alive (Jack White)

2022 Year in Review: Favorite TV Shows

Another year of great tv to peer pressure people into watching!

What do you mean you haven’t started BCS?

So lets goooooooo (in no real particular order) —

Favorite TV Shows of 2022:

Better Call Saul Season 6 (AMC / Netflix):

For me, there’s the final season of Better Call Saul… and everything else.
Emotionally, mentally, physically — this show destroyed me. Mayo choices, surprise cameos, phew. I even had to make a special menu for the finale.
Favorite ep: “Fun and Games”

Reservation Dogs Season 2 (Hulu):

I didn’t think anything could be better than season one, but this follow-up is close to perfect.
Favorite ep: all of them, but especially “Mabel” and “I Still Believe”

Our Flag Means Death (HBO Max):

Finally the universe delivers what we deserve: a pirate love story between Rhys Darby and Taika Waititi.
Favorite ep: “This is Happening”

Severance (Apple TV+):

Holy shit — one of the best science fiction shows to come out in years featuring Christopher Walken and John Turturro? I was yelling after every ep.
Favorite ep: “Defiant Jazz”

Peaky Blinders Season 6 (Netflix):

Still not over the loss of Helen McCroy (will we ever?!) but this final season of Peaky Blinders is just. so. good. I can’t wait for the movie (praise be).
Favorite ep: “Lock and Key”

Abbott Elementary (Hulu):

Abbott Elementary is the funniest, cleverest, and most genuine show on television and its. not. even. close.
Favorite ep: Sooooo difficult to choose but “Gifted Program” and “Step Class” — the whole season is gold.

The Big Brunch (HBO Max):

You know anything with Dan Levy will be lovely and amazing. The Big Brunch is so heartfelt and joyous that you forget its technically a competition cooking show.
Favorite ep: “Picture Perfect Brunch”

Andor (Disney+):

Rogue One is my favorite of the Star Wars franchise so I was stoked to find out the absolute dreamboat Diego Luna would have his own show this year. Such a great season.
Favorite ep: “One Way Out”

Ms. Marvel (Disney+):

Love Iman Vellani as Kamala Khan, the soundtrack, and the gorg animation. One of my favorite Marvel adaptations.
Favorite ep: “Seeing Red”

Bridgerton Season 2 (Netflix):

Is there anyone better than Jonathan Bailey (Anthony) and Simone Ashley (Kate)? Spoiler alert: there isn’t.
Favorite ep: “Victory”

The Bear (Hulu):

Love this cast so much.
Favorite ep: “Review”

Minx (HBO Max):

Jake Johnson in 1970s garb? Feminist magazine? I’m in.
Favorite ep: “Au Revoir, Le Double Dong”

Euphoria Season 2 (HBO Max):

Has anyone actually emotionally recovered from this season? That play, though, phew.
Favorite ep: “The Theater and It’s Double”

Heartstopper (Netflix):

Love this lovely adaptation of the graphic novel ❤
Favorite ep: “Boyfriend”

The Righteous Gemstones (HBO):

This show is just so ridiculous and funny. I love Judy so much.
Favorite ep: “After I Leave the Savage Wolves Will Come”

Obi Wan Kenobi (Disney+):

Ah, the return of Ewan McGregor as Obi Wan Kenobi ❤ and so special to watch the first episode with dear friends.
Favorite ep: “Part III”

Wednesday (Netlfix):

I was a little skeptical because the Addams Family films are literal perfection, but Jenna Ortega is so wonderful and the return of Christina Ricci is chef’s kiss.
Favorite ep: “Woe What a Night”

Atlanta Season 4 (Hulu):

Amazing writing, acting, and directing. A fitting final season to an iconic show that redefined tv.
Favorite ep: Hard to choose but as a Brian Tyree Henry stan it has to be “Andrew Wyeth. Alfred’s World”

For All Mankind Season 3 (Apple TV+):

Family drama on Mars. Pretentious billionaire. Tensions between countries. All in the name of “science”. This season was A LOT. My favorite of the three.
Favorite ep: “Stranger in a Strange Land”

Hacks Season 2 (HBO Max):

Just more Jean Smart and Hannah Einbinder forever, please.
Favorite ep: “Retired”

Special mentions:
– Stranger Things: The new season was my least favorite of the show, but love to see a return of David Harbour and Kate Bush (although today’s youths are forgetting that the cover by Placebo in season 4. ep 1 of the OC EXISTS)
– House of the Dragon, Only Murders in the Building, and Loot — all great and highly recommend.
– As controversial as it is, Pam & Tommy. I don’t care I love Lily James and Sebastian Stan as the iconic couple.


Reading: People Love Dead Jews: Reports from a Haunted Present (Dara Horn)
Watching: Pamela, A Love Story (Netflix)
Listening: A Kid Named Cudi (Kid Cudi)

2022 Year in Review: AllThe[Travel]Things

Ah, 2022.

Barcelona, Spain
📸: Home Base Belgium

As is the new normal for planning during a pandemic, so much our travel hinged on flexibility and last minute changes, lovely moments I’m thankful to experience; while I prefer a plan, I (now) consider myself a pro at winging it on the fly with as much intention as I can muster. From last minute switches (the Baltics to Barcelona!) and finding a route that you adore, (Berlin – Wrocław – Kraków) 2022 was a fun year of new places and old favorites.

One thing I’m incredibly thankful for is to visit Budapest. We moved in 2020 and I wasn’t able to say a proper goodbye to my favorite city before leaving Hungary. In a truly Sofa Coppola-esque moment, we even left the city at dawn, giving me all the feels.

Originally, I’d hoped to include many of the memory sites wandered and examined throughout the year, but I kept this post to just photos of travel, libraries and bookstores, and don’t call it a comeback — Christmas markets — that made their full return to Germany in 2022. We’ll get to that discussion on problematic statues and streets later on this year.

Strasbourg, France

I know most readers are here for the food (aren’t we all?) so that post is of all the things we cooked and ate in 2022 is here.

Technically not a travel photo, I just loved this sunrise view from the kitchen last year.


Travel Destinations:

Barcelona, Spain:

Montjuïc [pronounced mɒn(t)ʒuːˈiːk]
Poble Espanyol
La Sagrada Familia
La Sagrada Familia
Casa Vicens (my favorite of Güell’s houses)
Park Güell 
Camp Nou (Lewandowski ❤ )

Berlin, Germany:

Die Hackeschen Höfe
Remnants of the Berlin Wall at the Topographie des Terrors

Budapest, Hungary:

Museum of Ethnography (Budapest City Park)
Inside the Memorial to the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and War of Independence (you can see the entire memorial in the photo above to the left)
Kelenföld Power Station
Shores of the Danube at Kelenföld

Ellignies-Sainte-Anne, Belgium:

We visited our lovely friends in Belgium for the weekend and had such a relaxing time staying at their adorable house! Forever a farmdog, Porkchop Reptar was at home checking on the chickens and rolling in the yard.

København, Denmark:

Nyhavn [pronounced Knee-houm]

Dinant, Belgium:

Kraków [pronounced kra·kuhf], Poland:

Rynek Glówny (Market Square) during the winter

Frankfurt, Germany:

Römerberg Square

Ghent, Belgium:

A sweet moment with this little one ❤

Malmö [pronounced mal-moh], Sweden:

 Gamla Staden (Old Town)

Montserrat, Spain:

Strasbourg, France:

Le Petite France

Wrocław [pronounced Vro-tz-wav], Poland:

Rynek (Market Square)
Nadodrze Station

Libraries & Bookstores:

Barcelona, Spain:

La Raposa (Poble sec)
Loved this feminist and LGBTQIA+ bookstore that also specialized in vegan dishes.
Sant Pau-Santa Creu Library (El Raval)
Our lovely food tour guide told us that the libraries throughout the city are the heart of their neighborhoods.
La Central
With two locations in Raval and Eixample, these bookstores specialize in the humanities and offer titles in English, Spanish, and Catalan.
Cómplices (El Raval)
Love this (now closed 🥺) small shop specializing in LGBTQIA+ lit. Their button game is on point.

Berlin, Germany:

Shakespeare & Sons (Friedrichshain)
Just a lovely bookstore with an incredible bagel sandwich game.
She said (Kreuzberg)
Specializing in titles from women and queer authors ❤

Budapest, Hungary:

Massolit Books, Erzsébetváros
A must stop for a vegan pastry and a book when I’m in Budapest. Their back garden is lovely.

København, Denmark:

Københavns Biblioteker (Copenhagen Main Library)
View from Copenhagen’s main library — such a gorgeous space of five stories of books.

Malmö, Sweden:

Malmö City Library
A historical and modern space with lovely lighting and reminders that all are welcome and that libraries are for everyone 🏳️‍🌈

Christmas Markets:

Berlin, Germany:

Wilmersdorfer Straße (Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf)
Santa and Moose
Weihnachtsrodeo Design Market (Luckenwalder Straße)
One of our favorites! With three floors of unusual and locally made gifts, the market also hosted food trucks and tickets included one holiday cocktail.
 LGBTQIA Winterdays and Christmas Avenue (Nollendorfplatz)
Located under the Nollendorfplatz railroad station, this historic LBGTQIA+ neighborhood had one of the prettiest and fun markets.
 LGBTQIA Winterdays and Christmas Avenue (Nollendorfplatz)
Under the station! Maybe having a Killers dance party of one here — shout out to the clearly elder millennial dj.
Lucia Christmas Market (Kulturbrauerei)
Saint Lucy is the bringer of light in Scandinavian culture and this market definitely delivered! We could even order glögg with plenty of raisins and almonds — my new favorite.
Charlottenburg Palace (Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf)
This sprawling market has over 250 vendors! We made friends with the folks serving mulled wine here as they were utilizing mugs from 2020 — “Well, we had already placed the order so we’re going to use them!” We love a sustainability mindset. A really pretty space.
Alexanderplatz (Mitte)
Busy and fun.
Medieval Christmas Market at Britz Palace (Neukolln)
It took a while to reach Schloss Britz (thank you Berlin public transport for providing a route!) but this market, along with Christmas Avenue, was my absolute favorite. Featuring Nordic characters, this whole place was such a vibe, and I’m thankful we were able to visit on its very last night.
Medieval Christmas Market at Britz Palace
Surrounded by spooky Nordic spirits, Viking boats, and even a fire show.
Christmas Magic Gendarmenmarkt (Bebelplatz / Berlin State Opera, Mitte)
A very pretty market held this year at Bebelplatz. This was also the site of one of the most infamous Nazi book burnings. On May 10th, 1933, the collection from the Institute for the Science of Sexuality library was destroyed under the guidance of Joseph Goebbels.
Medieval Christmas Market (RAW Compound, Friedrichshain)
Loved this space and all of the charm, including a hand-operated Ferris wheel and a petting zoo.

København, Denmark:

Tivoli Gardens
One of the most visited tourist destination in Copenhagen, Tivoli Gardens is the third oldest amusement park in the world.
Tivoli Gardens
When we visited, the park was mostly deserted (we came by on a Thursday) and it was a lovely night to wander all the sights, including this clearly homage to Nickelodeon’s Aggro Crag from the 90s show, GUTS.
Hans Christian Anderson Christmas Market (Nytorv Square)
Højbro Plads

Kraków, Poland:

Rynek Główny
Kraków’s market is held in the city’s main square and it is filled with amazing food (pierogi, soups, sausages). Our favorites were the lángos (Eastern European flatbread with sour cream, garlic, and cheese) and Oscypek cheese (pictured here), only found in the Tatra Mountains.

Wrocław, Poland:

Rynek (Market Square)
Wow does Wrocław know how to throw down or what?

