So we began the day by meeting Arja Jacob at the Anhalter Bahnhof at 9am. To set the stage about Arja, she is a delightful woman with a well-trained dog who has no limit of knowledge about Nazi Germany. She took us through the Propaganda Ministry run by Goebbels. This Ministry was, as Arja claimed, the reason the Nazis were so successful so quickly. Goebbels knew what he was doing when he put all the war debt blame on the Jews of Europe and made the German people fall in love with their government again and trust them again. Arja then took us to the site of Hitler’s bunker and the spot where Hitler killed himself. It was interesting to hear how the bunker was actually impregnable by being 3 meters thick with cement and how Hitler refused to go into the bunker because he knew that would be a sign of his loss.
We then went to the Memorial of the Murdered Jews of Europe. The monument is made up of 2,711 different size stones that make a sort of maze. When you walk through the memorial, the deeper you get, you feel more and more overwhelmed as the stones get taller and people around you start disappearing. The memorial is supposed to TRY to replicate the way Jews of Europe felt during the Holocaust. In the maze, you see one person in front of you, and the next second, they’re gone. This was similar to the way Jews were disappearing and how people’s families were broken up so easily and so quickly. I’ve never been more heartbroken then when I saw people sitting on the memorial, people taking smiling selfies with the memorial in the background, people suspending themselves between the stones, people having a picnic, people jumping from stone to stone and people sunbathing on the tops of the stones, people having photoshoots and making duck faces. Do these people not know what they’re disrespecting? Are they ignorant? Do they just not even know what they’re sitting on? Is the memorial staff to blame for not putting up signs or enforcing rules about the memorial? Even the tour guide started the tour off by saying “feel free to sit on the memorial, it’s ok”.
Overall, this memorial was beautiful and I think it does in fact do what little justice it can to the over 6 million Jews the Nazis are responsible for killing. What was also shocking was how in the underground exhibit there was a section of the memorial that was dedicated to naming every person murdered by National Socialists and a little bit about their lives and how they died. In the info section for this portion of the memorial it states that if you listened to the mini-biography of all of the 6 million Jews, you would be listening for over seven years, which struck me. Nobody can even listen for seven years, so it’s our jobs to remember the half dozen people we hear about, and hope that for the seven years, there is some thought about every single person who was murdered. That part of the memorial was bittersweet in that way. It was bitter because you can never hear about every person, but sweet to think that they were going to be remembered for eternity nevertheless.
All in all, everyone is exhausted and running on adrenaline and completely happy to be surrounded by our friends and amazing chaperones, and not to mention we’re eating some REALLY good food :).
We woke up today at 8:00, and I, at least, did not expect to do so much walking. Then we walked to a former train station, now a park, to meet Arja Jacob and her dog Lulu. They took us on a walking tour of key Nazi history sites. These included Wilhelm Platz, the former Propaganda Ministry, and the Martin Gropius Bau. We ended the walking tour at the site of what once was Adolf Hitler’s bunker, and the place where he either shot himself, or drank poison, but regardless of the theories, it was where he killed himself when he learned that the Nazis had lost the war. The actual bunker was destroyed when the Soviet Union took over East Germany, so the only thing left now is a parking lot. One thing that Arja mentioned during our tour was that the architecture in Berlin varied based on when it was built. We saw one building that had bullet holes in its walls and she said that that was how you could tell what era a building was from.
Then we had lunch in the food court of the Mall of Berlin, which I thought had surprisingly good food. When we finished, we went to the museum, The Topography of Terror, which explained a lot about how that Nazis rose to power, and what they did politically. Then we walked to the memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, and we went to the Documentation Center museum under it. That was extremely chilling, especially when we got to the room with the last letters that were sent from Jewish victims on their way to the concentration and death camps. Then we went back outside to look at and walk through the memorial itself. We had talked a bit before about the disrespectful things people might have been doing, and walking through, I saw people jumping from stone to stone, people eating on the stones, and people taking selfies of themselves with the memorial in the background. I found this very insensitive, and as I was walking around, trying to take in the memorial that had been so carefully planned and meant something so deeply, I came upon 3 pieces of trash, 2 of which were on top of the stones, and one of which was on the floor in the middle of the memorial.
After the memorial, we walked to the Bundestag, which is where Parliament holds its sessions. On our tour, we saw the Plenary room, where the Bundestag holds its meetings with its 709 members that debate over different bills that become laws. I found it fascinating that the German government was so open to the public, and visitors can listen in on the Bundestag debates.
After our tour of the Bundestag, we walked through the Tiergarten and saw the memorials to the Roma/Sinti and the homosexuals. It was dark out, so we couldn’t see much, but it was interesting to see those memorials as well as the memorials to the murdered Jews of Europe.
Then, we walked to Potsdamer Platz and had dinner in what used to be the ‘no-man’s land’ in between the two walls that separated Berlin from 1961 to 1989. One thing that has struck me throughout this trip so far is that time changes what places look like, and how they affect the people that go to those places. What used to be Hitler’s bunker is now a parking lot, and what used to be the Berlin Wall is now a film festival and a modern mall, the Sony Center. Overall, this was a very busy day, and we learned so much about many different topics of German, Nazi, and Cold War German history.
