Archive for the ‘Introduction’ Category

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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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Berlin – Mix of Old & New!

June 3, 2010

After months of anticipation and preparation, not to mention a grueling 20+ hrs of traveling to get here, we finally arrived in Berlin about a week ago.  To start with, initial reactions – one of the things I’ve found most striking as we’ve been exploring is the edginess of the eastern part of the city when compared to the west.  Copious amounts of graffiti seem to represent the political, social, artistic, and cultural voice of the citizens here and is much more prominent in the east, though it is interspersed throughout the city.  Some of the most amazing graffiti I’ve ever seen was found in the art district of East Berlin:

Artwork lines both the streets and alleyways alike and can be found almost everywhere in town.  And what is most surprising is that most graffiti and street art not only seem to be tolerated but almost celebrated as a form of expression.

Many of the older buildings in the eastern part of the city are almost foreboding in their distinct utilitarian style; a multitude of abandoned buildings and lots are either being vigorously absorbed back into nature, have become both palette and display for urban art and graffiti, or have been literally occupied and taken over (borrowed, not owned) by people to house clubs, bars, or other similar business ventures, which the city allows for the sake of the local economy.  I can’t say for sure that I actually saw many homeless people there though it seemed that people could also live in these dilapidated shelter situations if they needed to.

And on that point, unlike the increasingly hostile environment we’re seeing more and more often in Denver concerning treatment and tolerance of the homeless, there was much less of that in Berlin (though you did have to pay to use public restrooms).  While discussing the economy with many German residents, I discovered some interesting and relevant rebuttals concerning a more socialized style political economy, of which I have always been a strong proponent.  Some components are wonderful, such as socialized medicine, a much more socialized and inclusive form of unemployment benefits, and very low cost college tuition.  But all of this comes at a price – first the increasingly overwhelming economic costs which are compounding due to the current state of the global economy; and secondly, the social costs – in the case of college specifically, the resulting quality of an individualized university experience can be lacking.  But there is something to be said for everyone knowing they will have enough money for food and shelter no matter what, that they can be treated for a medical condition regardless of their economic situation, and that they have the opportunity to go to college without having to pay very much in the way of tuition.  I’m feel more educated concerning the pitfalls related to a more socialized system but I personally still find it to be a more preferable option than others.

Another favorite feature of mine in Berlin is the environmental component.  From various futuristic eco-friendly buildings, less prevalence of non-biodegradable disposable containers (plastic bottles, plastic bags, etc.), general energy conservation (most people do not own dryers or cars), an amazing and highly connected transit system which runs all the time, to the many beautiful public parks (crowned by Berlin’s Tiergarten which is a HUGE park in the middle of the city spanning 2-1/2 acres), I found the various environmentally conscious components of Berlin to be wonderful.  Although I had read of it previously and found it interesting, I was inspired by the once-called Reichstag Building, or it’s now official name, the German Bundestag (home of the German Parliament) once there in person. Environmentally, it is awe inspiring equipped with a plethora of energy saving technology including a light funneling mirrored cone, heat recovery systems, solar panels, generators fueled by rapeseed biodiesel, and a water reclamation system.  Further the symbolism represented by the building itself brings together the tangled history of Berlin and provides a foundation of renewal.  The building has a long history that began in 1894 – it was once home to the Reichstag, which was the Parliament of the German Empire and the Weimar Republic; it is the infamous building which suspiciously caught fire shortly after Hitler came to power ominously ushering in an era of no democracy; after World War II, the building was practically in ruins though the Red Army briefly occupied it and flew a Russian flag over it as a symbol of their victory; it rebuilt during the early 1960s and used  as a history museum and occasionally as a government meeting building; after reunification, the building was once again formally established as the home of the new German Parliament; final reconstruction of the building began in 1995 and now the building, a blend of the astounding old and new Germany, has as its center feature, a glass dome which is meant to symbolize the transparency of the German government.

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Berlin: From Initial Impressions to Understading

May 31, 2010
Berlin is beautiful and holds a surprising allure. It is a city whose varied history is unmistakably present in not just museums, but in the buildings that house them, the streets and neighborhoods they are located in, and the people who occupy them. As a result, Berlin has surprised the hell out me. I spent so much time planning the legs of my German tour not affiliated with the class , that until I began looking up Berlin right before my trips departure, I had constructed my German image without giving much thought to Berlin. I had spent so much time viewing material that reinforced the image of Germany’s princely and European aristocratic history, that I almost forgot I was coming here to study the city that had been the capital of Hitler’s Third Reich and then the capital of the former communist GDR.
My first two images of Berlin were of Alexanderplatz, the former center of east Berlin, and then the Friedrichshain neighborhood our hostel is located, also in the former eastern bloc. In both areas, despite communism  having fallen, the architecture and energy emanating from the neighborhoods were still unique in that the eastern areas communist history are still very apparent.

At first my opinion was that the areas matched the stereotypical image of what former soviet communist areas would look life. Much of what I first saw was drab and grey and not well kempt; and coming from the United States and neighborhoods that are well manicured, I must admit, I was initially unimpressed and uncomfortable. Though I have sense, after having ventured out into many different areas of the city, come to appreciate and respect the areas in the former east and the uniqueness that they maintain. Thus, my initial impressions of there is too much graffiti, flyers and postings in public space, and trash on the ground, has shifted too recognizing a resistance to the sterility of mass produced westernized culture.