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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

A Much Needed Dance Party: Photos

The first day in Munich is always a difficult one. So tonight, at a friend’s restaurant, we ate well and then properly and legally celebrated Abby’s recent birthday and the upcoming June birthdays of Audrey, Indigo, and Brittany. We then took over the restaurant (with Martin’s encouragement) and danced …

Calling an Audible

You know it’s going to be an interesting day when you have 2 minutes to get out of bed in the morning. That’s how the day started for your favorite Horned Frogs on CR10 when our train pulled into Munich’s Hauptbahnhof station this morning at 7:20. I would personally like to thank whoever opened the blinds in our little 6 bed room on the night train and shone the sun directly into my eyes. I’m being serious, because honestly without you I would probably still be on that train asleep. It was a great night on the train. We had some really good talks and I feel closer to everyone I talked with now because of it and for that I am thankful. The lack of sleep was far worth it, and I can honestly say I would do the night train again, it’s truly the European experience I know we all were hoping for. After our arousal from slumber and our sprinting out of the train, we settled down in a nice diner overlooking Marienplatz for some breakfast (side note: I tried a cappuccino for the first time this morning, and after dumping enough sugar in it to make me diabetic after one sip, I determined that coffee probably isn’t for me). After our breakfast, our lethargic selves went out into Marienplatz for the day’s activities.

So this is where it gets exciting. We were broken up into 2 groups of 8, a step up from our smaller groups in Berlin.

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With them, we were given a list of sites we needed to visit for the day. Now this is where my metaphor of the audible comes in. So if you’ve ever watched football, you would know that the offense runs plays to attempt to move the ball down the field and eventually score. So a play is called in the huddle, but along with that play are back up plays called audibles that can be used if something goes awry before the play starts, like if the defense sets up to cover differently that would thwart the original play. So our list this morning was our original play, but it turns out that this particular Monday is a holiday in Munich, or something like that. So more than half of the places we were supposed to visit today were closed! So what do we have to do? Call an audible. We switched up some places with the other group and we ended up seeing Olympic Stadium and a really cool museum that went over how the Nazis rose to power using Munich as their headquarters.

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We really only made it to 2 sites out of our original 6 that we were supposed to see. Some might call this a failure of a day, but actually I would call it a success.

Today was bigger than CR. Today was about doing life. In life, nothing goes by the playbook. Audibles are a daily thing that we have to utilize in order to make things work. I was proud of my group today. There was some struggling. We were all tired, frustrated at our situation, and my goodness were we hangry! But we chose to push through that and overcome some very tough obstacles like the train we needed to be on breaking, and we did everything that we could with the time and resources that we were given. In the end, the only thing you can do is your best. We will get some sufficient rest tonight (this hotel we’re in is SWEET) and bounce back tomorrow refreshed and ready to go to work! I’m excited to see where our spirit carries us around this beautiful city tomorrow. I’m thankful for the trials of today, because it is only through pressure and heat that you can turn coal into diamonds, and the pressure and heat we went through today is making us into the gems we’re meant to be. We will attack tomorrow with a smile on our face ready to face whatever challenges it will throw at us, and if we need to, we always have the audibles ready for use.

 

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.