May 18, 2006
"Yeah, but can you say Antidisestablishmentarianism?"
Michael Opieczonek- We began our day with a pleasurable morning: our “Treffen” was scheduled at 9:30, so we could sleep in until 9:00 a clock! After enjoying extra minutes of sleep we headed to the “Bäckerei,” a German Bakery, where we eat breakfast every day. Next we went to our U-bahn station, Eberswalderstrasse, to meet Professors Byrnes and Tucker. At Hackescher Markt we met with Professor Wipperman, an expert on history of Germany during WWII and not only. This man was our Berlin guide and poured to our Wabash minds a lot of interesting information about the Nazi times and Holocaust. Professor Wippermann is a sage and a prolific writer; wherever we went or stopped he could comment: “Oh, I wrote a book about this place.” Today’s program was the Jewish Berlin. At first Professor Wippermann led us to a small Jewish cemetery. One could not tell that it was one – green park, dogs running on the grass; however, at that place is buried a very eminent Jew, Moses Mendelssohn. Professor Wippermann told us about his role of assimilating German Jews into German culture and his philosophical and literary genius. We also learned about the Jewish Emancipation Act and the Jadish language. After being introduced to history of Jews in Germany we headed to a famous street called Rosenstrasse. One might think that this is not a special place, a simple memorial with a few statute figures. On the contrary this is a memorial of German resistance against the Nazis. There used to be a building belonging to a Jewish community, but in 1935 Nazis turned Rosenstrasse to a collective point of people of Jewish ancestry. NSDP arrested many Jews and gathered them in that place. Relatives of these arrested Jews gathered in front of the Gestapo quarter on Rosenstrasse and protested against arresting their husbands and other relatives. Fortunately, the act of resistance of these several hundreds of protestors made Nazis release the inmates. Professor Wippermann called this act “a symbol of altruism.”
Afterward we took a tram to visit the largest Jewish cemetery in Berlin. Professor Wippermann toured us through this vast graveyard, in which we could see plenty of mausoleums, tombstones and graves. The whole cemetery looked like a green suburban jungle, which was a good hiding place for Jews during the Nazi reign. The cemetery is divided into fields. For example in the honorary field renowned people like doctors, professors, lawyers were buried. Professor Wippermann drew our attention to the field of urns. Jews cannot be cremated, but those urns contain ashes of the holocaust victims from concentration camps. In another place of the cemetery, we looked at a tombstone dedicated to Herbert Baum and his collaborators. They created a communist group and fought against Nazis. This group should be acknowledged as a Jewish resistance group, as Professor Wipperamann told us. Another interesting place was a mausoleum of a Jew, and whose ceiling was a good hiding place. This cemetery was a perfect place for Jews to hide at night, because Germans were superstitious to patrol it at that time. At the end of the visit we thanked Professor Wippermann for touring us around Berlin and gave him a Wabash cap and a sweatshirt. This immersion has been great so far, so remember Wally use all opportunities to go abroad.
May 16, 2006
He Made His Point
Kyle Luth- Today was another busy day here in Berlin. After I grabbed a tasty German danish and a coffee at the local bakery, our group headed over to the train station where we met up with Dr. Byrnes. From here we headed to a second train station where we met up with Dr. Byrne's friend, author, and a professor at the free university here in Berlin, Professor Wipperman. Professor Wipperman is a professor of history with his expertise in Jewish history. With these credentials, Professor Wipperman was a perfect addition for our visit to Ravensbrück Concentration Camp.
Our visit to Ravensbrück was one of the most humbling and thought provoking experiences of my life. Seeing the buildings, the walls, and the grounds where the many horrible things that took place in such camps was awe inspiring and left me with a sense of desperation and incomprehensibility as to how such things could have happened. The monuments erected on the premises in honor of those who were imprisoned and killed in the camp showed the importance of this history in German history itself. Our trip to the concentration camp gave use a peek into one of darkest chapters in German history, while at the same time providing us with a better idea of the important and necessary steps that this country is taking to remember its blemished past.
On a lighter note, the train ride to and from Freiensburg (the city where the concentration camp was located), was great and the countryside was beautiful. It is amazing to see such incredible scenery everywhere you go. In addition, for a guy from a small town (Attica, IN), the big city is incredible. It is never dull here. The food is amazing, the people are great, and list of things to do is endless. So three cheers to old Wabash and old Berlin!!!
May 15, 2006
A Case of the Mondays?
Justin Liedel- Today we were back to our normal busy schedule after having Sunday off. We all spent our Sunday differently, with some of us (myself included) visiting the Berlin Zoo while others headed to the open-air market or caught up on sleep. After a mild evening visiting with a student group from Hamburg in our hostel, we headed to bed for a good nights sleep to start off the week.
