23 Sep

Berlin…More Than It’s Past

Berlin is a vibrant, youthful, energetic, evolving city. It is more than its past and, although history looms large here, it is redefining itself and moving forward quickly into the future.

Dinner, Berlin We settled in here quickly, once again finding an apartment in a neighborhood outside of downtown. A place where we could get a sense of the city and it’s people. I love the densification of cities, and our neighborhood was a good example. Streets lined with small 5 story apartment blocks whose ground floorsThe Little Pub, Berlin held bakeries, cafes, pubs, corner stores and various shops. The grocery store was just down the block and the cutest little pub ever was between it and home…yes, seriously dangerous!! Getting to the sights was no problem as the metro was only a 5 minute walk away and on it, and the busses, we could easily get where ever we liked.

We started our visit with a walking tour of the city. Walking tours are our favorite as they get us into the city and let us interact with the guide and other participants on a level that bus tours do not. During this tour we got a sense of the size and scope of the city and some very valuable history lessons (our guide, although American, had studied German history for 10 years…she knew a lot!!).

The next day we returned to town to get a better look at some of the sights and to visit the German History Museum. A great museum, even if overwhelmingly large – I enjoyed it, and learned a lot (which wasn’t too hard as my German history was lacking). Berlin has many other museums and galleries displaying numerous exhibits that are famous perhaps worth visiting, but I am in Germany and so decided to focus on German history and exhibits. We’ll view Roman or Greek or other artifacts if and when we visit those countries.

Reflected In The Reistag Mirrors We also visited the Reistag with its impressive glass and mirror dome (symbolizing transparency in government). It is lined with a spiraling walkway to the top where great views of the city can be had. The audio guide was worth it (well, for one it was free) as it explained all the sights that could be seen. Moreover, the climb was a good chance to play with our reflections in the mirrored column in the center of the dome.



We took two day trips out of the city:

Riding Through Potsdam On Sunday we visited Potsdam with a bike tour. Potsdam is a beautiful refuge from the city with stunning buildings and gardens but really, for us, it was all about the bikes. We had a blast riding around on the cruiser bikes through the old city and, although it poured rain, we had smiles on our faces the whole day.

On Tuesday we visited the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. A more somber outing but a worthwhile one.

Oktoberfest Primer-3 The rest of the time we wandered around as we like to do in a city, got a primer for Oktoberfest to come in Munich, and enjoyed living in our little apartment. A week well spent.

20 Sep

Memory Studies

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp Memorial

Memory studies is a new, and upcoming, branch of history concerned with how people, countries, and cultures remember the tragic events of their past. In the past, history has been written by the winners. Memory studies challenges this approach and places emphasis on all perspectives being remembered rather than just that of the victor. Being in Germany, a country with such a recent history, and Berlin in particular, brings this branch of history into focus.

For how long should a country pay homage to a past done wrong? Should a country be forever defined by the heinous crimes committed by those now gone? Do those that live there now need to be always reminded of what happened? Every country has some distant past memories that have since turned into history, when is it time to move on and let it fade with time?

These are questions that Germany is struggling with. On the one hand no-one should forget what happened lest it ever be repeated again. But, on the other, if the wound is forever left open it will never heal.

Nowhere is this struggle more evident than in Berlin. A city that continues to rebuild and redefine itself since reunification in 1989. I think they are striking a balance between moving forward and paying homage to the past.

  • The wall no longer exists except for a few remembrance pieces and a brick trail on the ground throughout the city that subtly marks where it once was.
  • Hitlers’ bunker is now a parking lot with just a small placard marking the historic events that occurred there.
  • New construction is everywhere – so much so that I suspect that if I returned to the city in just 2 years it would look different again. (Our guide said ‘Paris will always be Paris, but Berlin continually changes…you must come back’).
  • There is a huge memorial to murdered Jews in the center of the city – although large, it is subtle but very powerful.

One thing I wasn’t sure of before we arrived was whether or not we would visit a concentration camp. Firstly I didn’t know if I wanted to see and be faced with the horror that it would be, and secondly I was struggling with whether that is how my trip to Berlin should be defined.

In the end we decided we should go as, although I believe that a countries past should be allowed to heal with time, not enough time has yet passed for Germany with regard to the Holocaust. Let me be clear. I am not saying that past events should ever be forgotten, only that time can ease the acuity of the pain.

Work Makes You Free, Sachsenhausen

And so we visited the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. It was not as bad as I had thought it would be. It certainly told the story of those that were sent there, and those that didn’t return, but it could not convey the daily living conditions and terror. It was moving however, and I will always remember stepping into the barracks thinking about all the men and women that lived, and died, there and seeing the execution trench and crematorium. It was enough.

Seeing the wall was more emotional than I thought it would be. I hadn’t realized that the juxtaposition of the East and West was so dramatic. That people in apartment blocks, right next to the wall on the Eastern side, could look over and see the people in the apartment blocks just over the wall in the West. A constant reminder of what they could not have. So close…and yet so far.

Remains of The Berlin Wall

Germany is an interesting place to visit because its past is so recent, so tangible, so accessible. It is certainly not the only country struggling to manage an horrific past, but it is the one that is actively in the process of trying to do it the right way. Other countries in the world should be taking note, owning up to their own misgivings, and finding a way through it with such grace.

12 Sep

Culture Change

Germany Countryside Compared to the South American countries we have visited, Germany is small. There are no 8, 10 or 15 hour bus rides…trains whisk us where ever we want to go within just a few short hours and with the beautiful countryside whipping by, well, there is just no time to write. And so it has been 10 days since I have put any thoughts down.

I am loving Germany just like I knew I  would. It’s easy here. We come from a European culture so I understand how and why everything works. Although I speak almost no German it is easy to get around as most people speak English (I confess I am terribly embarrassed that I must rely on their English skills to help me…in the future I must become fluent in another language). The food is fabulous and familiar and I see people drinking beer everywhere.

It’s not fair to compare South America to Germany as they are not trying to be like each other, but I’ll do it anyway:

  • I can flush the toilet paper in Germany – no more stinky bin beside the toilet.
  • There are a bazillion different beers in Germany and, from what I can tell, they are all fabulous.
  • Wine is cheaper,  and better, in Argentina.
  • In S.America I can cross the street where ever and whenever I want (although I may take my life in my hands). In Germany everyone waits for the ‘ampelmann’ – no jaywalking here…must obey the rules.
  • Germany is clean…no litter, no side-of-the-road garbage dumps, no dog sh*t everywhere.
  • We have family in Germany. There is nothing like staying with family and feeling their warm, welcoming embrace especially after being on the road for three months.
  • S.America is definitely cheaper.
  • Germans do not eat near the amount of beef that Argentineans do. Pork and wurst are king here.
  • S.American buses pick up snack vendors from the side of the road. They get on the bus with their basket of cakes, cookies, ice cream, corn-on-the-cob, empanadas, gelatin, meat-and-beans-in-a-bag…whatever they made in their kitchen this morning…and sell to the bus patrons. The driver pulls over a few miles down the road to let them off. This, I’m sure, is inconceivable to the Germans although I had some tasty snacks from the bus ladies.

South America and Germany are very different from each other in many, many ways…sometimes the German aspects are better and sometimes the S.American aspects are.