The Poetry of Dachau

“I tell you this to break your heart, by which I mean only that it break open and never close again to the rest of the world.” – Mary Oliver

My heart was broken open today in ways that are hard to put into words. I think everyone felt a rush of emotion as we walked through Dachau silently, taking in the weight of the suffering felt by thousands of people on the very ground we were standing on. We spent six and a half hours at Dachau, with ominous dark clouds and drizzling rain setting a somber mood. As I walked through Dachau’s barracks, roll call yard, and crematory, I came face to face with the darkest moments of humanity. It was bone chilling to see the place where people from all over Europe were stripped of their human dignity, rights, property, and, for over 30,000, their lives. It’s one thing to read about the Holocaust, watch videos, and go to museums, but touching the walls of barracks and standing inside the crematory made the horrors so real.

Inside one of the main buildings in Dachau was an informational board about poetry written in Dachau. One man wrote a poem called “My Shadow in Dachau” while he was in the camp. It is about his sadness and fear of forthcoming death and leaving his mother. Writing poetry in Dachau could lead to a death sentence, so this was a huge risk. He said that the impressions Dachau made on him cried to be written down, but he also made an important revelation that “no power exists in the world that is capable of destroying humans as spiritual beings.” Poetry helped him and other prisoners at Dachau to connect with God and process difficult emotions. Even in such a dark and hopeless time, it speaks volumes about the presence of God that this man never lost faith. Writing and reading poetry was essential to retaining a small part of their human dignity. Another man read the poem and gave this commentary: “The value of this poem for me? It contains everything: the agony of captivity and the elegy of freedom, and the greatest earthly love, maternal love and something else that is banished from the normal thoughts of youth and human suffering: forgiveness.”

Poetry is man’s way of attempting to understand the world, and it proved crucial to another prisoner at Dachau in finding himself and his humanity again. Their poetry provides an artistic, raw take on the emotions felt by real people who were treated as numbers at Dachau.

I recently discovered my love for poetry and the power it carries in its attempt to make sense of all aspects of life. Mary Oliver is currently my favorite poet with her poems about nature, spirituality, and youth. Her lines about heartbreak end a tragic poem about death, and I believe that it perfectly applies to many experiences we have had in Germany overall. The purpose of our visit to Dachau was not just to observe the structures and learn facts, but rather to soak in what occurred there and never forget it. The intention of Dachau as a memorial is to preserve what happened and ensure it will never happen again. We must not be numb to history, but rather open our hearts to the world to respond with love. That is my goal for the rest of CR- to have a heart open to learning and growth in whatever form it may take.

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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.

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

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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Humility at its Finest

As some of you may know, last year I had the opportunity to visit Berlin on my Frog Camp. During that trip I was awestruck by the amount of humility that Berlin had about its dark past. This time around was different, different in an even better way. Cultural Routes is not a hold-your-hand experience, it allows you to dive deep, think harder, ask questions, and be challenged. As we were divided into three groups, I was placed with Team Alpha (the best team of course;) ) and we were given a list of tasks to do the past two days. However, our job was not to just complete the list, it was to immerse ourselves into the culture of Berlin. This was done to the maximum, just ask my legs (14 miles walked today). Between the two days thus far of experiencing Berlin and Dr. P’s night adventures, I am overwhelmed in the most beautiful way by Berlin’s ability to wear their past on their sleeve. Many moments come to my mind when I think about what has impacted me but two places of extreme significance are in the forefront of my brain.

