“An unexamined life is not worth living.” -Socrates
History allows us to examine our own lives by reflecting on the lives of others, especially what other people lived for and what they died for. I think that we all process history differently in respect to the story we want our lives to tell, what we find worthy of living or dying for. As I stood in the Trep Tower Memorial, I saw homage paid to masses of Soviet soldiers who gave their lives for their country. Even though there was a literal wall that divided this city because of differences in my ideology and that of the men honored at Trep Tower, I still was rendered speechless at the humanity of this site and the beauty of the sacrifice of those honored there to defend their country. As I looked out over the graves of these men, I reflected on what I would find worthy of living and dying for and how that was tied to my identity. For me personally, my faith has been the single thread that has marked my life since I was six years old, and more than anything, my faith represents the story I want my life to leave behind. For this reason, my relationship with God is the way I see the world, and so my faith serves as the eyes with which I view Berlin. Therefore, I wanted to share some of the spiritual thoughts that came to mind as I processed the sites we visited throughout this city.
I have never before understood the weight of my sin until I visited the Memorial to the Murdered Jews. As I reflected on the horrors that happened during the Holocaust, I saw a terrifying picture of what one person can do to another. Apart from anything I have ever done in the spirit of God, every action and thought of my heart is just as capable of that evil. As I walked through the memorials, I felt as though I was walking through my own heart and the walls of sin were closing in on me. Seeing the memorials for the innocent people victimized by this sin and evil, I mourned all the people I have murdered in my heart with hate, I mourned all the people I have let die while I enjoy my privileged life, I mourned the nails I drove into Jesus’s hands, and I finally saw how the judgement of God is what I deserve. This made the gift of grace sweeter, more humbling, and more undeserved than I have ever seen it.
Another site that really struck me and challenged my faith was the Crypt in the basement of the Berliner Dome. In this basement were coffins adorned with beautiful crowns. While some people may see these crowns as honor, I saw them as loss. I don’t want a crown on my grave, I want my crown in heaven. I had to leave this area so quickly, because it reminded me of how much I have built up here that I stand to lose, and it saddened me. I hope as I grow in my faith, I have more waiting for me in heaven than I ever have here to leave behind.
This city tells a story of people who lived and died here, some who gave their lives up for a cause, and some who had their lives taken from them. The most natural human reaction to the study of history is to want to find a personal place in it. After years of oppression and repression, I am thankful that there is now an era of freedom and peace where people have the ability to examine their own lives and to live and give them the way they decide to. I believe that no human being has the right to take that from another, so Berlin gave me a new passion for protecting that freedom and appreciating those who sacrificed forwen t my ability to examine my life and live accordingly. As I view faith through the lens of history, I want more than anything to avoid a day going by unexamined. In the words of one of the few German anti-Nazi Christian leaders, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, to do so would “make cheap” the grace I have been given and the freedom I have to live a life for such a grace.