Friday, December 31, 2010

Berlin- Awesome and Terrible

I never recounted my experiences from my last 2 weeks in Europe, I am disappointed I didnt put my thoughts in writing while they were fresh, my mind is constantly running at top speed (not going anywhere, top speed in circles) and I cant even remember my thoughts from 5 minutes ago, 5 weeks ago is long gone. On that note, I have tried keeping a journal of sorts with me at all times so that I can write down thoughts I have or interesting things I see or hear, I will often think, "na, I dont need to write that down, I can remember that," and so it is gone forever, or sometimes I will write like a little reminder, just a code word to start the thought process in my mind again, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesnt. And sometimes I will use the person I am with as a notepad and present my thought to them and then I can ask them later what it was, or the conversation that proceeds makes it a significant enough event that I remember it later. Kari is lucky enough to be my notepad pretty often, and every now and then after some capricious cerebration comes to to surface she asks where it came from and it is quite fun sometimes to trace back my string of thoughts to something real that triggered it all. I will try to write it down next time something like that happens.

I was talking about Europe, and how I should have put my experiences to paper sooner. I met a guy named Ryan, the coolest Pirate in Santa Cruz, who sold me a beautiful old Raleigh bike and from my email he clicked the link to this blog, I saw him a couple times after that and every time he encouraged me "keep documenting your life man." I try, Ryan. My return from Europe has been full. Full of travels, decisions, people, adventures... wait... I didnt talk about my final days in Europe. Berlin! This city was awesome and terrible, awesome because of its history and terrible because of its history. We happened to be there during the celebration for the 20th anniversary of German reunification which filled the streets with carnival rides, food vendors, and thousands of people. We went down the Unter den Linden on our Fat Tire bike tour (we did one in Berlin, Barcelona, Paris, annnd London) early in the day and saw the stage and vendors and things being prepared among the Brandenburg Gate. Now that is no ordinary piece or architecture right there. As one of the first places we stopped in Berlin, I was amazed to hear the history of this one spot. The gate served as the entrance to the city since the 1700s and during the war it was one of the Berlin Wall crossings, right on the line. But before that, a couple hundered years ago when NAPOLEON and the French took over Berlin, he stole the horse and chariot and took it to Paris. NAPOLEON! Of course the French were defeated 10 or so years later and the chariot was restored. How cool is that? We went on exploring and the amazing history never ceased thoughout the city. The Berlin Wall, an event that will be remembered forever, it happened in my lifetime, and there it was right in front of my eyes. There are so many interesting things to say about all of this I cant go into it all, theres a story behind the rounded top on the wall, half a mile down the road is "Checkpoint Charlie", directly behind me is the only remaining Nazi building in Berlin (which remains despised as it houses the German equivalent of the IRS), there is just so much history everywhere, and amazing architecture. We saw and learned about historic churches, palaces, parks, we saw bullet holes from WWII battles, and numerous remnants of the destruction caused in the war. WWII was obviously a prevalent part of the experience, it was amazing to see how huge of an impact the war had, and still has on the culture. Sure the US was in it, but in Europe they were IN it, and throughout my entire trip the war would come up in conversation and explanation.

Berlin is home to one of the worlds prominent Universities, Humboldt University, which sits in the heart of the city. Educated here were impressive names like Max Plank, Karl Marx, and a guy named Alfred Einschteim that seemed to impress people. In from of the university was a square that held two identical churches with an interesting history of their own, but in the middle of that square was a reminder that even an institution of education such as this with such a proud history has dark marks which must also be remembered. A plate of glass stands out in the middle of a cobble stone square and under the glass there are white shelves lining an otherwise empty room. A nearby plaque offers a brief explanation and a quote. "That was merely a prelude. Wherever they burn books, eventually they will burn people too." -Heinrich Heine, 1820. This was the site where on May 10, 1933 Nazi students took 20,000 books from the university that were not in compliance with Nazi teachings and burned then in a pile in the square. The white shelves in the inaccessible room are big enough for 20,000 books as a memorial to the burnings. They acknowledge the history that has passed through the town, the good and the bad... and the absolutely terrible.

We experienced the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, when I say terrible, this is what I mean. The memorial is housed under ground, and above it is a field of 2,700 stele, which are huge concrete slabs, covering 4 acres. The slabs stand on rolling little hills and vary in height across the field so that when walking through you will at one moment be looking out over the stele and the next be standing in the dark with concrete towering 10 feet over your head. Below, in the memorial, the information is presented as a continuation of the stele above, sometimes as a hanging continuation of the stele containing information about a person or family and their struggle for survival in concentration camps or in hiding. One room was nothing but glass rectangles on the ground reflecting the stele above them, back lit to show letters from Jews being taken to camps, being held in camps, or desperate attempts to reach people who were already in camps. It was... well you can imagine. It was interesting to think how other people were experiencing the information, some people walking through crying, did they have some tie to those lost in the Holocaust? Maybe it was out of shame? How did the Japanese tourists take it in? Are they taught the history as freely as we are in the US? Standing there next to an Asian couple in my head for a second I felt like a local and that I was standing next to tourists and felt slightly ashamed of what we were looking at, then I remembered I wasnt at home, the US helped stop all this, I felt much better after that, that is not to say that I think Germans should feel personally ashamed of what happened, it was just a weird experience.

Oh goodness, by brief write ups never end up very brief do they. Quickly, the reunification celebration was great to be a part of, the kind of local cuisine is Mediterranean, like baba ganoush and falafel and stuff, weird, and the German public transportation system is the best in the world. Next, I am off to Barcelona.

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