Today we met Professors Byrnes and Tucker at the Eberswalderstrasse U-Bahn station, which was recently reopened after a day of construction. After a quick debriefing on our weekend, we headed to Potsdamer Platz and walked to the Gedenkstaette Deutscher Widerstand, the office building that housed the central leadership of the Nazi war machine during WWII. This was without a doubt the most moving spot for me that we have experienced so far. In the courtyard of the building lies a memorial to the five leaders Wehrmacht who plotted to assassinate Adolf Hitler. On the night of July 20, 1944, following the unsuccessful assassination attempt, Generaloberst Ludwig Beck was forced to commit suicide and his fellow conspirators were taken to the courtyard of the office and executed. These five men are now regarded as honorable heroes in Germany, as they gave their lives in a final attempt to stop Hitler while others followed him blindly. The museum occupies two floors of the office building, and is filled with information about German resistance fighters that would take years to even scratch the surface.
Following the museum,we headed to Potsdamer Platz for lunch. After examining the mall and grabbing a couple Bratwursts and Gellatos, it was time to head to the Deutsches Historisches Museum, where we saw exhibits on posters throughout German history and an exhibit over the World Cup, which is coming to Berlin in only 24 days.
After the Deutsches Historisches Museum, we headed back to the youth hostel and brainstormed our activities for the night. Instead of our normal routine of clubs and bars, we determined that a trip to the laundromat was in order. Take my word for it, there is no funnier sight than a group of guys trying to operate a laundromat in a foreign country.
After bungling the laundry, we headed to a sushi restaurant and came back for another early night because we have to wake up early to meet Professor Wipperman, a professor at Huembolt Universitaet, for a visit to the Ravensbruek concentration camp.
This trip has gone far beyond my wildest expectations. From conversations with random people at clubs to other tourists at the youth hostel,not only has my German improved leaps and bounds, but I have also dramatically improved my knowledge and understanding of European culture and everyday life. Not only that, but ordering food from people in a foreign language is a very humbling experience if you mess up. We all agree that we'll be more patient with foreigners in our own country. This trip has definitely been a growing experience.
May 13, 2006
Dienst ist Dienst und Schnapps ist Schnapps
Alex Goga- Today was a shorter day than usual, but nevertheless a very important one. We visited the Berlin Museum of Jewish History. It was a very impressive experience, particularly because we learned about Jewish History in Europe, not just in the last century, but also before the 20th Century when the persecution reached its apex with the Holocaust.
The day started as usual at 9 pm by all of us meeting Dr. Byrnes at the Ebenswalderstrasse U-Bahn station. From there we took the train to the station next to the museum. From the very beginning, Dr. Byrnes told us that we definitely have to see two of the exhibits: The Garden of Exile and the Holocaust Tower.
The Garden of Exile was meant to give a symbolic experience for the uprooting feeling that many European Jewish felt as they had to live in other countries that those they were born in.
The Holocaust Tower managed to give us quite a feeling for the terrible experience that millions of Jews had to go through. Standing there in the cold, with only a ladder to high to reach and a light somewhere high in the darkness surrounding them, we understood the pain and suffering that these people had to go through and I am sure we were all thinking that it should never have happened, but more importantly, it should never happen again.
After seeing the two exhibits, we all spent another hour wandering around the huge museum, looking at various exhibits and testing our German with the many videos and recordings in German available.
After the visit to the museum, we went to have lunch in a market close by to the museum. We ate at a Turkish-owned Italian Restaurant, perfectly fitting for the cosmopolitan atmosphere of Berlin. We all had different plans for the evening, but the all included big German style dinners (of course consisting of mostly Italian, Turkish, Asian food, although the occasional snitzel, bratwurst and kraut slipped in for some, like yours truly) complete with at least one liter of heavenly good German beer. The nights were usually filled with bar-hopping (i.e. going from bar to bar in search of people to practice our German and listening to techno-music) hanging out in the park next to our youth hostel, or enjoying cocktails in some of the many cafés around our hostel.
As the days go by in Berlin, I realize how much I love this city... just one more of the wonderful opportunities offered by a unique liberal arts education from Wabash. I never would have imagined that I, as a European from Romania, would be going to study abroad in the US and end up realizing my European roots during an immersion trip to Berlin. I know for sure that having chosen Wabash and to double major in Economics and German were two of the best choices I ever made in my life.
May 12, 2006
Durch den Park!
Boyce Evans- Today we went to see a section of where the Berlin Wall still stands. It is a park and memorial. It shows the wall and between the two sides there is a no-man’s-land where at one time there were land mines, trip-wire machine guns, and dogs to make sure people from the east could not escape to the west. It is very different to see these things up close and personal. I have read about them many times and seen pictures, but to see it is very different. It made the situation of Berlin’s past a reality for me and not just something I learned in a history class. After that we went to Selendorfplatz, a small community of the west side of the city. We had lunch and after that we went to the Allied Powers Museum. The museum covered the time period between the end of the war in 1945, till the fall of the wall in 1989. It was amazing to see first hand all the things that were done to help the city of Berlin. I received a better understanding of the Berlin Airlifts, when the allies supplied food and supplies to the millions of people in Berlin during the blockade by the Soviets. It was a great day and I learned so much. I have enjoyed my time here in Germany, the people are great, the food is good, and there is so much to see and do.
