A 2000 Year Old Wall

One of the coolest things in Rome, in my opinion, is the Basilica di San Clemente. What appears to be a normal church – at least normal by the standards of Italian churches – turns out to be the location of a part of history quite unique to the city. Rome is the lasagna city, as the new Rome is built on top of the old one. This is why there’s no subway system: every time they dig, they find some 2000 year old ruins and have to call the archeologists and stop the excavations. Another name for it is the eternal city, as it’s history has been preserved so well.

This basilica models this theme perfectly: it is built on top of an older church, which is built on top of some aristocrat’s house where they held cult meetings during ancient Roman times. So you can quite literally walk through time and see how Rome has progressed through the years in its architecture, theology, culture, artwork, etc. It’s truly amazing. Jake Lynn and I walked through most of the ruins together and spent most of the time trying to understand what the cult believed in. We’re still lost, but that’s okay. The rest of the time was spent trying to wrap our heads around how old the stone we were standing next to was. Our conversation looked something like this:

*touches the wall*

“Dude, this Stone is literally as old as Jesus.”

“Yeah, like when people lived here, Jesus to them was some guy from Nazareth.”

“2000+ years ago…”

“Wow… what does that even mean?”

“It’s 100 times as old as us.”

“It’s 10 times older than the founding of our country.”

“It’s almost 150 times as long as we’ve been in school.”

We stood there with our hands on the wall for a good 10 minutes going back and forth about ways we could understand what 2000 years meant. We probably looked like idiots to the rest of the tourists – but what tourist has ever looked like a rocket scientist? Once we finally felt like we had a good grip on what something that old meant, we realized how much history had been going on before that house was built. We didn’t even try to wrap our heads around that. The realization we came to was we are playing a role in a story so much larger than our own lives, and that was humbling and empowering at the same time.

We’ve seen a lot over the course of the last month. We’ve learned about how to respect the memory of those that are oppressed and how to maintain the knowledge of what can go wrong based on what has gone wrong; we’ve seen how even the biggest castles can’t defend us from Gods plans; I jumped out of an airplane and experienced one of the most beautiful places on Earth; we climbed to the top of the Alps, we felt the gentleness of the breeze on the sea and the peace of Riomaggiore; we learned from some of the greatest minds in history about art and its significance to the world as well as how generations can change and shape a culture, enjoyed world class gelato in the countryside of Tuscanny; and our experience came to a close in Rome. It’s amazing how much we have accomplished on this experience: it’s more than words can really convey.

But very little of that matters to the majority of the world. Few people are going to care that I skydived, or ate a bunch of gelato, or went in a bunch of museums. What matters is that we spent the last 3.5 weeks getting closer to each other and figuring out ways to relate to people who would have no connection to us from the outside. The reality is, we are all human beings, and human beings have been around for a while. And since everyone had to come from somewhere, there’s a good chance we all have a connection to every single person on Earth through the history of humanity and its struggles.

I have no idea who walked through that ancient Roman ruin when it was in its prime back in the day. But I do know that they were human beings, that they had families whom they loved, kids they were trying to raise, bills to pay, and a job to do it with. Something some random dude in Riomaggiore told me was that his son had just finished traveling around the entire world, and the one thing he learned was that it doesn’t matter where you are, or how far from your house you stand. People are people. They all have so much more worth than any adjectives can prescribe them.

We have this shared humanity that spreads across time and space, and it’s necessary to recognize the intrinsic value that we all hold. When you think about all of this, it’s hard to treat anyone with anything other than love and respect.

So as Cultural Routes 10 comes to an end, I feel all of the same bittersweet emotions as everyone else. And I think that we all recognize how powerful the knowledge we’ve gained is, and how much influence we can have in helping the world out by working together.

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Out of Chaos

One of the most spectacular things to see in Florence, perhaps in the world, is the statue of David, sculpted by Michelangelo. The location of the sculpture is in the Academia museum, sort of in the back. The rest of the museum is filled with lots of paintings of the saints and of Madonna and Child. In fact this was one of the museums that made Madonna and Child a meme on CR10. Any painting we didn’t understand of a woman instantly was labeled as “Madonna and Child” by our group. But I can talk about CR10 memes in another post.

Once we emerged in the hall with David at the end, our jaws dropped. This was it. This was the masterpiece. But there were several other sculptures on the sides of the hall. These sculptures are less famous, probably because they’re incomplete. However, I enjoyed them as much, if not more than the actual statue of David. These incomplete sculptures allowed us to see how Michelangelo’s vision was transferred into marble, how one single slab of rock could be turned into a man. They show humans emerging from the stone, rather than the finished product.

