Sunday, March 25, 2012

Day 1 Berlin

After our long overnight flight, our group of 19 students from four high schools finally met at our Berlin hotel. Our German guide, Olaf, immediately began teaching us about the beautiful city of Berlin, as we traveled by tour bus on this sunny, warm day.



After lunch at the Berlin train station, we were joined by our Israeli historian and guide, Shalmi Barmore, at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. While there, Olaf discussed the meaning of this modern memorial in the heart of Berlin. Students spent time walking through the outdoor exhibit, and then had a lengthy discussion.


After spending some time in the museum beneath the monument, we walked across the street to the memorial in the park dedicated to the homosexual victims of the Holocaust. As seen in the pictures below, the students are looking into a structure that has a small window into projected film scenes. The scenes inside the exhibit have changed since last year, and foster a more modern sensitivity to the issues presented.

We finished the afternoon at the museum Topography of Terror, which is built on the site of the Nazi perpetrators' headquarters. Here, on this same land, in the early 1930's, the Gestapo, the SS, and the SD had their headquarters. Olaf, our German guide and friend, who was born in the former East Germany, gave us perspective when he told us that some of his ancestors were Nazis. Shalmi Barmore unpacked the name of the exhibit by analyzing the meaning of "topography." Through viewing this exhibit, we are asked to see the three dimensionality of the perpetrators and the terror of the Holocaust. Shalmi framed the visit by asking the essential questions: Who are these Nazi perpetrators? Are they terrorists? Are they the "other" or are they "us"? During the Eichmann trial, author and survivor Hannah Arendt commented regarding the "banality of evil." There is a real danger in thinking that the perpetrators were evil monsters, who are so unlike us. Before going into the exhibit Shalmi encouraged us to look for the arguments that the Nazi perpetrators used to get the German people and others to go along with their plan. What was their greater cause that was so compelling?


Kristina says:

The museums today represented Berlin's haunted past. To visualize the guilt that Germans today have felt about their people's past was unbelievable. It was clear that all of the German people sincerely respect the victims of the Holocaust. As we walked in each memorial, you could hear a pin drop. People came from all over the world to honor those whose lives were lost during this haunted time.

Devanni says:

The first thing that stuck with me throughout the day was a playground. Olaf said a synagogue was burned to ruins, and years later a playground was built over the sacred ground. He askedus if we would let our children play there. What immediately crossed my mind was no. No, I wouldn't let my children play there because it's disrespectful to do such a thing on sacred grounds. Although Berlin does a good job of remembering the past, they failed on this part. They try their best to preserve the evidence of the Holocaust, but this was odd and a feeling of disgust filled me inside.

Sarah says:

All the memorials around the town serve as a constant reminder of the past. They serve as a daunting and scary truth of Berlin's past, and they are put there to remind not only Germans, but all of us, of the horrors of the Holocaust so that we remember to never let it happen again.

Hannah S. says:

The Topography of Terror represents the other side of the Holocaust: the perpetrators'. It was scary to see Nazi men and women in the pictures having fun like normal people--not human exterminators. It really puts into perspective how possible it was for a terrible thing like the Holocaust to happen. It makes me realize that it does not take a monster to do terrible things, but ordinary people are capable of having great hatred in their hearts.


We ended our first day in Berlin with an 18th birthday celebration for Samantha!!


video

25 comments:

  1. it is wonderful to see how much everyone is learning already. I found it very interesting to read that they have changed the scenes inside the memorial to the homosexual victims of the Holocaust it actually surprises me quite a bit.

    I love Hannah's comment about how ordinary people are capable of these atrocities. I feel that we often forget the perpetrators of the Holocaust where once children the same as all of us were. It is often hard to imagine what can bring out this much hatred in people and how they actually enjoy the harm they are inflicting.

    Sarah also makes a very important point that we have to remember the Holocaust to make sure it never happens again.

    Cherilyn

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  2. Sounds like you all had a busy and full first day in Germany, and you learned a lot as well. Looking forward to tomorrow's post... Get some rest tonight!!!