Day one for Team Alpha was nothing short of heavy on the mind. We began the day at the Memorial of Murdered Jews, a powerful but yet subtle memorial. It is subtle in the fact that one would really not know what it is if they just walked past it, but there is deep meaning in that. Just like German citizens watched the Jews be taken away and persecuted, bystanders just go by this massive complex without a thought because it is not labeled. In the pictures below you will see a series of grey stone, very similar to the look of a grave, as you can guess that was intentional. The beauty of memorials is their ability to be multi-vocal. As we collaborated as a group and then later this evening as a CR unit, many meanings of these stones were brought to the table. The stones represent the map of the concentration camps that were in Europe, the walks of life that each Jew took, the way that the Nazis viewed the Jews: uniformed and took away their humanity, and even just how quickly we find ourselves in a mess we were not sure we were in. As you look at the memorial from the outside, you are unable to see the darkness, isolation, and uneven ground that lies inside of the blocks. As you walk in, the ground goes lower, the grave stones beside you rise past your waist, then past your shoulders, and before you know it you are surrounded looming stones, towering over your head. You don’t know if someone is coming around the corner or if they are on the other side of the stone. It was hard to walk through, but even more impactful at night when the stones seemed even more daunting and running into others made you jump a little more. I will never be able to understand what the Jews felt or their experience, but I believe this memorial was made to put us in their shoes. The Nazis loomed over them, dehumanized them, overpowered them in every way. At first it started small, but quickly turned into something no one though would ever happen, millions of Jewish people being murdered.

I have visited the memorial three times now, including Dr.P’s recent night adventure. Visiting the memorial at both day and night created emotions of sadness and fear. For a group of people to be demoralized and dehumanized cut incredibly deep and only went deeper as we entered the Holocaust museum that lies under the memorial. As we went under, we were walked through the continuous rise of the Nazis power and how they gradually began to rid of the Jewish people in the most horrific ways. Up top, there are 2711 blocks, no identification of the humans that the Jewish people were, but underground is where their story lies. The ceiling shows where the blocks are and it continues down to a story of a victim of the Nazis, the fear they felt and how their lives were taken over and cut too short. I remember feeling heavy leaving the museum after reading quotes of victims and the shear terror that their lives brought to them each day. They did not know if it would be their last, and many hoping it was their last just to escape the horror. Their reality was something I felt I could barley comprehend. A question our group kept coming after was “How did Hitler make this all happen?” 6 million Jewish people murdered. How did the world not stop this or see it coming in its beginning stages? Imagine if Hitler used his gift for leadership in the correct way, what a different world we would be in. But, isn’t that true in a lot of scenarios?

Day one consisted of much of the Holocaust and then we ventured onto day two, our day of the Soviet Union. I personally find the Soviet Union and their piece of World World II extraordinarily interesting. Yes, I know I just took a complete 180, but I promise this place is significant too. Treptower Park was one of my favorite places we visited and Team Alpha had the pleasure of having Dr. P join us, which I could not be more grateful for. This particular memorial has symbolism in every statue, plant, angle, and plaque; we needed Dr. P to help open our minds to the various meanings of this particular memorial. Aside from the Soviet Memorial’s stunning layout, the meaning behind the placement of each structure and the story told is important. As a general overview, this memorial is congruent to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in America just for the Red Army instead. However, before we go deeper I want to clear up some possible concerns. I ensure you that I do recognize the the Soviet did some horrific things. In Berlin, Germans actually refer to the “Tomb of the Unknown Rapist.” When they were taking over, they raped thousands of women and that cannot go unrecognized nor will I try to defend such horrible actions in any way. As you also know the Soviets were communists, I am not supporting that either.

That said, back to the memorial. As you walk into Treptower Park you seen a woman, humbly bowing in respect, this is all you see. As you reach the statue, you turn and see two flags angles, two soldiers bowing, and a series of story-telling stones that all face toward the center of a mass grave. The gravesite of six thousand soldiers rest there. A story of the Red army lines the right and left side of the memorial; Russian on the left, German(language) on the right. They have the story in German so the Germans people remember the sacrifice made by the the Soviet Union. The Germans broke the alliance and brought tragedy to the people. The Soviets lost twenty-seven million lives during WWII. Twenty-seven million. They carried a massive burden of the war. As you continue to move through the story of the people’s army you are led to the tomb. The tomb is topped with a soldier holding a sword that cut the swastika and was crushing it with his foot, all while holding a child. Some might be thrown off by the child being held, I know I was, but then I turned around. Think back to the woman at the beginning of the memorial, who is she bowing to, who is she thanking? That woman was Germany at its current state during WWII and that child represents the future of Germany, both saved by the Soviet Union. This memorial is powerful and beautiful. Millions of lives were lost, families were broken, horrors were seen and this memorial could not do a better job of honoring that sacrifice as they protected their people.

