Blogging our way through Eastern Europe
How much sleep can a hoard of BLS kids get on a plane to Munich? Answer: about as much as we get during finals week.
After a lovely few hours of movies, games (battleship was a favorite), and aggressively sought shut-eye, we landed in Berlin to board a bus to a memorial established by the train tracks where tens of thousands of Jews were deported to various camps. Each of the trains that left are marked on the metal by the side of the tracks, including dates, numbers of passengers, and destination. Nearby were pedestrians, bikers, ice cream shops and beautiful houses, and there are luxury apartments under construction right in the vicinity, planting the question of what is the proper respect demanded for such a memorial, and how easily overlooked its presence and meaning can become. We met a granddaughter of a victim of the Holocaust as she left a flower by the specific date her grandfather left, introducing an unexpected human reminder of the impact of the Holocaust today.
We then departed for and arrived at the House of the Wannsee Conference, a beautifully constructed building overlooking a lake (or pond, there is an ongoing struggle to define these terms) made even more lovely but the sunshine and gentle breeze in Berlin today. It is eerie to imagine the this is the same place that the decision to exterminate all Jews was made here. The building itself has become a museum and educational center, with an extensive history of the war and the Holocaust that was difficult to absorb when many of us were jet-lagged, but incredibly helpful, disturbing, and informative. Many of us enjoyed the quotations in the last hallway, including the voices of some survivors and some children of survivors, reminding us of Maus and Art Spiegleman’s own struggle which we got a taste of in our classes.
Our final stop was a neighborhood, Bayerischerplatz, to see the Stih and Schrock Memorial, along with the Stolpersteine. This consisted of signs attached to lampposts chronicalling various laws discriminating against Jews, placed in strategic locations that parallel the modern buildings. For example, there was a law about baptisms and conversions placed outside a church, and one about children playing located near a playground. In addition, there were little bronze plaques located around the neighborhood with the names, birthdates, death dates, and death places of victims of the Holocaust, some of whose stories we read out loud. Overall, the sights we saw today really called into question the effectiveness of certain choices when designing a memorial- all extremely different emotional and intellectual experiences, there clearly isn’t a set or established idea for memorializing an event such as a genocide. Considering our Facing final project, this is certainly an interesting day to note when designing our own memorials later on.
After battling some elevator issues, we checked into our hotel rooms- which are great- and bopped off to dinner at Hofbräu Wirtshaus, a spectacular place with waiters and waitresses dressed in traditional southern German garb, an interesting addition to our first real meal in Germany. Moreover, there was live music, including a playlist of “Dancing Queen”, the Macarena, and an unexpectedly catchy song called “Baby Give It Back” which none of us knew but a group of Danish students also on a school trip were very excited to recognize. We were caught up in the delightfully international experience of dancing with these students, along with a few Germans, before enjoying very filling meals. We finally headed back to the hotel to try to figure out our phones, but after some unpredictable technical issues, we were released to our rooms for an anticipated sleep to prepare for tomorrow!