Sunday, June 17, 2012

Tuesday 29.05: Berlin day 2

We started the day off early! Becky and I got up and ready and headed down to breakfast. The group met up in front of the hostel and we left. We had an appointment at the Reichstag and we didn't want to be late! Anderson can walk really fast when he needs to...
We went through security and headed up to the dome of the Reichstag.

This was the second time I have been to Reichstag but I don't remember having an audio tour the last time. The audio tour was automatic. It sensed where you were in the dome and what you could see. Sara, Dustin and I were walking through together. We were walking faster than the audio tour and it would fade out of whatever it was saying and start talking about something else. It was funny.

We enjoyed looking at the spiders. But really. There were huge spiders and spider webs EVERYWHERE! It was gross. Sara's favorite thing to do to me was try to feel like a spider crawling up my neck or whatever. Gross....
From the dome you could see a lot of Berlin. I was glad I could point out buildings and other things. In the distance I could see the memorial for murdered Jews. It's one of my favorite parts of Berlin.

Anyway. After we all finished our tour Jason gave his presentation on Reichstag. And it started to rain.
From there we went to the Brandenburg Tor and Unter den Linden.
Of course the first thing we had to do was take pictures :)

There were lots of people dressed up trying to make money by having their picture taken with people. There was an over-aggressive monkey and dog who kept jumping into pictures and then demanding money.
There were also beggars looking for money. They were women and children. They would approach us and ask us if we spoken German, to which we replied no. Then when they asked if we spoke English we would say nein. Ha! We had been warned by Herr Kornetta (and other Germans) not to talk to these people, so we didn't. Sure it was kind of rude. But we were told to not give them money or even talk to them.
Evan gave his presentation and then we went to the memorial for the murdered Jews. Hurray! My favorite! (That kind of sounds bad...) I just love the artistry and the meaning and everything about it.
Well when we got there Krzysztof gave his presentation. It was hard to hear him at times because of the abundance of children yelling and playing in the memorial. It was frustrating and saddening that people don't understand the meaning of it or try to explain it to the kids. To them it was merely a play place. There were young adults standing on the stones, posing for pictures like it was a runway. It was appalling. Anderson gave us some time to walk through it on our own. During that time the kids left and we got to have a few quiet meaningful moments in the memorial.
 When we all came back together, we split into our 3 different groups, history, art, and Jews in Berlin. I was in the Jews in Berlin group with Becky, Thomas and Nick. We decided to start our time in our group off in the the museum underneath the memorial. The feeling you get from the moment you walk in is completely different than it was above in the memorial. It is silent, and solemn.
The first room of this "information center" had a timeline of the happenings that lead up to the persecution of the Jews. The timeline had lots of detail. At the end of the room were large pictures. Under each picture was a little paragraph about the person, how old they were, where they were from, and were they were sent, and how they died.
The next room was dark. The only light was coming through the displays in the floor. Each display had a letter, page from a diary or some kind of written artifact. The actual piece was there, then there was a enlarged copy, and it written in plain text in German and English. There was also a little paragraph about the person who wrote each artifact and what happened to them. On the wall were the names of all the countries the Jews came from and how many from each country were killed. The numbers were stunning. I didn't realize how many came from Poland vs. Germany. Almost a third of the Jews killed during that time were from Poland, while only a few hundred thousand came from Germany. This room was very important for me. I had chills running up and down my spine the whole time. People were writing letters and diaries. Some had hope of seeing their family and friends again. Others knew their fate. There were letters from children saying goodbye to their parents. Diary entries from people who watched others die in front of them every day. It was heart wrenching.
The next room had displays about different families. A little background information about each family was given, plus pictures. A list of family members with a picture next to each name was on each family's display. Next to the name and face was the fate of that person. Small children, elderly people, mothers, fathers were killed. No consideration for where they came from, what they had endured in life, or for the future of their life. Each family came from different walks of life, from different parts of Europe. But each story ended in a similar way, they were sent to concentration camps and killed. Very few members of any of the families survived. Very few escaped. But for those who did, one can only imagine the guilt and overwhelming feelings they had to struggle with every day.
Beyond this room was another completely dark room. In this room there was a voice constantly talking. The voice would name a person, say their date of birth and death and then in a few sentences summarize what happened to them. In order to present all the victims like this, it would take 6 years, 7 months and 27 days. The presentation of each victim was about a minute, maybe 2. The fact that it would take that long to go through all the victims is mind blowing. It just makes the number of victims much more tangible.
 The second to last room had summaries about all the locations of the concentration camps. I never realized how many there were and how spread out they were across Europe.
The last room had computers which were connected to a database. This database is still a work in progress. They are attempting to log each victim of the holocaust. I can only imagine how difficult that must be.
This information center was pretty amazing. It opened my eyes a lot. It made me think a lot about the people as individuals, not just as a group of people. It began to show me just the sheer number of victims there were.
The one picture I have from the information center/museum thing is a water fountain. There aren't water fountains in Germany. They don't drink tap water here. So finding a water fountain was a big deal. We stood there drinking from it for like 5 minutes, smiling from ear to ear.

