After an all night flight from the states, we began our day by meeting our German guide Olaf at the airport and immediately began learning about the wonderful city of Berlin. As we drove to the hotel, Olaf explained some of the history of the city of Berlin, including the East-West division post World War II until the fall of the Berlin Wall and reunification of the city. Once at our hotel, we met up with the group from Bishop O’Dowd in Oakland, California and boarded our tour bus to see more of the city. Our first stopping point was Checkpoint Charlie (crossing point between the Soviet and American sectors) where Olaf described how foreigners, diplomats and Allied soldiers were allowed to go into East Berlin.
After stopping to view the Brandenberg Gate, we walked to the nearby Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. While there, Olaf discussed the meaning of this modern memorial in the “center of the center of Berlin.” In contrast to traditional memorials this modern memorial is purposefully ambiguous; we are not told what it is. We are free to judge and walk inside and experience it.
Following our interaction with this outdoor exhibit, we discussed the various ways that we reacted to what we saw as disrespect in the space: jumping on the stiles, playing hide and go seek, and smoking while sitting on the stelae. Ironically, as our bus drove away, we were shocked to see a bride and groom sitting on a white cloth on top of a stelae as their wedding photographer snapped photos. We stopped to investigate. Olaf talked to them and told us they were locals who stopped there to take photographs on their wedding day. The spring blossoms of the tree in the memorial space directly behind the kissing bride and groom reflected the colors of her long ivory gown and the flower in her hair, here sitting on the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in the city of Berlin on a brisk April day.
After experiencing the central memorial, we went to the nearby memorial to the Roma/Sinti. The fountain in the center of the memorial incorporates a triangle with a live flower that is replaced daily. The water’s ripples echo in the lovely woods of the park, and the surrounding rocks are inscribed with the names of the camps where the Nazis killed Roma and Sinti victims.
We stopped to view a new exhibition of murals painted on the Berlin Wall. Olaf pointed out the significance of the date of the fall of the Berlin Wall: November 9, 1989. For our students who have studied the Holocaust in our classrooms, the connection was immediate: Kristallnacht occured on that date in 1939.
|Mural image combining German and Israeli flags.|
We ate our favorite ham sandwich lunch at Potsdamer Platz and then went to The Topography of Terror – the site of the bureaucratic machinery that carried out Nazi policy including the SS and the Gestapo. Tomorrow Olaf will lead us in a morning discussion that will address the essential questions surrounding Berlin and the “Final Solution” which will frame Day 2. Stay tuned for tomorrow´s blog which will feature comments from the students.