Haunting Beauty

Sorry it has been so long since my last post. Fitting seeing my last post was a week before my Poland trip, and now it is a week after my Poland trip. So at least I am consistent with my one week standard deviation from a major event theme. So I will first cover school and such, since that is the least exciting of what all has been going on here. So starting tomorrow, I will have only 3 more weeks of my content courses, and only 2 more weeks of German class. Which is a nice thing to think of. Spending 12 hours in German class every week really gets to your head. In total, as of today, it is a month until I am headed back to the US.

So since the semester is coming to a close, naturally, all of the important stuff is due. I have a paper and a presentation due on Wednesday for my Architecture of Berlin class, and another presentation sometime this week about the lovely little Census Designated Place that is my home. The following week, I have another paper due about the European Union and America and which is better. Should be an interesting paper to write for sure. But past that, it is smooth sailing.

For Thanksgiving, the CIEE students here are all heading to Dresden for an overnight trip. I am told we will be having a full Thanksgiving dinner, so I won’t be missing out on that. We are also going to be going to a German Military History museum which should be super interesting, plus I have heard that Dresden is quite beautiful. So that will be a fun thing to do after my two weeks of heck here in Berlin. Once I get back from Dresden that means that it is time for Weihnachtsmärkte here! For those of you who don’t speak German, that means Christmas market.  I have been hearing about these since the beginning of the semester, and I am super pumped. Especially since my host parents have said that the best Weihnachtsmärkt is in Mexikoplatz, where my lifeline subway line is at. So I will be only 10 minutes away from the best Christmas Market in Berlin. Not too shabby, if I do say so myself. My host parents also say I should go play my trombone during the market and see how much money I can make. I am somewhat tempted to do this. Nothing like a few good classic trombone solos to make some money.

But anyhoo, I should get to Poland before I bore you all to sleep. First, I just have to say that Poland was incredible and I am so glad I had the chance to go there. There were so many incredible things to see and do there, so it was definitely worth it to go there.

First, the money. So the Polish currency is the złoty. I believe in total I spent about 500 złoty. Now before you get too concerned, that is not a lot of money. One day I spent 100 złoty on lunch and dinner combined. But here is the fun part. In total, I spent about 130 US dollars in Poland. I believe the exchange rate is about 3 złoty is equal to $1. 4.13 złoty is equal to 1 Euro, so Poland was pretty cheap. That isn’t to say that it was super cheap stuff that I bought, but just through currency exchange, it is pretty cheap compared to other currencies.

So my trip began with a wonderful 9 hour train ride from Berlin to Krakow (can you sense the sarcasm?). Ok it wasn’t terrible. I was just tired of being stuck on a train for that long by the end. Since it was kinda late by the time we got there, I had dinner at “Club Gas” which was the affectionate nickname we gave the gas station located across the street from the Hotel. It had surprisingly good food for a gas station. So the next day we had tours of Jagellonian University, which is a wicked old university in Poland dating back to the 1300s. Later that same day we also went to Wawel Royal Castle, which is a place of national pride for the Polish people. On the way there we passed a memorial to the Polish people who were killed at Katyn. It was originally thought to have been a mass murder done by the Nazis, but I believe within the past twenty years it was established that it was in fact Soviets who were responsible for the deaths. During our lunch break between the tours, a friend and I were wandering around the city and found this great open market basically in this massive building in the center of town. It had so many cool things there, and I even got some of my Christmas shopping done there, can’t say for who though. Don’t want to spoil the fun!

So the next day was a very sobering experience. Now I have been to concentration camps before (Dachau and Sachsenhausen) but nothing could have prepared me for what I saw at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Now I am of the firm belief that something such as a concentration camp cannot be explained through pictures. You cannot understand what it feels like to be standing on that ground where so much pain and suffering happened. It is hard to grasp it even when you are there in person. For this reason, I took very few pictures of what I saw in Auschwitz I and Birkenau. It is not something I can easily show to people and expect them to understand. I highly recommend that everyone go to a concentration camp at least once in their lifetime. It is a necessary experience, and a very profound one that can drastically impact your life. So the night before the Auschwitz excursion it had snowed a few inches. So while we were in Auschwitz it was a cold and dreary day with snow everywhere and muddy pathways. While it was nowhere near as bad as what the people in this camp went through, it allow a brief glimpse into what part of their daily life may have been like. There are a few pictures I would like to share with you from the camp. The first is a part of the large memorial located in Birkenau. There are several of these markers, each one in a different language, here is the one in English.

