I stood in the street and looked around me. The day was gray and misty, the sidewalks busy, the traffic heavy. A few barricades protected me where I stood, and l spun slowly around, taking in the panorama. I stood on a mismatched stripe of stones, running straight through the city. I murmured the name of the city to myself, “Berlin.” I was standing in Berlin, on the spot where the Berlin Wall once divided the city, and essentially the country.
Growing up in the ’80s, and taking German for four years in high school, Berlin is familiar to me…the one name brings with it trails of information, history and images. And now I stood in the middle of Berlin.
We stood in front of the Reichstag, with the German flags flying. We stood in front of the huge Brandenburg Gate. We visited the Pergamon Museum, eating a sack lunch among the columns riddled with old wounds from bullets and shrapnel. We wandered through the strange, high blocks of the Holocaust Memorial, passed Checkpoint Charlie and sections of the Berlin Wall. We heard a lone musician play guitar in the peeling, echoing space of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s church and walked through lines of birch trees to Bonhoeffer’s memorial in a Berlin cemetery. And we stood in line at a souvenir shop, being bullied back by a gaggle of elderly French women, making us late for the rendezvous at the pink bus (sorry fellow travelers).
The Pergamon Museum was a maze of incredible, ancient treasures.
The moment that sticks with me most from Berlin was the surprising emotions and images evoked by the Holocaust Memorial:
June 19, 2014
“At first it just looked like a bunch of stone blocks. It seemed less than impressive. As you begin walking through, the ground dips down in rolling, thin paths, as the cold gray slabs grow taller. Sound is echoing and muffled and you begin to feel small, insignificant, lost, trapped…It’s so quiet. You see people pass in front of you and then disappear, swallowed up. You weave your way back and forth among the tall pillars, and finally begin rising out as the ground steeps and the blocks shrink. A beautiful, surprising monument to a time when so many disappeared, swallowed up, and so many felt lost, cold and afraid. When you emerge, you remember the survivors who found freedom and escape, and rekindle hope that such evil will be prevented as we learn lessons from the past.”