Team Alpha

By now, you have probably heard about our wonderful adventures at powerful locations such as Treptower Park, the East Side Gallery, Checkpoint Charlie, or the Soviet Memorial. With all of these amazing cites, the question “What was your favorite part of the experience so far?” can be very difficult to answer. However, after talking with several other people about the differences in our daily journeys, I have seen a difference in what I have gotten out of the historically rich city of Berlin. Ryal, Emma, and I went to Frog Camp Berlin last summer, and we all agreed that it was a very special opportunity to have been able to see the city twice on two totally different experiences. Of course, all of the memorials of both tragedy and redemption were extremely moving and emotional, but I wanted to focus on the interactions between the people that make up the newest additions to the Familia.

I was a member of the A Team (aka team Alpha aka the type A type A’s aka the Alpha Dogs), which was composed of Emma, Nishu, Brooke, OC (Olivia Chambers), and myself. Each day we were given a word like “connect” or “patience” or “starburst” that we should make the theme of the day. The great thing about team Alpha was we never had to try to implement any of those themes. The first day we all connected with our passionate hearts about the tragedy of the Holocaust, the second day we naturally communicated our feelings to each other that made patience come as second nature, and starbursting was something we’d been doing from the word “go” the very first day.

My favorite part of the experience thus far has definitely been growing closer to Team Alpha. We may not have had a theme song or secret handshake, but we all dug deep to get to know each other. I felt like Dr. P trying to take notes on each person because they were all so fascinating. It’s amazing to see how our differences can bring us closer together than some similarities can. For example, our bonding did not come from us having the same Meyer’s Briggs personality types, it came from our differing perspectives on what we looked for in significant others, what we want to do with our lives, how we interact with our families back at home, what makes us all tick, etc.

So I thought I’d make this blog post to show the things I love about them with the hope that you will have the opportunity to know and love them too.

IMG_1870

Pictured above Is Nishu; he’s a total stud. He is extremely passionate about medicine and his biggest goal in life is to leave a permanent impact on the world of either neurosurgery, heart disease, or cancer research. He enjoys the classic “music and medicine” school of thought and loves to explore all parts of his brain; he’s in the jazz band at TCU and can make sick beats on his computer. His producer name is “The Nerd,” and he is unable to touch his toes in mid air (see above). Nishu is from Chicago, but his mother preaches at a church in Wisconsin while his father is an engineer in Indiana. It was incredible to hear about the unique position he had to travel to all three of those places and build connections in them. He was raised in a house that celebrated both Christianity and Hinduism, which is extremely unique and allows him to have a very different outlook on life. He truly cares for everyone and believes in equality of all cultures and people. We brought this up several times, and it was an extremely fitting topic of discussion in a city of Berlin; the former capital of oppression and systematic racism. I loved hearing Nishu talk about how a doctor saved his father’s life, and how he wants to give back to the field however he can. Not to mention, this guy is definitely one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. He was so observant that he explained to us that a slightly chilly day could be described as “slightly colder than warm.”

IMG_4328

Okay, honestly I have no idea what my life would be like without Emma. She has become one of my closest friends over the last year and has made such an incredible impact on me that ranges from something as small writing encouraging notes and leaving them on my Bible in my room back in Milton Daniel to something as large as reminding that my self worth is something so strong that not even I can screw it up. But in the course of this week, I have loved watching her grow and learn more about herself. She discovered that her personality was a little bit different than any Meyer’s Briggs test could ever tell her. And she discovered (though probably already knew) that she is amazing at reading maps in German. Emma is a very independent person, but is incredible at supporting others and letting other people support her. Sometimes I feel like she already has a lot of the answers and asks questions to make other people realize they might have some of them too. Emma comes from a family that absolutely loves Jesus. She can’t pick a favorite family member because they all inspire her in different ways, but she has a heart for law and justice, and wants to pursue law just like her father. She just cannot do criminal law; she never wants to be in a position to defend someone who she knows is in the wrong and have to fight for something she doesn’t believe in.