Around nearly every memorial in the camp people placed candles, as you can see above, as a sign of remembrance of what happened here. Another memorial I would like to show had similar markers throughout Birkenau where ashes were buried.

It reads: “To the memory of the men, women, and children who fell victim to the Nazi genocide. Here lie their ashes. May their souls rest in peace.”

As I was explaining before, the weather had been pretty miserable and it had been cloudy all day. As I was walking through Birkenau I turned around and saw the sun coming out from behind the clouds. This turned into the most hauntingly beautiful situation that I have ever experienced. It was a magnificent sunset juxtaposed over all of this pain, and was one of the most incredible experiences of that day. Here is a picture of the sunset reflected in a pond where ashes were placed as well as the sunset over the camp.

For me going to Auschwitz-Birkenau was a very moving experience. It is nearly impossible to enter into something like this and not come out seeing the world differently. If you ever have the chance, you really need to experience it first hand.

The next day we traveled to Warsaw. Evidently nothing exciting happened that day, because I only have two pictures, and they are of the pigeons in the train station. I travel to a foreign country and I take pictures of pigeons. Classic.

The next day though I made up for my lack of pictures by taking a lot. We got a tour of the old castle as well as the old city section of Warsaw. There are far too many pictures to put up here, but long story short, it was pretty awesome. That night we went to the Palace on the Water, which was this gorgeous palace situated on this little stretch of land that spanned over a river like thing. So we went to this palace and had our own private Frédéric Chopin concert. Maciej Poliszewski was incredible and his hands were fascinating to watch. Naturally it snowed that night again. Cause Poland is basically Russian in terms of its weather patterns. And Russia just is snow. That’s what I’ve decided.

The next day we traveled to the lovely city of Toruń. You know you’re going to a beautiful city when even the Polish say that it is the most beautiful city in Poland. I saw this sign when we were walking to the city from the train station and it immediately made me think of Lancaster.

It also reminds me of the time I got stuck behind a buggy, a tractor, and a school bus all in a row. It took me a long time to get home that day.

And the Polish were right. The city was gorgeous and I had an awesome time there. I even went all Sean Connery on some pigeons like he did to the seagulls in The Last Crusade. So if I don’t come back home, it’s because the pigeons of Europe mobilized and hunted me down. So worth it. But anyhoo, here is a cool picture I took while crossing the bridge back to the train station that night.

You’ll have to forgive the blurriness. My hand was kinda freezing off at the time. It was a bit nippy out.

So the next day in Warsaw we had a tour of the old Jewish ghetto area. While there isn’t too much of it left, there are plenty of markers left as dedications. Here are a few.

This is a memorial to the Jewish uprising during the Nazi occupation.

This next one I found particularly important:

Willy Brandt was a leading politician in Germany, and upon his visit to Warsaw he went to the above Jewish Uprising and he went down on his knees in a form of silent apology for what transpired here at the hands of the Nazis.

That day also happened to be All Saints Day, which is a very important holiday in Poland. Thousands of people went to the graveyards and placed candles on the graves of those that they have lost. It was really an incredible sight to see at night, as there was an eerie glow about the graveyard. It is really quite hard to describe just what it was like.

The next day was our last day in Poland and so everyone had a free day to do what they wished in the city. So I plotted out a few points I wanted to see and took a nice stroll between the points. Here are some highlights below:

I went up in the Orange balloon and got a pretty awesome view of Warsaw

This is the Warsaw Rising monument which memorializes the uprising of the Warsaw population against the Nazis in 1944 trying to regain their city back. However, they were not victorious in retaking the city.

This roof just looked really cool

And that just about sums up my Poland trip. It was an all around good time and a much needed break in school. I would definitely recommend going there at some point in your life.

Because it is Veterans Day, here is your moment of zen:

We will never forget.

