Blogging our way through Eastern Europe
I started my day by doing math. After waking up at 5:15 (likely before our friends back in Boston went to bed, since it was only 11:15pm there), we rode on another super cool double decker bus where I learned how to graph derivatives (shoutout to Nicole for explaning it to me). But it honestly feels like I learned how to graph derivatives weeks ago. Between that early morning bus ride/math lesson and right now, we did so much.
First we went to the Bauhaus, which was once the best art school in Germany, combining technology and art in each students' education. I really did not know what to expect when I walked in the doors of the building. I was a little surprised to not see any traditional art (paintings, sculptures, and things of the like). Instead, as the tour guide explained, the building itself was the art, from the carefully chosen wall paint colors to the nickel-plated steel and fabric chairs. The Bauhaus had been hyped up so much ahead of time by a previous Eastern Europe traveler (hi Isabelle), and they still exceeded my expectations.
After the Bauhaus, we went to the Bernburg Euthanasia Center. Quite a contrast from the Bauhaus. Bernburg was one of the hospitals to where disabled people were sent to be examined and euthanized, and it is still in operation as a psychiatric facility today. Even though I knew all about this hospital from my targeted populations project on the disabled, I was not ready to actually walk into the 3 main rooms: the gassing room, the examination/experimentation room, and the crematorium. For me, the rooms got more and more difficult to walk through as I went through them. The final room, the crematorium, was covered with photos of victims and had a pile of flowers and candles. The room was absolutely dead silent as we all struggled to take it what we were seeing. After we left the crematorium, we all went outside to take a few minutes to process what we saw by ourselves. All I could think of was how dumb it was that this morning I was complaining about how difficult my math homework was, when the people killed in Bernburg went through horrors we can't even comprehend. We then rejoined as a group to share what we were feeling. The tour guide had initially planned to give us a presentation on more of the history behind the T4 Operation (which was the program under which so many disabled people were sterilized and euthanized by the Nazis), but I think we were all thankful to have that group discussion instead of the presentation.
After we left Bernburg, we got back onto the bus and headed to see the remnants of the Berlin Wall. However, after a few minutes of looking through the cracks into no man's land, a lighting storm started, so we all quickly went to the train and headed back to the hotel neighborhood to get dinner.
Today was the first day of the "heavy stuff", and it's only going to get more and more difficult as we go along. However, even in just the 3 days that we've been here, we've all gotten so much closer, which will make the hard parts of this trip just a little bit easier. Whether it be helping each other figure out how to graph derivates or helping each other get through the emotionally taxing experiences in our very near future, we all know that we each have 52 other people that we can turn to for whatever we need. Which is pretty amazing.
I held my breath as I stepped inside the gas chamber at the euthanasia center. I stood near the walls to avoid the pipes hanging above in the center of the ceiling. I could not stop staring at the pipes. Standing in the place where people had been murdered was an indescribable feeling. There is a pit in my stomach that still has not disappeared.
We then went inside the crematorium, where giant photographs of the ovens were standing in the place they once were. I could barely look at the photographs and instead focused my attention on the flowers and candles were placed in front of it. The walls were filled with pictures of the victims.
Our guide then invited us to take a breath and go outside.
We trickled out of the building one by one. We were able to exit the building that many had not been able to exit. I was looking down so I saw only the shoes of my peers slide over the steps like water being poured out. None of us were talking. Silence filled the empty courtyard, save for the flutter of the wind and the songs of the birds. The grass beneath my feet was the shade of green you imagine in the middle of July. The beauty surrounding me contrasted too greatly to the horror within.
We spent about 20 minutes outside even though our guide had only suggested 10 minutes. Our guide then wanted to give us a lecture on the history of national socialism. But none of us could do it. We all knew about the history behind the building standing mightily in front of us. We knew about the mindset of the people who had a hand in creating these meticulously detailed centers for death. Mr. Gavin suggested that instead of a lecture, we come back inside to talk about what we were thinking and feeling. Without a word, as a mass we silently stood up from the grass and walked back inside.
