Despite being exhausted from the long and arduous journey to the other side of the world, I woke up at the first sign of light in Berlin at 5:04 a.m. Our journey to learn about the culture of our neighbors to the east would start today and I wasn’t going to waste any time. I wanted to find out and document everything that I possibly could, from the simple cultural differences at breakfast, to the preservation of the history of this storied nation and city.
Our journey through the first full day started at the Brandenburg Gate, the symbol of transitions. The gate has seen the defeat of Germany to Napoleon and the humiliation that followed as a result of the removal of the quadriga. It has seen the rise of a dictator bent on world domination who would march his Storm Troopers through its entrances as a display of power. It has endured the hardships of a literal tear in the middle of the city where the gate which was once open to the public was no longer accessible due to the Berlin Wall separating West from East Germany. It was the perfect site to set the tone of the trip. The Brandenburg Gate opened our eyes to the expansive memories this beautiful city holds.
After being split up into our small groups, our squad “Team Alpha” planned and mapped out our day so that we would be able to cover the itinerary with enough time to truly experience each moment. We first visited the Memorial to the Murdered Jews. This powerful name only just begins to invoke the sense of evil and destruction that happened to a particular people group under the prerogative of a dictator. I found it very interesting that the city did not simply want this to pass beyond memory, but instead wanted this memory to remain in the forefront, a memory that would remain stitched in with the fabric of its being. This was apparent by the layout of the memorial: a large block of land dedicated to those who were taken in the anti-semitic violence right in the middle of the city. It served to make a statement that this must always be in the minds and hearts of Berlin.
After we saw the memorial, we went to the museum underneath the memorial. This was the most difficult experience of the entire day. The museum was a dedication the victims of the systematic murders of an entire people group. It almost made us feel as if we were responsible for all of these deaths, which in a sense we were. As a global population, we did not do enough to stop such a genocide until it was too late and the damage had already been done in the millions. It nevertheless was almost unreal and impossible to comprehend in this day and age. This is why I believe it is so important to continue preserving this memory. Because it did happen, it is possible to happen again and thus it is necessary to hold it in our minds always so that we can learn from our mistakes and move forward as a global culture. Because of the cyclic nature of history, it is very possible that we will face the same challenges and pressures of propaganda and fear.
To reflect on the experience we just shared with Berlin’s most intimate and awful history, Team Alpha headed to my favorite location of the day: Tiergarten. This beautiful, expansive park stretched further than the eye could comprehend. It encompassed, rivers, ponds, open fields, forest-covered paths, and beautiful sculptures and memorials. The quietness of this space despite its location in the middle of a bustling city was what made it so captivating to me. It seemed to me that this natural work of art was intentionally preserved in the middle of the city to bring beauty to the troubled story of Berlin. The space brought a sense of healing to our group after we had just bore witness the destruction implemented by the same nation. It was not a hiding place per se, but instead it was a place where one could remember and be comforted in knowing that all people of all backgrounds, religions, and national affiliations can enjoy the same space: a sort of call to love your neighbor through the beauty of the world, a beauty we need to preserve and work to hold. It is a testament to the fact that hate is not innate to our being, but it is instead taught by our interactions toward one another. To grow as a global population, we must learn to teach love and acceptance in the face of fear and hate. This is something the Berlin has come to terms with and it is something that we as a group need to bring back to the United States.
These were the locations that really struck me on our journey this first full day. I hope to learn more about the culture of this incredible city in the days to come.
Until next time,