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Written in Light

It has been a pretty fun time since getting back from Rome. Thanks to the magic of scheduling, I only have two weeks of classes in the month of October. And mind you that I only have classes Monday through Thursday. So by the end of this month I will have had a grand total of 8 days of class. That’s a whopping 25% of the month. A lot less than what my fellow Gettysburgians are doing back in the burg. Anyhoo, this wonderful schedule came about in part because of the excursion I’ve got going on at the end of this week. On Friday I head east to Poland for a week. I will be visiting Warsaw and Krakow, along with several other smaller cities along the way. We will also be spending some time in Auschwitz, which is sure to be a sobering experience. It will be interesting to compare that to the camps Dachau in Munich and Sachsenhausen in Berlin. About 70 of us are on the Poland trip, and the other half of the FU-BEST program are headed down to Munich and Vienna.

In other news, here’s what I have been doing with my life.

Oddly enough there is a beer that tastes like these cookies. So basically, that beer tastes like Christmas.

Yes that’s right. I’ve been eating cookies. All day, erry day. No but seriously, these things are amazing. Plus they only were 1.50, which is wicked good for how many cookies are in this thing. Which I may consume mass amounts of them in very short amounts of time. So yeah, that’s what goes on during homework time.

Besides eating delicious cookies, I did some fun stuff this weekend. Today a bunch of us from the program went out to Tempelhofer Freiheit, the old airfield, and played some Ultimate. It was quite splendid and I did not injure myself, so winning all around. Also, last weekend I helped my friend Shane out as he was proposing to his girlfriend of 5 years. It was super adorable as you are about to see.

We drew a pretty large crowd during our practice. Luckily they went away when nothing happened after 10 minutes.

The proposal was down there on the bridge. This is the point where we held the signs.

The view from the bottom of the falls. Only man made falls in Berlin

I told my friend that I expect to be promoted to best man status, to which he just kinda laughed. So I’ll take that as a yes.

So for one of my classes, I had to go to the Museum at Checkpoint Charlie about the Cold War and the Berlin wall and all those other fun subjects. So while I was in the area, I decided to go to the Holocaust memorial in Berlin since it was relatively close by.

From in the memorial. You can see that the giant concrete slabs are much taller than when looking at it from the outside.

You can see how the ground slopes down towards the center until you are completely engulfed in the memorial.

It is a very cool memorial, and is definitely filled with a lot of symbolism. I also find it cool how prominent it is in the city. It lies almost directly in between Potsdamer Platz and The Brandenburg Gate. It is probably also possible to see the memorial from the Reichstag, that’s how centrally located it is.

So for the past week, Berlin has been having what is known as The Festival of Lights. Basically buildings all over the city have projectors set up outside and have different designs or whatever projected onto them. It was really awesome to see, and I tried to take some pictures of some of them, but as it was dark, and my camera isn’t the best, they didn’t all turn out so well, but here are a few.

Brandenburg Gate. Now the Multicolored gate

And now there are clouds!

This is one that is hard to see. It is the Berlin Cathedral and on the right you can see the Fernsehturm lit up as well.

I didn’t get to see every building that was lit up as they were pretty spread out, and Berlin is kinda a really big city. One thing that was really cool though was the fact that despite how big Berlin is and how populated it is, you can still see the stars, even when in the middle of the city. That I think is definitely one of the coolest parts of the city. Considering how far out I am from the city center, I get an amazing view of the starts here, especially on clear nights. Good old Astronomy 101 stuck with me. If only I had my telescope here. But anyways, I digress…

On Saturday the CIEE people went on a tour of Prenzlauer Berg, which is a region of the city. It was very nice up there, and there were a ton of parks and such, probably cause of how many families are there. Apparently that part of the city has the highest birth rate. Or maybe it was in all of Germany. Either way, lots of kids everywhere. But before I did the tour, I met up with some of the other people at a sports bar nearby and that is where I discovered how awesome Rugby is. The New Zealand ‘All Blacks’ were playing Austrailia, and that game got pretty intense. If you have never seen the All Blacks Haka before, I suggest you watch this video. I dunno about anyone else, but if I saw a bunch of guys the size of a small tank doing this towards me, I would not be hanging around for too long. You should also watch this one, as you get to see the All Blacks Haka, as well as the Cibi from the Fiji team. Plus the crowd goes nuts during these things. As you see in this video. Well I just completely lost my train of thought because I just kept watching more and more youtube videos. But seriously, watch them. They are incredible.

