27 June, Berlin
I had been to Berlin once before, as a young, impressionable 21 year old on my first international trip before my study abroad experience began. I did what I thought tourists were supposed to do: checked boxes of the most well-known sites in the city, ate some sausage and drank some beer, and moved on to Athens without any particular affinity for the city. I later realized that my love for Europe was borne out of being immersed and uncomfortable; a few days in Berlin was clearly not enough to fully understand the gravity, history, and modernity of this incredible city.
Nine years later, I’m thankful that I’m older and (arguably) wiser. Berlin is an incredible, cosmopolitan city that is continually changing and growing. We only had a week there, but I could have done another few weeks or months without question and still wouldn’t have seen even close to everything I wanted to see. We stayed in the Kreuzberg neighborhood of Berlin, which provided a really interesting mix of ethnicities, foods, and sites in close proximity to our hotel. Immediately upon getting into our rooms, we promptly left again to find somewhere with a big screen to watch the German national team take on Slovakia in the Euro Cup. Though I’ve never been a soccer fan, it was fun to be in the city during the tournament. If soccer is the most popular sport in the world, I’ve got to be missing something, right? (…the jury’s still out on that one…)
The next day, we began seeing Berlin in earnest. We started the day with a lecture from Professor Wolf Wagner on the realities of modern Germany. We had lunch in his neighborhood, at a Swabian restaurant, which had food representative of Swabia, an ethnic enclave that today is divided between Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria in Southern Germany. We then took a bus tour of the city, and ended the day with a wonderful tour of the Bundestag, and lessons on German government and history. The Reichstag is an incredible mix of modern and traditional, and effectively incorporates the less savory aspects of its history well.
Like many public structures and monuments in Germany, the Reichstag presents information and history surrounding the government under National Socialism or during the period of Divided Germany generally without commentary. It doesn’t tell you what to think, or how to feel, but allows for the space and the interpretation to make the experience your own. This upsets some people, both travelers and Germans alike, and there are even domestic protests that surround the ways Germany chooses to honor those who lost their lives in the Holocaust. The way Germany, and Berlin in particular, deal with the atrocities in their history is remarkable. Controversial, definitely, but I just came across the German word Vergangenheitsbewältigung, which literally translates to “coping with the past,” which they’ve had to do with regularity in the 20th and 21st century. Especially since the fall of the Wall, memorializing those periods of history has become a priority in the country, and is done with incredible care and consideration. It is continually both reassuring and terrifying that we are so close to so many awful chapters in human history, and the way we deal with them is continually improving and expanding. Lots more to come on the ways that Berlin remembers and memorializes, but in an attempt to keep this chronological, I’ll just say that our first day and a half in Berlin only left us all wanting more…
(Also, ’tis the season to promote this fantastic opportunity, since the application just came out. If you’re a STEM or social studies teacher, please, PLEASE check out the Transatlantic Outreach Program. The application can be found HERE, and I’d be happy to answer any questions you have on the application, the lesson evaluation, the workshop, etc. Take advantage of this opportunity!!)