We had decided we wanted to accomplish as much as possible today, so we immediately started heading to the Jüdisches Museum which was on the other side of town. Along the way we stopped at a nice little Italian place, where the others got pizza and I got pasta for a pretty good deal! It was delicious and filling and warm and wonderful. I love Italian food.
We walked all the way to the Jüdishes Museum. We decided to only do the permanent exhibits. It starts downstairs. There are 3 axises, the axis of continuity, axis of exile and axis of holocaust. Along each axis were artifacts and quotes. The axis of exile ended in a garden.
The garden was on an angle. The picture doesn't give it justice. Standing in the garden it doesn't seem that slanted until you are walking through and feel like you are falling over and can't walk normally. The garden is a square and there are 49 stone pillars with olive willows growing out the top. The slant is supposed to make you feel uneasy and disoriented much like the Jews felt when they were exiled from society. The order was something we didn't quite understand. If anyone has some insight on that let me know.
We read all of the descriptions and quotes and explanations before going into the garden. Once in the garden we discussed why it was built the way it was. To make one feel the disorientation among the order. To make you feel uneasy. The order.
Then we went back inside and read everything again to make sure we got it. It is so abstract and leaves much room for interpretation and discussion.
Then we went to the axis of holocaust. This ends with the holocaust tower. Best part, hands down.
The holocaust tower is shaped like a trapezoid, but one corner of the trapezoid is elongated. The entire tower is made out of concrete. It is not heated. It is not lit. The only light comes from a small opening at the top of the elongated corner. It is dark, cold and quiet. We walked in, closed the door and I immediately had chills. It was powerful. We spent at least a half hour there, just in the tower. Sitting there. Trying to make sense of it.
When one walks towards the elongated corner, it feels like you will never come to the end. The walls start to close in on you until you can't go any farther. You are now in the darkest spot in the tower, and straight above you is the brightest. All I could think was "it's always darkest before the dawn". Everything I felt in that tower, there are no ways to put it all in words. It was powerful. It was thought provoking. Just as we thought we had finished analyzing the heck out it, we stepped back into the museum, and boom! We had more to think about. The shock you get after spending time in the cold, dark, grey tower and going into the bright, colorful, loud reality is surprising. One can only begin to imagine how the surviving victims felt as they attempted to integrate into the real world after the holocaust.
Just going through the two axises and the information center under the memorial, I had had more powerful and overwhelming feelings than I had at Dachau. It was breath taking. It was mesmerizing. It was amazing. It was eye opening.
The last axis was the axis of continuity. Here there was 2 millenniums of Jewish history. That's a lot of history, especially for someone who does not care for history. There was a lot of stuff. I don't remember lots of it. I was already in information overload stage. The only things that truly caught my eye were the interactive and child directed parts. There was a place where you could look up your name in hebrew. There was an area about life as a Jewish child. There were videos explaining different parts of the Jewish religion and life. As a group we were kind of burnt out, but I think Becky got the most out of it.

From there we headed back to the hostel. by. foot. Ow.
Anderson was sitting on the front steps of the hostel waiting for groups to return. We told him everything we saw and accomplished. He was proud :)
Becky, Thomas and I headed to Lidl to get some food for dinner. At the beginning of the week Anderson gave us each 80 euros for food for our time in Berlin. So trying to be cost smart, we didn't go out to eat but had a small picnic instead. We came away with quite the feast. Bread, knock-off nutella, brushetta, bifi-stix, pineapple, butterkeks, salami, and water. I was a happy camper. I ate my pineapple all in one sitting. It was delicious. :)
I'm pretty sure I fell asleep after that. It happened just about every night in Berlin...

Happy: pineapple and getting chills in the holocaust tower
Crappy: walking allllllll over

No comments:

Post a Comment