Day 1 – Berlin, Germany

Today we arrived in Berlin and immediately began our program. Although exhausted, everyone worked hard to keep pace with all the introductory history that was necessary for the day. We met our German guide today, Olaf (aka Mr. Kolbatz) and our historian for the trip, Shalmi (aka Mr. Barmore). As we navigated our way through Berlin we began by first noticing and discussing the architecture of this city.

As we drove through Berlin, Olaf talked to us about the Berlin Wall, which he said was actually two walls with a ‘no man’s land’ in between, and had been hastily built overnight in 1961 to stem the tide of Germans seeking to leave East Germany and East Berlin for the democratic sectors of West Berlin monitored by the British, French and American forces after WW2.  He pointed out the cobblestones which were inset in the asphalt streets to show the path of the wall around the city until its demolition in 1989.

As we continued through the city we visited the very prominent memorial in Berlin to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Olaf explained that the concept of having a memorial in Berlin to the Jews was one which was promoted in 1987 by a German journalist, Lea Rosh, who had visited Auschwitz and Yad Vashem and felt it was important that Germany create its own memorial to the Jewish victims, in the heart of Berlin, and so proposed and pushed for her idea to be made a reality by the German parliament, the Reichstag.  Olaf told us how in the 1950’s, 1960’s and even 1970’s most Germans did not want to talk about the Holocaust and remember that period in their history, but that by the 1980’s there was more of a willingness to reflect and remember the past as the younger generation, not directly connected to those years and events, began to ask questions.  In 1995 the Reichstag decided to build a memorial and then the discussion became “Who will build it?”, “What will it look like?” and “Where will it be constructed?” American architect Peter Eisenman won the project and it was built on a city block in the heart of the Government district, across from the American Embassy, by the Brandenburg Gate and very close to the Reichstag which can be seen from the memorial which was dedicated in 2005.

It consists of 2,711 concrete blocks or “stellae” arranged in a seemingly haphazard manner, on a sloping surface which rises and falls as one walks through the stellae.  Students discussed the meaning of memorials and how traditional memorials differed from modern memorials, as well as the controversy which often accompanies creation of memorials.  What is the symbolism of the gray blocks?  What is appropriate behavior at the memorial? Why is it only for the murdered Jews?

Mr. Barmore posed important questions at this memorial for the students to think about the entire trip: Who writes history? Who made the memorial? What agenda is centered around the creation of a memorial? The students then experienced the memorial and came back to discuss how they interpreted the memorial. Students then had the chance to walk through the stellae before reflecting upon what they experienced:  the unsteadiness of the ground, the narrowness of the path, the uncertainty of what might be around the next corner.

Walking across the street we next visited the Memorial of the Murdered Homosexuals, a small gray concrete structure with a small window through which one could see a series of brief film clips of men kissing as well as lesbian couples.  Olaf told us that tens of thousands of homosexual men were sent to concentration camps.  Mr.  Barmore then spoke to us about the different policies of the Nazis towards gay men versus lesbians.  Although there were some lesbians who were incarcerated in concentration camps, we were told it was for reasons other than their homosexual lifestyle.  There were no laws passed against lesbianism.  It was not the government but society that disallowed it.  This was not the same for gay men.  We learned that the lesbian community today was upset that they had not, initially, been represented in the memorial and demanded they be included, which they were. However, that inclusion, said Mr. Barmore, meant that the memorial then, was not historically correct.  He told us that memorials are about a subject matter, but people who decide on that memorial use the memorial to convey a message and that message is their motivation.   “This is less a memorial to history than the issue today.

Tomorrow we look forward to continuing our learning in this historic city of Berlin.


  1. Bravo! It’s now more important than ever that students have an opportunity to participate in such a meaningful journey. Thank you for your continuing commitment to the Holocaust Study Tour!


  2. On their first day, they landed in Berlin, Germany, where they met their guide Olaf, or Mr. Kolbatz. They had looked at all the architecture and their focus had talked about all the memorials, one being the Memorial of the Murdered Homosexuals, a small gray concrete structure with a small window through which one could see a series of brief film clips of men kissing as well as lesbian couples.


  3. It is interesting to see that Germany memorializes the victims that its own country created so long ago. I feel that the government kind of brushes over the majority of controversial events in America. I think America should try to bring awareness to its past mistakes and improve from them.


  4. Wow. Amazing day 1, got to learn about the different memorials you guys visited including the very interesting homosexual memorial, as well as the very interesting leftovers of the Berlin Wall. I liked learning about the area by the Berlin Wall known as No Man’s Land and found it very interesting that even today there still are cobblestone remains of the wall left over. I would connect this to the no mans land, we had in the USA, where we had the land between the Natives and the Americans that was unclalimed. This was considered no mans land because no one had claimed it and it was between areas inhabited by both the Natives and Americans.


  5. It’s remarkable to watch how Germany honors the victims that its own nation caused all those years ago. I believe that the majority of contentious events in America are sort of ignored by the government. America, in my opinion, should work to recognize and learn from its previous errors.


  6. On their first day, they arrived in Berlin, Germany. Their tour guide talked to them about the German wall which was actually two walls with a “no man’s land” in between. As they continued through the city they also visited memorials of the murdered Jews and the murdered homosexuals. These are important as these people were killed because of the unfair view others had of them. It is great how our students were able to truly learn about an important time in history


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s