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A little about Berlin

July 14, 2010

As we came to the final days in German y, this was a true experience in all meaning. It was not only about learning, but actually having on experience at first hand. Standing form the first day in Berlin, tasting their good, getting to meet new people, stepping on historical grounds. First couple of days, learning about the Holocaust, the Jews, the prisoners who died in Hitler’s hands.

We then came to the German resistance, learning about those Germans who made the difference in other lives. Lastly we came to the last days in Berlin; we enjoyed a great boat tour.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were able to see and enjoy the Alte National Galerie, at the Museum Island, an institution full of history and culture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The United States Embassy, which was recently remodeled in May 23, 2008.

In Alexanderplatz, we were able to take a look at the Friedliche Revolution.

In 1990, the German unified, and in this museum we show three parts in history, how the successful the German revolution was. Here we have images and documents that demonstrate how this museum is structured in three parts, awakening, revolution and unity. Awakening happened during the 1980’s. During this time people were demanding their human rights. The revolution, the citizen wanted change. In October 7, 1989, the GDR was celebrating its 40th anniversary and the people went to the streets and protested. Finally unity, late in 1989, unity is a topic, and in March 18, 1990 “Alliance for Germany” was on the ballot, the Stasi files were released to the public, and we have a United Germany.

 

Finally the Reichstag Building, contrasted in 1884 and in 1894 by the Architect Paul Wallott, and later on modified by Norman Foster in 1994 and 1999.

One of the most important buildings in Berlin, after February 27, 1933 when it caught on fire, symbolizing Hitler’s power, and the final of a parliamentary democracy. Later on when the battle of Berlin took place, in April 21, 1945, the Reichstag was taken on the 29th of that same month by the Soviet, but it was not until may 2nd that they started to occupy it when entering the Reichstag, there are walls full of graffiti with Soviet soldiers names.

 For the Soviet the Reichstag had a military objective with a political goal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most popular for its ecology, the doom. In the middle of the Reichstag we have the doom.

With 360 mirrors, projecting light and evacuating light the rooms.

 Due to this technology, about 80% of this makes up their electricity. In the middle of the doom we have 300 meter holding-water storage. 

As our journey came to an end, I will miss Berlin, the culture, the food, its people. It’s a beautiful country with so much to offer.

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The Stasi are watching you

July 14, 2010

As we kept exploring Berlin, we came to a point in history that would make Berlin unique. It has right after World War 2, when the German Democratic Republic (GDR) came to power. The MfS better known as the Stasi was an important instrument to enforce communism in East Germany. About 91, 000 Stasi members were surveillance, creating camps, prisons to mistreats the prisoners who were considered ‘terrorist’.

 In May 1945, “Special Camp No.3” was created, holding about 20,000 prisons, form this camp many were sent to Sachenhausen, the Nazi concentration camp.

According to soviets statistics about 886 people died, but it is estimated that 3,000 or more prisoners died. The living conditions in the camps and prisons were horrific, famous people such as the famous actor Heinrich George,

 democratic commander of the Berlin police, Karl Heinrich, and many others died in these camps. In October of 1946 the camps were closed, but the Stasi kept imprisons people. A famous cellar, “U-boot or Submarine” was created to imprison prisoners.

 Living conditions here were disgusting. A small room with many people, one wooden bend, and a bucket used as a toilet.

 

 You could imagine the smell. These people could not sit or lady down, they had to be standing up the whole day and were given permission to sleep form certain hours, with nothing of light, but light bulb lighting 24 hours. The Stasi prison and underground prison came under jurisdiction in March 1951. Over 200 prison cells and interrogations cells was a secret area. Many things had changed in these prisons, psychological violence was cruelty. Prisoner was to feel helpless. In 1989 the SED dictatorship was overthrown and the Stasi also ended and closed all prisons. As we walked in the Stasi museum and prison, and looking at all the files of millions of people, I came to realized this was all true. Before we left Berlin, we watch movie about the Stasi, it seemed so hard to believe, and you couldn’t even trust your own family, because they could have been spies. This was truly amazing, because I had never seen something so fascinating as the millions of files that contained people’s lives.

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Sensation of History

July 7, 2010

Without a doubt one of my favorite parts about Berlin was the total sensory stimulation that the history of the city alone immerses you in, particularly because its past is so significant and the scene is so unique; I never could have imagined coming across the vast array of experiences that I had the opportunity to while visiting this incredible place. For me, it was never all about one perception at a time; there was a constant influx of sensory provocation I was compelled to participate in. Unquestionably the historical architecture of Berlin is some of the most captivating I have ever had the opportunity to see; from the statuesque churches to the ominous post-war creations of the GDR, each and every scene that I visually absorbed was uniquely extraordinary. The memorials that have been erected to pay homage to the past are also quite exceptional in their own right; the ability of the respective architects of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and the Garden of Exile at the Jewish Museum Berlin to atone reverence upon people whom such severe atrocities have been committed against is no easy feat.