May 11, 2006
Matt Dodaro and Mark Turpin- We arrived at the train station a little later than usual. Professor Byrnes allowed us to sleep in until 9 today, instead of the usual 8 o'clock meeting time. Another pleasant change today, too! our surprise, we did not spend our day in Berlin. For the first time this trip, we traveled outside the capital to a large city named Potsdam. This was by far the nicest part of the trip. The beautiful city is filled with numerous castles and gardens. After the rush off one of the three public transportations, Proffesor Byrnes was the first of hundreds to get tickets for the tour of Friedrich IV's summer residence. The short tour of this Rocco architecture style in German was insightful of the history of this important German landmark. We followed the tour with a walk through the vast gardens surrounding the castle with a small lunch at a nearby Imbiss Stand. After lunch, we decided as a group to spend the next few hours walking through the magnificent gardens. During this hike we stumbled upon many beautfiful landmarks including the Orangeria, an enormous palace which is used as a greenhouse. Throughout the day we saw several other historically important buildings, including the famous Chinese Teahouse, the Friedenskirche (Peace Church), and numerous monuments. However, despite the plethora of time we put into the landmarks in Potsdam, we needed much more time to appreciate the history and beauty of everything we visited.
After a long day in the historical part of Potsdam, we proceeded to the Fussgängerzone which was a mile-long stretch of numerous shops for us to purchase food, clothing and souvenirs. We ended the day there, and then proceeded back to Berlin where, most of us, went straight to sleep after the rigorous day of touring Potsdam. Others however went to shoot some hoops with the local German crowd, where they learned vital information about the nightlife of the city. On the way to a tasty dinner of Döner and Pizza however, we ran into Prof. Tucker and we wound up in our local bar the funky retro, "zu mir oder zu dir". Some of the guys checked out the local club scene to prepare for the weekend, while the others held down the bar. With our new found information we walked back to the hostel to catch some rest before another beautiful, but tiring day, soaking in all our surroundings in this unique experience.
May 10, 2006
Mittwoch - Unsere Zweite Tag!
Niel Cook- Today the morning came very early. We are all still dealing with jetlag, but we are adjusting well. We met Profs. Byrnes and Tucker at the subway stop at 8 and set off at our usual breakneck pace. We visited the Brandenburg gate, although there is construction in the square in front of the Gate. From there we moved on to the Reichstagsgebaude. This building was once bombed out, but has been reconstructed with a new, glass dome. The dome is supposed to symbolize a transparent democracy. Prof. Byrnes made a friend just outside this stop. The man, a political activist, ended his conversation by stating that we were the future, and that we should clean up our country and come back to save Germany again.
The top of the Reichstagsgebaude offered a beautiful panorama view of Berlin. The dome is accessible, and we climbed to the top for a group photo. We also were instructed here on the value of finding free public toilets in Germany. Prof. Byrnes misses no details. We also saw a monument to fallen Soviet soldiers before lunch. Some of us who could read and speak some Russian translated the memorial to read "eternal glory."
We went to have lunch in a mall in a passage under some buildings on Friedrichstraße. After that we had some free time to look around or shop.
We don't shop, per-say, but tend t stand around and wonder at how expensive everything is here. Most of us visited an Italian restaurant, and a few had a Berlin dish, the Boulette. This is a sort of ground beef ball that is seasoned and cooked. It is very tasty, but we are all still waiting on Döner
We visited the Gendarmenmarkt after lunch and went to the Deutscher Dom there. This is a building that was once a church but is now a museum of German history which pas particular attention to events of the 20th century. Finally, we went to the Haus am Checkpoint Charlie museum. Here we saw the history of the Berlin Wall and many examples of successful escape plots as well as East German brutality towards failed attempts. Most sobering for me were the automatic guns that were rigged to tripwires and would fire sharp shrapnel in a huge area if the tripwires were touched.
After our sightseeing was over for the day, we went to have a beer with Prof. Byrnes. We went to a Bavarian restaurant, where we met an Irishman who had come to visit Germany years ago and never made it home. He now works serving beer from Munich to American tourists visiting Berlin.
Naps were in order for everyone when we made it back to the hostel.
Getting up early and going all day has not helped our jetlag at all. When we finally got out to dinner, we went to an Indian Restaurant where we met a very nice waiter from the Kashmir in Pakistan. We also caught the attention of some local girls, but didn’t catch much else. After our dinner, which was delicious, a young man approached and started a conversation in halting English and slightly slurred German. He related some of his political views and it didn’t take him revealing his shaved head or the statement, "Ich bin ein Faschist" for us to realize we were talking to a neo-Nazi. At about that time we decided to call it a night, even though it was very interesting to see a part of Germany that is often covered up and glossed over. It was a reminder that we can not just pretend that unseemly things do not exist simply because we don’t want them to. Taken in this perspective, the message our friend from the Reichstagsgebaude might have been making can be simplified to "Don’t stick your heads in the sand and forget that things are going on around you. Take action and be a part of the world." Suddenly, he doesn’t seem so crazy.