Berlin is an interesting place. Going from Leipzig, which had the small city feel, to Berlin was almost overwhelming. The hustle and bustle of Berlin is noticeable the second you step foot into the Hauptbahnhof. In the midst of Berlin’s fast-paced feel are incredible sights and memorials dedicated to those who lost their lives, and the history of Germany. When I was walking through Berlin, learning the history of Germany, it was such a powerful feeling. It was overwhelming how I could go from feeling nauseous to feeling so incredibly inspired by history within the same day.
The Jüdisches Museum is a museum of the history of the Jewish people throughout history. Walking up to the museum, there were five armed Polezi standing guard outside of the museum. That shook me because it really reminded me that there is still is a struggle between those who want to memorialize and honor the Jewish people and their history, and those who still, even after all that has happened, are so disrespectful. After some research, I found out that the police were there to mostly protect against religious radicals from other religions. The fact that there were police officers with guns protecting this museum was appalling. Not because of the police, but because they were necessary. As I was walking through the museum, I felt truly educated about the history of Judaism. I like to think I am pretty knowledgeable about religions other than my own, I have grown up taking religion classes, I even take them now, my roommate my sophomore year was Jewish, and we spent a lot of time talking about our faiths. Walking through the timeline of Jewish history, though, enlightened me to all that I did not know, and how senseless the persecutions that the Jewish people have faced throughout time have been.
That brings me to the Denkmal für die Ermordeten Juden Europas, or the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. When Sean brought us here, he let us walk around for about 20 minutes. At first I was thinking, “Okay but why do we need this long to wander around?” because as I was looking from the outskirts of the memorial in, it really just looked like a bunch of concrete blocks sitting on the ground. Sean told us to reflect on what we thought that it symbolized. Again, I was sassily thinking, “I’ll just go read a plaque or something, I don’t need this much time.” Well, let me tell you, I got put in my place really quickly, because there wasn’t a plaque explaining the memorial. And yes I did need a long time to wander around. As I began to walk through the concrete pillars (I really don’t know how to describe these structures), I noticed that all of a sudden I was walking down into the memorial. The ground was uneven, almost in waves, and the pillars were different heights, towering above me. While the pillars were all in uniform rows, their uneven heights, and the uneven ground was senseless. And that’s when it hit me. Maybe this memorial is supposed to represent the senselessness that went into the mass extermination of millions of people. On the surface, the memorial looked like it was straightforward, like I didn’t need to explore to find out what was happening. Could that be a representation of how on the surface, much of the population had no idea what was really happening to the Jews of Europe?
On a more inspirational note, seeing the Berlin Wall impacted me more than I thought. The entire time I was in Germany, and really throughout my German classes at Mizzou, I had heard the history of the Berlin Wall. I have had professors both at Mizzou and at the University of Leipzig that had lived in East Germany, East Berlin for that matter. Again, I thought I knew a lot, which I did, but I had no idea how much I had to learn. Hearing first hand accounts of life in split Berlin was chill inducing. No, it wasn’t scary, not the kind of stories that scare you, but the ones that make your heart ache. Families separated, professors saying they were ‘shells of people’, you can’t imagine how that felt. You can’t wrap your mind around it. Watching videos of when the Wall fell, and seeing thousands of people running to West Berlin, people dancing on the Wall, truly celebrating. That feeling, that was inspiring. This may sound dramatic but it always made me want to cry happy tears. Watching the pure joy of those who were now free from an oppressive government. Going to see the East Side Gallery was awesome. Walking along a long stretch of the wall decorated with graffiti that expressed how people were feeling. My favorite part about the gallery, other than seeing the famous Socialist Kiss painting, was one that said “Viele kleine Leute die in vielen kleinen Orten viele kleine Dinge tun können das Gesicht der Welt” which means “Many small people, who live in many small places, do many small things that can alter the face of the world.” That was so inspiring. The thousands of people protesting the Wall, were all just thousands of individuals who came together for change. Awesome.
Germany is so open with its history. Unbiased, and informative, the German people do not hide what has happened in their past, but they also remind you that the Germany from the past, is not the Germany today. The Germany today is incredible, and I miss it every single day.