IMG_4347

Above is Brooke Boisvert. I also finally discovered how to pronounce her last name this week: it’s like boy-ver. I think. Honestly who knows. Anyways, Brooke is truly amazing. I started the starbursting moment off strong with the classic, “So Brooke, tell me about your family.” It’s amazing how much you can learn about a person just from that one statement. I learned about her amazing parents who have been excellent role models for her, her two brothers who are way cooler than she is. Living with two younger brothers has been an incredible experience for her; she’s gotten to watch them grow and mature in ways that are different from her own experiences. Brooke was a killer navigator in Berlin and was probably the sole reason we were able to figure out the S-Bahn/U-Bahn system. Her sense of humor is pretty much the same as mine, so we got along very well. While we only had a few heart-to-heart talks throughout the time in Berlin, we were comfortable with walking in silent contemplation next to each other, which says a lot more about a relationship than the ability to make small talk. Brooke is just one of those people that can be the both the funniest and deepest person you’ve ever met at the same time. I love how this combination allows her to utilize empathy for everyone around her and know how to react to whatever situation with the exact right words or actions.

IMG_1848

Last but certainly not least is Olivia Chambers (aka OC). OC is, as Shrek would put it, like an onion because she has layers. And I’m not talking about the layered look that California’s usually pull off. I took a class with her in the fall and got to hear her perspective on many subjects as it was a seminar-style honors class, but she never brought up stuff like the fact that she was a professional musical theatre actress back in the day. This blew our minds when she finally revealed that to us, and it really speaks to her humility. One of the questions that our group brought up was “what qualities do you look for in a significant other?” And I absolutely loved her answer. She said she doesn’t feel like she should be going through life with a list of expectations to check off; she’ll just be disappointed by not getting exactly what she wants. OC is comfortable with taking her hands off the wheel and letting the Lord make the plan. Olivia truly goes through life viewing everything and everyone as a gift to be appreciated and she always manages to find the light in the darkest places.

The words above could never come close to fully conveying how incredible the people with whom I got to explore Berlin were, but I thought I should give them some credit in their ability to carry out one of most important things we set out to do: build a familia.

Advertisements

Berlin There, Done That

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 traveled 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.

Embracing an Undesirable History

In my short (yet seemingly lengthy) time in Berlin, I have learned so much about Berlin’s rich history and the amends it has made and continues to make in response to its hand in the many horrors of World War II. Berlin is a city unlike any other in how it goes about the creation of museums and memorials to the placement of those museums and memorials and to the extensive symbolism interwoven into each museum and memorial. Our team, Team Bravo, has had the last three days to explore the city of Berlin to learn more about its role in World War II and the Cold War, and to ask some questions as we spend time examining each site.

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe has been by far been one of the most impactful moments of my time in Berlin. This memorial covers an entire street block and is filled with 2,711 concrete slabs, of varying heights, that represent the more than six million Jews that were massacred during Hitler’s reign. The slabs increase in height the further you wander into the memorial, and with it, comes the feeling that you are slowly being overwhelmed. As I walked towards the center of slabs, the sounds from people on the street, honking cars, and even the sound of someone walking a few feet away were dampened, and I began to feel very alone as the slabs towered over me. The uneven ground was further cause for uncertainty as it sloped up and down causing me to trip. I can only help but wonder how much more overwhelmed and uncertain each Jew felt at the beginning of each day, wondering whether or not they would return home that day as their persecution increased. With the increasing persecution, the Jews were slowly headed towards a disaster that could not be stopped.

day memorial

Later that same day, our entire group went for a night adventure where we got to experience the same memorial. Except this time, it was in the dark of night, with light only being provided by the hotel and street lights. We went out into groups of three and four and ambled through the memorial. I don’t proudly proclaim my fear for the dark, but this was pretty dang scary. As we walked through the memorial, I felt more and more uneasy the longer we walked on, and I was quite relieved to reach the rest of our group at the end. When we reconvened, our group began to discuss why this memorial was here, why it was the named the way it was, and reasonings for the way the memorial had been built.

