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Remembering and Dealing with the Dark Past in Berlin

June 22, 2010

The recent concluded two weeks visit to Berlin ushers me a rare opportunity to visit two major memorial sites: Jews memorial and underground museum which’s dedicated to the Murdered of millions European Jews, and Jewish museum. No doubt, the amount of information presented in both of them were overwhelming, to say the least. Nonetheless, being in both museums, helped me observe whether the remembrance of holocaust allows a greater understanding of what happened can never happen again, and if at all the memorialization of victims of state violence and might eventually play a significant impact in social transformation of governments and society at large. The substantial evidence displayed in the rooms such as the yellow Star of David helps me question at point in time my identity, race  and whether I’m being treated different from others everywhere I go. It reminds me a refugee life those days in East Africa especially in Kenya, when the natives preferred to calling me “refugee” or “Sudanese,” and that makes feel sick, sad and less human-being.

Like those holocaust survivors, I’ve to wear my “refugee” or “Sudanese” label everywhere I go, and every day is a struggle day but thanks God I never lost hope, otherwise, I’d have run mad and easily loss my precious life. FYI, Kenya has provided asylum to thousands of refugees fleeing war-torn Sudan, Somalia, Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, and Ethiopia for almost two decades. So, African refugees from war-torn neighboring countries who fled and seek refuge in this peaceful Africa nation were designated in special refugee camps run by the United Nation Higher Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) which’s approximately hundreds of miles away from any city. Most often these refugees are arrested, insulted, beaten, raped, detained by Kenya police and deported back to their countries of origins for no apparent reason other than unpurified hatred regardless of their refugee status. So, sometimes refugees have to identify themselves with locals and pretend to look like everyone around them in order to avoid regular physical violence, including rape and police extortion en route toarrest. No one doubts the peaceful refugee populations are seen to be weight of the burden, and this similar life condition quickly reminds me of portrays of those happy Europeans Jews in the Jewish museum before they were being discriminated against prior to the Hitler’s Nazi regime in Germany.

No question the two memorials have shown how anti-Semitism and prejudices towards a fellow human being can lead to and it is my hope that these two great memorials will help inform and educate the general public to reflect on what happened so much so that lessons can be, but rarely are, learned from such terrible events. Thus far, my emotional encounter with something extraordinary which is nevertheless presented in a simple way, but extremely touching and real will live in forever. I wish a similar exhibition of other genocide/holocaust which took place in Africa and other part of world were also shown in these two memorial museums since Germany was not alone in this dark past of human history.

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The Exciting Restless Berlin-Mitte: Magnificent Alexanderplatz

June 18, 2010

I have travelled before to Europe but Berlin has not only shocked me, it captured my heart more than any city I ever visited.  When I started off at the Denver International Airport (DIA), I was having mix feelings and well lost if you may. Since I last read that the city of Berlin was almost reduced to ashes during World War II, I didn’t know what to expect in Berlin, however, reality and excitement hit me when I safely arrived in Berlin. Hopping off the Lufthansa cool plane at the Tegel airport around afternoon, I was welcome by warm sunny weather and above all gorgeous vegetation surroundings. While in the air I could also see buildings that look alike: military complex or GDR’s communist neighborhood, perhaps! 

There is no question I deeply felt in love with this fascinating city from day one, distinctively its public transportation system that work quite well: the S+U-Bahn, trams and buses all helped me really navigate within the metropolitan area in a very convenient and efficient manner without getting lost in the wilderness. More interesting, they are available everywhere you go; I mean Berlin public transport offers 24 hours services a day. Thus, getting around the city alone wasn’t problematic since Berlin public transportation network is fantastic. I vividly recalled using this great public means of transport for more than a week, and realized that I never or rather forget to validate my ticket at the beginning of my first trip whatever that is, I’m lucky for having not been caught by the ticket checkers. Thanks to our caring and experienced Berliner resident, Professor Christoph who came to my rescue and helped validate my ticket once, otherwise I might have ended in STATSI’s “U-Boot” interrogation cell in East Berlin-Building # 7? statsi Van

I have to confessed though, that Germans specifically Berliners are loving people and every time am strolling and wondering in Alexanderplatz or Potsdamer Platz , I always felt part of Berlin city as oppose to foreigner, per se. Whenever we showed up in the city center around zero hours, we often found comfort and safety in public transportation on way back to the sunflower hostel. Besides, Berlin never went to sleep; and this proven to be true every time I/we hop of the S-Bahn at the Alexanderplatz railway station as a transit connection to city center, this important locale bustling with bars/beer garden, great restaurants and clubs really impressed not only my attention but heart as well. No doubt, Alexanderplatz is youthful historic multicultural complex center where ordinary people including tourists find peace of mind at night and day hours.

 Not to mentioning the magnificent rotating World Time Clock with its numbers of world’s cities in different time zone, the TV tower known as toothpick with its revolving restaurant at 207 m, shopping centers, crowds, squeaky machines and motion of Alexanderplatz all stimulated my cultural experience as well as interaction with this unique great city. No wonder more than one million ordinary Germans congregated at this particular historic locale on late of 1989 to staged largest anti-GDR demonstration in the history of Germany.

The most hilarious of all was seeing/meeting people everywhere and anytime holding and drinking beer on the train, tram, buses, and streets without any major problem whatsoever. At the beginning, I was not convinced that drinking beer or alcohol in the public transport/areas is commonly accepted and legal as well. Could it be that the beer price is more expensive than water in Berlin or it is just part of the German unique culture? Indeed, this is what set Berliners’ culture very unique and fascinating, and I believe everyone in the group including myself who participated in the program will never remember this wonderful unforgettable experience for years.  

Definitely, the contrast between Alexanderplatz and Potsdamer Platz is still very distinguishable, despite the fact that the two cities namely east and west are getting more integrated and closing up the gap very fast, written history marks still noticeable, and this makes Berlin a unique place and city under the sun because it has succeeded in forging ahead and leaving its dark past behind. It is a positive remarkable step and determination spirit of Berliners who survived not only the big wartime destruction of their historic city, but also post-Cold War partition by the so called great powers, and this has made it all possible for what Berlin is today.