Extra Special Mentions:

Carrie Mae Weems Exhibit, Barcelona:

While on an architecture tour in Barcelona, I saw an advertisement on the side of the bus for this incredible Carrie Mae Weems exhibit at the KBr Fundación MAPFRE. Wow did this exhibit take my breath away.
My final day in Barcelona, I completed the tour of colonization and memory sites throughout the city ( ending with a final stop at an absolutely abhorrent statue ) before finishing up here at the second location of Carrie Mae Weems’ work. Standing here admiring her collection — including images of the Sea Islands that I had walked in South Carolina — this far from my former home, was such a powerful reminder of the work that still needs to be done.

Jack White Show, Frankfurt:

Crying at this setlist.

Jack White Show, Berlin:

Seen on Independence Day

DTB World Cup, Stuttgart:

Love Stuttgart and love watching this competition in person! Pictured here is US gymnast Konnor McClain, who went on to win the National Championship in August.

Budapest Beer Week, Budapest:

Using our tickets from 2020, this was our third time at Budapest’s craft beer festival. This year the event was held in the neighborhood of Kelenföld, directly across from the city’s old and glorious Art Deco power station. The power station randomly hosted tours in the past, but alas, I was never able to book one when I lived in Hungary. The festival itself was held next to the Danube, on an old mill — the Buda Roller Mill.


📸: Home Base Belgium


Reading: Myth America (Kevin M. Kruse and Julian E. Zelizer)
Watching: Extraordinary (Hulu)
Listening: Alpha Zulu (Phoenix)

2022 Year in Review: AllThe[Food, Coffee, & Snacks]Things

Cheers to being that annoying kid photographing all the things I consumed in the past year!

Budapest Beer Week

I divided this post up by food and snacks, coffee, and drinks, then by destination. There’s no ranking here, friends. Each dish and sip is a treasure.

I drink my coffee black but I respect the hustle here.

New places — after rebooking three times (fourth is the charm!) we finally traveled to the home of my favorite breweries — Copenhagen; I relearned everything I thought I knew about vegetables in Barcelona.
Old favorites — Savoring every sip of my favorite tiny coffee shop in Budapest; I don’t consider myself superstitious but I absolutely must make all of my good luck dishes before the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve,

Let’s goooooooo —

Travel Eats & Drinks:

Favorite Food & Snacks:

Barcelona, Spain:

This tasting menu at Fat Veggies is thee perfect way to end a day wandering Barcelona. Moody and cozy with homemade drinks, this entire menu was great, interesting, and at an extremely reasonable price. This take on cauliflower three ways is what dreams are made of.
Ordering all the Middle Eastern apps at Flax & Kale.
And the pasta and jackfruit tacos too — why not?
Our last night in Barcelona we splurged on the tasting menu at Xavier Pellicer and I had one of the best meals of my life. They are truly the humble veg into a dish that takes your breath away. I’m still thinking about their take on a tomato.
Another amazing vegetarian menu at Rasoterra. Just out of this world combinations.
The new love of my life: Khachapuri and all her cousins. We had this delicious Lebanese Fatayer at SimSim.
Quick lunch at La Raposa
Pinch J small bites after wandering the Montjuïc Cemetery.
All the apps at Vegetalia Gòtic 
The first stop on the best food tour in Barcelona! La Cova Fumada is a tiny, family-owned restaurant specializing in locally sourced seafood and vegetables. The simple white beans, locally foraged mushrooms, and hunks of bread slathered in butter and oil were out of this world. Alas, I forgot to take a picture because I was having an out of body experience.
Next stop: Bodega La palma for small bites, cheese plate, the best Barcelona tomato bread and local wine ❤
Last stop: Rocambolesc for amazing gelato

Budapest, Hungary:

When in Budapest, you go to Dobrumba.
Shakshouka all day every day please.
My first brunch in Budapest all those years ago, we had to come back to Cirkusz when we visited last year.
They hooked me on Turkish eggs alllll the way back in 2016. Still just as great today.
This year’s food trucks at Budapest Beer Week were top notch. Here’s a goat cheese “burger” with jam and onions.
Stopping for nachos at Tereza
My new favorite food is the Georgian culinary masterpiece that is Khachapuri. Our last night in Budapest we had a lovely dinner at Hachapuri and I can’t recommend this spot enough.

Berlin, Germany:

This giant bread undertaking at the Alexanderplatz market was a site to behold!
Absolute shit photo but this bread game is on point.
Still dreaming about this truffle spätzle picked up at the Charlottenburg Palace market.
Here is why Shakespeare and Sons is a must visit for me in Berlin: the bookstore is adjacent to one of the only places in the city where you can order authentic bagel sandwiches — Fine Bagels Berlin. Their chef, Laurel Kratochvila, just released her cookbook of European baking recipes including the cafe’s Rugelach, Challah, and beloved bagels.
Schedule your Berlin trip to coincide with Kreuzberg’s Turkish Market. My advice is to pick up a freshly made börek, then walk down to the lovely She said bookstore, home to titles from women and queer authors.
Loved this lunch at Mogg, a cozy deli located in a former Jewish girls’ school. One of the only places to find a Reuben, they are known for their smoked pastrami and generous portions. I ordered the shakshouka (you’re seeing a theme here).
You know I’m going to find dumplings in any city I visit and Berlin is no different. We had a lovely lunch before the Jack White show at Datscha, a restaurant that specializes in Slavic and Eastern European cuisine including Russian, Ukrainian, and Siberian dishes. Of course I ordered vareniki (Ukrainian dumplings) and strawberry blinis.
Facing a backlash as the Russians invaded Ukraine, the restaurant clarified that as a immigrants from a number of countries finding a home in Berlin (“We have been living in Germany for more than 30 years and, like all Europeans, support the democratic values ​​of freedom, equality and justice”) they hosted a number of fundraisers for Ukrainian aid.
Very much 2006 Marie Antoinette vibes at Brammibal’s Vegan Donuts. Not just this gorgeous fusion of strawberries and pretzel but also that they were playing the Cure this afternoon

København, Denmark:

We reserved a four course meal at Nørrebro Bryghus and I can’t recommend this brewery and restaurant enough. Danish Christmas season is no joke and many restaurants offer tasting menus inspired by the holidays. This dark bread (made of spent grain from the brewing process) and whipped butter was just so. good.
This classic holiday dessert of chilled rice pudding with all the seasonal flavors was amazing.
When in Denmark you order all the smørrebrød (Scandinavian open faced sandwiches) and Aamanns Deli & Takeaway Østerbro is famous for them. The potato (top) was THE BEST BITE, roast beef (middle) and holiday cheese (bottom).
Absolutely loved these Popl burgers. I tried the one of a kind spicy fermented quinoa and loved it. Their fries were nice and crispy too — such a treat.
Praise be for Hart Bageri.
I ordered the goat cheese and vegetables (top) and Chris had the roast beef (bottom) on a delicious dark bread.
We LOVED Mikkeller’s brewpub, Warpigs. The beer was top notch and the location is fun. Their take on Texas BBQ was largely a win for us with great smoked meats (according to Chris), homey macaroni and cheese, and decent hush puppies (no one makes them like South Carolina — I discovered I’m a hush puppy purist).
We watched the Ohio State & Xichigan gaxe on our ipad during the Denmark World Cup match at Cocks and Cows SP34. Both were brutal rip-your-heart-out losses but at least these onion rings were on point.

Frankfurt, Germany:

We had to stop at Aman Tandoor and Bar after seeing Eric Warheim’s dinner here when he visited Frankfurt. Love their cozy outdoor space and delicious truffle naan.
I’m always down to stop at a Brewdog location no matter what city. Solid beer choices and bomb veg options — including this seitan patty on a beetroot brioche bun — we had a nice afternoon hanging out here.
Sunny Side Up has a lovely vegetarian brunch with a ton of sweet and savory options. A perfect way to start a day of wandering.

Kraków, Poland:

Germany may be known for their Christmas markets but Eastern Europe’s market food during the holidays is top tier for us. Chris patiently waited all season for THEE bratwurst and ordered this one in Poland with all the toppings.
Oh the humble lángos how I’ve missed you.
Labneh and hummus at Hamsa.
All the spinach börek.
Ranny Ptaszek is my absolute favorite brunch spot in Kraków. This shakshouka with mushroom “sausage” and homemade pickles was the best way to start our snowy day.
Known as the “Polish pizza”, zapiekanki is our favorite street food snack and options at Zapiekanki Królewskie are no joke. Open late with a variety of toppings — plus an amazing grandma serving up plates when we were there — make sure you stop by.

Malmö, Sweden:

Located near the train station, Malmö Saluhall is the perfect place to stop for fika or lunch. The dining hall has veg, fish, and meat options, but their bakery choices are top notch.

Strasbourg, France:

Love, love, love this African and Creole brunch at Hey Mama.
This brioche French toast with banana and popcorn infused whipped cream is what dreams are made of.

Stuttgart, Germany:

I always forget to take a food photo at Sultan Saray because I’m just so stoked for my order. The owner picked an entire feast of appetizers for us to share that I’m still thinking about.
My go-to spätzle in Stuttgart is from Brauhaus Schönbuch.

Wrocław, Poland:

Just have to order what the heart wants at Pierogarnia Stary Młyn Wrocław.
The menu options at Pierogarnia Rynek 26 are b a n a n a s and I highly recommend ordering the placki ziemniaczane (potato pancakes) even if you need a nap after.
Chris’s happy place — Restauracja pod Fredrą.

Best Coffee:

Budapest, Hungary:

My favorite way to start a day of adventures is at My Little Melbourne.

Kraków, Poland:

Ranny Ptaszek coffee break
Always, always, always order the Turkish coffee. Of all the things I love about Hamsa, the coffee is my favorite.

Stuttgart, Germany:

I love the coffee and cozy atmosphere of Misch Misch.

Favorite Drinks:

Berlin, Germany:

Nice little stop at hedgehog-themed Hopfenreich Craft Beer.
Technically every beer brewed here is pride (BRLO is a LGBT-owned brewery) but this year’s batch was so tasty and perfect for the (absolutely sweltering) summer days. They also boast the title of Germany’s first vegetable-focused brewery gastronomy and a giant curling space in the winter.

København, Denmark:

Love, love, love, love, love To Øl and their taphouse– BRUS. I tried my first To Øl beer at Budapest Beer Week 2019 and was so excited to stop here in person.
This Juleøl (Christmas beer) cocktail at Nørrebro Bryghus was hands-down my favorite of 2022.
Oh, La Neta. Mikkeller is one of my favorite breweries and the combination of solid tacos and even more solid beers made this my new happy place ❤

Kraków, Poland:

The quiet and unique atmosphere of Eszeweria makes it my favorite hangout spot in Kazimierz.
Back for a cozy winter night at Mleczarnia.

Malmö, Sweden:

Hyllie Bryggeri’s taproom is so adorable and the beer was pretty tasty. A nice place to stop near the train station.

Stuttgart, Germany:

Paul & George is one of my favorite speakeasies and a lovely spot for a cozy hangout.

Wrocław, Poland:

Loved spending the afternoon at Szynkarnia. Their beers are great and they boast a fun (and veg friendly!) menu.

At Home:

Syniki (fried Slavic cheese pancakes found in Russian, Ukrainian, Latvian, and Lithuanian cusine) for New Years brunch.
My attempt at recreating the Turkish eggs at home.
All the sourdough focaccia.
My crumb is improving this year!
My first attempt at Pampushka (Ukrainian garlic bread) to the left, pretzel bread (top) and sourdough rye (bottom right).
Comfort baking.
My new favorite — Everything Bagel Focaccia
Our attempt at a Passover Seder featuring greens from Chef Michael Twitty.
Chris’s infamous enchiladas.
Nothing like veg “sausage” topped with Zuza Zak‘s Baltic sauerkraut with dill and hot honey.
A take on shakshouka, this saag-shuka from Asha Loupy is so warm and yummy. A lovely combination of northern Indian and North African / Israeli / Iranian / Persian cooking.
Weekend shakshouka.
Homemade nachos to help our hearts recover from the last season of Better Call Saul.
Chris’s famous sourdough cheese bread. I make the dough and he makes the za — this old school northeastern Ohio recipe is the best.
My first attempt at sourdough cinnamon rolls for the Better Call Saul season finale.