Well that about sums it up. So as John Stewart would say, “Here it is! Your moment of zen!”

Have no fear, the plumbers are here… At the Brandenburg Gate… Clearly where they are needed.

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We are but shadows and dust

So this past week was the marvelous time that all college students crave. Fall break. And where better to have a fall break than in Europe? So in total, I ended up having 12 days off for break. Much better than the 4 day fall break, I mean reading days, that I would have had back in Gettysburg. Technically, I should have only had 10, but through the magic that is rescheduling classes and national holidays, I got 12. For my break, I decided to go back in time, because it’s Europe, and you can do that. I decided to go down to Rome with a few of the guys from my program. And what better way to do it, than like this:

I just gave you the plot to Indiana Jones 5

We all dressed up as Indiana Jones and ran around being awesome. Well I wish, cause that would have been epic. But I was on an adventure! Just not quite as dangerous or stunt filled as Indiana Jones. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was on TV two nights ago. It is just as epic in German, though I did miss Sean Connery’s accent.

But seriously, wouldn’t this be a great movie? I got this from cracked, btw.

Anyhoo, back to Rome. So I ended up being in Rome for 4 days, and they were some of the best 4 days ever. Having previously been to several of the major European cities before, I can tell you that Rome is my favorite by far. There is just so much history, much of it dating back to almost 2000 years ago. Berlin may have a lot of history, but since the first map of Berlin didn’t exist until 1732 (at which point, it was still two cities) it is a bit hard to compare to something that was already well established. But hey, at least I am learning things here, such as the date of the first map of Berlin.

So upon arriving in Rome, it was pretty clear by the scale of these ruins that the Romans either went big or it just didn’t happen. As clearly evidenced by the size of their empire. And the fact that there are massive ruins everywhere. They were trying to make another subway line, considering there are only like 3, and they found more ruins. So clearly that construction is going on schedule. But I shall now tell the tale of my adventure in Rome.

So one of the first buildings that really drew my eye was the behemoth. It is actually the monument to Vittorio Emanuele II, but as you shall shortly see, behemoth is an adequate name as well. This is also where the tomb of the unknown soldier is. If you get real close to your screen and kinda squint at the picture, below the man on a horse in the middle of the monument, you can see a wreath. I find that specific part really cool, because there are two guards stationed on either side of the wreath 24 hours of the day. I think that is really cool that they have that here. Besides this building being incredibly huge, it also has a lot of great views, which I will put below.

Upper level

It was really cool to see the city from up there. Cause it is basically right in the middle of it, so you get a good view of the ruins and all the other parts of the city. And it’s pretty high up too.

The Colosseum was probably my favorite building from the whole trip, obviously since it is the Colosseum. TO THE PICTURES!

bones and tones represent!

The Colosseum was so awesome. And most of this was completed in 125 AD, I believe. So it’s pretty old.

Another major view to share is that from the cupola of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.

This was such an incredible 360 degree view of the city. It was well worth the 300 some odd stairs and 5 Euros to get up there.

And of course, I need pictures of the Trevi fountain.

All in all, Rome is definitely one of the coolest places I have ever been to, with Normandy being number one on that list. Though the one thing Rome had that Normandy didn’t…
TIES. I got 3 ties and a bow tie all made of 100 % silk and only for 30 Euros. I got two other ties as well, but I am not sure if they are from Italy per say. But the two of ’em only cost me 10 Euros, so it was still a good deal. If ever you are in Rome, you must go to Francesco and buy ties.

Plus he said I looked Scottish. And he was very perplexed by my shirt. But hey. When in Rome.
While today does not end with an amusing picture, you MUST look up this video by the Mnozil Brass. They are basically the Austrian version of the Canadian brass. And hilarious. Watch everything. And remember… When in Rome is the original YOLO.

