Respect and Responsibility – Berlin

Berlin, you are so blunt. Thank you for sharing your history with us!

Berlin has done an incredible job at distributing respect and responsibility to respective parties for important historical events. I’ve even had a difficult time trying to discern Germany’s own frame on its historical events because the memorials and museums seem so raw and unbiased with facts written out and even Germany’s own atrocities detailed. They don’t seem to hide much.

Beginning with responsibility, the Berlin Wall Memorial and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe are crafted in sleek, harsh, metal materials with clean, sharp edges, revealing blunt history with no blankets or frills to hide or exaggerate details. These memorials (paid for by the German tax payers) detail the German government’s mass murders, placing responsibility for many innocent deaths on German power. The Topography of Terror uses vast details to depict Hitler’s plans to create the perfect world and dispose of the unclean. The Germans are not afraid to face their past actions and take responsibility so unfortunate events are never allowed to repeat.

While admitting a large German responsibility for the murder of many Jews, Berlin also respects those who lost their lives for present Germany. This is insane. Berlin respects everyone from large groups to individuals.

The Museum to the Murdered Jews and Memorial to the Homosexuals give respect and a sense of citizenship to those whom the Germans in the Holocaust harshly persecuted and killed. Citizenship is now present where it was once taken away. With memorials to individual groups who were killed, Germany respects each individual life lost.

In Treptower Park, the Soviet Union’s win over Germany and individual Soviets’ deaths are extremely respected with the reverential landscaping and intricate craftsmanship. This is crazy to me! In Berlin, there are beautiful and rich memorials honoring Soviets who killed Germans, and these memorials are paid for and upkept by the Germans. The Soviet War Memorial even said the German soldiers helped refurbish the Soviet War Memorial. How crazy is that? These Germans are helping upkeep a memorial to Soviets who killed so many of their people. So much money, real estate and time are invested in respecting the past which is definitely not always in Germany’s favor.

By Germany taking responsibility for its actions and publicly giving massive respect to the Jews, Soviets, and all ostracized citizens, Germany entrusts its inhabitants to think for themselves, giving the inhabitants respect for the past and responsibility for the future.

I am beyond thankful to be entrusted by the German government, even as a visitor, to interpret the meaning of memorials. The openness to interpretation found in many memorials allows people to think about the meaning, not just be spoon-fed. This deep thinking allows me to better remember history behind lives lost. I believe when we expose the truth, we are able to learn from a situation so it won’t happen again.

In the Memorial to the Murdered Jews, Primo Levi says, “It happened, therefore it can happen again; this is the core of what we have to say.”

I want to walk in truth, confronting issues and learning from them so they don’t repeat.

Confronting failure is hard because first you have to admit to the failure, and that is hard. I especially hate to think I’ve failed, and while that may be just a part of my perfectionism, I also think there’s something in American culture that encourages us to push and push and push until we reach success; but sometimes you need to take a step back and expose your failure no matter how harsh it is so you can respect yourself, take responsibility and learn.

I know I have work to do in revealing my failures, and I believe the US has work to do in confronting our mistreatment of people – in internment camps, slavery, tribes and so on. When we expose our failures, we give respect and responsibility to whom it’s due, allowing us to learn from mistakes.

And taking this to a more individual level, wow have I been blessed with the best team ever! Bravo, you guys are incredible! Marat, Abby, Ryle, and Taylor, thank you for revealing how vulnerability with others opens opportunities to respect others even more. Each of you have been so vulnerable. Seriously thank you for sharing! I have learned from each of you and I respect each of you so much. Thank you for being so intentional. I am so thankful we get to entrust each other with the truth of our lives to learn and grow together.

Bravo Berlin!

With love,

Lauren Rasmussen

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The Brutal Honesty of Berlin

Experiencing Berlin in this way has been one of the most incredible and humbling experiences of my life thus far. Not only am I experiencing a foreign country for the first time, but I am doing so in a place so rich with history that I have the opportunity to see firsthand the impact of the two World Wars and Nazism. I also have loved exploring a new country with new friends and establishing new relationships.