Beyond visually discernible sites, I began to associate elements of Berlin’s history not only by sight but also by certain stimuli to other senses. Upon first walking into one of the menacing and immense Stasi record storage basements at the BStU, my sense of smell was exposed to a furtive and musty aroma intertwined with the haunting scent of burnt material, which was contextually equally as provoking as my visual interpretation of the site. In addition to engaging that particular sense in this now reminiscent way, on our tour we were able to physically examine and handle actual records that the Stasi kept about citizens of East Berlin. Simply knowing what information these pieces of paper contained and the implication they carried made them feel unbelievably and profoundly heavy. I was progressively being made more and more aware of the explicit role that these sites either played in the making or remembrance of the history of Berlin over the past century and being in their presence and paying homage to their significance made the concrete sensory experience overwhelmingly powerful and moving.

Because I was able to tangibly and sensually experience the history of Berlin in such an exceptional way, I also came to the realization that my own perceptions went far beyond the typical physical connotation of what “sensory captivation” entails. As I became more and more acquainted with the corporeal aesthetic of the history of Berlin I began to increasingly detect an intangible and much more humanistic phenomenon; the experiences I perceived physically were also incurring a deeper psychological reaction I hadn’t initially expected. I found this to be particularly true in renowned sites of either resistance or suffering and unusually so at locations where history has fortuitously marched on with impudence such that people simply no longer have a direct connection with historical events that occurred there.

This sixth sense, per se, of impalpable history first struck me when we arrived at Brandenburger Tor. I learned that while this monument is now considered to be one of Germany’s most famous and widely recognized landmarks, it is also the sole remaining gate that, at one time, individuals had to use in order to gain access to and enter Berlin. While on the surface this was an objective piece of knowledge I was able to absorb and maintain, it quickly dawned on me that there were critical elements to this synopsis that I would never truly be able to concretely grasp. I was standing beneath this majestic yet formidable crux of Berlin history and the only personal information I had in regards to it felt shallow and detached; standing there, I could sense the impregnable legacy that this monument radiated yet my comprehension of that legacy was no better than every single other individual person who complacently took for granted the fact that they could stroll back and forth underneath those gaping arches that were once an integral part of preventing East German citizens from exercising their own free will to do so; in this way did visiting the Brandenburger Tor not only give me a deeper sense of my own lack of direct connection to humanistically significant periods of history but it also pushed my cognizance of the personification and sensation of the history of Berlin much deeper than it had been before.

Of all of the historical sites that we visited while in Berlin, one that I found to be particularly poignant was Otto Weidt’s Workshop for the Blind Museum. As the Third Reich continued to gain power throughout the 1930s and into the 1940s, it became increasingly difficult not only for Jewish individuals and their families to survive the oppression unleashed upon them but it also became nearly impossible for other citizens to aid Jewish people in any way without also endangering themselves and their own families. We learned that Otto Weidt, a blind man residing in Berlin who was a vehement opponent to National Socialism and the Nazi regime, was a remarkable exception to this norm; not only did he shelter Jews in his brush-making workshop but the majority of his employees were blind or deaf Jewish citizens. Even more extraordinary was that Weidt was willing to falsify documents and regularly bribe the Gestapo in order to secure freedom for Jews that had been taken. Walking up the winding staircase into what is left of the original workshop I felt a sense of calm flood over me, as if i had inadvertently unearthed some sort of sanctuary. While being led around the small area that comprised Weidt’s workshop I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply, imagining my fingers running along the faded, warped walls and allowing the knowledge of who this man was and what he had done full knowing the risk of personal peril to sink in to my conscience. I reveled in the thought of all the lives he had saved or changed simply because he believed that the oppression and genocide that was occurring was undeniably and unquestionably wrong and I came to a conclusion I have reached on other occasions when faced with similar stories of seemingly indestructible tenacity: there is no better reason. For whatever reason, rather than drowning myself in the bleak and cynical reality of injustices committed throughout history as I am generally all too ready to do, I felt deeply moved, as if Otto Weidt had somehow been able to tap into my moral sense and instill in me a calm awareness of the impact one individual can have on others regardless of the context or number. Walking into the final room of the tour we were shown the small, dark, hidden room that Weidt used to hide Jews from the Gestapo and I was astonished at the flood of senses I experienced. Initial fear and sadness for those who had been forced to use the space for its intended purpose faded into awe at their solidarity and unspoken and steadfast commitment to the part that each individual played in ensuring each other’s safety. This truly humanistic phenomenon became Otto Weidt’s profoundly moving legacy. As I left the workshop thinking about all of those who had exited before me, I felt a newfound sense and awareness that in order to justify having faith in my own set of beliefs in regards to what is truly right and wrong I must first convey these values through my actions. If I am unwilling or unable to do so my own set of beliefs is to be rendered null and void.