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They’re here… They’ve come…

Frodo knows what is coming… do you?

That’s right… It’s that time again… time for…

It’s like a giant midterm… on a man-eatling lizard… that can fly


No wait… I meant midterms. Which if you think about it are basically just tiny nazgûls. Just not as dangerous. And they also aren’t fictional… But that is besides the point. Because if nazgûls did exist, they would be just as fearsome as midterms. Ok probably a bit more, but there is no point in debating it. Just accept it.

But since it is midterm time, you know what that means!

Part of a balanced breakfast

Which has led me to now be updating my blog. Which given the fact that I haven’t in awhile, I probably should anyhow. And I can justify this because I made a massive study guide for one of my classes earlier. So now to Berlin.

So, things have been pretty busy here with all the school and homework and such. They are really good at the study part of the study abroad here at FU-BEST. But despite that I still get to see the city. For my architecture class, we had to do a self guided tour through the embassy quarter in Berlin. So I got to see a whole bunch of different embassies, which all had their own unique style to them. So that was pretty cool to see. For some strange reason I decided to do my self guided tour on the same day that we had an in-class tour. Why I chose to do that is beyond me, but hey, that’s why hindsight exists. It was still a cool day though, and I finally got to go see the Victory Column in the middle of the Tiergarten.

Fun story behind the Victory Column. This is not where it originally was. It used to be right by the Reichstag, however in the 1930’s, it was moved to the present location. Kinda ironic when you think about it, as that move saved it from being destroyed during WWII. How they moved it is beyond me, as it is rather large, and I’m assuming quite heavy.

A few days later, FU-BEST had an excursion planned for us that took us to Sachsenhausen, a concentration camp not too far outside of Berlin. I did not take any pictures inside of the camp, because that is something one needs to personally go and see, as what really happened there cannot be conveyed through pictures. In this case, one must see to understand. I did however take a picture of a map of the layout of the camp, just so you can get an idea of what the camp layout was like.

The bolded buildings are one that are still standing or restored, and the faded gray spots mark where buildings where. Comparatively speaking, Sachsenhausen was a relatively small camp, but it was not any more pleasant. After WWII, the Soviets then took over the camp, using it for whatever they deemed necessary, usually the holding of political figures who spoke out against the government. I believe the section on the top of the map, the square part off the triangle, was added on by the soviets. Later on, during my trip to Poland, I am pretty sure that the university has planned an excursion to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. That will be a very sobering experience, I’m sure.

But that night then I decided to go explore some of the landmarks at night, because, well they look different at night. But first, I ran into this little guy on my way out that night. From that point on, I knew this little trip would be good. and it was.

Just going for a stroll

So after my photo shoot with my little buddy there, I headed out and started at the Brandenburg Gate. Then I went down Unter den Linden to Humbolt University to see the book burning memorial, and then I went down to Potsdamer Platz to see the Sony Center’s roof, which changes colors at night. That’s the order of the following pictures, in case you didn’t pick up on that.

The memorial is underground, and you can only see it through this glass pane in the ground. It is a room of empty book shelves where the large book burning was

It also turned purple, and I think maybe red. Mayhaps another color as well

The next day I went to a CIEE workshop where we worked with a local artist, Roman Kroke. We started out the day by reading excerpts from Etty Hillesum’s diary about her experiences in the Holocaust and going over the illustrations Roman had done for her diary. Then we had a few hours to come up with our own illustration for the segment that of the diary we were assigned. So that was pretty cool, despite me not having had an art class since middle school. So naturally I attempted to draw hands, which are basically the hardest things to draw ever. But during our lunch break I went out to look at the Soviet guard tower across the road which is one of the few remaining guard towers in the city, and definitely one of the last that is standing in its original location. I also got to go up inside it which was pretty cool.

Obviously, that is not the original paint

Looking out into former no mans land. It is now a park.

So that was pretty cool to actually be able to go inside one of those towers. Well now I must return to my studies.

But as a final note, I give you this wonderful video. The video is called “10 things you shouldn’t do when you’re a passenger in a car.” It’s in German, but you’ll understand it.

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“I am a servant of the secret fire, wielder of the flame of Anor. The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udun!”