Day One: This day was so exciting for so many reasons! This day meant the beginning of our exploration of Berlin, the beginning of our friendships, and the beginning of Cultural Routes. My group explored the Soviet War memorial, Checkpoint Charlie, a panorama museum depicting Berlin as it looked with the wall up, Treptower Park, the Eastside Gallery, and Karl Marx Alley. The most fascinating part of this day was viewing WWII from an entirely new perspective – the Soviet perspective. In many textbooks of history, the discussions of WWII leave many details about the Soviet Union’s involvement out. However, between 25 and 27 million of the 55 million people killed in the war were citizens or military members of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was a crucial factor in WWII, but it is easy to forget. One of the most fascinating things about Berlin is that it does not shy away from monuments and museums that portray every aspect of WWII, including the Soviet influence and impact in the war. Teptower Park was especially impactful. The symbolism in Treptower Park blew me away. The Soviet Union stares across to Mother Germany, holding the child Future of Germany in his arms, and crushing the swastika underfoot. Memorials like the Soviet War Memorial and Treptower Park serve as reminders that there are other sides of the story than the ones we consistently read in history books, and that there was suffering on all sides.

Day Two: Although this day was more centered around general German history, the most impactful moments for me were at the Berlin Wall Memorial. This memorial pointed out many facts I did not know about the Berlin Wall. For instance, I did not realize that there was a region between the West and East Walls in which booby traps, barbed wire fence, and inner walls were added to keep people out. The map of the memorial had dots spread across the map, pointing to exact locations of “incidents” where people died trying to get across. It put the desperation of the East Berliners into perspective; we stood on the ground that literally meant life or death to the people attempting to escape. Seeing the faces of those who died trying to cross the part of the Berlin Wall where we stood made it feel much more real, especially because many of the deaths were children. For the rest of the day, my group learned a lot about German history. We went to the German History Museum and the Berliner Dom, which was probably my favorite part of the day. The Berliner Dom has a beautiful cathedral, a crypt underneath, and a stairway up to the dome that provides a 360 degree view of the city.

Day Three: This was the most emotionally exhausting but most enlightening day of the three. We visited the Museum to the Murdered Jews of Europe and the accompanying memorial. Even the blunt, harsh names of the museum and memorial foreshadow the brutality of the information and stories enclosed within a single city block in the middle of Berlin. Words cannot accurately describe the heartbreak I felt in my soul when I learned the stories of fifteen Jewish families that were separated and murdered by the Nazis, when I read the letters, postcards, and death notes of men, women, and children about to be murdered in the extermination camps, and when I heard the grotesque personal testimonies of people that survived the horrors of the concentration camps. Witnessing these events brought our group together as we discussed and reflected upon what we saw in Tiergarten. These atrocities completely dehumanized millions of Jews as they were humiliated, tortured, and murdered just because of their beliefs. It is difficult to comprehend how people were able to commit these acts against their fellow man and laugh about it. We discussed the effects of extreme nationalism and how to handle this information through faith. Although we did do other activities that day, we bonded the most as a group because of our experiences in the museum and memorial.

By far the most fascinating part about Berlin is its humble honesty and refusal to shy away from the past. From building an empty library in the location where Nazis burned books at Bebelplatz to memorials portraying the deaths of East Berliners as they tried to cross the wall to dedicating an entire city block to the disgusting treatment and genocide of Jews, Germany does not attempt to hide its history. It embraces its past and portrays it in as many ways as possible to keep the memory alive. In the Museum to the Murdered Jews of Europe, a quote from Primo Levi is painted on the wall: “It happened, therefore it can happen again; this is the core of what we have to say.” I think we can all learn something from Berlin about honesty and accepting our flaws and mistakes. Without acknowledging our past, we have no hope of recovering and learning from our darkest moments. I am thankful that Berlin uses its past to teach others in order to prevent atrocities such as the Holocaust in the future.

Transitions

When Dr. P says CR is all in 24/7, he means it. Not to say that I didn’t believe him before, but I assumed it was more of an exaggeration rather than the cold hard truth. From the first moment we landed in Berlin’s Tegel Airport, we’ve been challenged emotionally, physically, and intellectually to explore and push ourselves past our comfort zones. Even before our first full day in Berlin, Dr. P took us to Bebelplatz, the site of the mass burning of more than 20,000 pieces of literature. There he asked us to look for something out of place; something that didn’t belong. Shortly after, we came upon a transparent box in the otherwise stone floor. In it was a white room filled with rows on rows of empty book shelves, representing the books lost to the flames. In that spot, ideas were lost forever, knowledge was suffocated, and free thought was expunged. In that spot, the transition to cultural isolation began.