New Years Eve:

Vegan cornbread with hot peppers — a comfort staple.
French onion dip and taco dip — not normally on my good-luck-for-the-new-year menu, but a must-have for watching NCAA semifinal championship games.
Hoppin’ John
The vegan version combines Hoppin John recipes from Gullah Geechee chefs Michael Twitty and BJ Dennis, along with Timothy Pakron of Mississippi Vegan’s New Year’s Stew.
Vegan cabbage rolls.
I’m absolute shit at forming them correctly, but these pączki (Polish donuts) from Michał Korkosz taste amazing. I subbed cardamom and brown sugar for the rose water in this recipe.
New Years Day hash brown casserole. You can take the girl out of the midwest but…
This overnight French toast used oat milk and the German sweet braided bread, Hefezopf.


Treasuring churros in Barcelona.
📷: Home Base Belgium


Reading: The Round House (Louise Erdrich)
Watching: The Last of Us (HBO)
Listening: White Lies Season 2 (NPR)

Dissonant Heritage: The Ninth Fort of the Kaunas Fortress, Lithuania

TW: This post describes a site of imprisonment, torture, and mass murder. Acts of the first stage of the Final Solution — the complete destruction of the Jewish people — took place here, outside of Kaunas, Lithuania.

The Memorial to the Victims of Nazism at the Ninth Fort
Kaunas, Lithuania

Last fall my lovely friend Bri (of Home Base Belgium) and I trekked around the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, stopping at a number of memorial sites of historical importance throughout the region. One of the research interests closest to my heart, memory work — especially the intentions behind commemorating particular events and how those goals manifest physically in a landscape — intersects across power, memory, and inequality; analyzing not only the atrocities that took place here, but how organizations (including governments) reflect and present these complicated histories is vital to acknowledging the violence and repairing harm. This is certainly true in Lithuania, but particularly at the Ninth Fort, which has been placed among the most horrific sites of the first stage of the Final Solution — along with Babi Yar (Kyiv, Ukraine), Ponary (Vilnius, Lithuania), and Rumbula (Riga, Latvia).

“Here, however, the question of the relationship between official and non-official, social memory also arises: how did the victims’ associations, for example, bias the state’s politics of history with the stories of their suffering? It is therefore important to keep in mind that there are several actors in the field of memory culture – and state and society are developing a fascinating competition and/ or cooperation.”

Makhotina, Ekaterina. 2020. “Between Heritage and (Identity) Politics: Dealing with the Signs of Communism in Post-Soviet Lithuania”. National Identities 23:6. 511-530.

Originally built by Tsarist Russia as a series of fortresses around the geopolitically strategic city of Kaunas (also known as Kovno), the Ninth is one of the few remaining forts somewhat still intact (the other being the seventh) of the entire system. Today, the site includes the fort itself with its own museum, the place of mass execution (and later added Holocaust memorial), a new building with a separate museum, and the Soviet-era memorial.

As with many countries occupied by the Nazis and the Soviets, memory work in Lithuania is complicated and intersectional; similarly to the Salaspils Memorial Ensemble, the intention behind the building of the Ninth Fort’s massive monument (one of its kind still standing today) and what it represents and to whom — along with the chosen exhibits located in the site’s two museums –requires a thorough unpacking of not only the recent history of this place, but how events became memorialized here over time.

View from the fort to toward the city of Kaunas
Built by Tsarist Russia, the Ninth Fort was used as a prison, a site for mass murder, and as an NKB place of torture. Its legacy stretches from before WWI to today and across Lithuanian autonomy, Nazi occupation, Soviet rule, and again, independence.

As Russia continues its war in Ukraine — and the recent destruction of Soviet monuments in Baltic public spaces — what do these Soviet memorials in Lithuania represent? Lithuanian or Russian identity? Who ultimately decides what aspect of an occupying nation can be merged into one’s identity?

This is a long (and I hope not meandering) post discussing not only the recent history of Lithuania and events that shaped the Ninth Fort, but also how political actors have used this landscape to develop their own narratives of atrocity and responsibility over time. I hope you’ll power through with me!

An Extremely Brief & Not at All Comprehensive Overview of Lithuanian History:

Similarly to Estonia and Latvia, Lithuania’s history is imprinted by occupation. In 1569, the Union of Lublin established the Commonwealth of Poland and Lithuania, which lasted until the Russian Empire annexed a majority of the country (1772 – 1795). Following a series of uprisings against Russian rule, a number of Russification policies were implemented: cultural and educational centers were closed, the use of the Lithuanian language forbidden, and the Lithuanian press was banned; however, these efforts ultimately failed as Lithuanians held onto their heritage, culture, and desire for autonomy through a large network of book smugglers and secret schools. In parts of the Lithuanian-speaking Russian empire, these text bootleggers were known as Knygnešiaĩ (the one who carries the books).

After WWI, the Germans occupied Lithuania and again, forbid the Lithuanian press and restricted rights. However, the elected 20-member Council of Lithuania was formed in 1917 as a first step to proclaim their autonomy from occupying powers. Lithuania — along with its Baltic neighbors — signed its Act of Independence in 1918. Vilnius was taken by Polish forces and Kaunas became the provisional capital. After three wars of independence (against the Bolsheviks, the Bermontians, and Poland), the first meeting of the democratically elected government was held on May 15th, 1920. Six years later, a coup of conservative authoritarians overthrew the government and a new constitution was adopted in 1928 that centralized power, banned opposition, enforced censorship, and eliminated the rights of marginalized groups within the country.

While designed by a Lithuanian architect, the monument at the Ninth Fort is seen as an accomplishment of the Soviet Union. Created to commemorate Soviet citizens killed by the Nazis, at the time there was no specific mention of Jewish people, even as the majority of people killed here was a result of Lithuanian collaboration to carry out the Nazi’s Final solution.

In August 1939, the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany signed the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact, which partitioned control of Central and Eastern Europe between the two governments. Originally under the German sphere of influence, Lithuania was transferred to the USSR after the German invasion of Poland in September 1939. This change would later “justify” the Soviet occupation of Lithuania beginning on June 15th, 1940. After pressuring the Lithuanians (who attempted to maintain neutrality despite shifting control of their country to foreign powers) to sign the Soviet-Lithuanian Mutual Assistance Treaty, Lithuania was given back Vilnius in exchange for the establishment of five Soviet bases within the country; Estonia and Latvia also signed similar treaties. On June 14th, 1940, the Soviets issued an ultimatum that Lithuania eventually accepted, leading the to occupation of the country’s major cities that summer. A number of staged elections provided “legitimacy” to the narrative that Lithuania willingly joined the USSR. As with most republics occupied by the Soviet Union, Sovietization policies were implemented.

Holocaust memorials at the Ninth Fort that were later added to the memorial. To the right is the mass execution site and remaining fortress walls.

Nazi Occupation:

Just one week before the Nazi invasion of Lithuania, 17,000 Lithuanians were deported to Siberia by the Soviet government. These deportations and ultimately, deaths, led to support of the Nazi regime within the country. On June 22, 1941, Nazi Germany invaded Lithuania and gained control of the country within a week. Many Lithuanians — sparked by anti-Soviet sentiment — supported the Nazi regime as a form of pro-independence. As a result (and as seen as events that later took place at the Ninth Fort), Lithuanians were also complicit in the carrying out of the Final Solution within their country. With the largest Jewish majority of the Baltic countries, most of the Livaks (Lithuanian Jewish community) were murdered in the first five months of Nazi occupation.

The extermination of the Jewish population began almost immediately. A quarter of a million Jewish people lived in Lithuania at the time of Nazi invasion and by the end of WWII, over 95% of the community was murdered, one of the highest rates of genocide in Europe. Collaboration between the Lithuanians and German authorities primarily enabled the scale and effectiveness of their executions; ten Lithuanian police battalions murdered 78,000 people alone. While a number of resistance organizations fought against Nazi control (including many Jewish groups — two uprisings took place at the Ninth Fort alone) it is important to recognize the often-ignored Nazi collaboration that took place in Lithuania.

This plaque was added later to provide context to the mass executions that took place at the Ninth Fort.

Soviet Occupation:

The Soviets regained control of Lithuania in the summer of 1944. While the resistance to the USSR remained strong, it was not enough to stave off occupation. Deportations of Lithuanians continued until 1953; 5-10% of the population was exiled to Siberia (including Jewish people) and an estimated 50,000 people died. More ethnic Lithuanians died during the years of 1945-1953 than in WWII. For many Lithuanians, the western narrative of the Soviet Union “saving” Europe from the Nazis is largely challenged, even as we’ll see this historical revisionism reflected in the Soviet built monuments across the occupied republics following the war.

With the beginnings of glasnost in the Soviet Union, the Sąjūdis was established in 1988, eventually leading to the restoration of Lithuania’s sovereignty as the USSR dissolved. On March 11, 1990, following the the very public 600 km (370 miles) human chain of people across the Baltic states, Lithuania became the first Soviet-occupied country to declare their independence. Restoration of independence was implemented in 1993 and the final Soviet soldiers left the country in August of that year.

Part of the Monument for the Victims of Nazism (“Pain”) overlooking Kaunas.

The Ninth Fort at Kaunas:

The defensive wall of the Ninth Fort

One of the most unique aspects of visiting the Ninth Fort is that so much of the history I just outlined physically took place in this one space; for the Lithuanians, the government and many communities are still attempting to come to terms with the dual legacy of their recent past — both as victims and perpetrators of violence — reflecting, unpacking, and making historical amends. It is undeniable that ethnic Lithuanians suffered greatly during occupation, particularly under Soviet control, but the collaboration with the Nazis to murder most of the Livak population is also undeniable, even if (as we’ll see) this partnership is less represented in comprehensive and just memory work.

In the interest of time and organization, here is a breakdown of the events that took place at the Ninth Fort from its construction to eventual site of memory:

Mass Executions during Nazi Occupation:

During Nazi occupation, the Ninth Fort was chosen in advance as an execution site due to its location near the newly established Jewish ghetto in Kaunas (Vilijampolė or Slobodka in Yiddish). After only three weeks, the site was transformed to a location capable of holding, murdering, and burying thousands of Jewish victims. On October 29th, 1941, the German SS and Lithuanian police murdered 9,200 residents of the Kaunas Ghetto at the Ninth Fort. Just one month later, the first systemic killing of German Jews during the Holocaust took place at the Ninth Fort after trains were rerouted from Riga, Lodz, and Minsk to Kaunas. In total, 45,000 – 50,000 Jewish people were killed in mass executions at the Ninth Fort. Testimonies collected from survivors tell the stories of the intense cruelty suffered by their victims before they were executed.

Soviet exhumation of a mass grave at the Ninth Fort. Many victims were buried alive, then shot.
The burning of the remaining bodies was completed by Jewish prisoners who later escaped.

In 1943, in an effort to conceal the mass executions at the Ninth Fort, the Nazis and their Lithuanian collaborators enacted Aktion 1005 across Nazi-occupied territories, including Lithuania: sixty-four prisoners (sixty were Jewish) were forced to open the mass graves, remove bodies (and their gold teeth and any valuables), and cremate the remains. All escaped with help from the Kaunas ghetto underground, but only twenty-eight managed to find safety. The escape is one act of resistance that took place at the Ninth Fort.