Words failed me as others talked because all I could think about was how we were expected to talk about the history after witnessing such a horrific thing. Our guide told us at the end that she had never had a group this affected by the euthanasia center. Going in, I had thought that since we have been exposed to so much during the entire year in Facing class, we would be somewhat accustomed to what we would witness. But afterwards, I realized that because we were so educated on the subject, it actually made us more empathetic.
Sprechen sie englisch? I hope so! Happy day 3 in Germany! I'm a huge fan. If you couldn't tell, sprechen sie englisch means "do you speak English" and I've been enjoying saying that to the locals. I also think my manners are better here than back home because I have said "danke" (thank you) more times than I can count. So...you could say I'm fluent. No big deal. I could write this whole post in German, but I'll spare you all.
Today was one lonnggg day. We started it off by waking up at 6 and having a quick breakfast. I had some waffles and jam and a cup of coffee and TWO cups of tea--we are eating good over here. We then hopped on a bus for 2 hours, which was really nice because we got to have a quick snooze (despite all the caffeine) and prepare ourselves for a riveting day visiting the Bauhaus and a former euthanasia site.
Visiting Bauhaus was really cool. We went on a tour of the buildings and had all of this architect jargon sprung at us, so my main takeaway was that it was cool. I think Leo and Eleanor can elaborate on this...they take art history. But all in all it was really interesting to see the way every piece of the building was meticulously thought out.
Here's a picture of me and bae. Bauhaus class of 2023? Hehe!
After Bauhaus we transitioned to a more intense topic and visited a former euthanasia site. To be honest, I wasn't really prepared for anything that I experienced, and I think a lot of our group felt the same way. We began our visit with a brief information session, most of which we have already learned about from the group of classmates that taught us about the disabled targeted population. We proceeded our tour by walking silently into a gas chamber used on the patients. Standing in there sent shivers down my spine. All I could think about was how the patients had no clue they were going to be executed, and the guards just sat outside playing cards and drinking. As I was walking to the next room where the bodies were cremated I was just completely speechless. We left the room alive, unlike thousands of innocent people. That really got me. I don't really know how to explain my experience, so I'm sorry. But I think this really captures the whole essence of this trip. You can read about these sites. You can watch videos. But you will never really be able to understand it fully until you are in the exact location. And being here with such an amazing group of supportive and empathetic people made this whole intense process that much more meaningful. After exiting the hospital, we all stood around in a big clump outside in the rain and just talked. We were all processing all of this in our own way. Some were silent, some were holding each other's hands, but most importantly, we were all there together. Getting back on the bus to our next stop, needing a little alone time, I listened to some calm music while others reflected in their individual ways. All I could think about was how powerful this one site was, and how powerful every other site is going to be. Of course I am having so much fun on this trip, I'm in a whole new and exciting city for crying out loud, but the true meaning behind this trip is facing our history and I don't know if I'm ready for what lays ahead. I don't think anyone ever is.
So yeah, this trip is definitely intense and now I just feel awkward trying to make a transition back into less intense stuff, but I guess that's just what this trip is! So anyways, we took a long and rainy bus ride (a DOUBLE decker, mind you) to go and see the Berlin Wall.
Here's some of my babies with the best view of the bus! Look at all the greenery! It's REAL spring here.
We then got out, crossed the crazy streets of Berlin (we're really bad at crossing streets, we're too used to cars letting us j-walk in Boston) and found ourself in a lightning storm! Now before you get all scared, @mom and dad hiiiii/honestly ALL Mom and dads and whoever is reading this post, we were safe! We quickly went back to the train station towards our hotel and dispersed for dinner. Ok sure, we walked across a field surrounded by metal, but I'm still writing this post aren't I?
I'm now lying in bed, with all of my roommates sleeping around me in this quaint little hostile and I feel incredibly content. This trip so far has been so amazing and I feel immensely lucky to be able to have these extraordinary experiences. I've connected with so many new people, and it's only day 3. But I'm telling ya, I feel like I've been here for weeks. Ok tata for now folks! Or should I say...auf wiedersehen!
P.s. Ja ja ja ja