While the crossing signals in Germany would be infinitely more epic if they said that if you tried to cross while the signal was red, sadly this is not the case. It is generally accepted that Ampelman will scream this inside your head though if you cross the road when you shouldn’t.

The resemblance is uncanny

For those of you who just understood that this was a Lord of the Rings reference, I’m sorry. It really is quite fascinating though. In the US, pedestrian signals mean practically nothing. Green means you can go and red means you go anyhow. Here in Germany if you cross the street on a red signal you will be the outcast of society. People will stare at you, some will even say something to you, old women will weep, mothers will shield their children’s eyes, and big men will take you into a dark alley and beat you up. No but seriously, you don’t cross on the red signal because people will seriously stare at you until you feel obligated to walk back across the street where you started from just to appease them. This is, hopefully, something you realize within the first 5 minutes of being in Germany, otherwise you are in for one long stay.

And just to clarify for those of you who are planning a trip to Germany so that you can come play some “Ampel pong,” it does not exist. If you don’t even know what Ampel Pong is, here is the video by the “creators” of the game. After much dedicated research I found that this magical device does not actually exist. I apologize if I just killed someone’s hopes and dreams. But fear not! Sometimes you just need to sit down and rethink your plan. It worked for Sean Connery in Indiana Jones. I mean he sat down and made a staircase appear. So yes, I have in-fact confirmed that Sean Connery is Harry Potter. It all makes so much sense now.

But back to Germany now! There are a few other aspects of German life which throw us Americans for a loop. First of which, is the staring. Germans are either a curious folk, or they don’t blink ever. But having talked to people who have lived here for awhile, they have confirmed that German people do blink, they just like to stare. I have run into this several times on the S and U bahn and even sometimes on the street. I once had a 5 minute “stare-off” with this man on the S-bahn, which I was proud of myself for winning because he had to get off at his stop. So I suppose I won be default (it also really isn’t a competition. When German people are around strangers they tend to stare at them. It generally is not a symbol of aggression or hatred, you’re just a stranger and they don’t know you). The worst though was when I was headed home one day and there was this mother who had her baby in a stroller beside her. So this baby just starts staring at me and doesn’t. stop. ever. This kid stared at me for a good 5 or more minutes and at that point I gave up. I looked back down then and the baby’s lip starts to quiver and then they started crying. That’s the last time I ever smile and wave at anyone.

The second big hurdle is our personal bubble. Or as it is here, our non-existent personal bubble. People will get very close to you in all types of situations. Just standing in line and suddenly there is just a random dude all up in your space. Which for them is quite normal. Back in America, that would be enough to start a fight. While not every German you run into is gonna get all up in your face, it is fairly common to have a smaller concept of personal space here. And if you are in their way, you can be sure that they will move you out of their way. Especially on the bus or subway. It’ll get real if you are in between a person and their exit. Also, if you are in line for something, you must be “actively waiting in line.” If you aren’t paying attention you may be the next person in line and look away and then look back and 5 people are now in front of you. They are very efficient about their lines. If you aren’t paying attention to it, they will go around you.

Today has been a bit of a sad day at my host family’s house as their cat passed away today. She was a wonderful little cat and I was honored to have been able to spend a month with her. She would often come up on my bed in the afternoon and curl up in the sun and just nap the day away. She was 16 years old, I believe, so if I was that old, I would probably curl up in the sun and sleep too. She always loved when I would lay with her and pet her, of course, half of that she did herself. You could just hold your hand near her and she would just ram her head into it repeatedly until you did something. May you always sleep on a bed in the sun Sati.

She was also a bit of a contortionist. It’s hard to tell, but her head is almost upside down and tucked between her legs. I think she could take the cake in the curling up into the smallest ball possible competition.

And last but not least, your educational picture from Berlin:

Even Darth Vader visits the Brandenburg Gate

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Let’s go fly a kite!

