Day 4: Berlin – Prague

Our busy day began at a section of the Berlin Wall.  Here Olaf explained what it was like before 1989 growing up in East Berlin, thinking that the wall was as much a part of life as any bridge or street in Berlin.  He never imagined a time when the wall would be torn down, and certainly never imagined that he would one day be a guide bringing visitors to the wall to explain what it once was.

Our next stop was the Book Burning Memorial near Humbolt University. Here, in 1933, students burned books written by Jews, socialists and political dissidents. The memorial is not visible from the street, in fact, one has to almost walk over it to even see it. Under the ground, beneath clear plexiglass, is a room lined with empty, white bookshelves. What an unexpected place to burn books and to be threatened by ideas: in a city square adjacent to Humbolt University. Engraved in the plaque near the memorial is the Heinrich Heine quote “There where they burn books, they will be one day burning people.” Ironically, and perhaps prophetically, Heine wrote this in 1820.

Our last stop in Berlin would be to the Jewish Museum Berlin. On Wednesday we had visited the German Historical Museum which had given us an overview of German history. The Jewish Museum Berlin, designed by architect Daniel Libeskind, which opened in 2001, focuses on two thousand years of German-Jewish history.

Entering the Museum’s basement brought us to three axes. Two of them – the “Axis of Exile” and the “Axis of the Holocaust” focus on the Nazi era. The third axis, the “Axis of Continuity” leads up several flights of stairs to the permanent exhibition which takes visitors through two floors of German Jewish history, beginning with the first Jewish communities in the Middle Ages, through Moses Mendelssohn’s contributions to the Enlightenment, the process of assimilation of Jewish citizens, the Holocaust and rebuilding of the Jewish community in Germany after 1945 to the present day.

Olaf began our tour with the Axis of the Holocaust. In this section we could see personal documents and objects that told of Nazi persecution. The museum is rich in symbolism, with many empty spaces, so-called ‘voids’ that rise vertically from the basement to the roof inside the building. Mr. Libeskind has said of these ‘voids’, that he could not deny the Holocaust in his design of the building, but needed to make it visible and part of the museum. One such void we were taken to by Olaf was the “Holocaust Tower,” an empty 24 meter high space, unheated, lit by natural light falling through a diagonal opening in the wall. Sounds are audible from outside the building. This space has been interpreted as a commemorative space for victims of the Holocaust, but visitors are invited to make their own, personal interpretation of the spaces.

In another section called “Memory Void,” one exhibit has 10,000 faces punched of steel.  Entitled “Fallen Leaves,” Israeli artist Menashe Kadishman dedicated this artwork to the memory of the Jews killed in the Holocaust.  Visitors are invited to enter the void and walk on the faces, listening to the sounds that are created by the faces clanging against one another.  

In the Garden of Exile, 49 titled columns stand on sloping ground. Olaf told us that exile meant rescue and safety, but arrival in a foreign country also caused feelings of disorientation. Refugees often had difficulty gaining a solid foothold in their new homes, hence the uneven and dizzying path visitors must walk as they wander through the columns.

We left the museum and drove to the new train station where we said goodbye to our Berlin guide, Olaf, and boarded our train for Prague. We spent the rest of the day traveling on a five hour train ride through the beautiful countryside, arriving in Prague at 7:30 p.m. where we were met by our Prague guide, Kamila, who took us to our hotel and then to dinner at the Municipal House.


  1. What a profoundly moving day you all had, both emotionally and physically, on your Berlin experiences and with your journey to Prague. It is wonderful to see the photos and hear your voices in the videos, too! 🙂


  2. I have been reading your posts everyday and am amazed again at the depth of this experience for all of you. I see profound amazement, sadness, and even anger on your faces as your guides talk about the things that happened in these sacred places. I know you will return different people, as did all the others who have preceded you on these trips. Wiser, less willing to accept what's told to you, stronger people who will question your peers and those in authority when you doubt the merits of what is being \”sold\” to you, I hope.Enjoy every minute of this fantastic learning experience! And take care of Mrs. T!!!


  3. The Fallen Leaves impacted me so much on this trip and I hope it did the same for all of you. Reading about your journey and experiences everyday always puts a smile on my face. All of you guys have learned so much already, embrace it! After you return from this trip you will become different people with a whole new perspective of life. Miss you all and good luck on the rest of your journey! I will be commenting again soon:)


  4. The Fallen Leaves also impacted me. It was very moving and I imagine that it would be much more so to be there. What an invaluable trip! Enjoy the rest of your journey!!


  5. I remember Olaf talking about the symbolism in the Jewish Museum. The room that was dark and cold, with the only light being up high and unattainable. To me, it symbolized how the victims of the Holocaust were kept from the outside world and trapped in the camps.


  6. Watching you guys go to all these places makes me wish I had the opportunity to go on the trip. Watching the videos amazes me on how you guys are learning about the holocaust and how you're reflecting on what happened to the victims.


  7. After watching all of the videos I really wish I could have experienced the opportunity of viewing the room where the victims of the Holocaust were isolated. The hardships which these people had to endure are unimaginable and this trip is a great opportunity to learn from them.


  8. This museum may have been my favorite part of Berlin, because of how the different artists were able to represent the Holocaust, and create feelings of being lost, disoriented etc. It obviously is impossible to ever feel exactly what survivors once felt in the Holocaust, but the cold, unheated, and dark tower, and also the 49 columns do help create the feeling of lost hope, and terror within small areas. Again, this is great example of hands on learning, and seeing what is outside of a textbook.


  9. The Fallen Leaves had a huge impact on me. Actually stepping on the faces is such an unfathomable thought. The museum as a whole I will never forget. The room that was dark, and freezing resembled how the victims of the Holocaust were trapped and only saw a glimpse of light. I thought that was very interesting how they portrayed those emotions.


  10. I remember walking on the steel faces of the Fallen Leaves, made me feel like I was walking on the dead Jews that died in all the concentration camps, while the clanging sounds where them screaming for help and no one can help them.


  11. I still find the fallen leaves exhibit to erie, no matter how softly you walk they clang together so loudly and sound like railroad tracks. I feel that it is a very important thing to experience, keep up the learning and enjoy the experience!


  12. The memorials are so powerful and it is amazing how the artists were able to create such vivid reminders of what happened there.The book-burning site is a relevant reminder of the importance of learning! It seems like you are all having an amazing time!


  13. It's one thing to learn about the tragedies of the Holocaust in a classroom, but to stand in the same spot years later must be something else entirely. I can only imagine the emotions evoked from seeing such sights. The book burning memorial is such an important part of history, as is the Berlin Wall. It's exciting to hear about all the different pieces of the puzzle you're able to see and be a part of. Keep up the great work, and have fun!


  14. I think that it is really cool that you guys got to visit the sight of one of the book burnings. That particular event has always caught my interest because it sparks a lot of questions. For example, I always wonder how many of the books they burned were lost forever and I wonder where the few copies of the other lost books are. It is so interesting to me that loads of books could be burnt and so much history lost without even a second thought. Super cool that you saw the site.


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