Mass execution and burial site today.

Establishing Commemoration at the Ninth Fort at Kaunas:

One of the large signs at the entrance / exit of the Ninth Fort.

One of the most unique aspects of the Ninth Fort is just how much this landscape physically represents and reflects the history of Lithuania over time. First established as a commemoration site by the Soviet Union, the construction and design here was not accidental; the Soviets intentionally created a memorial space that reflected their narrative.

“From the first days after the Second World War, the Soviets began an active commemoration program. Thousands of military monuments had been erected throughout the Soviet Union. At least one monument stands in almost every bigger village, not to mention small towns or regional centers. Although the first wave of monument construction in Lithuania had reached its peak in the early 1950s, construction of WWII memorial flourished almost throughout the whole Soviet period. As political circumstances changed, fashions changed, old memorial places were renewed and monuments became more sophisticated and diverse.”

Petrulis, Vaidas. 2021. “World War II Monuments in Soviet Lithuania. From Political Symbols to Dissonant Heritage.” Masses are Dying: Ways of Remembrance for Two World Wars from a European Perspective [ed: Herausgegeben von Sigrid Brandt]. 20 – 31. Available here.

Two periods of commemoration took place in Lithuania under Soviet occupation. The first was the decade following the end of WWII — tributes to the victims of the war were established simultaneously with the Soviet Terror as more than 20,000 Lithuanians were killed and nearly 150,000 people were sent to GULAGS — during 1944 – 1953. The second period of commemoration by the state took place from the 1960s-1980s when the role of local architects and designers increased, but under the control of the narrative of the Soviet Union. The memorial at Kaunas is one of, if not the only, surviving monument of its kind.

Memorialization of the Ninth Fort:

The first competition to develop a memorial at the Ninth Fort was held in 1966 and three additional rounds took place until the final project was approved. Sculptor Alfonsas Vincentas Ambraziunas and architects Vytautas Vielius and Gediminas Baravykas worked on the design and its construction until the 32 meter (105 foot) high monument was unveiled in 1984. Located at the start of the “Path of Death”, this monument sits adjacent to the execution site.

The three concrete sculptures known as “Pain” (lowest), “Hope” (middle), and “Liberation” (highest) symbolize the confrontation, fighting, and uprising against evil.

Initially dedicated to the murdered “citizens of the Soviet Union”, the Memorial to the Victims of Nazism was hailed as a triumph when it opened to the public in 1984. However, it is important to note that the “victims of Nazism” here were in fact almost completely Jewish. For a Soviet-built memorial on a WWI-era fort, where thousands of Jewish people not just from Lithuania (including Kaunas) but across Europe were executed by Nazis and Lithuanians, the decision to not specifically name the victims or the perpetrators — calling them merely “Soviet” instead — demonstrates the intent of this memorial.

The Soviet government controlled all WWII memorization projects with the intent to establish a narrative of Soviet greatness — the “liberators” overcoming the evils of Nazism — while also liberating the Lithuanians both from the Nazis and those that fought against the Soviet government. While they may have incorporated aspects of ethnic Lithuanian culture, these monuments were usually associated with the Soviet Union first and foremost.

In the development of the memorialization at the Ninth Fort, we can see how commemoration and narrative have shifted over time (Makhotina, 2020):

  • 1959: First Soviet museum opened with the purpose of illustrating German Nazi atrocities; a “hierarchy” of victims is presented with pro-Soviet prisoners at the top and Jewish people as a just another group.
  • 1984: The new museum is opened and the permanent exhibition shares the same themes: the Lithuanians’ struggle against fascism and the liberation of the country by the Soviet Union. Again, Jewish victims are mentioned, but not as the intended group of racial extermination.
  • 1990: The Ninth Fort transitions to a “double memorial” featuring exhibits on the Soviet Socialist Terror against Lithuanians from 1940 – 1990.
  • Today: Themes of the memorial space are primarily national identity and the genocidal intentions of the Soviets on ethnic Lithuanians, although the mass executions as a part of the Final Solution are discussed.
Remnants of the Fort today. Victims were held here and then marched underneath out to the open field before being executed.

Following the end of Soviet occupation, the narrative of commemoration at the Ninth Fort changed from the somewhat generically labelled genocide of the Great Patriotic War to instead reflect the Stalinist violence committed on ethnic Lithuanians during the period following WWII. As with many formerly Soviet-occupied countries, the victimhood narrative combined with national identity, can also obscure the memorialization of a place. As the focus shifted from merely Nazi genocide to Soviet mass murder, the 1993 – present narrative presented at the Ninth Fort is a combination of Lithuanian national symbolism and the victims of Soviet persecution; this shift from Nazi to Soviet terror suppresses the Lithuanian involvement in the mass execution of the Jewish population. The line between resistance and collaboration is thin and remains an issue in how history is not only represented, but celebrated. Jonas Noreika, for example, was awarded Lithuania’s second highest military medal following independence; he also signed orders pushing the Jewish population into ghettos.

“According to a law passed in April 1991, the crimes of the Nazi and Soviet occupation forces are both classified as ‘genocide against the citizens of Lithuania’. Lithuanians who suffered under the Soviets in 1940-1941 and 1944-1990, especially those who were deported to Siberian camps, are commemorated as victims of genocide… Since 2010 genocide denial, whether ‘Soviet genocide’ or the Holocaust, has been classified as a crime in Lithuania, punishable by up to two years in prison. The juxtaposition of these two historical events makes the coexistence of remembrance cultures inherently problematic. In the country’s national culture of remembrance, Soviet genocide takes top priority.”

Makhotina, Ekaterina. 2016. “We, They and Ours: On the Holocaust Debate in Lithuania”. Cultures of History Forum. Available here.

What remains here is a complicated reflection of Soviet and Lithuanian constructed narratives, both in the physical landscape (monument, exhibits) and what remains unsaid. The struggle to accurately represent dual legacies is not only a Lithuanian issue — a majority of European and Western countries have yet to come to terms with their genocidal and / or colonizing pasts — but is also one reflected here at the Ninth Fort space.

As an American I want to also make clear that many countries, especially the United States, have failed to accurately and justly represent the role of government in the genocide and continued marginalization of communities. Many communities have engaged in their own memory work to push for commemoration at sites of historical importance. The signage at the site of Emmett Till’s murder — and the continued vandalization of the signage — is just one example.

Visiting the Ninth Fort:

Walking up to the memorial

Located 8 km (5 miles) from the city of Kaunas, we briefly stopped at the Ninth Fort on our way from Riga to Vilnius. With less than an hour to wander the large area, Bri and I were unable to visit the two on-site museums and stuck to walking the path along the site.

While many Soviet-era monuments were either destroyed or moved to a different location in post-Soviet countries (Momento Park in Hungary for example), the monument at the Ninth Fort remains in place due to a number of factors, but especially as this is a site of mass burials and therefore moving any such memorials — particularly one as large as this and the disruption it may cause — is an extremely sensitive topic.

Adjacent to the monument is the Holocaust plaque and the site of mass executions of Jewish people here during Nazi occupation.

Visitors can walk the path the victims took through the building to the site of execution; writings and drawings by the prisoners remain on the walls today. Exhibits on Soviet occupation, Lithuanian resistance, and mass deportation are also displayed.

Messages scrawled by Jewish prisoners on a wall inside Fort IX, shortly before their execution.
George Kadish photographed the writings on the walls of the prison after liberation. One message reads: ‘Hirsh Burstein was brought here July 7, 44. We are burning bodies and awaiting death. Brothers, Revenge! We are dying courageously for the people.’ Another inscription reads “Hayat Isaac from Marseille, arrived May 18, 1944.”

An overhead view of the remaining fortress and the monument

We then passed the newer building (closed at the time) and left the memorial site.

The intersection of narratives and power — Soviet, Nazi, German, Lithuanian, Jewish, occupation, perpetrator, independence, resistance, victim — in just 150 years of history in just one location. Our intent in memorializing public spaces matters.

Recently, efforts to come to terms with their complicated past has begun in Lithuania. A number of books researching the role of Lithuanians in the Final Solution have been published. Last year, the 80th anniversary of the Holocaust in Lithuania was commemorated with representatives from Berlin, Vienna, Munich, and Wrocław visiting the Ninth Fort. When we later spent the night in Vilnius. Bri and I saw both individual and organizational efforts to commemorate the suffering of Jewish people in Lithuania.

“According to Aleida Assmann, remembrance in dialogue – a model in which the suffering inflicted on one’s neighbors is assimilated into one’s own national memory – is a future opportunity of European remembrance. A prerequisite to this is overcoming mononational cultures of remembrance aimed at narratives of national victimhood and charged with myths of heroism. This includes recognition and empathy for the other victims of history and the willingness to assess one’s own role as a perpetrator.”

Makhotina, Ekaterina. 2016. “We, They and Ours: On the Holocaust Debate in Lithuania”. Cultures of History Forum. Available here.

Special ❤ to Bri for her patience and sharing her photos as I read, as well as my co-worker Marcus for providing one of my sources below ❤


Reading: Night of the Living Rez (Morgan Talty)
Watching: Loot (Apple TV+)
Listening: Sounds Like a Cult (All Things Comedy)

Works Cited:

Ben-Naftali, Aya. 2004. “Collaboration and Resistance: The Ninth Fort as a Test Case”. Collaboration and Resistance During the Holocaust: Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania (ed: Favid Gaunt). 361-382. Available here.

Bertalius, Mindaugas. 2005. “Cultural Heritage Management: A Case of Kaunas”. The Issue of Protection of Historical Heritage. 146 – 151. Available here.

Davoliute, Violeta. 2018. “Between the Public and the Personal: A New Stage of Holocaust Memory in Lithuania”. Cultures of History Forum. Available here.

Hohenhaus, Peter. 2015. “9th Fort and Monument”. Dark Tourism. Available here.

Makhotina, Ekaterina. 2016. “We, They and Ours: On the Holocaust Debate in Lithuania”. Cultures of History Forum. Available here.

Makhotina, Ekaterina. 2020. “Between Heritage and (Identity) Politics: Dealing with the Signs of Communism in Post-Soviet Lithuania”. National Identities 23:6. 511-530.

Kauno IX Forto Muziejus. 2022. “Concrete Filled Brutalism and Historical Memory that Testifies Brutality” [Online Exhibition]. Kauno IX Forto Muziejus Official Website. Available here.

Kauno IX Forto Murziejus. 2022. “History of the Ninth Fort of Kaunas”. Kauno IX Forto Muziejus Official Website. Available here.

Petrulis, Vaidas. 2021. “World War II Monuments in Soviet Lithuania. From Political Symbols to Dissonant Heritage.” Masses are Dying: Ways of Remembrance for Two World Wars from a European Perspective [ed: Herausgegeben von Sigrid Brandt]. 20 – 31. Available here.

Veliute, Ingrida. 2012. “Kaunas Fortress Historical and Architectural Heritage and Its Animation Possibilities”. Vytautas Magnus University Summary of Doctoral Dissertation, Humanities, Art Studies (03H). 1-52. Available here.

“Behind These Gates Moans the Earth”: The Salaspils Memorial Ensemble, Latvia

TW: This post describes the former Nazi Labor and Internment Camp outside of Riga where thousands were held prisoner and murdered during the occupation of Latvia from 1941 – 1944

While visiting the Baltic countries last fall, my friend Bri (of the lovely Home Base Belgium) and I planned a number of stops at a few memorial sites throughout Latvia and Lithuania. For me, memory work — particularly how and why we as individuals, organizations, and governments choose (or not) to memorialize particular events throughout history — is one of the research interests closest to my heart. I have a nerdy passion for analyzing the historical events (and interpretation) of a place and how the intersectionality of power, memory, intention, and inequality shape the physical memorialization of said landscape.

