Berlin… What preconceived notions do I have of this city? Well, I’ve actually been there. And funny enough, after I returned the first time, I told my parents I had a lovely time, but honestly if I never went back that’d be okay too. Boy – that was a lie. After about a month, I came to realize exactly how interesting I thought the city was. The dynamic of the people, the places, the history – it was all so unique and intriguing. I think that each additional time I was asked about my time there, I described it with more enthusiasm, more detail, and more heart.
Before I visited the first time, I was incredibly curious to see what it was going to be like. I knew that much of World War II was centered around Berlin and the works of Adolf Hitler in that region, but I wasn’t quite sure how that would manifest over 50 years later. I remember seeing on my itinerary that our first stop was going to be the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. At the time, I couldn’t think of a more offensive name to call a memorial in a city where millions of Jews, including many of my relatives, were ordered to be killed. People are always perplexed to find out I have such a small family, only 4 cousins, but they soon find out it is because an entire branch of my family tree was rounded up and murdered only 50 years ago. So to say that I had some residual anger for the city beforehand was no understatement. However, upon arrival, I was amazed by what I saw. The city has gone above and beyond to apologize for what happened, and to move on. In temple, we are often taught it is important to Never Forget. Never forget the lives lost, families crushed, or the hopes and dreams that were smothered. While one might think that Berlin would just want to forget their past, that is not what they have done. I was astonished by the number of memorials that have been built and the history that has been preserved in the city. I also learned that there is much more to this vibrant city than its history.
While I have seen a lot of the “top tour places to see” in Berlin, after a little bit of digging I realized there is still so much more. Berlin does make a mean beer and bratwurst, but since neither of those are appealing to me, I found a few others. Berlin has a multitude of flea markets and street markets that bring together vendors from all over the world. The Berlin Philharmonic is located in the heart of the city and is consistently ranked as one of the top orchestras in the world. If you’re looking for something a little more bizarre, there is an abandoned dinosaur amusement park outside the city or a museum dedicated to Cold War Era sausage you can visit. I personally would rather explore the Tiergarten further, go back to Treptower Park, and see what I missed before at the Holocaust museums, but Berlin certainly does offer a wide range of activities.
One question that I would like to answer through a city-as-text approach stems from a conversation I had with someone last time I was in Berlin. He informed me that one of the largest populations of people moving back into the city was young adults, probably a little older than me, who were Jewish. This astounded me for many reasons. The question I would have is why. What is drawing these individuals to the city? The history? Or maybe simply because it is a rather inexpensive place to live as a young adult? I am not sure, but I’d love to find out. I think that after studying the city and the people during my time there, I would find a temple in a part of the city that seemed young and vibrant and welcoming, and attend a service. Afterwards, I would mill around and see what the people are like. If I felt comfortable, I would strike up a conversation with a rabbi or young congregant and ask them some questions. I would hopefully lead up to why they are in the city and then why they believe other Jews are coming back to the city. I know this may be rather impractical with the way our trip is set up, but if I had all the time in the world and some serious confidence that day, I think this is how I would go about doing it. In a way that doesn’t involve intruding on other people’s worship, I would just spend time in the city and ask myself why I would consider moving there if I could move any where in the world. It is an interesting questions to me – and I am sure there is not one answer, but I’d love to hear what a young Jewish adult who has made this decision has to say.
I am incredibly excited to return to this city in a few short months. Once was certainly not enough to truly understand the city, its people, and its motivations. I am sure twice won’t be either, but it’s certainly a start!