Blogging our way through Eastern Europe
Wow. What a day. My feet want to fall off and it’s only day 2. After getting no sleep and powering through the jetlag, our day began with a nice breakfast at our hostel. The Nutella and waffles were all the rage.
We then headed to the former Nazi square in Berlin. Once we arrived, we met out lovely guide Aria, a good friend of Ms. Freeman, and her toy poodle Lulu. It was fascinating to hear about what it was like to discuss the Nazi’s in public as a German. Here we got to take a look at some of the places where Nazi buildings once stood.
My personal favorite had to be be how on the grounds of the hotel where Hitler lived was replaced with a weird looking build built by the communist. And to our surprise, this building is now the North Korea embassy. It was so weird seeing the flag of North Korea flying in Berlin. We then got to check out the location of the former Ministry of Propaganda for the Nazis, run by Joseph Goebblels. Aria told us about just how vital Nazi propaganda was for the Nazi war machine, and also some of the methods they used to spread propaganda and get the support of the German people for the war.
While we were walking around, Aria pointed out to us all the bullet holes in the older buildings and how some of them were patched. It was so interesting to try and imagine the city as a war zone, and see its lasting effects in person.
Another stop our tour was former headquarters for the SS and the SA as well as the Gestapo. Aria explained how the groups distinguished themselves as well as how Hitler’s use for each changed over time.
One of my absolute favorite spots for the day was Checkpoint Charlie. Checkpoint Charlie was extremely important in the grand scheme of postwar history because it was the only point in the world where the United States and the Soviet Union shared a border during the Cold War. After the Cold War reaches its end, the checkpoint was destroyed with the wall. It’s fate is quite comical, as now it sites as a tourist trap, complete with fake guards, a fake checkpoint hut, fake signs, and to top it all off, the American side had a McDonald’s, KFC, and Starbucks al directly on top. We also got exposed to a wonderful slice of German tourism, where we got to see a German pickpocket at work, but thankfully Aria had seen him before and warned us to steer clear.
Our final destination was the same as Nazi Germany’s: Hitler’s bunker. We got to stand right above Hitler’s bunker, which now lives in a lovely apartment complex built by the Soviets. The entire tour was really intriguing and showed how so much Nazi history was hiding all around downtown Berlin.
After the walking tour with Arja, we all had lunch at the tremendous, phenomenal food court at the Mall of Berlin! I gorged on some really good falafels, then went shopping afterwards (I got you a souvenir, mom!!!)
We then proceeded to the Pergamon Museum, an art museum housing monumental buildings such as the Pergamon Alter and the Istar Gate of Babylon. It was so incredible, and it felt like I was really in ancient Greece!!
After exploring the wonders of this museum, we then proceeded to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, where we split into two groups and where we had a tour and learned about the significance of the design of the memorial. Then, we briefly visited the documentation center and read testimonies from survivors, along with stories about families who experienced the Holocaust. Unfortunately, we did not spend much time there (v sad) but it was an incredible, but saddening experience.
After our busy morning and even busier afternoon (as John and Mindy blogged about) we had a jam packed evening. Our group of 53 split into two groups as we prepared to visit the African Quarter of Berlin.
We met with two leaders of a non-governmental organization here in Berlin that strives to brung attention to the lives of Afro-Germans and the history of colonialism. Some of their projects include changing street names from those of perpetrators of German colonialism and the genocide of the Nama and Herero in Namibia, to the names of powerful Afro-German figures.
One example I found incredibly interesting was the street name of a man named for Dr. Carl Peters. Carl Peters was a German stationed in Tanzania who abused the Africans who he enslaved and encountered in the German colony. During the Nazi era, the Nazis erected a memorial in his honor to stand in Germany as a symbol of their “race theory”. The memorial still stands today. The street name, however, has been changed to Dr. HANS peters street instead of carl peters, as hans peters was not a perpetrator of genocide and colonialism. Slick move...
Currently the NGO is working to change the name to one of an african woman and man who fought and stood against the germans during their colonial reign in Africa. The work this organization is doing really struck me. Our tour guide, Christian, said that most German students barely learn about German colonialism and the genocide of the Nama and Herero people in Namibia. Most students and even most adult Germans know little to absolutely nothing about these parts of their history. Imagine that. Not even knowing about an entire continent your country abused and exploited. The work these two men (our tour guides) do also faces a lot of backlash. People simply don’t want street names changed because they either 1) say it is too far back in their history to matter or 2) have racist attitudes in general.
What really struck me at the end of our tour was that a train station and main street and Berlin bear the name of a racial slur used against afro-germans and migrants. Also, a German hotel displays a racist depiction of a black person on their hotel sign. Honestly, living in the United States I thought society had progressed past this point. Evidently, I was very very wrong.
We were extremely lucky that we were the first Eastern Europe group to visit the African Quarter in this manner and learn about what this organization is doing. It is undeniably important. Exposure and recognition is what leads to education and acceptance.
Finally, after our tour of the African Quarter we went to dinner in a neighborhood around our hotel. I stopped for pasta and a Fanta (my favorite European drink) to fuel up for the night. Finally, we took the U Bahn back to our hotel and settled in for another awesome day tomorrow!