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  4. The Holocaust Memorial that you all visited today is absolutely essential to the theme of your stay in Berlin and ultimately sets the tone of your whole entire trip. The wonder of the commemorative piece is that there are many connotations. Each person gets a different sort of feel/emotion/interpretation.

    The Memorial itself is very simple, yet so grand in meaning. 
Like Sarah says in her reflection, the memorial “serves as a daunting and scary truth of Berlin’s past.” For me, I had a duel interpretation of the size of the monument. It is so large to represent the apologetic Germany is for their actions during the Holocaust as well as how grand and tragic the Holocaust was.
The huge cinder blocks are spread across a significant piece of the square. It is so vast, just like the Holocaust was. One of my many reflections I recall from that monument was that I was astonished to see so many civilians walk past it like it was not even there. When you walk past it, the sight is inevitable. The people knew that it was there, yet they CHOSE to ignore it. This signifies the countless bystanders of the Holocaust. So many people just went on with their lives, ignoring what horror was occurring right in front of them. This is something to think about during the rest of your journey: the Holocaust was not a secretive event. All of Europe was aware of the revulsion and it took them over 10 years to actually do something. Now, you question humanity… how could all of Europe discount such a catastrophe for so many years. Most ignored it, just like many civilians ignore the Holocaust memorial. 


    I would love to know more about what the participants interpreted. What did you all feel you walked through the memorial or even the outside?

    What is the homosexual memorial now that it has changed? Why did they change it?

    It is just the beginning everyone! Take it all in. 

    Happy Birthday Sam!

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  5. We cannot hide from our past. It is important that society critically reflects on decisions made and/or actions taken in order to ensure that history does not repeat itself. From your reflections is seems apparent that Germany has moved in that direction.

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  6. Thanks for the comments!!I see that this blog will be my sanity for the next two weeks. I am learning so much and it's just the beginning! Thank you Mrs.T and Mr. Chen for allowing me to see how my daughter's birthday was celebrated. You all made my day!! I truly hope you all rest up for your next adventurous day!

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  7. Happy Birthday Samantha! Wow, seems that you hit the ground running! What a great experience and it's still only the first day. We cannot wait to see and hear about this wonderful journey as each day unfolds.

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  8. One element of today's comments concerned how "normal" the Nazis seemed in some of the pictures. It is vitally important to remember they were normal people just like us, and that conditions pushed them to become this horror. Germany was crushed by the treaty of Versailles militarily, economically, and in terms of being stripped of their dignity. Germany had to apologize to the world for World War I. And then the Great Depression hit. They were literally starving, and desperate for someone, anyone to tell them they had merit. That it wasn't all their fault. Along comes Hitler, spouting the "truth" of their superiority. In the context of their extremely vulnerable condition, they were primed to believe anything that made them feel better about themselves. They embraced Hitler largely without question.
    Are we susceptible to being carried along in a wave of urgency today? Anyone who thinks the answer is no might want to reflect on how millions got caught up in the Kony 2012 movement just two weeks ago. While not the same issue, so many embraced the movement's message without question. That willingness to follow should seem chillingly familiar and make us all consider exactly how much we think about the messages we receive.

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  9. I enjoyed reading all of your posts. Your photos more than capture the moment. Devanni, as we say back in the states, "you're not in Kansas anymore." Your post was very insightful. Can't wait to read more. Miss you guys and take care of Mrs. T.

    Mr. Pevny

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  10. I'm very tempted to wave "Hi!!!" and to say "I see you!" I feel like I am almost there, and it is wonderful to read the "thoughts" - consolidated and already "published" they are even better than a conversation on the bus ride home....and they are fresh from the experience. Kuddos to the individuals that made the memorials and monuments. It is hard to do: to memorialize the awful. It would be much easier to move on and "promise" not to let it happen again. But these monuments serve as a big "time out" for the bad bad part of humanity that acted up. I saw one of the questions from the tour guide digging for "who were these bad people" (I am paraphrasing)? One of the most poignant phenomena of this era of persecution for me is that people found themselves "turned-in" by their pharmacist, or grocer who they had done business with for years, and who for all practical purposes was a nice person. I think a key aspect of what was going on in the society was that motivations and incentives were provided in the community to make "turning in" somehow beneficial to those that turned them in. I have not quite gotten to the bottom of it myself - but it seems to be something about being slightly desperate, slightly intimidated, infused with maybes and what-ifs of the doomsday type, and maybe believing that there is such a thing as "getting ahead" of others by doing all sorts of nasty mean things. Don't believe it (the memorial is saying) - there is only good and only life to believe in and follow, not tricks, subterfuge, and lowly behavior. Kisses, hugs and jumping jacks, so happy to see you in the foreground of history.