Spending time in Berlin and learning first-hand the incredible yet tragic history of such a remarkable city was one of the most provocative and amazing experiences I have ever had the opportunity to enjoy. The images will forevermore be engrained in my own personal memory, the lessons within the lessons will never be forgotten. The humanistic element to history has enabled me to feel and sense so much more by way of relating myself to the past than simple facts have ever had the capability of doing. The most important lessons to be taken away from history come from the human experience and progression towards recognizing that we all have the power to change it.

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Paradox of memory and history

July 6, 2010

Berlin is a city teeming with a unique sense of history, one that represents the whole continuum of the human experience. One of the most intriguing elements of the essence of the representation of Berlin’s history lies in the subtle paradoxes that are an underlying aspect to many of the memorials and historical sites throughout the city. These contradictory sentiments are found in the nature of the objective history of Berlin as well as in the memorials themselves, entrenched in everything from the methodology employed by the Nazi regime to particular details gathered at the concentration camp Sachsenhausen, the Stasi prison Hohenschönhausen and at historical sites such as Zionskirche. The first place this paradox presented itself was seen while visiting Potsdamer Platz. There is a section of the Berlin Wall that stands in the center that is surrounded by present-day evidence of a vastly different society than that of which the Wall itself divided. This small piece of a monumental part of Berlin’s history stands enveloped by billboards and advertisments that scream capitalism and private financial enterprise, which was a reality that only citizens residing in West Berlin experienced during the time when the Wall stood.

Another example of paradoxical sentiments experienced occurred while visiting  Sachsenhausen, the Nazi concentration camp used primarily for political prisoners. While walking around, listening to the guide and reading about the tragic lives prisoners there led, an overwhelming feeling of haunting serenity flooded my consciousness. From the image of the phrase “Arbeit Macht Frei” (itself a sickly ironic contradiction meaning “Work Will Set You Free”) to the small yet ethereal white flowers that have sprouted all along the lethal electric fence that stood as the internal security perimeter, these small images somehow reminded me of the horrors that individuals experienced on the very ground on which I was standing.

Apart from these physical signs of disparity between the role of the site and the present-day memorial, there were ideas communicated in regards to the behavior of the imprisoned as well as the imprisoners that pulled me in several directions all at once. The first of which was something I read while in one of the museum sites at Sachensenhousen. The little placard resting next to a crude handmade broom stated that the broom had been made by prisoners so that they could maintain a level of cleanliness in their meager accomodations. The revelation that these individuals had the willpower and tenacity to, even in the most dire of living situations, create a shred of higher quality of life and personal comfort and satisfaction for themselves was utterly beyond my imaginative capacity. Along these lines as well was how the humiliation, shame and torture that the incarcerators bestowed upon the prisoners in order to instill fear and cooperation also seems to have led to a higher sense of camaraderie and solidarity among the prisoners; when the guards would kill a fellow prisoner and would force the others to walk past the body of their compatriot to make an example of them, those who remained saw this as a way to say goodbye. Upon leaving Sachensenhousen I felt the weight of tragedy and sadness upon my consciousness yet was also astonished at how much more there was to the human story of this haunted place.

Berlin has a particular sense of forlorn aesthetic surrounding much of its historical architecture. This decrepit beauty was another example of the contradictory nature I experienced while spending time there. From the old churches, some even surviving World War II, to the remnants of the architectural creations of the GDR, there was an enigmatic charisma that existed in each place we visited. The best example of this was undoubtedly Zionskirche, a church that has survived for one of the most tumultuous centuries in German history in the heart of East Berlin. Remaining statuesque through multiple wars, horrendous burglary and theft, Zionskirche has emerged as a center for peace and environmental justice in the city of Berlin. It was a place we went to where I felt a unique sense of calm strength while standing in awe of the beautiful austerity of the architectural design.