Once we made it to the feet of David and he stood towering over us, we understood how Michelangelo transferred his vision to the piece of rock. It’s amazing how the story of that statue relates to our own lives. Michelangelo was told time and time again that the slab of marble he wanted to use was worthless; that it would never become anything beautiful. But he saw David inside that rock, and new he just had to carve it out.

How many times in our lives do we believe the lie that we’re not good enough? That we won’t reach the beauty we are striving for? I know in my own life, it’s really easy to fall into that trap. But I believe that there is a master sculpture out there that takes one good look at the mess I’ve made of my life and carves out a work of art. I recognize that not everyone believes the same things I do, but isn’t it nice to know that our most disgusting messes can be cleaned up and made beautiful with no more than the vision of that beauty? That’s a thought I find comforting, and the I think that museum was set up the way it was to show us exactly that. We don’t have to be perfect right now; no one expects that. But we all have the potential to be great and to make a lasting impact on the world, even if everything else tells us otherwise. Something spectacular can be made out of the chaos of our lives.

The Influence of One

Germany has given us a really hands-on experience with its history, and I’ve learned so much! But something that has really stood out to me is how Hitler was able to create and lead this huge Nazi Party. He carefully crafted this horrific history, and his carefully crafted image greatly influenced the world.

How can one influence the world, creating life-changing movements? And how can we be influential leaders who help the world grow?

Let’s begin with the history that inspired this thought.

The Beginnings

I learned so much between Berlin’s memorials and Munich’s Documentation Center.

Hitler’s rise to power began with learning how to reach people and fulfill their desires. After WWI, Hitler went back to Munich to learn how to speak to crowds and wealthy families, raising supporters. Any great leader and movement needs supporters, so Hitler was very smart to go after them first. This experience also shows that Hitler had to learn first. School is an incredible place to learn and I want to open my eyes up to all that TCU and the next three years have to offer.

Hitler also got put in prison, and while I don’t think every great leader needs to go to prison, we all face hardships. It’s the leaders who overcome obstacles and use hardships to grow that powerfully influence the world. During his time in prison, Hitler used this time to plan his new world and wrote Mein Kamph. This prompted me to ask, what hardships am I going through now and how can I use these challenges to grow?

Lastly, fun fact: Hitler wouldn’t allow anyone to take pictures of him until after 1923. He wanted to stage his photos to go with his movement. This just goes to show how much influence social media has. He even created Köningsplatz as the perfect background to his speeches and events. He carefully thought out his whole movement.

What image are you creating for yourself? And, why?

Learning, creating relationships, overcoming hardships, and crafting a social media presence are all steps to building clout and influence. But the power to choose if this influence is positive or negative completely rests on the individual.

The Choice

Hitler chose to try to create a ‘perfect’ society by destroying a whole group of people, but you could use influence to positively impact the world like by creating a world movement to live healthier. I know I want to craft an open, loving, enthusiastic influence to positively impact this world, influencing people to love others and themselves better.

Power Plays

The Nazi Party began in 1920 and Hitler focused the party on creating a perfect world without Jews. But come 1921, Hitler became the social chairman and changed the Nazi Party’s focus to follow himself, the Fürer.

After this turning point, the Nazi Party destroyed so many lives by using their influence in a negative way. In 1933, Munich was made the capital of modern art, pushing reactionary art over modern, persuading people propaganda was the truth. Parties other than the Nazi Party as well as sports groups who wouldn’t conform to the Nazi’s requests were banned. Hitler even created a secret police, making people so afraid of the consequences of resisting or not conforming. These steps slowly took away rights from those persecuted by the party. Hitler’s influence even grew so much that governmental permission was needed to buy houses and go into air-raid shelters. One had to have Nazi Party affiliation and the ability to produce racially desirable offspring to buy houses. There were even physical signs saying “No Jews Allowed.”

But how much different is this discrimination from the influencial standards surrounding us today? Do we value extroverts over introverts, certain body images or even specific job titles more than others? What restrictions have we put on people today?

Hitler clearly worked to create his own name and the perfect society, using the influence he crafted to kill millions. But something to be learned from him is how he was so dedicated and prepared to create a huge impact on the world. Then he was successful in making change. Unfortunately this took so many innocent lives, creating immense negative repercussions. But we each have the power to influence.