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  11. Hey Guys,

    First day already sounds powerful. Something I never really thought of was how today's Germans felt about the holocaust. Kristina and Sarah touched on that, and really made me realize that the people currently living in Germany, are possibly the decedents of some of the people that did that to all of those people. The fact that they feel remorseful is interesting, and shows how much this event effected everyone in the area. Looking forward to reading more from your journey!

    -Dev

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  12. Can't wait to hear more. This is an amazing opportunity for you all. Ben - can't wait to see all your photos! We will miss you tomorrow morning :)

    -Ms. B

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  13. hello gaby humphrey and chelsea

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  14. It's amazing how after such a long flight everyone remains intrigued and focused. Take it all in and write in your journals! Every chance you get, write down how you feel in that exact moment. You'll appreciate it later on. Also, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe really is something to keep in mind through your total journey. Thinking back now, the intimidating, mysterious, and cold blocks of that memorial summarize the entire holocaust. I am curious to know what the image inside the homosexual exhibit is. Last year, it was extremely controversial and really hit home with many of the students. I cannot wait to follow and learn with you guys through the rest of your journey. I just cannot get enough.

    Happy Birthday Sam!

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  15. Wow this sounds awesome! I wish I could be there with my holocaust class

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  16. I still remeber being at those sites on the first day, and the incredible impact the first day alone had on me. I am so glad to hear thatthey continue to change the exhibits to make them better.

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  17. Thank you for sharing your day and thoughts. English 9 was impressed by the comments of the students. They look forward to more pictures and connections to what they are studying in their Holocaust Literature.

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  18. I honestly feel like I am there and I can remember every discussion we had in that day! Along with what Michelle said I vividly remember seeing kids running and jumping on top of all the monuments and it made me really sad that the people who live there don't respect the monument. And along with hat everyone else is saying about the nazis being normal. In all the years I had learned about the holocaust I always imagine the nazis to be people who had been evil their wholes lives or had a history of torture or pain. But I learned that the nazis were normal, highly intelligent people like professors an do tots and such which scared me that normal people like me (well hopefully I'm normal! Haha) could be the perpetrators of such a horrible atrocity.
    This is only the beginning and there is so much more to learn! Be open to everything and take good notes :)

    Hello aquinas kids :) I hope you're enjoying everything and people miss you here!!

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  19. Your initial insights prove that you are focused on your journey. Keep learning and keep growing; as you become the leaders of our world the potential for enlightnment grows!

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  20. Sounds like you are already having an amazing learning experience. Can't wait to see more of your comments and reflections.
    Mrs. Burten

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  21. hi my name is Nathan i am looking forword to going to germany in high school seems very intersting!!!! good luck

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  22. I've known so many students who have been on this trip in the past. This is the first time I am following along, it is wonderful to learn through all of you.

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  23. I wish my whole Holocaust class could go! It would be an amazing learning experience to see firsthand what we've been talking about in class, or at least what remains of some of it. I'm really interested to hear more about the Topography of Terror museum. Hope you're all having a good time!

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  24. I love Hannah's comment about perpetrators not having to be monsters, rather, they may have great hatred in their heart. It is so true about humans. Also, we here so much about the Holocaust as a killing of Jews. I think it is great that they hold a memorial for homosexuals as well. I would assume that they have many different memorials for gypsies and all other classifications of people as well.

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  25. I really wish I could have gone to Berlin during my time in Germany. I hope the jet lag didn't effect you guys too much. I can't believe how much you guys are about to learn. I'll be looking forward to being able to hear more about what you guys experienced at school.

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