night memorial

Not only is this memorial placed near the heart of where the Nazi’s controlled their operations, but it is placed on prime real estate in the center of Berlin, near the Reichstag, Brandenburg Gate, and the US Embassy. I believe that the memorial’s placement signals Berlin’s effort to really show how much they desire to right their wrong in that they could’ve sold the property to the highest bidder yet decided to create a unique memorial for the main victims of their terror. The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe also employs strong rhetoric. The word “murdered” is as blunt as it gets and implies the killing of an innocent people, who did not deserve the cruel treatment they received. Among the many slabs in the memorial are spots on the outside that are skipped and left empty. This simple act honors the many Jews who might be excluded from the estimated six million. Not only does this memorial honor six million Jews, but the empty spots honor the many Jews forgotten because of missing deportation lists and the impossibility of having an exact count of the number of Jews killed during the Holocaust.

The museum below went onto build on the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe by personalizing and humanizing the many lives lost. The museum included many real stories of individuals Jews who faced persecution and eventually lost their families and their lives in the brutal concentration camps. In the Room of Dimensions, there were several excerpts from letters written by Jewish victims to their family or anyone that would listen. One quote particularly stuck out to me. Judith Wischnjatskaja wrote:

“Before I die I want to say farewell to you. We want so much to live, but
they won’t let us, we will be killed. I am so afraid of this death, because
the small children are being thrown alive into the pit. Goodbye for ever.
My warmest kisses for you.”  -Your J

In the letter transposed and sent to the museum, the author removed the word, pit, and changed it to grave because it sounded too harsh. Instead, the creator of the museum chose to include the word as to convey the letter’s full meaning. Again we see Berlin fully show their darkness rather than just hiding it. In the next room, the Room of Families, fifteen different Jewish families, from 13 different countries are represented by vertical hanging slabs that continue from the above memorial. Although this doesn’t cover each country that had Jews killed, it reveals an honest attempt to showcase just how widespread Germany and Berlin’s terror spread.

quote

The memorial’s design and museum below bring so much life to a people the people of Berlin once thought inferior. The memorial and museum counter the Nazi’s views of Jews as an individual group. By making each slab to be a different height and creating an extensive museum below that is filled with relatable personal stories, it humanizes the Jews, and reminds us that each Jew was a unique human being.

Thanks so much for an amazing time Berlin. And thanks to Team Bravo for the wonderful, thought-provoking conversations that have taught me so much in the last few days.

Onward we go.

– Marat

The Infamous Night Train

“You have to exit the train in 2 minutes!!!!!”

This is what I woke up to after riding the night train from Berlin to Munich. I had heard from past CR members that the night train was one to remember, but I honestly didn’t imagine it going quite like this. Our cabin had fallen back asleep and was completely oblivious to the fact that our stop was up next. We woke up in a panic to our (very angry) conductor aggressively telling us we had to leave the train as soon as possible. Bags went flying and coffee and tea were spilling everywhere as we chaotically ran off the train looking anything but graceful. It was truly a wonderful experience. So far, this has been the only transportation mishap while on CR, aside from getting on the wrong U-Bahn once or twice, so I would say we aren’t off to a bad start. While our group worked together to find our way around Berlin by using the transportation system, we were met with a few challenges (hence getting on the wrong U-Bahn). We knew we had to work together to overcome the language barrier and figure out a system that was foreign to us at first. But part of the fun of exploring the city is navigating and also getting lost and finding your way back to your destination.

Just a mere 12 hours before we boarded the infamous night train, we were wrapping up our time in Berlin! We began the day by all visiting the Reichstag, now known as the Bundestag. Visiting this at the end of the week allowed me to truly value its importance, because I had been learning about its history from the moment we got to Berlin. The German government has built a clear dome on top of the Bundestag to represent transparency with the government and the people, which Berlin should be commemorated for not turning its back on its history. We then had a few hours before boarding the, still incredibly infamous, night train.

Some of my favorite moments in Berlin have been the East Side Gallery and Treptower park, both visited on our second to last day in the city before moving on to Munich. East Side Gallery I enjoyed because Berlin has turned the Berlin Wall, which once represented something so ugly, into something beautiful while still remembering the wall and the history surrounding it. Treptower park was a favorite because I realized how naïve I was regarding the Soviet Union and its ties to Germany. The memorial in the park to honor fallen Soviet soldiers was extremely powerful and taught me a lot about history as well. There are many memorials to Soviet soldiers who were killed by the Germans, and yet the German government funds the upkeep of these memorials. Berlin continues to amaze me with its outlook on its history and their ability to face it head on.

