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Bittersweet Chocolate

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A few years ago I had the opportunity to visit the portion of Germany that was once (not so long ago) Communist East Germany. It was an awesome trip and my husband, son, and I had a wonderful time. We visited cathedrals and castles, ate schnitzel, rode the train through the countryside and shopped at malls that rivaled those we visit so regularly here in Indiana. When thinking back on the trip there is just one experience that comes to mind bringing with it mixed feelings.

One day of our trip was spent in the town of Halle to include a visit to the Halloren Schokoladenfabrik (chocolate factory). As stated on the English version of their website, The Halloren Schokoladenfabrik is the oldest producing chocolate factory in Germany; dating back to 1804.

Now, I will be the first to state that being given a personal tour of a chocolate factory would be on my list of things to do in any country. But not only is this particular factory open to the public for tours, it also houses a chocolate museum that, along with our tour guide, provided a thorough education for the 3 of us. To say that the history of the factory was interesting would be an egregious understatement. Here’s a quick list of some of the interesting facts we took away from the experience.

– Just because they will let you take a tour, you shouldn’t assume you can take photos of the actual factory – in the museum fine; but not in the factory.

– The factory’s main product is the Halloren Kugeln. This yummy treat comes in a wide variety of flavors and is shaped like the buttons found on the uniforms of the guild of salt workers.

– In 1933 the owner of the company had to change the name of the company from David Sonne to Mignon Schokoladenwerke. It was said that the name David was too Jewish for him to be allowed to… Later the name was changed to Halloren Schokoladenfabrik. Although I knew these things from a historical perspective, it was hard to hear this man’s particular story.

– Chocolate had to be sold in the “underground” during WWII.

As fascinating as these things were to me, none of them struck me in the same manner as the story/conversation that went along with the photo accompanying this post.

Bittersweet Chocolate

Bittersweet Chocolate

At first, I was having a good time with my son and wondering why the little girl mannequin had on crooked hair. Then our host/guide began sharing the story behind the display with the school children. You see the mannequins of the school children represented a program that was put into place to bring school-aged children into the factory. It was a formal program that included training and uniforms as shown here in the photo with my son and the mannequins. The program was designed to introduce the children selected to the chocolate factory and groom them to work there as adults.

As I look back, the tone and detail with which our host shared this story was filled with joy and wonder and pride in the rich history of the factory. But that day, while standing there taking photos of my child with the little mannequins of the communist children who were being groomed to work in the chocolate factory, the joy and wonder was lost on me. This was compounded by the fact that our host was speaking more directly to my son than me. While my son was being perfectly polite and listening to a unique history lesson I was sorting through the smiles and facts and reasoning my way through the story to come my own democracy-filtered conclusions.

As our host finished his story and I came simultaneously to the end of my reasoning we turned to face one another only to feel as if we were standing on opposite sides of the wall that had been torn down nearly 3 decades ago. He saw the mortified look on my face just as I saw the pride in his. It didn’t matter that we were both well-educated professionals who understood where the other was coming from. For a split second he was a German man who had grown up in Communist East Germany and I was an African-American woman who had grown up in a land where we’re taught that the sky is the limit. We both self corrected immediately but for the rest of the day our interactions were ever so slightly strained. Not enough for anyone else to notice. But we knew what had taken place.

Later in the day while heading to Hauptbanhopf Halle to catch the train back to Magdeburg we came upon a series of those iconic tall, plain, gray apartments so often associated by westerners with communism. Many of these communist apartment blocks have been torn down; but several were still standing in Halle and even with major refab they were still a stark reminder of how recently the wall had come down.

I regularly talk with parents who are trying to figure out how to communicate to their kids how fortunate they are to have the opportunities that they take so for granted. I am faced with the same challenges with my son. I know that one day I will share this story with him and show him the photo of him smiling as he sits with the factory-bound communist children/mannequins without knowing what they represent and how different their existence was from his. Maybe I’ll even order some Halloren Kugeln candies so that we can experience the sweet while discussing the bittersweet. -cd



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