Sunday, April 3, 2016
Day 1 - Berlin, Germany
The students from New Milford High School arrived this morning in Berlin and joined the students from Bishop O’Dowd High School who had arrived last night. After a wonderful breakfast in our hotel, we boarded our bus with our local guide, Olaf and our historian, Shalmi Barmore and headed off to our first stop. Our usual agenda for the city was changed as today Berlin was having a half-marathon which shut down many of the streets to traffic so that navigating the city was a challenge. We, therefore, began at the German historical museum where Mr. Barmore would attempt to give context to the events we would be studying. Olaf had told us on the bus ride to the museum that Germany became a nation in 1871. Mr. Barmore began by discussing how nations are formed or crystallized around a common history and how nationalism played a significant role in the development of Nazism. Before a statue of Germania, representing the strength and power of the German empire we discussed how history is what we remember and how history is subject to interpretation and can be manipulated. Continuing through the museum we stopped before a large painting of the crowning of Wilhem being crowned Emperor in the Palace of Versailles following Germany’s success in the Franco-Prussian War of 1871. Following Germany’s loss in World War I Versailles would have a new meaning for the Germany people and she would embark on a difficult fifteen year period with a new kind of government - a republic – which would be destroyed by the rise of Nazism. We analyzed posters from the two extremes on the political spectrum in Germany during the Weimar Republic (the communists on the left and the Nazis on the right) and how both groups attempted to provide simple answers to complex problems in the society, manipulating the facts in order to generate followers. We ended our visit to the museum before a model of the human body where Mr. Barmore talked about how Nazism came not just with a nationalistic message, but also a racial message; that all that all of the crises in Germany, including the loss of World War I, had happened because of an enemy that had been allowed to penetrate German society and was destroying it from within: that enemy being the Jews. If Germany were to cleanse itself of this group, and heed the wake up call of the Nazis, Germany would be able to regain her past glory.
After having lunch in the Potsdamer Platz, we visited the Berlin Memorial to the Murdered Jews of the Holocaust, designed by Peter Eisenman and dedicated in 2005. It consists of 2,711 concrete blocks or “stellae” arranged in a seemingly haphazard manner, on a sloping surface which rises and falls as one walks through the stellae. After experiencing wandering through the memorial, students discussed with Olaf and Mr. Barmore, the meaning of memorials and how traditional memorials differed from modern memorials, as well as the controversy which often accompanies creation of memorials. Crossing the street to the Memorial of the Murdered Homosexuals, this discussion continued as Mr. Barmore spoke to us about the politics of memory: how memory is often used or maniplated for our needs today.
We then boarded the bus to head back to the hotel where we checked into our rooms and relaxed for a short time before heading to dinner.