If you were to look at Berlin today without having any knowledge of its past, you would think it is one of the most progressive and culturally aware cities in the world. While this is true in many ways, it strongly juxtaposes against a Berlin that, only 75 years earlier, was the place of monolithic, facist thought, eventually leading to one of the most horrific events in world history: the holocaust. Yet, this transition from anti-semitic rhetoric to one of openness and inclusion has been met with an equally impressive recognition for the past as seen in memorials such as the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe and the Topography of Terror. Each of these memorials were not only erected using money from the German government, but they are maintained and operated by the Germans despite free admission to the memorials. This speaks volumes to the transitions in government ideals. Rather than sweeping their past under the rug, the German people own up to their past and accept whatever burden is placed upon them to ensure that all past wrong doings are acknowledged and reflected on. We, as Americans, could learn a lot from this.

While the German ownership is impressive, the memorials themselves were astonishing. Team Alpha arrived at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe for our first venture of CR. We were all extremely excited to arrive, yet what we saw was extremely different than what we expected (Except for Emma and Kyle, they knew what to expect #fcberlin2017). On a street corner not far from the Brandenburg gate stood a multitude of grey rectangular columns of varying heights. Come to find out, this sea of grey was the memorial.

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What I loved most about this memorial was it’s unassuming nature. Had I not known it was a memorial, I would have walked by without a second thought. Yet, in the same way I would walk by without acknowledgement, so did the world as they watched the travesty of the holocaust unfold, never doing anything until it was too late; when the transition from bystander to victim had already taken place. This ambiguity in the memorial allowed for personal interpretation, giving a static piece dynamic ability.

In contrast to the above ground memorial, The museum below serves to put meaning to the blocks and to answer the questions of all those who wonder. Upon entering there is a quote from Primo Levi:

“It happened, therefore it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say.”

Six million Jews were murdered in the holocaust. There is gravity in six million people. Never in my life have I ever seen one million people, let alone six. When I visited the museum, I couldn’t help but shake the thought that “this would never happen again.” Even now as I write this, I want to believe it’s not possible, that people are innately good. But if people are innately good, why did this ever happen?

“…the transition from starvation to genocide.”

The intent wasn’t to kill. The intent was to starve. The intent doesn’t matter. When plans are formed with ill-intent, the fall is swift and inevitable. This idea was adequately reinforced through the Topography of Terror memorial.

In the economic instability that ensued following World War I, the German people sought a leader that could resurrect their lost power and reestablish Germany as a world super power. Adolf Hitler was that person. In desperate times, people needed a leader. Where there was hope, there were the masses. Hitler was able to capitalize on the instability of a nation to push an agenda of evil, in turn changing the course of history forever. Propaganda turned into words. Words turned into prejudice. Prejudice turned into discrimination. Discrimination turned into the systematic murder of six million Jews, once again signaling a transition from hope to despair.

As society turns to a new chapter and transitions past the atrocities seen in the holocaust, it is important that we understands the magnitude of what took place nearly 80 years ago. People both young and old were stripped from their homes, forced into labor, and degraded to a point where their only identifying quality was their religion. They were herded like cattle into box cars and taken miles across Germany to concentration camps where they were forced to say goodbye to their family members, knowing the inevitability of their impending doom. Though we will never be able to give back the lives that were stolen, we have the power to ensure that their legacy is never forgotten. We have the power to seek knowledge beyond that of our own culture. We have the power to love those unlike ourselves. We have the power to stand up for humanity. We have the power to do what is right.

Brooke Boisvert

 

Bravo in Berlin!

We have now spent a full (and I mean full) 48 hours here in Berlin, and it has been nothing short of amazing! Berlin is quite an interesting city, with a rich culture as well as a tumultuous history. But what I find truly amazing about Berlin is that it doesn’t try to hide or cover up its history, it embraces that it happened and memorializes it to ensure that history does not cycle back around. The history of the Holocaust and Berlin Wall can seem so far away when learning about them in school back home. But now that we are here, the weight of Berlin’s history has become so much more impactful.