 One of the fundamental paradoxes of this entire experience I found in learning about the manner in which the Nazi regime and the Stasi attempted to implement and maintain their respective ideologies. The most primordial of which for me was the notion of humane inhumanity; an example of this was told to us by the guide at Sachsenhousen in regards to the execution of prisoners. Bringing them into a room and staging an examination, through a hole in the wall soldiers would shoot and execute individuals, one after another. The effort that perpetrators of murder and espionage went through was simply shocking, particularly when considering what the end goal eventually was. Under this broad notion of humane inhumanity, an additional beahvioral paradox committed by those in power was that of systematic terror and the irrational rationality that those in power demonstrated. Terror is an emotion with no boundaries, limits or control and the systematic implementation of this sensation is something I cannot imagine witnessing, experiencing or perpetrating. Finally, the irrational rationality of the way that the Nazis and the Stasi administered their ideologies involves a deeply rooted ability to manipulate and dehumanize that goes far beyond my cognitive understanding of all of us who exist in the world today that it left me dumbfounded; I am still questioning how it is that humans could commit these acts of torture and murder and espionage against other humans.

While Berlin was full of perplexing contradictions, I did come out of the experience understanding that these paradoxes were and are how individuals survive through difficult times. In the small beauties, new life and unquestionable awareness, citizens of Berlin and the world are learning how to resist oppression and come to terms with the past.

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WHY???

July 5, 2010

Berlin is a wonderful country, from its people to its museums, parks, and neighborhoods. For two weeks we explored Berlin, learned about its history, and had a taste of its food. I had a great time, and also had moments of mixed emotions. Emotions which made me feel what Jews, homosexuals, disabled, and many prisoners passed through in the holocaust. It is way different to be taught in class, see pictures of the holocaust, but nothing can be more memorable than to be standing in the same gounds where many people were killed. The first couple of days in Berlin were tough, I need to adapt to the cold weather, and the change of time. Since some of us had arrived a day early, we went and explored beautiful Berlin. Our first stop was Museum Island.

 There I was able to see many great sculptures and fine art. I do have to say, I saw a major difference between the US and Berlin. The US seems to be more conservative in their art and sculptures, while in Berlin they are truly in love with the beauty of the body. 

We then later went to Charlottenburg. A gorgeous palace with an enormous garden, it had been the first time I was a in a palace. We were able to walk around, explore King Henry’s Mausoleum.

The day ended and my mind was just fascinated with everything that Berlin had to offer. Then it was time to go to the Jewish memorial.

It was really cold day, and we had a great lecture. We walked around the memorial, and to be truly honest, I didn’t feel as if I was remembering the Jews, until I actually went to the underground museum. As walked through the first room of the museum, I saw many family portraits, families that had been destroyed. I then realized what greater effect the holocaust had. I then walked to the second room, and read the multiple post-cards that were on the ground. When I came to the port card of the twelve year old girl, who had written to her dad, telling him she loved him, and wanted to live, but knew she was going to die.

Deep inside my heart I understood the terror she felt inside her. To know you were going to die at such a young age, I don’t know how I would have even reacted. I kept reading the other post cards, and just the words they used to explain their fear, was terrifying. I finally came to the third room, and I sat and listen to the names that were mentioned, I saw a picture that has stayed with me until this day. A Nazi solider pointing its gun at a child and you can see just how fearful he is, a young boy, around the age of 10 or 11. In that moment I couldn’t comprehend how hundred, thousand or men, women, could be heartless, how could they kill, torture these people? Just because they were not like them? Why is that the Jews, the prisoners never stood up against Hitler, the Nazis? It was time for a discussion, and one person questioned why the Jews never stoop up, and when this question was brought up, immediately the picture of that fearful child came up to my mind, and I expressed what I felt. If the Jews never stood up, it was because of fear, hope. Fear to be killed, mothers to leave their children alone, fathers to leave their family unprotected. On the other hand there was hope to live, to get out of this situation alive.

The first week was all about the holocaust, and the murder of the Jews, and other prisoners. We visited many other museums, and saw many pictures and actually walked through a concentration camp. I’m glad I made this trip because not only did I learn about the holocaust, but I was also able to experience, just a little tiny bit, that can never be compared to the actual sufferment of those who lived it, fear.

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Staying in Power: Intimidation, Fear, but above all Misiniformation

July 1, 2010

As we explored Berlin I continued to be more and more amazed by the near complete control that the National Socialists held over every aspect of German society. It is not uncommon when examining history to see examples of dictatorships which are able to maintain power by rendering the citizenry incapable of mounting an efficient resistance, but in Nazi Germany Hitler was actually able to engage the citizenry in the very machinery which prevented that resistance. The stories of average citizens reporting their neighbors for harboring Jews and political dissidents were incredibly disturbing, and they were not the only example of the type of control which the National Socialists possessed over German society. How though, were they able to exert such complete control?