“As memory workers, we believe that memory about these historic human rights violations is a crucial component of both justice work in the present and imagining more just futures. For us, memory work is not just about remembering the past, but about reckoning with it – that is, establishing facts, acknowledging, apologizing, stopping ongoing violence, and repairing the harm that was done through both material and immaterial forms of reparation.”

Johnson, Dora, Jarrett M. Drake and Michelle Caswell. 2017. “Reflections from the 2016 Mandela Dialogues.” Nelson Mandela Website. Available here.

Built by the occupying Nazi regime, the camp at Salaspils was in use from 1941 – 1944; occupying Soviets built and unveiled the memorial in 1967. Due to the atrocities and human rights violations that occurred here, visiting this site is considered Dark Tourism, which you can read more on all my thoughts and feelings about here (TL;DR be respectful, grateful, and not a selfie-posing jerk).

The Salaspils Memorial Ensemble holds a dual legacy in that curators must factually tell the story of the what occurred here, as well as how the memorialization of such events have been skewed both historically and presently by a number of entities with their own intentions. My goal is to overview the history as well as the politics of memorialization as best as possible and hopefully convey the emotions of visiting such a site.

“Unbroken” sculpture with “Mother” on the left and “Solidarity”, “The Oath”, and “Rot Front” (sometimes referred to as “Red Front”) on the right.
[ 📷: Home Base Belgium ]

We quietly left Salaspils and I honestly had more questions than answers. Was this memorial built for those that suffered and were killed here? Were the stories of survivors uplifted to reflect the brutality of this solemn space?

An Extremely Brief & Not at All Comprehensive Overview of Latvian History:

While often viewed as one — “The Baltics” — the three countries of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia are very distinct from one another; it wasn’t until the last century that their fates and eventual unity connected them. I won’t get into a ton of Baltic history here (save it for THEE big post!) but a quick overview of Latvia in particular is relevant to how the Salaspils Memorial Ensemble was developed and continues to evolve.

Where are we?

Similar to most countries in eastern and central Europe, the history of Latvia (and therefore how events are memorialized) is complicated and intersectional. After seven centuries under Baltic German rule, Latvia was partitioned between Poland and Sweden, eventually falling under Russian control during the Great Northern War. Indigenous Latvian nationalism grew after the Russian Revolution and Latvia declared itself an independent country on November 18th, 1918; their sovereignty recognized by the Soviet Union and Germany in 1920.

Despite their very distinct culture, history, and language, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia banded together in 1934 to create the Baltic Entente. The independent nations declared neutrality prior to WWII, but the treaty of cooperation wasn’t enough to protect the region from occupation by first the Soviet Union (1940), then Nazi Germany (1941), and again under Soviet control in 1944. The 40+ year occupation by the Soviets also drastically changed the population of Latvia; the influx of Russians and Russian speakers grew from 8.8% in 1935 to 34% in 1989. Latvia, along with Lithuania and Estonia, gained independence in 1991 and followed a similar track “returning to Europe” even if each chose its distinct path while working together. 

“Of the Baltic states, Latvia is the most ‘Baltic’, with two Baltic neighbours, while Estonia usually looks northwards towards Finland, and Lithuania westwards towards Poland. The Latvians, understandably, have always been the greatest proponents of Baltic solidarity.”

Kasekamp, Andres. 2021. “The Baltic States: Three Peas in a Pod?” New Eastern Europe 3: XLVI.

The Salaspils Camp:

Side view of the entrance to the memorial. The Life-Death Wall and Memorial Museum (right) is at the entrance of the Ceremony Site (left) with the Way of Sorrows path around the site.

Nazi Germany completed their military occupation of Latvia on July 10th, 1941. The government immediately began murdering Jewish citizens and detaining (alleged) communists, anyone that had cooperated with the Soviet Union, along with any racially unacceptable group, as well as those who opposed the occupation. As prisons filled up in Riga, the leader of the Einsatzgruppe A sought to build a camp outside of the city for prison labor, thus leaving space in the prisons for the 25,000 Jewish people forced into the city’s ghetto. Reichs – SS Leader and Chief of German Police Heinrich Himmler denied the request to build a “private” concentration camp in occupied land and instead granted approval for an Extended Police Prison and Work Education Camp  (Arbeitserziehungslager und erweitertes Polizeigefängnis, AEL) to be built at Salaspils. Under the Commander of the Security Police and SD in Latvia and not the directive of the Concentration Camps Inspectorate (Inspektion der Konzentrationslager, IKL), the camp was officially an extended police prison and labor site; while not considered a Nazi concentration camp, the circumstances facing those imprisoned there were incredibly harsh and conditions comparable to those in concentration camps.

“Salaspils camp was not a ‘death camp’ in the sense that people were brought there specifically to be exterminated. Salaspils did not have gas chambers, and ‘gassing trucks’ were not sent there for mass murder of inmates. However, for some of the inmates, Salaspils became their place of death, but for many inmates it served, more or less, as a harsh survival experience on the way to concentration camps outside Latvia. If 4000 inmates from the Salaspils camp were transported to concentration camps in Germany and Poland, it can be assumed that, of them, 1500 or more died.”

Neiburgs, Uldis. 2022. “Salaspils Camp. History and Memory.” The Museum of the Occupation of Latvia. Available here.

After gaining approval, construction started in late 1941 and Latvian workers were quickly replaced with Jewish laborers from Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia. Of the 1,500 – 2,000 Jewish prisoners building the camp, 2 / 3 were killed in Salaspils and most survivors were sent to the Riga ghetto following completion of the site in early 1942. This time was incredibly harsh as Jewish prisoners were not provided shelter or adequate clothing during the winter months of construction.

Nazi propaganda photo of the Salaspils Camp, 1941

Originally an “extended police prison” meant for political prisoners, the purpose of the camp was expanded to meet the changing needs of Nazi Germany, becoming the largest camp in the Baltic region for both civilian prisoners from Latvia and political prisoners of other countries. After filling Salaspils with political prisoners and the “work-avoiders”, space was created to detain members of the Latvian police after being convicted by the court. Those sent to the “forced labor camp” served their sentences and were held for up to 56 days. Beyond the prisoners serving court-ordered sentencing, a number of other groups were imprisoned here, including victims of operations against partisans and those sent for forced labor in Germany. Over six thousand women, children, and men — survivors of a number of operations including Winterzuber and Sommerreise — were brought to Salaspils. The women were deported to Germany to work as forced laborers and children sent to peasant families within Latvia; of the adults sent to Germany, their ultimate fate is unknown as their future was determined by their assigned labor category, Finally, a POW portion of the camp was opened for civilians and refugees that had attempted escape from the frontlines. Salaspils also became a transit location for civilians being sent to labor in Germany from the east; in 1943 many were transported to concentration camps in Germany and Poland. In 1944, as the Red Army closed in on Latvia, the Nazis deported any remaining prisoners to the Stutthof Concentration Camp (near the Free City of Danzig) and burned the entire camp and its records.

While the complete number of those sent, imprisoned, and killed at Salaspils can never be fully known– and I absolutely hate reducing their suffering to merely numeral statistics — the estimate includes:

  • Between 21,855 and 23,035 people were imprisoned here from 1941 – 1944; Around half were political prisoners, “work-avoiders”, and convicted soldiers (including Latvians), while the rest were survivors of military campaigns against civilians in Belorussia, Russia, and Latgale
  • Roughly 11,000 were transit prisoners and of the survivors that returned to Latvia, Belarus, or Russia, complete information is unknown; It is estimated that for 6,000 – 7,000 political prisoners “leads us to believe that the swath of death in concentration camps outside Latvia was quite considerable”
  • From May 1942 – September 1944 an estimated 400 – 500 people died from diseases; 100 – 150 died from violent punishment and extreme working conditions, and 30 were murdered for attempting / planning to escape
  • Several hundred children died from undernourishment and epidemics; There is no evidence that medical experiments were performed here; Roughly 2,700 children from Belarus and Latgale were placed with farmers, foster families, and other child care centers
  • In total, an estimated 3,000 people died at Salaspils; Over 1 / 3 of the deaths included the Jewish prisoners that initially built the camp
Two Roma children held at Salaspils (1943); “Parents shot as partisans” was written on the back of the photo.
[ Source: The Digital Picture Archives of the Federal Archives; Documentation and Cultural Centre of German Sinti and Roma, Heidelberg, Germany ]

Memorialization of the Salaspils Camp:

Glass Panorama

The planning for a memorial at the Salaspils site started in the late 1950s after commemoration politics shifted to reflect not places of defeat, but rather “symbols of Soviet unity”. An enormous campaign by the Soviet government to build military cemeteries and memorials — particularly in the now Soviet-occupied republics — began. In 1959, a competition for the creation of the Salaspils memorial was held; only seven of the original 20 artists completed the project from start to finish including architects Gunārs Asaris, Oļģerts Ostenbergs, Ivars Strautmanis, Oļegs Zakamennijs and sculptors Ļevs Bukovskis, Oļegs Skarainis un Jānis Zariņš. The site opened in 1967.

The memorial is one of the largest in Europe at over 25 hectares (62 acres) and is a prime example of 1960s Brutalist architecture. The site includes a 110 meter (328 feet) – long walkway at the entrance with the inscription “Aiz šiem vārtien vaid zeme” (“behind these gates moans the earth”), a large square for ceremonies, seven total sculptures (up to 16 meters [52 feet] high), and the continuous playing of a metronome (symbolizing a heartbeat) through loudspeakers across the site, all deep within the Latvian forest.

Metronome and area to place wreaths.

At the time of the completion and opening of the memorial, the Soviet government not only amplified the Nazi atrocities that occurred here, but also propaganda vastly exaggerated the extent of the brutality. They purported (unfounded) claims that over 100,000 were killed at Salaspils, children were used for medical experimentation for German soldiers, and the labeling of Salaspils as a concentration camp or death camp for Jewish populations from across Europe. 

“The attempt of pro-Russian politicians to use the memorial for their own purposes actually compromises the whole idea of ​​commemorating the Salaspils camp, because these people are not interested in historical truth, just as they were not interested in the Soviet regime at the time. Historian Uldis Neiburgs, once admitted to the memorial as a pioneer, recalls that during the Soviet era, the Salaspils Memorial had not so much commemoration as an ideological and propaganda function. The memory of the victims was relegated to the background.”

Sprūde, Viesturs. 2014. “Salaspils memoriālam būtu vajadzīga vēsturiski patiesa ekspozīcija.” [translated] LA.LV. Available here.

Popularity of the “biggest of 23 mass-destruction-camps which were erected by the German fascists on the territory of the occupied Latvia” grew under Soviet disinformation. These greatly exaggerated numbers and inaccuracies were prevalent throughout Soviet occupation and only after Latvian independence in 1991 has research into the events that took place at Salaspils and the intentions behind the memorial been analyzed and published. Many Latvian researchers and media outlets fought against the Soviet myths, claiming these numbers and atrocities were not only vastly exaggerated, but also misrepresented. However, Russian media, academics, and Russian-speaking populations disagree with this research. With the differing perspectives of the many groups attached to Salaspils, a number of “problematic” events take place at the memorial, including activism for pro-Russian politicians campaigning for support; many accuse those attempting to accurately represent historical information as advocates for the neo-Nazi regime.

From this angle, the site of the Children’s Barracks was to the right and behind “Mother”.
[ 📷: Home Base Belgium ]

“The different groups have different – sometimes conflicting – perceptions of the camp’s history and its Soviet commemoration which have been a point of contention for nearly 30 years now… when the new exhibition was opened in February 2018, the Latvian media praised it as ‘finally showing the truth’, while the Russian media accused curators of belittling the suffering of inmates, making ‘a health resort out of Salaspils’, and concealing the stories of child prisoners.”

