Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Jumping the Country

By: Ivy

For the long weekend, we all headed to Berlin to get a strong dose of history and culture. Although one could easily spend weeks in the city and still not see everything it had to offer, we crammed a lot into the two days we spent here....

What blew me away was the depth of the history that the city has lived through.... the centuries of war and changes of government was apparent in the architecture, graffiti, food, and memorials. From the Brandenburg Gate reminiscent of the times of Napoleon to the now infamous hotel where the late Michael Jackson hung his baby out the window, Berlin is definitely an eclectic place with something for everyone.

To me, the most interesting facet was the more recent history of the Berlin Wall. To be honest, before this visit I knew of the wall, but didn't have a very good understanding of its meaning, its purpose, or the breadth of its influence. Standing by the East Side Gallery, a portion of wall restored with its original graffiti, was the best place to really glimpse what it must have been like to view freedom from across a river. Other graffiti spread throughout the city, from raised fists to peace signs to other more provocative murals, told a story of its own, through symbolism and color. I couldn't get over how recent this separation was; 20 years ago is a blink of an eye in a city with a history dating back to the 13th century.

The history of World War II was palpable throughout the city, most notably in the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe and the bombed Kaiser Wilhem Church. The Holocaust Museum located underneath the Memorial was incredibly well done. The shear number of victims of the War is difficult to wrap one's head around, but the Museum put the destruction in  perspective by putting faces, stories, and family histories to the numbers. For example, one particularly moving installation had lighted placards on the floor. These placards had copies of handwritten notes from victims to their families describing their emotions at the time of the incarceration and impending death. A border around the room listed the number murdered from each country invaded or affected during the War.

On a brighter note, the city also had many other impressive structures, such as the Parliament building with a glass dome that could be climbed for nice views of the city. Other city parks and museums offered a break from the busy and sometimes touristy streets. Live music was ubiquitous, culminating at the Carnival of Cultures, a weekend festival celebrating music, food, and cultures from around the world.

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