Today began, as our amazing tour guide Arja said, was Nazi Nazi Nazi. That was to be expected, of course, but the experience was still shocking. We focused a lot on the deportation of targeted peoples, coupled with the fall of the Nazi empire.
First, we met Arja at the Anhalter Bahnhof station to begin our walking tour of key Nazi buildings and locations in Berlin.
Arja has a very interesting life story, growing up in West Berlin as the grandchild of a Nazi soldier and the child of an East Berliner. Her perspective on Nazi history was fascinating, showing us the opinion of someone who had been manipulated by the propaganda that was orchestrated right in front of our eyes.
I was really surprised at how many buildings had been torn down that clearly had been the locations of life and death decisions affecting hundreds of thousands of people. Arja showed us pictures of the buildings that used to stand, but it couldn’t make up for what was lost. It makes sense that at the time, both West Germany and Soviet-controlled East Germany wanted to erase the memories of the recent past, but the scary thing is that without a physical building to commemorate the decisions and deportations and deaths and tortures that took place, who will remember in 50 years? In 80? In 100? It’s not enough for school children to just be able to recite “6 million Jews and some other people were killed in a genocide.” They need to know how decisions were made, to what Germans and non-Germans were subjected, and how people were, and were not, manipulated into believing in a cause.
After lunch at an insane(ly amazing) mall food court, we went to the Topography of Terror Museum and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.
At first, I was a bit apprehensive about going to the Memorial because of all the controversy over people taking selfies and posed photos. I’ve seen the smiling pictures on Instagram under the location tag “Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe,” and I’ve been disgusted. I’ve wanted to report all the photos I see, destroying the notion that this is okay, one picture at a time. When we got there, I saw people taking selfies. I saw people taking naps on top of the big blocks. I saw kids running up and down the aisles, and I saw grown adults posing EVERYWHERE for pictures. Saying it annoyed me is an understatement. I kept thinking that this was a MEMORIAL, that someone would have to be the most ignorant, pigheaded person to take a smiling photo there. But I also knew that most of them couldn’t be ignorant, because I saw hundreds of posts online intentionally tagged “Murdered Jews” above a smile. More than half of the captions I’ve seen don’t address the Holocaust or Jews in the first place.
After we visited the documentation center and spoke with a tour guide, he discussed the design of the memorial with us. He gave us time to wander the blocks, and I was surprised. While from above, it looks like the blocks are all similar heights, once you actually walk between them, the ground slopes up and down in miniature hills. At one point, the blocks were twice as tall as I am, and I found myself alone, in a dark, cold, desolate corner, leaning against the block and shivering. Then I began the trek back up the small hill, and my legs felt heavy, tired, weighed down by the experience. As I left the deep part of the memorial, though, I saw school children running through the blocks playing games. I ran into a woman having an amateur photo shoot and couldn’t help but give her a dirty look. As I came into the light, I saw people napping on blocks once again, and kids jumping between them. Afterwards, our tour guide met up with us again and we discussed the experience. He pointed out that we all had very different experiences, and that the memorial was not meant to stand as a memory, but that it was supposed to create the conditions for us to recollect in peace. The problem with this style of memorial is that if you don’t walk in with the intention of contemplation, it has no effect.
Being in the memorial, with the cold stone and the laboring walk and the voices heard but never never seen and the echoing footsteps of children running past was....harrowing. It was supposed to chronicle the experiences Jews had when their children and livelihood and property was ripped away, but I couldn’t help thinking that it was inadequate, that there was no way on Earth I’d ever truly know what it felt like to be powerless. I hope that that is true for all people out there.
2/16/2019 04:54:20 pm
Sounds you learned so much from Arja! A good guide is so informative and offers insight into local perspective...great job girls
2/16/2019 06:01:43 pm
Good to learn about the underground exhibit with victims’ stories because some of the criticism, beyond the insensitive selfie-takers, about the Monument is that it’s cold and lacks a connection to murdered Jews, no real faces, names, or dates, no text, narratives or descriptions of the people on the blocks which represent them. Maybe the possible lack of connection to people on the stone blocks could be why visitors don’t act respectfully when they’re walking through the varying block heights... So nice to visit a place with a great tour guide, too!
Andy L-G, Gavi’s Mom
2/17/2019 06:14:59 am
These descriptions are wonderful thank you. The fact that each of you commented on the lack of respect of people taking selfies, playing and picnicking gives me pride that you are all clearly a group of students who would not be doing that there or elsewhere, and understand the importance of respecting the past. I wonder if anyone has ever written to the Museum overseers requesting that signs be posted asking people not to do this. I wonder if you all wrote something and the whole 49 of you signed it if it would have any impact. Just a thought.
2/18/2019 01:09:37 am
Reading all of your blogs is astounding.
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