Sprūde, Viesturs. 2014. “Salaspils memoriālam būtu vajadzīga vēsturiski patiesa ekspozīcija.” [translated] LA.LV. Available here.

Financial resources are an additional concern for the physical maintenance of the memorial. In 2005, the Russian Federation offered funds to restore the site through the Russian Embassy, which was denied by the Salaspils City Council, declaring their own ownership and responsibility for the site. A new exhibit at the memorial was developed by a number of curators — including the author of the first book on the site, Uldis Neiburgs — in 2017. This was built inside the 100 meter walkway (the “bridge”) at the entrance of Salaspils and included an overview of the history of the camp and memorial. In “A Dual Legacy: Reviewing the New Exhibition at the Former Nazi Camp Salaspils”, Paula Oppermann notes that the memorial has a double purpose in presenting both the history of the events that took place there as well as telling the story of the Soviet misrepresentation and intentions behind building the memorial:

“They aimed to present the form and function of the AEL Salaspils, to tell the history of all prisoners, and to dismantle prominent myths about the camp which were established during the Soviet period…

The result is a rather unequal presentation of the two dimensions: there is a remarkable contrast between the density of facts about the memorial’s designers in the second section of the exhibition and the short and generalising texts in the section that describes the camp’s history. The curators do not depict Salaspils as a ‘health resort’, as some critics have argued. Nonetheless, its function within the Nazi camp system is not sufficiently contextualised, and neither is its role in the Holocaust in Latvia: the exploitation of Jewish forced labourers in the construction of Salaspils was an aspect of genocide.”

Oppermann, Paula. 2018. “A Dual Legacy: Reviewing the New Exhibition at the Former Nazi Camp Salaspils.” Cultures of History. Available here.

The ability to represent this information remains uneven with room to improve, but I would argue it is at least a step in the right direction to both memorialize and accurately represent the atrocities that occurred at Salaspils. While we will never know the exact numbers or suffering of those imprisoned here, the vast propaganda of exaggeration detracts from the purpose of a memory site: representing a historic truth with as much power given to the community of survivors in how they want their experience to be understood and symbolized for future generations.

The Salaspils Memorial Ensemble:

The “bridge”.

A short drive from Riga, Bri and I left early to visit the Salaspils site. We only had a small window of time here but we made the most of our experience. The directions to the actual memorial were spotty and thankfully Bri made a few in-the-moment-decisions to successfully find the location. This isn’t a huge tourist attraction and after turning off the main road, there wasn’t clear signage on how to reach the memorial. We passed over the railroad tracks and into the forest, eventually finding the site.

The plinth marking the history of the camp with scratch marks running from 1941 – 1944 that extends from the entrance to the other side of the wall.

After parking — empty besides the two of us at this early hour — we passed the marker at the lot (a brief description of the site in English, Latvian, German, and Russian) before walking up to the enormous “bridge” at the front of the memorial. Known as the “border between life and death”, the “bridge” holds the new exhibits opened in 2017, although access was closed when we visited.

Bri is TALL and still had clearance under the “bridge”!

After walking under the “bridge”, Bri went straight into the Ceremonial Grounds while I headed left to the Memorial Obelisks to read more about the camp and how it was represented. I am so grateful for such a lovely friend who not only happily made this stop with me, but took pictures of the memorial that I would have missed due to our time constraints.

View immediately after passing the “bridge” into the Ceremonial Grounds where the sculptures are located.

See a map of the space here.

The first thing I noticed after entering the memorial was the metronome. The beating heart is played 24 hours a day through loudspeakers across the entire site. It was a haunting, jarring experience to incorporate sound into the very visible built landscape here. Surrounded by dense forest without wind, the metronome resonates loudly in the stillness of the space.

Information on the history of the camp as the sun started shining.
I made my way back toward the Ceremonial Grounds.
The sculptures truly dominate the space. It’s impossible to convey just how large they are in person. To the right and further back of “Unbroken” is the site of the camp’s former gallows. Farther to the right are where the adult barracks once stood.
“Humiliated” and “Mother” (further back).
[ 📷: Home Base Belgium ]
[ 📷: Home Base Belgium ]
[ 📷: Home Base Belgium ]
“Solidarity”, “The Oath”, and “Rot Front” (sometimes referred to as “Red Front”)
[ 📷: Home Base Belgium ]
[ 📷: Home Base Belgium ]
[ 📷: Home Base Belgium ]
[ 📷: Home Base Belgium ]
[ 📷: Home Base Belgium ]
[ 📷: Home Base Belgium ]

As with any event of unimaginable horror with multiple sides, perspectives, and intersecting histories and cultures, I imagine the controversy of the Salaspils Memorial Ensemble will continue to be a source of conflicting positions. Of course not all Latvians feel the same, nor do those of Russian descent, so I hope to not paint these very diverse communities as broad, monolithic groups. However, the push for Latvia to reclaim this memorial space through developing new exhibits and research, while also the costs to maintain the enormous Soviet structures built here to demonstrate the strength of the USSR against not only Nazi Germany, but in the countries they occupied, is commendable. As with many former Soviet-occupied countries, the path to self-determination and sovereignty includes thoroughly unpacking the intention of occupation-era memorial work such as the Salaspils Memorial Ensemble while embracing ideas of transitional justice.

The decision to memorialize a site as horrific as the Salaspils camp also requires reckoning with the Soviet representation of the space — a complicated, continuous, and evolving undertaking — that demands visitors to look beyond just the built landscape.

“The past was never singular, nor will the future be. In order to generate these futures, memory work should be dangerous. It should seek not only to acknowledge past trauma, but to repair it. It should aim to upend hierarchies of power, to distribute resources more equitably, to enable complex forms of self-representation, and to restore the humanity of those for whom it has been denied.”

Johnson, Dora, Jarrett M. Drake and Michelle Caswell. 2017. “Reflections from the 2016 Mandela Dialogues.” Nelson Mandela Website. Available here.

Reading: The Nineties (Chuck Klosterman)
Watching: Our Flag Means Death (HBO)
Listening: Make Up the Breakdown (Hot Hot Heat)


Atlas Obscura. 2019. “Salaspils Memorial Ensemble.” Atlas Obscura. Available here.

ENG.LSM.LV [Latvian Public Media]. 2017. “Holocaust Memorial Near Salaspils Turns 50”. ENG.LSM.LV. Available here.

Hohenhaus, Peter. 2014. “Salaspils Concentration Camp Memorial”. Dark-Tourism. Available here.

Johnson, Dora, Jarrett M. Drake and Michelle Caswell. 2017. “Reflections from the 2016 Mandela Dialogues.” Nelson Mandela Website. Available here.

Kasekamp, Andres. 2021. “The Baltic States: Three Peas in a Pod?” New Eastern Europe 3:XLVI. 15 – 19.

Oppermann, Paula. 2018. “A Dual Legacy: Reviewing the New Exhibition at the Former Nazi Camp Salaspils”. Cultures of History Forum. Available here.

Salaspilis Memorials. 2022. “Exposition”. Salaspils Memoriāls Official Website. Available here.

Sprūde, Viesturs. 2014. “Salaspils Memoriālam Būtu Vajadzīga Vēsturiski Patiesa Ekspozīcija”. LA.LV. Available here. [In Latvian]

2021 Year in Review: Favorite TV Shows

Another year of mostly staying at home=another year of consuming a ton of television!

Inspired by Emily VanDerWerff over at Vox, I wanted to compile a list of my favorite tv shows of 2021, although focusing more on why I loved them rather than the intense (self-imposed) pressure to put them in rank order.

“So in making my 2021 list, I opted not to try to have a comprehensive survey of “the best” because I’m increasingly convinced that no one person can watch enough television to reasonably say what the best even is. What I watched this year was completely arbitrary. I long ago gave up on trying to ‘keep up with’ TV as a medium, and I really only watched shows in 2021 if I thought I would find them interesting. So consider this list even more idiosyncratic and personal than it normally would be.”

VanDerWerff, Emily. 2021. “The Very Best TV Show of 2021”. Vox. Available here.

VanDerWerff and I share the same favorite show, which I’ll outline below, followed by the rest of the television I really enjoyed last year.

My Favorite Show of 2021: The Underground Railroad (Amazon Prime)

I absolutely did not believe that the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Colson Whitehead could be successfully adapted for TV, but I was 100% wrong. This incredible show–somewhat lost to many of the other top shows this year for a number of reasons–is heartbreaking, breathtaking, horrifying, and one of the best miniseries on TV.
Released all at once, the ten episodes are a difficult binge, which is one of the reasons–similarly to When They See Us–it is really hard to watch, especially all at once. Required viewing but know that you’ll need an emotional pick-me-up after each episode. Gorgeous storytelling, acting, music, and directing, this was my favorite show of 2021.

12 Other Shows I Really Loved in Random Order:

High on the Hog (Netflix):

A huge fan of Stephen Satterfield’s podcast (Point of Origin) and magazine (Whetstone) I was so excited to see the Netflix series he created to show the history of how Black food has shaped and influenced American cuisine. All four episodes are great, but I loved The Rice Kingdom, which features the amazing Gabrielle E.W. Carter and Michael Twitty discussing the legacy of African American planting and dishes across the Carolinas.
Favorite Episode: #2 The Rice Kingdom

Station Eleven (HBO):

This adaptation of Emily St. John Mandel post-apocalyptic novel is spectacular. Again, I was skeptical that it could be done, but the writing and acting in this series is one of my favorites of the year. This isn’t a binge-show; you’ll want to take your time both visually and emotionally. I LOVED the graphic novel aspects of Station Eleven too–just gorgeous.
Favorite Episode: #7 Goodbye My Damaged Home

Reservation Dogs (Hulu):

I LOVED this series co-created by Taika Waititi about four teens growing up on an American reservation. The young Native American lead actors are incredible and the show is a breakthrough for being one of the first (if not THE first) to feature Indigenous representation in the acting, writing, and production of the series. Absolutely one of my favorite shows of the year.
Favorite Episode: #6 Hunting

Mare of Easttown (HBO):

I didn’t know I needed a Cheez Whiz eating, Rolling Rock drinking Kate Winslet in my life, but phew Mare of Easttown is one of those shows that I am thankful came out weekly, rather than all at once. An emotional, complicated story of a detective (Winslet) trying to solve a murder in her hometown, the series kept me guessing until the very last episode. Of course, Jean Smart is also spectacular is Mare’s mother. So good.
Favorite Episode: #5 Illusions (sobbing emojis)

Loki (Disney+):

There are so many aspects of this show I adored: Tom Hiddleston, the dramatic soundtrack, the mid-century modern vibe… I loved Loki. While teetering a bit towards the last episodes (Marvel-We-Need-A-Giant-Fight-Scene-Ending) I thought this series was very well done and nice to feature Loki as the begrudgingly anti-hero rather than the villain. I really enjoyed it.
Favorite Episode: #3 Lamentis

Ted Lasso Season 2 (AppleTV+):

Ah, Ted Lasso. The show that gives me hope in humanity again. This season was a little more vulnerable as we learn more about Ted’s struggles, but still holds on to the cheer of season one. Of course Roy Kent is my absolute favorite.
Favorite Episode: #4 Carol of the Bells

The Great Season 2 (Hulu):

I did not think it was possible to top season one of The Great but, as with The Underground Railroad, I stand corrected. Fun, shocking, and delightful, season 2 brings even more of Catherine and Peter, along with probably my favorite supporting cast in all of television.
Favorite episode: #8 Seven Days

Succession Season 3 (HBO):

Grand, overwhelming, a masterpiece of a season, Succession is THE show. Linking destructive family relationships with (even more?) toxic capitalism, Succession is one of the best shows on television, even if you need to shower afterwards. Cousin Greg and Tom are THEE couple of the year.
Favorite Episode: #9 As the Bells Say (tough to choose just one, but this ENDING)

The Other Two Season 2 (HBO):

I loved this sitcom (?) about the two siblings of a Bieber-esque celebrity attempting to find their own place and fame. Molly Shannon plays their mother and is absolutely delightful and charming as only she can be.
Favorite Episode: #9 Chase Drops His First Album

Hacks (HBO):

Huzzah to more Jean Smart! I loved this smart, hilarious comedy, proving 2021 is the year of our Queen Jean.
Favorite Episode: #3 A Gig’s A Gig

Mythic Quest Season 2 (AppleTV+):

We just happened to stumble on the delightful Mythic Quest, binging both seasons over the weekend. The show is (mostly) light, funny, and boasts a plot centering on video games.
Favorite Episode: #7 Peter

WandaVision (Disney+):

The first eight episodes of WandaVision are lovely; how do you not love Wanda and Vision living through the decades, experiencing a life stolen from them? The addition of Kathryn Hahn (FINALLY RECEIVING THE RECOGNITION SHE DESERVES) made this one of my favorites of the year. Of course they had to go all Marvel at the end, which I found annoying as the rest of the series is soooo great and has an emotional center lacking in most Marvel productions.
Favorite Episode: #1 Filmed Before a Live Studio Audience

Special mention: Never Have I Ever Season 2 (Netflix), Why Are You Like This (Netflix), Only Murders in the Building (Hiulu), Landscapers (HBO), The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (Disney+), Dopesick (Disney+), The Shrink Next Door (AppleTV+), and For All Mankind Season 2 (AppleTV+).

