Bye Bye Berlin: My Final Days Abroad

Well, the last leg of the trip has come to a close. It’s such a bittersweet feeling to be finished with such an amazing adventure. I truly have had the greatest experience during my time with the World War II study abroad program and could not have asked for a better learning opportunity. Berlin was a very interesting city to travel to. It was not, at all what I expected. Having enjoyed the quaintness of German Village in good old Columbus Ohio, I thought that Berlin would have the same feel; old, traditional, and rustic with cobblestone streets and people playing the polka while you enjoy some schnitzel. However, I found it to be quite the opposite. Berlin is a booming metropolitan city with skyscrapers, modern buildings, and Turkish Donor places on every corner. I was surprised to see people of many different cultural backgrounds either working in or visiting the city. You could see graffiti or street art around every corner, on buildings, bridges, pieces of the Berlin wall, or even on the subways. Underneath all of this fresh and vibrant façade however, is a deep and rooted history of turmoil, destruction and war. Everywhere you looked in Berlin, you could spot a reminder of World War II, whether it be the entrance to an old train station left as it was after bombings, bullet holes in fronts of government buildings, little stepping stones to remember those who where arresting during the holocaust, and many other small reminders of the devastation left behind.  I found it interesting, and humbling to see these small reflections of the war. If you walked through Berlin but did not really look, you would feel the same as if you were walking through Chicago or New York City. But, when you really stopped to observe, the history of this place was ever present.

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One of the most eye opening and sobering places we’ve visited on this trip was Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp just outside Berlin. Learning about the Holocaust in books and movies and classes is one thing. Seeing the actual places where these atrocities occurred is something I will never forget. Walking through the gates of Sachsenhausen made my stomach turn. Looking out, I saw where the prisoners stood for hours a day during roll call, expose to the elements, I saw the tight and insufficient quarters where thousands lived and worked and suffered, and I saw where many were marched down, into the unknown trenches to never return. This experience provided me with a sense of reality. It is hard to put into context the atrocity that was the Holocaust, but seeing where these events occurred made it more real and really made me think. I feel this this example is why we went on this trip and why this program is one of the best Ohio State has to offer. You can read and learn about history, events, and peoples all you want but actually seeing these things, these places, first hand provided me with a deeper appreciation and understanding of World War II and the history that made the world what it is today!

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