Day 1 in Berlin first consisted of CR10 navigating our way to meet Dr. P at the Brandenburg Gate. We were then divided into our small groups! Abby, Ryal, Lauren, Marat, and myself all make up Team Bravo! We then were left to our own devices, consisting of a road and subway map, to navigate our way to certain locations within Berlin. We learned how to navigate the infamous U Bahn and truly began to connect on a deeper level as a group as the day progressed. Our group spent the most time at the Berlin Wall Memorial and the German History Museum (and prioritized snacking on some chocolate too). Throughout this day, I realized how much I had to learn about German history and I loved being able to connect what I saw within the museum to the actual historical sites as I saw when I was walking around the city.


Day 2 was met with much more emotion from our team. Our day was completely centered on the Holocaust. We started at the Memorial for the Murdered Jews, which consists of an entire city block filled with concrete slabs. This serves as a blunt reminder to the city of the atrocities that occurred. We ended up visiting this memorial at night, and I found that experience to be even more moving than when we visited this during the day. While this memorial along was incredibly powerful, what lies below the memorial is where our group shared extremely meaningful moments. The museum is what lies directly below the memorial. This is truly the most moving exhibition I have ever encountered. It consisted of photos and biographies of the lives that were lost in the Holocaust by displaying their personal journals. I took a moment to reflect towards the end of the exhibit and was overcome with questions. How could this have happened? From a psychological standpoint, why did everyone believe that Jewish individuals were the enemy? A particular moment that left an impact on me was a journal entry from an officer who carried out mass executions on the Jews. He had little to no remorse for the situation which literally sent shivers down my spine and allowed me to formulate so many more questions. I just couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that a man would carry out mass executions of innocent people, and then return home to his family as if nothing horrific had just occurred. Our group really connected within our discussions following this museum.


The second day of exploration also allowed for growth as a team, as well as personal growth. The first two days of Berlin have been moving and breathtaking. Day 3 has some high expectations that I’m sure it will surpass, just as the days going forward will be met with more growth, connections, and true exploration!

The Power of One

Saturday, May 19th; 1:00am Berlin, Germany – Amazing! What an incredible experience I’ve had thus far on CR10! We just finished up our third day, and it feels like we’ve been here for a month already! The days are so full, some might even say “rich,” but I wouldn’t want to have it any other way. The things we have seen and the information we have learned has been unbelievably impactful. It has oftentimes left me, the guy who never stops talking, speechless. It’s truly an incredible experience to be in the actual space where so much history has occurred. Berlin as a city does an incredible job confronting its history and presenting an unbiased account of that history very clearly to the public through a myriad of dynamic memorials which spark intentional dialogue and tough conversations among its visitors and onlookers. Many of the memorials and monuments are presented in a way which allows its meaning to be up for interpretation by the visitors, rather than simply “spoon-feeding” the historical facts to them.

One thing that really resonated with me today throughout our journey today was the power of one. In the same way that we as individuals are statistically insignificant in comparison to the global population, each one of us is infinitely significant in a sense that we have an effect on every person we meet and therefore the world would be monumentally different without our presence in it. Now I know that’s a tough one to swallow sometimes, and especially when trying to confront large-scale problems like racism, homophobia, or mass genocide it is extremely difficult to see how one person can have such a considerable influence on the world and those around her or him.

The power of one was extremely evident today when we visited the Museum Blindenwerkstatt Otto Weidt. This free museum was dedicated to Otto Weidt, a non-Jewish blind man who in 1941 employed around 35 blind and deaf Jews in his broom making shop. He protected these Jews by hiding them in secret rooms in the factory or bribing off the Gestapo if they were caught in their homes or in the streets. He created a network of people in the heart of Berlin who were also brave enough to help these Jews by hiding them in their home or buying them food on the black market. He did everything he could for these people, but unfortunately many of them were captured during “Operation Factory” in February 27th, 1943, when the Nazis declared that every Jew in Berlin should be gone. That day, the Nazis raided thousands of homes in predominantly Jewish neighborhoods and sent them all to concentration camps to be eventually executed. Otto was able to save some of the Jews who were married to German women, but most of his workers were executed in Auschwitz, and his factory was shut down. After the Nazis were defeated, Otto created the Home for Jewish Children and the Aged, the first safe haven for Jews in the post-Nazi Berlin. Many of the children that stayed there were those who had lost their parents in Auschwitz.