Still sobbing at this absolutely perfect episode (Mythic Quest)

Reading: Recitatif (Toni Morrison)
Watching: Pam & Tommy (Hulu)
Listening: American Prodigies (Blue Wire)

2021 Year in Review: Favorite Books

My favorite hobby–and thankfully one of my responsibilities as a librarian technician–is researching and reading allthebooks. This year I wanted to share a few different reflections of my overall favorite books of 2021, although you can skip to the bottom of the post for my list of top reads.

Last year I started using StoryGraph as a way to track my reading. An alternative to Amazon’s (ack) Goodreads, the program was founded by Nadia Odunayo to organize your books, develop data and statistics on your reading, and provide tailored recommendations. I completely understand if you’re anti-tracking your reading–it can be another way to pressure yourself to reach a certain goal and can feel commodify-y of your hobbies (double ack)–but I personally like the data aspect of the app.

I also wanted to include a list inspired by my favorite book podcast, The Stacks, hosted by Traci Thomas. She always asks her guests a questionnaire of favorites / recommendations and I thought it would be a fun way to reflect on my own reading from last year.

A quick caveat: I’m only including books published in 2021 in my top list for the year. But I read SO MANY older books that were amazing as well.

My Reading Statistics:

2021 at a Glance:

The Stacks 2021 Questionnaire:

Two Books You Love:

I can’t say enough great things about this book. Collective memory and
how we choose to memorialize history is one of my favorite subjects.
I was sobbing as I read the chapter on Angola.
His research is incredibly thorough and the writing is intentional and descriptive.

One Book You Hate:

Here’s the thing: if I hate the book, I just won’t finish it. There
are a few that I was feeling “meh” about as I read them, but I still
gained something from the author’s work.

Last Great Book Someone Recommended to Me:

Recommended on The Stacks and it’s incredible.

Book I Love to Recommend:

I sent so many excerpts to friends. So good. Language is important!

Book That Made Me Laugh:

Eric’s bizarre and hilarious book of awesome recipes. I felt like I was watching an episode of Tim & Eric Awesome Show Great Job — spaghett!

Book That Made Me Cry:

Talk about emotional damage. I’m still not over it.

Book That Made Me Angry:

A combination of pure anger and justification for how duped I’ve felt as I’ve struggled to pay off student loans that only increase each year. #theamericandream eh?

Book That I Felt I Learned A Lot:

I really loved learning more about alternatives to our current (in)justice system.

Book I’m Embarrassed I Still Haven’t Read:

On my list for next year! I somehow ran out of time and this came out early in the year when I was in a bit of a reading slump.

Book I’m Proud to Have Read:

A Russian Literature class in a book! Loved this challenging read that made me feel like I was back in school (without the extra loans).

A Book People Would Be Surprised to Know I Love:

Historical fiction centering on aviation? I surprisingly loved this
book (recommended by the podcast Nerdette)

Book I Would Assign in High School:

I read this in just a few hours! A powerful book on the untold stories of
enslaved women fighting for freedom. A great example of how important
graphic novels are in nonfiction
. Read more graphic novels!

A Book I Would Like to See Turned Into a Movie of TV Show:

This would be an incredible series (as long as its not adapted by the
writers of Game of Thrones)

Book That I Would Require the Current President to Read:

An analysis of how the legacy of racism and inequality hurt all Americans and the economy. We are more than a zero-sum game (I hope).

My Favorite Books of 2021:


5. Foodheim: A Culinary Adventure (Eric Warheim)
4. Provecho: 100 Vegan Mexican Recipes to Celebrate Culture (Edgar Castrejón)
3. Black Food: Stories, Art, and Recipes from Across the African Diaspora (Bryant Terry)
2. Amber + Rye: A Baltic Food Journey (Zuza Zak)
1. New Native Kitchen: Celebrating Modern Recipes of the American Indian (Freddie Bitsoie and James O. Fraioli)


10. Libertie (Kaitlyn Greenidge)
9. Milk, Blood, Heat (Dantiel W. Moniz)
8. Harlem Shuffle (Colson Whitehead)
7. Red Island House (Andrea Lee)
6. The Gilded Ones (Namina Forna)
5. Honey Girl (Morgan Rogers)
4. The Sentence (Louise Erdrich)
3. Yolk (Mary H.K. Choi)
2. Under the Whispering Door (TJ Klune)
1. Great Circle (Maggie Shipstead)


10. Somebody’s Daughter: A Memoir (Ashley C. Ford)
9. A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life (George Saunders)
8. The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story (Nikole Hannah-Jones)
7. Becoming Abolitionists: Police, Protests, and the Pursuit of Freedom (Derecka Purnell)
6. The Debt Trap: How Student Loans Became a National Catastrophe (Josh Mitchell)
5. The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone (Heather McGhee)
4. Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism (Amanda Montell)
3. Wake: The Hidden History of Women Led Slave Revolts (Rebecca Hall)
2. Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty (Patrick Radden Keefe)
1. How the Word is Passed (Clint Smith)

Reading: Goliath (Tochi Onyebuchi)
Watching: Euphoria Season 2 (HBO)
Listening: …And I Return to Nothingness (Lorna Shore)

2021 Year in Review: AllThe[Travel]Things

Riga, Latvia
📷: Bri

Oh 2021. A year filled with uncertainty and also–almost bewilderingly at times–hope. After moving from Hungary to Germany in late 2020, we spent the majority of the new year in lockdown (or some version of it) until the summer. Thankful for these protective measures even if it meant being a little bored at times–both things can be true after all–and making any kind of new destination a special treat.

Tallinn, Estonia

Similar to 2020, a majority of our planned adventures were eventually cancelled. A combination of Covid unpredictability, health and safety concerns, along with the occasional geo-political strife created a new intentionality when it came to booking any travel; we knew that most likely we wouldn’t go and that was fine. So I included a little of our around-the-neighborhood-adventures in this post.

This year, restrictions and precautions became just another aspect of booking travel. Double checking the rules, making sure documents were up to date, bringing the correct masks, and remaining flexible as regulations change (sometimes in the middle of your trip) are just part of reality right now. And I’m so thankful for it. If it means being extra cautious for a giant plate of latkes and applesauce, your girl is down.

Travel in a pandemic is very much a #firstworldproblem and I am grateful for every occasional (safe) journey outside of my town.

Making the trip from Ohio to South Carolina.

Wandering around Germany, nearby France, visiting the United States for the first time in a few years (seeing friends and fam), and planning a dream trip to the Baltics (how many years in the making?!) with a good friend made 2021 such a special travel year for me.

Wedding fun ❤
Seeing an old friend in Helsinki!
📷: Bri
Taking the ferry from Helsinki to Estonia! Check out Home Base Belgium for all of Bri’s amazing travel blogs — she’s much more updated and together than me!

I’m so thankful for the ability and privilege to see new places and to be able to do so safely.

Riga, Latvia
📷: Bri

This year was also incredibly special as I had the opportunity to really explore topics close to my heart: the ideas of collective memory, how we choose (or not) to memorialize the past, the culture surrounding historical narratives in different places, and how this shifts and changes over time. From the sea islands off the coast of the Carolinas to monuments in the borderlands of the Baltic states, I’m so thankful to not only physically see and experience these sites, but also for the folks who patiently provided me the space to to do so.

I wanted to provide a warning that this post also includes photos and descriptions of memorials and historical sites referencing genocide and war. Be kind to yourself and what you can take on ❤

Channeling my inner 2006 Kirsten Dunst
📷: Bri

Here is my 2021 Travel Year in Review:


View from our back porch (winter 2021)
View from our back porch (fall 2021)
We have so many lovely trails near our house and I’m lucky to have that space available to me to walk with the dogs.
Making new friends

Along with the occasional bizarre holiday display in the main square of our village:

This apparently Donny Darko-inspired Easter setup thoroughly terrified all of us, but especially Arya Tonks, who was absolutely not having this one bit.


Bernkastel-Kues, Germany:

We were only able to see a few holiday markets in Germany but the ones we visited were breathtaking! This magical little town looks like it belongs in a snow globe.

Bluemont, Virginia:

Able to see this gorgeous and brilliant lady get married!
Plus meet up with a bunch of old friends and a chance to see this beautiful view ❤

Cochem, Germany:

Cochem during the fall is so moody–I loved seeing this small town on the Moselle River. The castle that looms above is actually not original–French King Louis XIV destroyed the first castle here and it was rebuilt in the 1800s.

Colmar, France:

Colmar is famous for its six Christmas markets. We traveled here the first weekend the markets opened, enjoying glühwein and potato pancakes.

Helsinki, Finland:

View of the Helsinki neighborhood of Töölö from the top of the Temppeliaukio Church.

Riga, Latvia:

Riga is breathtakingly beautiful. This photo was taken from the Stalinist Palace of Science, one of the tallest buildings in the city.

Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany:

Our first travel destination of 2021! What a gorgeous town and is one of the prettiest in Germany.

St. Helena Island, United States:

I finally had the opportunity to wander the breathtaking island of St. Helena, located off the coast of South Carolina.

Strasbourg, France:

We spent a weekend in the lovely town of Strasbourg, where we also saw a Mos Def (!!) show.

Tallinn, Estonia:

I have been dreaming of visiting Tallinn since my bachelor’s essay on Estonian national identity. I still can’t believe I was here! This view of the city is from the Kohtuotsa platform in Old Town, also known as the home of the famous seagull Steven.

Vilnius, Lithuania:

We had such a wonderful time wandering the streets of Vilnius. This particular part of the city included these lights with translations of a number of different terms.


Avenue of Oaks, St. Helena Island (United States):

While not technically a “memorial”–often listed as a “fun” tourist attraction near Beaufort–for me, the Avenue of Oaks on St. Helena is a space for reflection and remembrance. Once the road into Coffin Point Plantation, a forced labor camp that held over 200 enslaved people before their owners fled during the Civil War, the original 1100 acres has now been subdivided and residential homes line the Avenue of Oaks leading up to the former plantation house.