Earlier this week I decided to go to Tempelhof Airport, which was the airport used by the Americans during the Berlin Airlift and remained in use until 2008. Since the closing of the airport, the airfield has since been converted into Tempelhofer Freiheit, a massive park where people can go to. You can roller skate, bike, or whatever you want to up and down the runways and there are huge grassy areas between the runways as well. There you will find people laying out on blankets, reading, throwing around a frisbee, and the most important of all, flying kites. Those who are super talented will be on a skateboard and flying a kite at the same time, which pulls the person up and down the runway. It is really quite impressive to see. But here are some pictures of Tempelhof from the airfield. Yay panoramic shots!

ImageYou can see the main structure of the airport in the background

There is a circus of some sort down in the right hand side where the tents are

It really is quite a large park now. I believe the path around the outskirts is almost 6km in length.

In a few of the pictures there you can see some kites in the air, but they may be kinda small or just look like birds, so you may just have to take my word for it that there are, in fact, lots of kites. When I went it was an absolutely gorgeous day, and despite not putting on any sunscreen I managed not to get burn, which is impressive considering how long I was there for. A bunch of us from CIEE are possibly going to the airfield this weekend to play some ultimate, we just need to actually buy a disc first.

Besides the Tempelhof visit, I have been to several other places over the past few weeks. There was a trip to Potsdam last weekend where we went to the building where Truman, Churchill, and Stalin all met to decide Germany’s fate as well as one of the royal princes castles. It was pretty cool, though you had to pay to take pictures at both of these places, thus I do not have any cool pictures from them.

For my class “Integration, Conflict, and Security in Europe” we were required to go to the Allied Museum. It was a pretty cool museum and had many cool artifacts dating back to the end of WWII and up to the fall of the wall. It was surprisingly lacking anything truly from the Russian perspective, as this museum seemed to focus more on the American, British, and French occupation.


This was a memorial near the museum. These horses are charging over rubble of the Berlin wall.


An original section of the infamous “Spy Tunnel”

It was a pretty cool museum, but not one of the most photogenic museums for sure. It also included a whole exhibit on how sports helped to unify the allied powers with each other and with the German population. So that was a pretty cool exhibit to see and be able to listen and see original clips from sports events during the time period.
And of course, I took my first visit to Checkpoint Charlie during my Self-guided tour for Architecture of Berlin. There is so much information plastered all over that square, and that isn’t even in the museum which I have heard is even more chaotic and random. So that should be a fun place to visit as well. Image

And just because this next photo is incredible, it gets to be the last part of today’s blog.


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A symphony of echoes heard and unheard

Yesterday, I went with the 22 people part of my CIEE group here in Berlin to the East Side Gallery. If you are unfamiliar with this, the gallery is the largest standing section of the Berlin Wall and shortly after the wall fell, they invited artists from all over the world to come and paint sections of the wall. We met with Günther Schaefer, an artist who painted one of the sections of the wall (which I will show later) and he also has many famous pictures from when the wall fell. So he led us down the stretch of the wall and explained to us some of the stories behind a few of the paintings, some of which were really quite incredible. Günther’s own painting, called Vaterland, is quite controversial and he has had to repaint it 46 times because of how many times people deface it with graffiti and what-not. He said a really cool thing about his painting, which I will try and remember by the time I get to that part of the wall. But I thought I would put up some of the pictures of the wall for you all to see, and then explain any stories about them. Some of them I do not know the stories behind them, but I still thought that they were very interesting paintings. Obviously, I did not get a picture of each one, as this gallery is about a mile long and had many many paintings.

This sign explains a few things about the wall, and the gallery itself. So you can see the dates of when it was built, when it came down, when the original paintings were done, and then in 2009 the renovation. Because the wall of the gallery was falling apart, they had to reconstruct most of it, which means the original paintings had to be painted over. So after they finished rebuilding, they invited all of the original artists back to repaint their paintings, which they finished in 2009 then.

One small note: The sidewalk that we were walking on was directly next to the wall. Before the fall of the wall, if I had done this, I would have been killed by border guards as it was explicitly forbidden to go anywhere near the wall. They also intentionally built the wall a few meters behind the border so that Soviet worker crews could go out to the other side of the wall to make repairs without crossing over the border.

“Thoughts are like traces of birds in heaven.”

There is a lot of symbolism in this one, obviously.

