Monday, November 22, 2010
Paisano European Tour 2010 - Day 12
Day 12 is September 18
This morning we got up early. had a great "Euro" breakfast with great coffee and wonderful fresh bread, Yum! Soon there after we are on our way. The we in this case is Frank & Heike, Marc, Jana & Jana's friend Nathalie, Momma & I. Frank was nice enough to rent an Opel van and did all the driving. We hit the door and the road around 8:30am. It generally takes about 2 1/2 hrs or so to drive to Berlin, even on the autobahn. Of course, with the Opel, things seem a bit longer. No offense, of course, there Was plenty of room in there for all of us.
The first thing we noticed as we arrived in Berlin was the huge amount of people and of course the history staring you right in the face. We parked and then walked the rest of the day. I Do love being able to walk around and not worrying about finding more parking spaces and such. As we were walking around, we went past museums, state buildings from before WWII that were so blackened & you could almost smell the smoke, as well as great street vendors and amazing architecture, both new and old.
We started our tour by walking around, looking in and around shops and street vendors and taking in the scene. Since we were doing a walking tour, we made our way down to Check Point Charlie. On the way towards the "landmark" there are billboards and signage that explains how the Berlin Wall came into being and we were able to read the countdown to the division of Germany, which leads right up to the Check Point Charlie area.
The sense of history here is amazing. I'm almost embarrassed to admit it, but I know So little about Germany and the Berlin Wall and all of that. What little I know comes from history books and American High Schools, so you know what that means, yep, I didn't really have a clue what it was all about or what it would feel like. We saw the brick lines in the road that indicate where the Berlin Wall used to be. One can only imagine what the Germans in the area went through. The area definitely has a militaristic feel, even after all these years.
Even though the border and crossing were there since the end of World War II, the "wall" wasn't constructed until 1961. As history tells us, there was such an outpouring of mostly young and educated people from East German at this time - approximately 20% of the population, the former Soviet Union decided that a permanent wall would be built. There is such a stark contrast between the two sides of Berlin, especially right in this area. I realized the total change that residents underwent when the line was drawn. People who were neighbors, friends & family were suddenly not allowed contact one another. Simply amazing.
Our next stop on our Berlin Day trip was the Berlin Topography of Terror Museum. This museum is located on the site of the former SS & Gestapo headquarters. As I understand it, there is both an inside and outside of this museum. Today we decided to stay outside and take in the time-line portion of the rise of Adolf Hitler.
To say this was an emotional portion of our trip is a huge understatement This was so amazingly powerful I felt like the souls of the victims were reaching out from the past. Our time here was very surreal. In fact, even the weather was acting on it. The time-line here worked through the grim reality of that period of human history in which Hitler moved his way up the ladder of German government until his death.
As I continued to read the history, the clouds started rolling in until finally it started to rain. This was not the type of rain that comes in a downpour to cleanse the earth. This rain was so much more. The rain was soft and gentle and much more a gentle weeping than anything else. This rain brought with it a profound sadness and the spirit of those who perished simply because of a perceived "difference". When I looked up at the sky I saw two very different things. At first, the sky was dark and gloomy and perfectly matched the overwhelming sense of despair.
Later on, as we were finishing up the trip down the time line, I looked up again and was impressed to see a sky that had turned from dark and gray to one that was now half filled with beautiful blue. To me, this shouted out that even though there has been sadness, heartache and pain, there is still hope and a new day will come when things like this will no longer happen. It took quite sometime for me to shake the feeling that there was someone else there with me while I read the history along the foundation of the SS building, in fact, as I tell the story of that day & even now as I write this, I still get 'goosebumps" on my arms. That is an extremely powerful place, when one leaves their heart and soul open to experiencing it.
I find the power of cruelty in humans, especially to other humans to be utterly UnfreakinBeleivable. We cannot forget that one of the reasons Hitler came to power was because of his rhetoric, passion & ability to be charismatic, theatrical and had the ability to convince people that what he was saying & doing was a good thing. My biggest kudos go out to the German people for admitting the mistakes of a madman and for attempting to make amends. Perhaps more importantly for trying and succeeding in learning from mistakes.
We learned a tremendous amount about the history of Berlin and Germany today and we also had the opportunity to really connect a lot of dots along the way, while we were. Again coming from someone who really knew so little about German history other than the bad things, it was an eye opening experience. We got family pictures in front of the Brandenburg gate; which is impressive, to say the least and after having a Starbucks we were right across from the Potsdam station and then on to the Sony Center.
Later in the day we also saw the holocaust memorial. This was another amazing place in Berlin. It is another area of the city that shows Germany's willingness to learn from the past. After we left this area, we walked around more and then went to see the Bundestag. There was even a demonstration at the Bundestag while we were there. A very full day and we're still exploring.
As we were winding our way throughout the city, we all decided that it was time to take a break and grab something to eat. We had a great dinner in a cool little place across from one of the many museums in the city. This was really great because we were just a few people in the pub and the food was great.
Finally, we started heading back to the Opel and and got ready to let Frank do the driving on our way back to Pinneberg. This was a hugely educational day and one simply filled with history, amazing architecture and great family. Oh yes, and we can't forget the German chocolate either.
Danke for a wonderful day!