DAY ONE – Berlin
Tuesday, April 7, 2015
Nineteen students from three high schools, New Milford and Midland Park [New Jersey] and Bishop O’Dowd [California] met together for the first time this morning at our hotel, the Moevenpick, in Berlin. After introducing ourselves and meeting our Israeli historian and guide throughout our two weeks in Europe, Shalmi Barmore, we set off with our local guide, Olaf, to get a sense of the capital city of Germany. Everywhere we went there were signs of construction as this city is an amazing study in old architecture and new buildings. We learned that 60% of Berlin had been destroyed during World War II and then after the reunification in 1989 of East and West Berlin, there came a new spurt of building, particularly in formerly East Berlin.
We visited the former Central Airport which had been built by the Nazis and which later served as the airport for West Berlin until the reunification of the city. Next we spent some time at the famous Checkpoint Charlie, one of the security checkpoints through which people could legally pass between East and West Berlin after the Berlin Wall was built in 1961, at an aerial map of Berlin, we were able to see the scope of the Berlin Wall which stretched 96 miles and which had been built to keep Germans in East Berlin from escaping to the democratic West. Standing before the map, Mr. Barmore asked us to consider some words, such as ‘occupy’ and ‘liberate’. Did the Germans feel as though they were being liberated by the Allies? Did they feel as if they were under an occupation? Thus we were introduced to a theme which we will revisit many times during this trip, that of ‘perspectives’. We will be challenged to consider the various perspectives of individuals living in Europe during World War II and to analyze their viewpoints.
At Checkpoint Charlie, and later throughout the day, we saw several remnants of the Berlin Wall, whether they were five or six panels, carefully displayed before the Potsdamer Platz for tourists to visit, an untouched section of the wall left standing before the Topography of Terrors, a museum which we will visit tomorrow, or markers on the streets of Berlin which denote where the wall had stood. Mr. Barmore told us that for him, Berlin was a haunted city; haunted by so many events that had taken place here.
We visited Museum Island, home to many outstanding museums including the Pergamon Museum and the Egyptian Museum. Olaf asked us to reflect upon why the Germans had spent so much time and money on building museums and bringing such important cultural and historical works to Berlin. He spoke to us about how Germany felt she was making a statement that there had been Greece, then Rome, and now there would be another culture, Berlin. Having made that statement, that Berlin was a city to rival these past cultures, it begged the question: If Germans were so appreciative of culture and learning, how could these people have followed Hitler? How could the Holocaust have happened with such a cultured, educated people?
Mr. Barmore then spoke about why Berlin is building a new palace, which will house a museum which chronicles German history. To Germany, it is important that she not be defined by the Holocaust. It is a part of her past, which she has confronted, but she also wants to showcase the earlier periods of German history as well as what Germany has accomplished since the end of World War II. He asked us to personalize it and consider how people would deal with a certain chapter in their life that they were not particularly proud of.
Our next stop was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe which is a city block on which are placed 2711 grey blocks. We talked about what the memorial represented to visitors as well as to the residents of Berlin. We spoke of the difference between the classic memorials in so many cities which honor war heroes and which leave little room for discussion and the modern memorials which seem to challenge the visitors to enter into a discussion about what the memorial stands for. What is the symbolism of the blocks? What is appropriate behavior at the memorial? Why is it only for the murdered Jews? Next we walked across the street to the memorial to the homosexuals who were victims of Nazi persecution and discussed its placement, content and symbolism.
We stopped for lunch at Potsdamer Platz shopping center’s food court and then continued on to the Reichstag, Germany’s Parliament building. After taking a group ‘selfie’, we walked to the top of the glass dome, which gave us stunning views of the city of Berlin. Across the street from the Reichstag, we visited the memorial to the Sinti and Roma [more commonly known as Gypsies]. A pond with a stone center and ever changing flowers, surrounded by stones carved with the names of camps where Sinti and Roma were persecuted and executed, it, as with the two previous memorials was thought-provoking.
We drove around the city of Berlin for a little while longer, taking in sights of various districts and seeing more portions of the Berlin Wall, and then headed back to our hotel where the exhausted students were given their Berlin roommates and time to relax and freshen up before dinner in the hotel.
|Waiting for the teachers to decide their roommates!!!!!|