May 17th, 2014

After a lazy morning at Cuccuma getting more cake and chai lattes and a brief freak out in a Pretzel Bar wherein I thought something was wrong with my passport, I headed into Mitte, the center of the city for a free tour. With the Sandeman’s free tour of Berlin, we started at the Brandenburg Gate right in the heart of Berlin. IMG_1760

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We wandered through Mitte in the rain, caught somewhere between sunshine and downpour at all times. After the Gate we went to the Memorial for the Murdered Jews that is a somewhat eerie monumentalization of that the tragedy the Jews of Germany and Europe experienced during World War Two. What at first looks like gravestones of differing height and sizes reveals itself to be the embodiment of the feelings Jews went through in Europe during the Holocaust. You stand amidst the rows of high reaching walls, oppressed by the sheer uniformity and immensity of their structures, each wall reduced to a blank slate, like tombs with no names, that despite their orderliness retain individuality despite the conditions in which they find themselves. It is an interesting memorial, very abstract and left widely open to interpretation, which I think makes for an interesting memorial because whether one likes it or not, it gets people thinking about those who were murdered, remembering, feeling, and trying to understand what happened in that dark time.

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Our tour guide was smart to point out that he thought it was really great how the German people do not try to hide what happened during the Holocaust. What they could have tried to ignore or sweep under the rug as a dark past, they choose instead to monumentalize, to memorialize as an expression of their regret, their grief, and ultimately their humility and displaying past wrong actions. Many countries easily chose to hid or at least not bring to the attention of the world the atrocities they were at least in small part responsible for, so monuments such as this one in Berlin are a great show of regret and humility that makes someone such as myself who is Jewish, grateful for this memorial regardless of what I think it stands for.

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In great contrast, we then went to the place that now stands above the Fuhrer bunker, the place where Hitler and Ava Brown killed themselves at the end of the war when utter defeat was upon them. Now just a simple parking lot, no signs of what once was is made note of, only a little billboard on the street lets you know what once was. The contrast between the memorial to the Murder Jews and the utter lack of note of the Fuhrer bunker is greatly symbolic and interesting to experience.

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After that we continued on our walk around Berlin visiting various sights that once had Nazi buildings on them that do or do not stand any longer, learning about the history of Berlin.

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We saw a small section of the Berlin Wall within the city and heard some incredible stories about the wall and some escape attempts that either succeeded or failed. One of my favorites was a woman who sewed herself into a car seat and then had a person with proper credentials drive her over the border. The saddest attempt we were told about was when two young men attempted to cross the wall midday by jumping from their work building into the Death Strip (the space between the two walls that was left abandoned and open) but when trying to get over the final wall became tangled in the barbed wire and one was shot there while people in the west desperately tried to save him as he slowly bled to death and slid down onto the East side again to be left to die without aid for trying to escape as people in the West listened to his screams just on the other side of the wall. It was a heartbreaking story and crazy to listen to this while looking at the ruined façade of the wall that held so much history, misery, and pain.

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After that we passed Checkpoint Charlie, one of the major crossing points of the wall from East to West that is a clear example of the Capitalist tendencies on one side and the communist side on the other.

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We then wandered into a square with two really amazing churches and a concert hall that made for an impressive space with beautiful architecture.

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Humboldt University was next with the memorial to the book burning done in front of the university in World War Two. This is the university where Maiya is studying in Berlin and it was a beautiful structure right in the center of Berlin.

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After that our last stop on the tour, which when we finished, some friends that I made on the tour and I decided to continue on to Museum Island. I made some really fun Canadian friends who brought a wine skin along on the tour, which was fun because it meant getting to have wine during the tour. We went to Museum Island where we sat out in the grass enjoying the sun and the view of the Berliner Dom. It was a beautiful space I much enjoyed, sandwiched between museums and beautiful buildings and the Spree running on either side of us.

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I went up into the Berliner Dom and enjoyed a view of Berlin right from the center of the city, which was pretty fun. It wasn’t too high up but we got to hear the bells ring and afterwards I laid out in the grass for a long time just listening to them ringIMG_1915 IMG_1916 IMG_1920 IMG_1922 IMG_1928 IMG_1939 IMG_1943 IMG_1947IMG_1952

 

After my inner city adventure I returned to Kreuzberg, my favorite little neighborhood and we decided to go get Doner at the famous Mustafa’s, which had some really incredible food.

 

 

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We ate our doner while walking around, eventually finding ourselves at Viktoriapark which has an amazing waterfall looking up at the spire like monument in the center of the park.

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We sat there until the sun went down, got some ice cream and returned home after a long successful day of adventuring.

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