The picture above “Dancing to Freedom” was the quote on the right hand side of the painting.

In between the two sides of the wall in this painting are many people. I cannot remember the story behind this particular one, but I do remember that one of the more prominent heads in the painting is that of the artist himself. He was the only one wearing a hat.

This is a section of the wall which they left in the original condition so that people could see how much the wall was falling apart. You can see that chunks have the wall have basically just eroded away or broken off. So despite the initial hopes for the wall, it would not have lasted for very long.

This particular section has a rather interesting, and even amusing story behind it. This section was done by I believe it was a French artist. Before the fall of the wall, this artist was already doing paintings on the wall, much like those heads/faces you see above. And one thing that stands out is that there are not many colors used in each individual head/face. This is because he would only bring along a small tray of paints with him so that he could paint, and then when the guards would see him he would grab his few paints and run away before they could catch him. He did this all over the wall in all areas of the city. I believe Günther said that this artist had hopes of painting on every part of the wall, but unfortunately, the wall came down before he had a chance to achieve his dream.

I really liked this quote. “He who wants the world to remain as it is doesn’t want it to remain at all.”

This one I found particularly interesting. I was talking with Günther about it, and he was explaining to me that the man jumping over the wall is depicted as going from the west to the east side. For those of you who are a bit rusty on your history, the west side was the Allied half, and the east the Soviet part. Generally speaking, people did not try to go from west to east. Any crossings of the wall were usually done trying to escape the Soviet controlled East Berlin. Günther then explained that East Berlin was said to be the “future of new technologies and advancements” (or something along those lines) which is why this man is trying to get to the east side of Berlin. In a way this is somewhat true as east Berlin has seen a massive growth in the number of artists and others like that moving in and creating new works. East Berlin is ironically where Kreuzberg, or “hipster central” as my host sister calls it, is located.

I’m sure that everyone has seen this section of the wall before, or at least pictures of it. Leonid Brezhnev’s famous kiss with Eric Honecker.

I thought this one was also cool. And no, not just because of the irony of me breaking my thumbs.

This was also a cool quote: “Many small people who in many small places do many small things that can alter the face of the world.”

Another cool quote. The translation reads: “So strong and yet vulnerable, the people, the men, the forest, the trees.”

I do not know the story behind this one, but it was rather haunting.

And now we are at Günther’s piece, “Vaterland” which was and remains a very controversial painting.

As you can see, (except for Natelie in the way) it is a combination of the flags of Germany and the Israeli flag.

Günther I think is taking a picture of some of the graffiti on his painting. Throughout most of the tour, he would stop and take pictures of graffiti that caught his eye.

“This flag is based on the idea of peace and unity of all peoples. It is an explorations of the heritage of all Germans after WWII. It is a symbol of the unifying and rapprochement. A memorial against any Fascist tendencies. The night of broken glass: November 9, 1938
Fall of the Wall: November 9, 1989”

Günther talked with us for awhile in front of his painting, and then again also when we went back to his studio (I got a book of his photography spanning from the when the wall was opened to present day). As I said before, Günther has had to repaint Vaterland 46 times because of graffiti or other damages to the painting. One of the people in my group asked him why he keeps repainting it, especially after 46 times. Günther’s reply was along the lines of “As long as they keep defacing it, I will keep repainting it. Because when the time comes when they stop defacing it there will be no need for a painting like this anymore.” It was a very fascinating comment and really made you think about why it is he painted this and also why it is so controversial.

Günther was explaining to us the significance of this spot along the river Spree. In this general area is where countless people tried to swim across the river from the east side, where this picture is taken from, to the west side which is in the background. If they were able to make it across the river without being shot by the guards and could touch the bank on the west side, then they were free. But on the flip side, Günther told us stories of how children would play on the west bank and sometimes would fall in. Many kids ended up drowning this way, because the other kids were afraid to get into the water because that would put them into east Berlin, but also the guards from the east side would not help the kids out of the water. It was because of these incidences as well as others of people being shot in no mans land and slowly dying over the course of the next several hours that a deal had to be made in terms of who could save people and when.

And just because I don’t want to end on that note, yay me and the Reichstag!

Gettysburg represent!

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