Coffin Point Praise House, St. Helena Island (United States):

Located near the Avenue of Oaks, the Coffin Point Praise House was built on the former forced labor camp of the Coffin Point Plantation. Just 3 m (10 feet) by 4.5 meters (15 feet), praise houses for the enslaved and their descendants were purposefully created tiny out of fear of allowing large groups of people to meet in one location; intentions for structures were completely different for owners and enslaved people as seen in this building and the Chapel of Ease.
The name “Praise House” is thought to be derived from the Gullah / Geechee term “pray’s house” and while originally used as a space for singing and worship, these structures also became the heart of rural communities. The Coffin Point Praise House was built in 1900 and remains an important site for many on St. Helena, including the Gullah / Geechee community. It is only one of three that remain on the island.

Chapel of Ease, St. Helena Island (United States):

Built in the 1700s for plantation owners on the island to attend religious services, the Chapel of Ease was used as a space for northern teachers and missionaries to educate and train newly-freed formerly enslaved people following the end of the Civil War. In 1868, a forest fire burned the chapel down, leaving the ruins we see today (including the oyster shells and lime used to build the walls).

Hill of Crosses, Šiauliai (Lithuania):

Visiting Lithuania’s Kryžių Kalnas (Hill of Crosses) was one of the most eerie and unusual wanderings I’ve had the opportunity to experience. Shockingly, we had the space to ourselves! While the origins of the Hill of Crosses varies based on legend and lore, the hill consists of more than 100,000 crucifixes and other religious icons; the space remains a pilgrimage for many.
First mentioned in 1850–but legend holds that the Hill of Crosses is much older than that–as a memorial for surviving relatives of victims fighting against the occupying Russian government (the Russians stifled Lithuanian identity and honoring the dead); cross-making is a part of the cultural heritage of Lithuania and a way to unite the people. Another legend holds that an apparition of the Virgin Mary instructed believers to cover the space in holy icons.
Banned during Soviet occupation, in 1961, the entire site was burned to the ground and was then destroyed another four separate times as locals continued to rebuild the memorial at night. Since gaining independence in 1991, Lithuanians are now openly able to visit the site and today is a tourist destination (although very much off the beaten path). However, the cultural practice of cross-making is in danger of losing its significance as fewer young Lithuanians learn the act.

Hubbard House, Ashtabula (United States):

Just ten minutes from where I went to high school, the Hubbard House Underground Railroad Museum is located right next to Lake Erie and was an important stop on the Underground Railroad. Already heavily involved in abolitionist work, William Hubbard and his family moved to now-Ashtabula from New York, where he and his brothers founded the Ashtabula Sentinel, an abolitionist newspaper. This house helped many enslaved people and their families escape to Canada, although there is no written account of the number of people that used this stop on the Underground Railroad. Built in late 1840, the house was nearly demolished in 1979, but was rescued from destruction and has slowly been restored. It is now open to tours hosted by volunteers.

Museum of the Riga Ghetto and Holocaust in Latvia (Latvia):

Opened in 2010 and close to the border of the original Jewish Ghetto in Riga, this indoor and outdoor museum includes incredible displays, permanent exhibits (a recreation of an apartment and train car), along with this space of hundreds of lanterns sharing stories of the some of the 70,000 Latvian Jews that were murdered during the Holocaust.

Ninth Fort, Kaunas (Lithuania):

The Ninth Fort near Kaunas, Lithuania has a complicated and horrific history as the land changed hands between political powers. Constructed as the last part of the Kaunas Fortress complex built to protect the Russian Empire’s western border–independent Lithuania was “absorbed” into Russia in the late 1800s–the Ninth Gate was completed on the eve of WWI. From 1940-1941, the Soviets used this space to house political prisoners before being sent to Gulag forced labor camps. During Nazi occupation, an estimated 50,000 Jewish people were murdered and buried here as a part of the Kaunas Massacre. Above is the site of the mass execution and burial place, located behind the fort’s structure. The “Fort of Death” was liquidated in 1944 and after WWII, the Soviets used the Ninth Fort as a prison.
Unveiled in 1984, the Ninth Fort Memorial stands at 32 m (105 feet) tall and commemorates the mass burial place of the Jewish victims of the Nazis buried in the field here. We were so lucky to stop by the space and essentially have the area to ourselves.

Rabbi Meir Garden, Rothenburg ob der Tauber (Germany):

Built in memory of Rabbi Meir ben Baruch, the garden is located next to the old Jewish dance hall that was constructed in 1400, burned down during a bombing in 1945, and reconstructed. The garden includes these Jewish headstones (discovered in 1914) that are now embedded into one wall, as well as a memorial plaque to the last Jewish families driven out from the city between 1933-1938.
In 1938, the town was declared “free of Jews” and the last remaining 17 members of the community were expelled from Rothenburg. It is estimated that none of the Jewish families that once lived here returned after the war and less than ten Jewish people live here today.

Salaspils Memorial Ensemble, Riga (Latvia):

The former Nazi labor camp outside of Riga is now a memorial to the victims of the murders that took place here. We were able to visit in the early morning and had the entire complex to ourselves. Truly a humbling and eerie moment with space for reflection.
The entrance to the camp includes the inscription “behind these gates moans the earth”.
A work camp consisting of mostly Latvian, Lithuanian, and Estonians, an estimated 2,000 – 3,000 women, men, and children died here. These enormous Soviet statues were built in 1967 and is one of Europe’s largest monument complexes; the area includes a number of memorials, displays, and even loudspeakers continuously playing a metronome as a symbol of a heartbeat.
Similar to many Soviet memorials, the history and how it is represented at Salaspils remains under constant dispute and debate.

Sibelius Monument, Helsinki (Finland):

Unveiled in 1967, the Sibelius Monument was created by Finnish artist Ella Hiltunen and is dedicated to the Finnish composer Jena Sibelius.
One of the prettiest and most interesting sculptures I’ve seen in person! My friend Bri and I had an absolutely glorious day in Helsinki, walking through the parks and wandering through the city’s sites.

Sojourner Truth Memorial Marker, Akron (United States):

Born enslaved in 1897, Sojourner Truth escaped to freedom in 1826 and became one of the most famous American feminists and abolitionists. In 1851, Truth gave the famous “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech overlooking the vista of the Little Cuyahoga River in Akron, Ohio. While debate still goes on as to whether Truth actually said those words at the Women’s Conference, it remains one of the most iconic speeches on freedom and equal rights for women in US history. The site of her speech was originally the Old Stone Church on High Street; today the plaque is mounted outside of a building owned by the United Way.

Vilnius Palace of Concerts and Sports (Lithuania):

The extremely controversial Vilnius Palace of Concerts and Sports was constructed by the Soviet Union in 1971 on top of the oldest Jewish cemetery in the capital city of Lithuania. Absolutely enormous, the arena held over 4,000 people and was constructed on the Piramónt cemetery, a space dating back to the late 1400s. After the occupying Russians closed the cemetery in 1831, the Soviet government destroyed the cemetery from 1949-1950 when a stadium was built here.
The arena was also the site of the Inaugural Congress of Sąjūdis, which led to Lithuanian independence. In 2004, the center closed as it was deemed unsafe for spectators and today, many markers ask visitors to respect the solemn space and remnants of Jewish headstones lines the walkway. In 2021, plans to build a new convention center on top of the area were scrapped due to Covid-19 and concerns over tourism.

Walls That Remember, Vilnius (Lithuania):

Developed by Lina Šlipavičiūtė-Černiauskienė in the capital city of Vilnius, the intent of the Walls to Remember project is to bring to life the once-bustling former Jewish quarter and a way to “bring back” the inhabitants of the city through imagery. As we walked through Vilnius, I saw a couple of drawings throughout the neighborhood with QR codes. These drawings, based on meticulous archival research, are based off of real photos of people who once lived here at the heart of Jewish life in the city. The artist “chose to use the modern language of graffiti in order to bring history closer to today’s people and youths”. In 2019, the project was vandalized with anti-Semitic icons.


Bookstore in Helsinki, Finland
Wandering a bookstore in Tallinn, Estonia
📷: Bri

Elizabeth’s, Akron (United States):

Absolutely love Rachel Cargle’s Bookshop & Writing Centre

Central Library Oodi, Helsinki (Finland):

The breathtaking Oodi library in Helsinki is all the heart emojis and what dreams are made of for how you’d want your library space to look and feel. Oodi invites patrons to “meet friends, create art, read, and relax” and includes spaces to read, workstations, studies, event space, an urban workshop, and a number of other services.
Intentionally designed as an inclusive space with representation and input from the community of Helsinki, the library is a beautiful building with gorgeous views of the city and outdoor space. Swoon.

Rahva Raamat, Tallinn (Estonia):

Estonia’s largest bookstore and a literary landmark, Rahva Raamat is absolutely adorable, with engaging displays and an incredible greeting card collection.

National Library of Latvia, Riga (Latvia):

Known as the Castle of Light, the National Library of Latvia was formed just one year after the Republic of Latvia gained independence in 1918. During WWII, Germany invaded Latvia, occupying Riga from 1941-1944 and renamed the library as to separate the space from an independent Latvia. In 1945, under Soviet occupation, the institution was named the State Library of the Latvian SSR; the Soviets removed certain literature that was designated as “dangerous” and could only be accessed with a special permit. In 2008, construction began on the new library (pictured here) and incudes 13 floors. A number of selected holdings were carried from the old building to the new by a human chain when the facility was opened in 2014.

St. Helena Public Library (United States):

The St. Helena Branch Library is one of South Carolina’s prettiest libraries, located near the historic Penn Center and features this super interesting and informative room on Gullah / Geechee culture and history.

National and University Library, Strasbourg (France):

Opened in 1895, the library holds 3,000,000 volumes and is France’s second largest collection.


Burg Eltz, Wierschem (Germany):

So the fifth season in Germany is definitely fog. We thought we’d miss the crowds by visiting the absolutely breathtaking Berg Eltz at the beginning of the fall, only to be thwarted by the thick autumn fog. I couldn’t stop laughing at our luck. Lesson learned!
Here is what the castle looks like during the summer months!
📷: Home Base Belgium

Burg Frauenburg (Germany):

The ruins of Burg Frauenburg are a nice little hike near our house and I was lucky enough to have the entire space to myself. The home of Loretta Sponheim, who paid for the castle’s construction with ransom money received from holding the Elector Baldwin of Luxembourg, Archbishop of Trier captive. A young widow facing poverty and conflict, Loretta successfully negotiated the release of the influential and powerful Baldwin, ensured the succession of her regency to her son, and then retired here before her death in 1346.

Burg Frankenstein, Palatinate (Germany):

For my Lockdown Birthday, I ordered my very own multilayer strawberry shortcake then visited the Frankenstein Castle ruins nearby. Not THOSE Frankenstein ruins, but still a nice walk abound the village’s church, ruins, and cemetery, the medieval castle is named for the local House of Frankenstein and was constructed first as a defensive tower around 1100. During the German Peasant’s War, the castle was destroyed in 1560, but was still used for military purposes.

Kadriorg Palace, Tallinn (Estonia):

Built for Catherine the Great by Peter the Great, this cupcake-vibes palace was built from 1718 – 1725 and currently houses the Kadriorg Art Museum.

Burg Lichtenberg, Thallichtenberg (Germany):

The largest castle ruin in Germany, Burg Lichtenberg is just a five minute drive from our house. Built around 1200, the castle (and the town of Kusel) were burnt down by French revolutionary troops in 1794. Under French occupation, the castle was plundered a number of times before a fire in 1799 destroyed a majority of the castle. Burg Lichtenberg fell into disrepair until 1895 when it was placed under protection as a historical monument before undergoing renovations in 1971.

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2022 Vibes


Reading: Olga Dies Dreaming (Xochitl Gonzalez)
Listening: Neon Bible (Arcade Fire)
Watching: Ozark Season 4 (Netflix)