Editor’s note: Geocaching HQ staff are attending dozens of Mega-Events around the world, shaking hands, sharing stories of adventure, and of course, geocaching. Each person at Geocaching HQ brings their own unique talent to advancing the adventure. Some write code for the website, others design images for the apps, and some shoot videos explaining it all. Eric Schudiske is the Geocaching HQ staff member behind Geocaching.com social media and public relations. He recently traveled to the Czech Republic to join nearly a thousand people in celebrating geocaching and the geocaching community at the Terezin Games 2014. Here’s his story.
There’s something you need to know about the location of this Mega-Event. It’s not pleasant, but it’s important. History has visited Terezin in the Czech Republic in almost all its forms, but perhaps none more than tragedy.
The Austro-Hungarian Empire staked a claim here with a city-sized fortress in the 1700’s. Gavrilo Princip, the gunman who triggered World War I with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand died in prison here. There’s more. The atrocities of the Holocaust claimed Terezin when the Nazi Gestapo turned the walled fortress into a Jewish ghetto and concentration camp. After World War II, former captors became prisoners. Nazis and ethnic Germans were detained in Terezin until 1948.
That’s the textbook backdrop that cannot be ignored. That’s the history of this location and context of this event. Thousands of questions will never be answered about Terezin. But the geocaching Mega-Event offers some help. The event organizers take this fragile piece of shared history off the mantle. They do not hide it. They offer context.
Geocaching, at its most powerful, provides a clearer lens into the past by revealing a hidden history. Among the events, one held a special gravity for me. It translated to “Talking to a Witness“. 92-year-old Lisa Mikova spoke for more than an hour. She survived the Terezin concentration camp. She survived Auschwitz. She survived the fire bombing of Dresden. This miraculous woman spoke to two large groups of geocachers about her will to survive and the cost of the Holocaust to her family and culture.
Her voice echoed through the rest of the event, and I imagine others will keep her stories with them their entire lives. I know I will.
During another event, stories were also shared about the thousands of Austro-Hungarian soldiers who garrisoned the fort in the nineteenth century. Another event told the history of the city itself. I’ve learned this: geocachers are curious and seek to understand locations and the stories they hold.
A firm knowledge and respect for the history of the location helped geocachers create an event which offered an insight into our past and a unity in our present. With the blessing and support of the state agency which oversees Terezin, the Terezin Games 2014 Mega-Event was planned. More than a 1000 geocachers from across Europe (and one Geocaching HQ staffer from the United States) attended.
The games were a type of offbeat marathon, challenging teams of four at every level. It was also what we hope geocaching events around the world deliver: plain fun. It was something else: not normal. There’s perhaps no other place in the world where activities take you deep in the belly of a fort which was built four years after the United States of America became a country, and then off to fire a giant air cannon, or maybe play bubble soccer, or maybe talk to soldiers in authentic period dress. Geocachers know how to entertain, no matter where you find them.
There was also a chance to break the record for the longest towel (of course). The events were perfect conduits to meet the great people who attended (and there were many great people). It’s the same way I feel about crackers and cheese. Crackers are just an excuse to eat more cheese. Events are just an excuse to meet more people. This was a rockstar event. The geocacher who owns the world’s most found geocache was in attendance. A geocacher with about 500 first to finds was also in attendance, and probably won’t read this blog post, because you know; beep beep… first to find alarm, go get ’em.
To be honest, the Terezin Games ended up as two events for me. I’ve moved them into two different pockets in my brain. There was the past: honored and respected. And then there was the present: appreciated and welcomed. It’s perfect they’re both reflected in one smiley and Mega-Event souvenir, because both can exist together. Check out the pictures below for a little glimpse of what it was like. A very special thank you to Marketa and the organizing committee for the Terezin Games (all 90+ of them). You did an excellent job. Hope to see you all in Seattle soon!