But aside from my favorite sites in Berlin, the standout so far has been connection. Connection with those around me and building new purposeful relationships. While the wakeup on the night train was frantic, the talks we had before falling asleep were ones that I know brought us all closer as a team on CR. I am so thankful for everyone on this trip being unapologetically themselves!

*P.S. As a clarification, we made it off the train in plenty of time and have already decided our conductor was conspiring against us.

Think on Such Things

Berlin, Germany

[This post regards our excursions on Saturday the 19th]

I had a hard time processing today. My team (Team Charlie; consisting of myself Brittany H., Jake L., Audrey P., Olivia W., and Jacob J.) and I were assigned to visit the Museum for the Murdered Jews of Europe here in Berlin. As the name suggests, it’s a heavy topic; not one I find myself pondering very often in every day life. But this was a necessary excursion. This city is a mine of complex history and fascinating stories. It also was home to many of the victims of the holocaust and was basically the center of Nazi power. Thus, delving into the stories of a few of the millions of individuals directly affected by this terror in the very city so much of it took place is chilling. Team Charlie knew we were in for a tough morning; nevertheless, we walked into the museum with open minds and an eagerness for deeper understanding.

Stories get me. Life stories, with details that depict the rawness of humanity, really get me. As I inched my way through the rooms of the museum, I found myself being sucked into the stories of ordinary people who unexpectedly suffered a tragedy far worse than anything I could imagine. I observed photographs of the grotesque corpses of completely innocent people. Each of these mutilated individuals had their own story. Many stories were lost and are forever gone, but the relatively few stories that were preserved are heart breaking. I still can’t comprehend the horror. Words legitimately don’t suffice. And I have so many questions: How could so many join this cause to kill? How should I respond to this? My natural instinct is to avoid thinking about this mass murder… It’s much too painful.

I journaled a bit this afternoon, after our team discussion following the museum, and got to the page that had Philippians 4:8 written on it in pretty lettering. As I scribbled down my thoughts and feelings about this experience, our discussion, and the holocaust, I couldn’t help but ponder this verse. It reads: “Whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think on such things.” I want to. I want to find the beauty in everything. That’s typically my unofficial Goal of the Day. Thus, I veer away from harping on the negative. I’m not a big fan of delving into heavy, depressing topics. But Christ did not ask His people to avoid suffering. He asks us to be empathetic, as He was and is. He mourned with those who were hurting and rejoiced with those who celebrated. Clearly He is not saying to only think about the good stuff and pretend like terrible things don’t happen, and I don’t think Paul was saying that either. So how can I respond to this incomprehensible suffering without falling into a pit of fear, anxiety, and hopelessness? I truly don’t have the answer. But I believe–as I investigated in an honors “Wisdom Books” religion class this past semester–that it is absolutely necessary to remain attuned to joy while being responsive to suffering. God exists in both extremes, on the mountain tops and in the valleys. By considering the depths of the horrors of the holocaust, I am becoming more aware of the nastiest side of humanity. I wish to use this knowledge as an incentive to love better… There is indeed pain and unexplainable suffering in this world, but there is still so much good. So much reason to encourage my neighbor and to speak truth. My heart hurts for those who lost loved ones or who survived the holocaust… How could one come out of that tragedy without a constant sense of emptiness for those who perished? How does one move on from that and get back to a life that is relatively normal? How can we encourage and support those who are hurting in this way, even when we cannot grasp the pain they have experienced?

I still don’t have words to concisely wrap this up… I don’t have the answers. But I believe I will be left asking these kinds of questions as we further explore each city.

p.s. As I am left pondering, I must say that I so appreciate this opportunity to explore the dark sides of the history of Berlin as well as the stunning cathedrals, parks, monuments, food, and more. I feel like I have learned a lot, particularly from listening to the other members of my group as we all try to digest the world around us. Thanks for a great adventure, Berlin. Onto Munich!

-Indigo