The Future

We can choose to stand up and stand out. We can choose to be the one to influence others. There are so many dreams present on CR10, and we each have the opportunity to enormously impact this world.

Emma has such a passion for helping others and she potentially wants to pursue law! Brooke has an incredible story that has led her to potentially do neurology. Jacob so passionately wants to help all people have access to life-saving healthcare! How cool!?! There are so many of us with enormous dreams to positively impact our world. The Crecade is unstoppable. We can learn and start using every single aspect of our lives to create an influence to positively impact the world.

We are truly learning to change the world. Let’s influence the world starting right now!

With love,

Lauren Rasmussen

Dachau, in Me

Dachau. The name lingers in your mouth like a bad taste. It lingers in your ear like the sound of a gunshot. It lingers in the air like a foul smell. It is a name that brought fear into the hearts of those who heard it on the lips of SS officers during the height of the Nazi’s power. 

In me, the name conjures anger: anger that directed at humanity for being so flawed and misguided to create such a place of evil and hate. When I looked at the atrocities and systematic exterminations employed by human beings, I found myself hating all of those responsible for allowing such atrocities to occur. The torture devices, the constant beatings, and the threat of death looming over the prisoners’ heads like a dark, stagnant cloud. I was angry to share any humanity with the Nazis, knowing that what makes them human also makes me human and that I too have that potential for evil in me because I am human. A rage that I have never felt before burned inside of me when I saw the pictures of the bodies that were strewn and raked in piles, as if they had no identity. To the Nazis they were just… in the way. 

In me the name conjures sorrow: a deep sorrow for those whose lives were stolen from them. Lives that were stolen regardless of whether or not they survived the concentration camp. Their lives were still taken along with their humanity while the suffered in such a desolate place. When I saw the crematorium, I was surprised to find it not in a desolate area, but in a beautiful, wooded room of nature. I walked in this furnace of death and was taken aback by the mere presence of death in that place. Although the furnace in Dachau had not been used, it was still the site of hangings and mass murders. I walked in to the next room and found it was empty. It was a small room that was maybe a foot higher than my head reached. It didn’t strike me as significant. I walked out and turned to find a sign next to the door that brought clarity to the room. For I had walked through, and stood in the gas chamber. 

There was a path next to the crematorium that led to into the woods. I followed it in an attempt to ease the burden that is Dachau through the solace of nature. As I walked, I saw a large stone adjacent to the gravel path among the trees. As I approached it, it looked more and more like a tomb stone. I read the new apparent memorial. It was the site of the execution of many individual prisoners. It was called the pistol range. This beautiful area was the last thing that hundreds of prisoners would see before their death. I forced myself to stand before the area that they called the blood ditch, to look out into the trees as if this would he my last site on this earth. I turned around to where the SS officer would be standing. I stared down the barrel of his gun as he pulled the trigger. A bell tower in the distance struck at that exact moment, ripping my breath away from my lungs. 

In me the name conjures fear: a fear not quite the same that the thousands of victims who stayed in Dachau faced, but a fear that this oppression stemmed from hate could have and still can take me and those I love. Would I have been one of the victims of this terror? I do not fit the Aryan archetype. As half Indian and half Caucasian, would I have been deemed a threat to the Nazi’s perfect race? Would I have been persecuted for my religion? Would I have been silenced because of my political beliefs? In reality, I could have given the wrong look to an SS officer or slandered the government trusting the wrong person with my opinions and I could have been taken in the custody of Dachau. I am just living in a different era and that is the only thing that with certainty prevents me from being ripped from my family. But time is not a guarantee. These events can happen again because they happened before. 

In me the name also conjures hope: a hope that is not prominent but is there nonetheless. A hope that we as global neighbors, no, a global gamily can grow and learn to work and look through the rhetoric of hate, to look at each other’s differences as strengths rather than weaknesses. It gives me hope knowing that in the end, there were survivors, there was an end to the destruction, and there was peace achieved. It gives me hope to know that Germany has become incredibly progressive and has sought every opportunity to memorialize its mistakes as a nation so that the memory of the victim and the atrocities done to them lives on. It is a world leader in its journey to equality on all fronts. The transgressions of the Nazis can and will never be forgotten, not by the world, and especially not by me. It is through the knowledge of this strife that we can grow toward a peaceful society. For we will never again allow this to happen. 

Dachau shall always remain within me. It is an experience that will haunt me, yet it will be one that I cherish. 

Auf wiedersehen, 

Nishanth Sadagopan 

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.