Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Poor but sexy...

...is how the current mayor of Berlin described the city. I will share my description later.

World War II is one of my favorite periods of history to study. Therefore, being in Berlin was a treat, in that respect. And the city itself has endured a difficult history. And the mayor is correct: there are economic struggles (but this is true just about everywhere), and this is evident.

My first day I took a bike tour to orientate myself with the city. We saw many sights and heard a great history of the city. We went to Check Point Charlie, the largest section of the Berlin Wall still standing, the area where Hitler's bunker was (where he killed himself), The Reichstag, The Royal Gardens...and much more.

After the tour, I took in a few museums (which are free on Thursday evenings) and then went back to my hostel for a good night's sleep. That was hard to come by, due to the size and general atmosphere of the hostel, but I did my best!

I awoke early (sort of) on Friday and took in a few more museums. I went to Topography of Terror, which is an open air museum on the sight where Nazi headquarters used to be. There is also a building with an extensive history exhibit, which chronicles the rise, height, and fall of Nazi control in Germany and Europe. I learned so much there!

Next I toured the Jewish History Museum, which covers the religion and people throughout all of history. Again, this museum was huge and offered an abundance of information.

The last museum is underground, beneath the memorial to the Jewish people killed during WWII. This was by far the most powerful. I bought an audio guide which added depth to already extensive exhibits. There was a room which had excerpts of letters and postcards people wrote to loved ones from camps and ghettos, usually when death was imminent: they were last words, and written without certainty that the intended recipient would ever receive their farewells. The words reflected hope, fear, sadness. I couldn't hold back my tears. Another room had fifteen boards which followed individual families, explaining the background information, what members survived, etc. Then I walked into a blank room that had audio clips sharing stories of individuals. The last room highlighted different internment, work, and death camps. At this point, I was emotionally and mentally overwhelmed, and could barely take in anymore information. I listened to an audio clip of a woman who thought she would be helping her sons and mother survive by requesting they not be forced into the working group. It was later she realized that if you didn't work, you were killed. And so she lived the rest of her life knowing she sent her loved ones to their deaths. I am sorry to share such a sobering history; even as I rewrite it, I have tears in my eyes. I experienced quite a reality check; I was reminded of my blessings: education, religion, family, friends, and above all, my freedom. Freedom to live my life abundantly, to pursue an education, an occupation, worship God, share experiences with my family and friends. How easily we forget all we have!

I was told if I wanted authentic German food, to dine in the oldest neighborhood in Berlin: St. Nicholas. I did, and enjoyed a delicious meal: The Berliner, washed down with a big red beer.

After that, I was sleepy and ready to head back to the hostel to sleep before my early morning flight to Venice, Italy!

Now, back to my humble opinion about the city...apart from the history, I was not crazy about Berlin. People rave about the architecture, but I think I have been too long entrenched in grand Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque architecture to appreciate the newer architectural styles of Berlin. There are certainly impressive buildings, but much of the city reflects the economical challenges. I guess I didn't really feel the "sexy" vibe...but, it was certainly worth the trip to experience the history!

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