These two very thought provoking places were significant to what makes Berlin so incredible. They have one of the darkest times on our world’s history right there in their city. They live it every day. What I love the most is how they own up to their mistakes and broadcast their history in an effort that it does not repeat itself. The Memorial of the Murdered Jews takes up an entire block of the street and the Holocaust Museum is free for all to come learn about the history of the Holocaust. The Germans also gladly take care of the Soviet Memorial as they recognize the sacrifices made by the Soviets as their loses still effect families today. This kind of humility lived and breathed by Berlin has been something I hope for for the United States. We have many parts of our history that are gruesome and far from what we want to be as a country. I believe our pride gets in the way of becoming a better country. If we own up to the mistakes of the past we are more likely to learn and grow from them and less likely to repeat it.

These past two days have been mentally challenging in all the right ways. I am so grateful for the depth and how much emotion has been brought into each spot on our list. Team Alpha, ya’ll are incredible and I can’t wait to make this last day the best one.

More picture because this is so funnnn!!!!!

Friede Friede Friede

Our first full day was all about connections: connections between places, time periods, cultures, ideas, and with our fellow CR10ers. My team today was Audrey Payne, Indigo Crandell, Jacob James, Jake Lynn, and Olivia Wales (Team Charlie!!!).

We launched right into our itinerary and were determined to get everything in….but of course we had a few detours such as in the Mall of Berlin to ride down a slide, eat some delicious crepes by the river, and into a TK Maxx to see how it compared to our beloved American TJ Maxx. We forged connections and built bonds while having a blast and exploring Berlin. However, many of these places we explored were far from lighthearted. The Brandenburg Gate, the Soviet War Memorial, Checkpoint Charlie, Treptower Park, and the East Side Gallery were all perfect opportunities to delve into Germany’s history and begin questioning how this city has been shaped and continues to be affected by its past.

One thing I love about these places is that we were able to see two sides of the story. One of our focuses was on the struggle between the Germans and the Soviets, particularly during the time period of the Berlin Wall. Treptower Park was remarkable because it was built by the Soviets to memorialize those killed in the Battle of Berlin. A Russian memorial in the heart of Germany! Dr. P came with our group today, and the knowledge he shared was incredible—the symbolism packed into this site was overwhelming (you can read more about it in Jacob’s post from today!). We all gained a greater appreciation for the Soviet’s side of the story and learned how important it is to have empathy despite our own pride and prejudice (haha, Jane Austen).

As a ballet dancer, I am naturally drawn to art and how people use it as a path to healing. The fact that they have transformed a portion of the Berlin Wall into an art gallery speaks to the power of art and emotion in overcoming a crisis. As we walked along the wall, we saw many artists represented by their colorful and stirring work which, in a sense, covers the blank uniformity of the wall. By simply painting on concrete, the Berliners have made a statement of individualism and resistance to past oppression.

Another memorable site from today was “The Crier” statue which parallels the Soviet War Memorial and faces the Brandenburg Gate. This figure is shouting “Friede, Friede, Friede”. In classic American style, we assumed this meant “freedom,” but in actuality it means “peace” from an excerpt of a poem by Francesco Petrarch:

“I wander through the world and cry ‘Peace, Peace, Peace.’”

One of my goals from here on out is to relentlessly pursue peace in the world and try to see all perspectives. I feel so inspired by my peers and all they shared today both physically (my handy health app says we got 27,115 steps in today) and emotionally. We’ll be waking up in 5 hours to take on day 2…bring it on, Berlin.

-Brittany