Day 1- Berlin

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!!!!!


  1. What an amazing first day! Hope you all get well rested for another day of exploring. Wishing you all the best on this journey!Love, The Biebrichs


  2. I can’t believe a year has passed since I was walking through the massive Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. I was jet lagged and had no idea how much the trip would influence me. It is truly a once in a lifetime experience and I’m so glad this new group of students opened themselves up to such an amazing opportunity.To the students: I have just a few words of advice for the next two weeks. First, it is okay to be overwhelmed. You may have read about places and events in textbooks or seen movies but nothing compares to actually walking through the cities, the synagogues, and the camps. There may be a moment where it all hits you, and it’s okay to cry, everyone will probably have one of those moments and everyone is experiencing the same things. Related to that, your fellow students on the trip are your family for the next two weeks. Be open to the students from the other schools and you end up finding some of your closest friends in people who live across the country. Also, have fun. Yes there are moments and places that require you to be solemn, but at meals and at the hotel at night its okay to laugh and have fun, sometimes it helps with coping with whatever difficult things you experienced that day. Finally, the adults on the trip (the teachers, Shalmi, and the local guides) are all amazing, incredible educators. Listen to them and you will learn so much more than you would ever learn from a book.I’ll be following the blog (and the instagram!) closely, I can’t wait to read the students reflections. Also shoutout to Ms. Sussman and the O’Dowd students!


  3. Glad you arrived safely. I'm sure you were all exhausted and running on pure adrenaline the first day. Looks like you got off to a great start. Looking forward to your daily posts… and GoPro videos.


  4. I am so happy to read the blog and see your faces. I wish I were there again learning with you! However, I look forward to beginning each day with an update of your important and life-changing journey. My advice to the students: Make sure you stand as close to Mr. Barmore as possible when he speaks, so you don't miss a word of his wisdom.


  5. Crazy to think that a year has passed since I was that exact place! Although this is a serious educational journey, it's okay to look around and laugh because this will truly be the BEST 2 weeks of your entire lives. I can confidently say that the people who are sharing this experience with will become a second family and the memories you will have are something you will cherish forever. Many of my family members were victims of the Holocaust and before HST, the concentration camps and different methods of persecution were just pictures with captions in a textbook. After literally walking in the footsteps of my family, I can genuinely say that my life has been changed forever. Similarly to what Sarah stated in her comment, what you are exposed to will have a different impact on each and everyone of you and there will be a moment that you will say to yourself \”this is real.\” There will be times that you will be completely exhausted and not want to do anything, but you must appreciate that you are visiting the most beautiful places on Earth and that we are all incredibly blessed to be given the opportunity to part take in such an amazing program. I am so happy that so many of my best friends get to experience what I had the chance to and I can't wait to see the pictures and read what all of you guys have to say! ( I'm already stalking the blog and everyone's social media to see the pictures) Love you all!! xoxo P.S. make sure to thank Mrs. T over and over and over because she seriously has the hookup for everything.


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