The first few days of CR have been a whirlwind. Although I felt that I had no preconceived notions of what exploring Berlin would look like, I have been pleasantly surprised. Berlin is beautiful, and my favorite part about the city is the how blunt and open it is about its own history.
If you had asked me earlier in the week if I thought I would feel ready to leave Berlin after five days, I would have definitely said yes, but now, as I write this, I do not feel ready to leave. I’m not quite sure how, but here we accomplished in one day what I imagine I could accomplish in three to four days. Time seriously does fly. Berlin has taught me so much more than I could ever learn from a history book. From Treptower Park to The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, I believe that I truly understand visual learning. It is something about being actually present in an area important to history that makes the learning experience more intense and memorable. I feel personally tied to the history.
At Treptower Park, Dr. P and his guidance were incredible. He helped us understand each of the many carving blocks that eventually spelled out how the Soviets were involved in the Battle of Berlin and how they helped free Berlin from Nazi rule. Without Dr. P, I do not think I could have gotten the true intended message from the memorial. What I had learned in history class made me believe that we (USA) were the main “heroes,” but after being present in the memorial, seeing flowers left to honor family members, and analyzing the story behind the memorial, I have a much better understanding from multiple angles. What I found interesting about this memorial was how open it was to the public. There were people tanning on the benches, running down the sidewalks, and simply strolling while observing. Berlin really does simply display its history for people who want to learn about it.
Later in the day, as an entire group, we visited Führerbunker. I was completely unaware of the fact that I was standing in a parking lot that was directly above the place where Hitler and his wife killed themselves. Being in this area at night and having it be somewhat of a surprise, I really felt the weight of the history itself. I cannot completely explain, but it was definitely more than I could experience from reading a Wikipedia page. This area was really integrated into the surrounding areas of the city. It was surrounded by apartment buildings and roads. If I had not been told, I would have walked past the parking lot and the board with its explanation unknowingly. Again, Berlin displayed a rough part of its history openly.
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe was where I felt the most from the history. Visiting at night gave it a different dimension, but the monument itself is very powerful. As you walk deeper into the monument, the blocks become taller until eventually, you are being legitimately engulfed by the monument. As I walked from block to block, I became extremely afraid. I did not know what was around each corner, and after I had felt the fear of one corner, I was immediately at another corner feeling the same sort of fear. There was no recovery time. I believe that this aspect of the monument had a lot to do with how the Jewish people of Berlin (and in general at this time) did not know what was the come around each “corner” of their lives. They had to constantly be aware of their surroundings and were probably constantly fearing what was to come. I obviously cannot say that I understand what these people felt, but I feel that I can say that I got a very, very small taste. This feeling made the history personal and I believe that what I felt will stick with me forever.
How blunt Berlin is about its uncomfortable history was initially shocking, but I have grown to appreciate it. In the United States, I feel that we often avoid talking about our uncomfortable history. History has an impact and sometimes it is not a pleasant impact. In order to avoid issues from the past, the present generations need to be educated about the past, and I now believe that being blunt and real about it is the way to accomplish this.
“It happened, therefore it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say.”