Berlin and its Storytelling

The saying “time flies” gains a whole new meaning when you get to college and I realize that even more as I sit ready to embark on our last day in Berlin yet reflect on our past four days here. As we explored, I couldn’t help but see the history of Berlin around every corner. While yes, this may be influenced by my interest in the historical periods of World War II and The Cold War, Berlin does not hesitate in telling its own story. The way Berlin tells it story says a lot about how it chose to recover from the events it endured. Through discussion and analysis, I leave Berlin with not only a newfound perspective on World War II and communism, but also a newer perspective on how the United States shares its own story.

Alpha, whose members include Cassidy, Josh, Sarah, Cole, and myself, ventured to Treptower Park on Friday with Dr. Pitcock. Here, I learned a story no one ever taught me in history class. Understandably, there’s only so much time to teach so much information, but what is taught shapes perspectives. Before Treptower Park, I always envisioned the United States as the big game changer in World War II, which does have truth in some cases, but at no point did I consider the Soviet Union as the game changers and heroes because I was taught to view the Soviet Union through the eyes of The Cold War. Treptower Park brought reality into my understanding. Through the story of the Battle of Berlin from the Soviet Union’s perspective, for the first time I discovered their role in the liberation of Berlin from Nazi rule. The stones that line Treptower Park show the story of young rebel soldiers turning into mature, confident, and determined defenders of what they believe is right. Having never been taught the role the Soviet Union played in the end of WWII in Berlin, Treptower Park transformed my own take on history.

A second area also located in East Berlin which struck me was Karl Marx Allee. Having learned about communism in a decent amount of detail growing up, I felt I had a very dictionary definition of the term. Walking through Karl Marx Allee, the vision of perfect communism in architecture, I felt a little eerie at the site of perfectly matching buildings on each side and the lack of privacy. That being said, the feeling of walking through and the conversations during that time gave me a better and more personal understanding of the root of communism. From discussing the bourgeois and the proletariat to remembering my 7th grade reading of George Orwell’s Animal Farm as I walked through, communism took on a deeper understanding. All of this was sparked by the feeling that just the architecture created. East Berlin does show many signs of capitalism now, but interestingly, Karl Marx Allee has refrained from adapting to the more flashy and commercial signs.

Having made the observations above made me wonder about the way the United States shares its own story. In doing so, Berlin does not hesitate to be bold. From plaques in the ground in front of apartment buildings commemorating Jews who were once dragged out of their homes to the Memorial of the Murdered Jews, I found that the way Berlin chooses to remember its history makes you think. Treptower Park made us think through each block and later led to a two hour discussion of history and it’s tendencies to repeat or rhyme with itself. The Memorial of the Murdered Jews leaves room for interpretation to make you think. In many of the conversations I had with friends while walking through Berlin, we couldn’t help but compare to the way we remember certain times of our own history in the U.S. While not entirely, we remember slavery through the strong images we see in movies and textbooks, but memorials that make us think deeply about that time period are fewer. This led to our own wondering of how the way we remember may affect the way problems pervade now. Could it be that the way we remember our past has led to heightened racial discussions in the past three years? Or could these be themes that will forever exist but come and go in patterns? Seeing how Berlin chose to remember and voice its story makes me wonder about how the way we chose to do so affects society today.

Now, before I’m fully ready to embark on our last day, I probably need some sleep as in these past four days, we have walked a solid 30,000 steps or so. Gute Nacht!