Otto is a prime example of the power of one. He was someone who didn’t try to do anything outside himself yet did everything he could to better the lives of these innocent Jewish people and their children. After his death, Otto was awarded the “Righteous Man of the World’s Nations” award. I think that Otto has an extremely powerful story that we can all look to for guidance. I just hope that had I been in that situation, I would’ve been as brave as Otto was in the face of danger and done everything I could for the betterment of the lives of others.

 

Until Next Time,

Jake Lynn

 

*Below is a photo of a trap door that Otto used to hide his workers in a small room for when the Nazis would come and do inspections of his factory

Black Mirror

How can you write when you can’t think? How can you learn when you’re so overwhelmed you can’t process through the emotion? When you’re so hollow inside that you can’t but sit, paralyzed.

“Father, I don’t want to die”

This quote and several other death notes from the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe broke me as a person. My empathy runs hard and strong in situations such as this, when one of the most basic human connections is invoked, family. This is one of the strongest bonds between humans, everyone has a family, and everyone loves their family. For me, family is the foundation my life is built upon. This makes it impossible for me to separate myself, it is a mirror by which I can only view the murders and the atrocities as if they are happening to my own mother, my own father, my own sister, my own future son, my own future daughter. I typically do everything I can to keep myself together, yet any sort of effort to remain composed failed. I could only feel my heartbeat rapidly pound and my lungs refuse to take in air. My ragged breathing served as a backdrop as I extrapolated the deaths and destruction to the people I hold dear. It was the closest thing I’ve ever felt to a panic attack, and in that moment,  it became real to me. I’ve been around the monument above the museum before and I’ve even seen a concentration camp, yet the struggles I encountered at that camp were nothing in the face of this highly personal experience. One of my greatest fears is always not being able to help those I love, and the holocaust is the most stark embodiment of that fear I have ever had to face in the mirror of my mind. While I’ve always known I would go to incredible lengths to protect my family, in the Room of Dimensions in the Museum for the Murdered Jews of Europe I began to grasp just how far those lengths would extend, past just about anything I could imagine.

“I fired constantly at the women, children, and the babies. They would do the same and tenfold worse to my children if I didn’t”

This quote comes from one who participated in the mass shootings as he went home to proudly inform his wife about how he had served that day in protecting his family. While I had still not recovered from the Room of Dimensions and subsequent Room of Families—you can see how I continued having some issues—I was confronted with this quote. It is through this mirror that I believe the words that welcome you to the Museum, “It happened once, therefore it can happen again” when those same devotion that is at the core of who I am as a person was used to justify, explain, and validate mass murder. It terrifies me. You can chalk the commanders’ actions to evil, yet our visit to the Topography of Terror taught us just how widespread the operations were. On the individual level,  this mirror allowed me to recognize how ordinary men came to proudly believe they were doing the right thing. The propaganda, scapegoating, and atmosphere channeled the fear for families, their ways of life, and absolutely twisted the noble sense of duty a man feels to those he loves into malevolent, hateful, and horrifying acts on an unimaginable scale. I now realize that the Hitler and Joseph Goebbels didn’t introduce anything new to orchestrate the murder of 9 million people, they simply utilized fundamental traits of humanity, and masculinity in particular, for their own sick devices.

Those elements of humanity remain within us, within me, today. This is why we must face the past, learn it, and truly understand it in all its horrors.

“It happened once, therefore it can happen again.”

I will leave you with the poem that Josh Witkop, a CR alum left me. It lent me strength throughout the day to recover and provided me the mirror by which I could maintain   faith in the face of the struggles I encounter in my aspirations to grow as a man even as I am forced to grapple with the terrifying actions I believe elements of masculinity drove.

“If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:.
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build’em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!”

– Ryal Reddick

  Bravo Team

P.S. – Shoutout to my team members of Marat, Taylor, Abbey, and Lauren. Y’all are making this so special, elevating the incredible times, and supporting each other in the difficult and I’m learning from you every step of the way. I couldn’t be more thankful Dr. P’s brain brought us together.

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