I had some expectations going into Berlin, and now that it’s over it’s safe to say that none of them were correct. My time in Berlin was marked by a stunning growth in knowledge not only about the culture surrounding me, but also about the people that have lived in the same building as me all year. I felt myself learning about my friends and myself through the various sites we explored, the food that we ate, and the trains we got lost on; needless to say, it was an incredible experience.
I wish I could write about every single thing that impacted me, but it’s nearly impossible to put into words the impact that just being in Berlin, surrounded by incredible history can have on a person. So I’ll try to keep it short.
There was one night excursion that stood out to me in particular, and it was the women’s memorial. To see a memorial celebrating German women who peacefully protested for the release of their husbands was a beautiful and moving thing; I felt myself being filled with pride for the strength that these women had to show. Not only that, but they were successful, which I believe is the only time the Nazi’s gave up to a protest. Seeing a memorial dedicated to such powerful women who didn’t back down in the face of such horror because they were dedicated to the ones they loved was inspiring.
The miles of the Berlin Wall that were covered in art was truly one of my favorite places in the whole city, and if I could’ve stayed there all day, believe me, I would’ve. Every piece was different and incredibly detailed, and the ones that paid homage to the victims of the holocaust were truly moving. Hearing and seeing different people’s interpretations of the works was a great glimpse into not only our similarities, but our unique differences. While it was fun to pose in front of the wall and take wonderful photos, it was also amazing to see the amount of history the pieces carried and the respect that some people paid to it. It was a great connecting point for team Bravo, as it was a place where we could be ourselves and talk and take some pretty great photographs. Did I mention I’m apparently good at posing people? Didn’t even know it was a thing. I made a joke and now here I am, posing everyone for every photograph. I feel like a fraud. Regardless, it was a wonderful thing to see so many different interpretations and artwork dedicated to preserving something that once stood for something so awful.
The next experience was slightly more difficult. The journey through Treptower was beautiful, and in true team Bravo fashion we took the road less travelled and entered the Soviet memorial through a back alley gate. However, that didn’t hinder us from standing in awe of the incredible memorial that stood before us. Everything about the Soviet memorial was beautiful, from the symmetry of the trees to the wreaths right down to the intricacies on the marble carvings. Thankfully, Dr. P was there to walk us through it and pointed out things in the sculptures that I otherwise would have never noticed. The other members of my team also contributed insight into things that hadn’t even crossed my mind, and I found myself astonished at how much I was learning not just from the memorial, but from my friends. Some of the carvings were difficult to look at, despite their beauty, because of the harshness of the images, and parts of the experience felt very heavy. However, there were also parts that felt filled with hope; such as the wreaths and the Soviet man holding the German woman’s baby on top of a broken swastika. The Park was filled with beauty and tragedy, and the uniformity of it all made the balance feel natural.
The memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe was without a doubt one of the toughest things about Berlin. Staring at roughly 2,000 grey slabs of concrete that represented the murdered Jews of Europe, and each slab felt like an unmarked grave; the memorial was nothing short of blunt. Actually walking through it was surreal; it made me feel completely alone and isolated, even though I knew my friends were in there with me. At one point, Dr. P and I were walking side by side at the same pace, just in different columns, and I had no awareness of his presence except for when there was a gap between the slabs. When we went back at night, the experience felt even more ominous; I felt as if I didn’t have control over where I was going, I was just blindly being lead in the dark. We never knew who or what was around any corner, and I believe that was the intention; to make us feel as the Jews of Europe felt. Isolated, alone, scared to make any movements whatsoever, scared to trust anyone. The memorial beautifully and horrifically attempted to capture the feelings of the Jews in Europe at the time of the holocaust, and based on the range of emotions I felt while walking through it, I believe it succeeded.
Not only did I get to experience all of these incredible places, but I got to make deep connections with people I’d never talked to, (attempt) to navigate a foreign train station, eat a considerable amount of schnitzel, sprint to the president of Berlin’s house, and so much more. The experience has only just begun and already I can tell that it is truly unique and incredibly powerful.
Team Bravo, you were a dream.
Goodbye, Berlin. I already miss you.