Certainly the National Socialists used intimidation as a control tactic, just as many dictatorships throughout history have done. The SA, SS, and Gestapo were all designed precisely to intimidate. From the design of their uniforms to the physical characteristics which were required to serve in these forces they possessed an inherent and deep ability to intimidate those around them. I have no doubt that some Germans became complicit in the crimes of the National Socialists because of this intimidation, however, it is also clear that this intimidation alone cannot account for the level of complicity which was present in Nazi Germany.


A much more significant tactic that the National Socialists used to exert the level of control they were able to exert was fear. They sought at all times to ensure that the citizens of Germany were afraid. Afraid of the Jews, afraid of the West, afraid of Communism, afraid of anything and everything to which the Nazis were opposed. This fear became such a fundamental part of German life that the German people would report their neighbor not out of spite, or because they were intimidated by the Gestapo, but because they were afraid of their neighbor. Afraid that their neighbor sought to undermine the very foundation of Germany society and the values which they believed Germany stood for. But how were the National Socialists able to create this deep of a fear in the citizenry?


They created this fear by becoming masters of misinformation. The National Socialists provide us with an example of a propaganda campaign unmatched in the history of the world. The control that they exerted over the press, over public speech, over the radio and TV were so utterly complete that they could repeat lies over and over without the truth having a single opportunity to be presented to the public. An old adage says that a lie told enough times by enough people will ultimately come to be believed and the Nazis certainly leveraged this adage. Their control of information reached the point that they could effectively tell the public anything they wished and it would be considered to be true. And it is this control that allowed them to create the kind of fear that they needed to not merely remain in power, but to have power over every aspect of German society.

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Hitler is my… Hero?? Or, the Importance of Education

June 24, 2010
An article on the BBC recently noted that Mein Kampf is a bestselling book in India – and sales are growing.  The younger generation apparently idolizes Hitler for his “leadership, strength and iron discipline;” something that, say the people interviewed, India needs.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/8660064.stm

Having recently toured the remains of the destruction caused by the Nazi regime, sentiments like these are nothing short of horrifying.  Nazi destruction cannot be encompassed  just in terms of the liquidation of millions in the Holocaust – which, in itself ought to be sufficient to condemn Hitler as the basest of men and least deserving of praise – but also in terms of the cost to the German people.  The psychological and moral damage that occurred as a result of Nazi crimes – all envisaged and fomented by Hitler himself – still affect Germans today, some 70 years later. 

Hitler's Legacy

Hitler’s drive to become master of the earth enveloped the world in a war that cost the deaths of tens of millions, collapsed economies, and burnt cities.  On his platform 11 million were liquidated; their voices silenced, often their very names and existences obliterated from the pages of memory.  Upon the Axis defeat, Hitler committed suicide rather than face the aftermath, and his own scorched earth tactics ensured the starvation and mass deportation of millions of Germans.

That Hitler’s Nazi regime could only end in such self-destruction, in such misery, was clear – his own emphasis on mass slaughter at the expense of resources needed for his war is only the prime example of the insanity of his ‘Final Solution’.

Surely these young Indians do not want to be led with ‘iron discipline’ into the tyranny of insanity, mass starvation, global disapprobation, complicity in unspeakable crimes, shame.

Such idolatry for one of history’s greatest embodiments of the dark side of human capability can only indicate a complete lack of understanding for the historical context of Hitler as Fuehrer.  Else, the possibility that humankind would willingly walk again into collusion with evil is too terrifying to contemplate.

Holocaust Victim

While Germans are perhaps more familiar with the full grim spectre of the Nazi period than many (as a sort of self-imposed penance for their own history), it is equally important that other nations confront their children with the sordidness of the past.  The Holocaust must be studied, the Rwandan genocide must be analyzed, Darfour and the Gulag Archipelago must be remembered in all their awfulness. 

It is impossible to separate the man from the crime.  To exculpate the culprit would indicate that justice has been done, and the crime punished.  But what punishment for such crimes?  The Nazi regime, with Hitler as mastermind, can never be excused.  Any good qualities embodied in a person that was capable of turning the post-WWI wreck of Weimar Germany into the juggernaut that defeated the whole of Europe is inextricably bound up in and entangled with the tangible result of his logic of destruction.

It is to be hoped that such a leader will never again appear to bless his people with chaos and death, and that the historical moment that gave rise to the exploited opportunity has passed.  But if knowledge is power, so too is it insurance against the re-occurrence of this moment.  The importance of education in this regard cannot be overstated.