Wrapping Things Up – A Few Things That Make Berlin, Berlin

Berlin was a very different city from what I was expecting. As far as my knowledge of the city goes, I’ve generally only ever associated Berlin with World War II and the Cold War because of what I’ve learned in school and the lack of depth at which the information was taught. Nonetheless, I expected Berlin to 100% fully-vibrant all the time. A large part of Berlin is vibrant and vastly expressive, but the place is definitely a large Eastern-European city filled with its ups and downs. I loved the program activities we did here in Berlin (things like touring the Reichstag, going to Potsdam and Wannsee, and Treptower Park), but I definitely leave this city not feeling like I got to everything that I wanted to and not having the most pleasant experiences here. Part of this was sheer exhaustion from the first three weeks of travel, while another reason was having a nasty cold that even resulted in a trip to the ER. Regardless, I’ve noticed a couple different things that in my mind make Berlin, Berlin. This city is highly expressive in the way its citizens display their emotions, political viewpoints – really anything – through public art. I’ve also noticed that many Berliners are very friendly and especially towards Americans. I really got the sense that inter-continental relations amongst Americans and Berliners is something the latter quite enjoys in 2016.

The expressiveness of Berlin street art was vast and in many different forms. The East Side Gallery was a really cool example of this. Situated along the longest stretch remaining of the inside part of the Berlin Wall, the wall serves as a gallery for different artists to express themselves through paint. Regardless of what they’re art is trying to express – styles, religion, or politics, etc. – the main point in my observation of having this gallery is to express wholly freedom from the divisiveness caused by splitting up Berlin and Germany after World War II.

I acquired a really rather awful cold while traveling in Poland and the cold got even worse as we went to Berlin. I became congested, non-stop coughing, runny nose – the typical nastiness that happens when germs spread. After being prescribed aspirin and another cough-type medicine, I thought I was feeling better. In reality, I was, but wasn’t. With aspirin being a blood-thinner and me constantly blowing my nose, I guess I should have realized that a nosebleed would have been worse than normal, but I guess the pharmacist should have as well. So, on cue, I got a nose bleed after dinner one night and it just flowed like a river. I was freaked out. We got the bleeding stopped eventually but I still went to the ER for some tests just to make sure I was okay. While in the process of leaving and on my way there, I talked to the German EMTs who had come to help me out. As it turns out, we have a lot of similar interests. The three of them loved looking at my passport. Comparing it to a German passport, they described the differences between the two, mainly the American one having a lot more color and the various watermarks throughout the pages. On the ride over, we talked a little more, mainly about how I was causing them to miss a big soccer match on television, at which I prompted the guys about what they thought of American football. Immediately, the first one to respond says “crazy” and playfully thumps his hand in a fist on his head to simulate the brunt force of a helmet to helmet hit experienced in American football.

What was important to me about the conversation wasn’t the content, but more or less the ability to have such conversations. Seventy-five years ago, when all this war and destruction was taking place, this conversation wouldn’t have happened. The experience I had with the Berlin EMTs made the process even smoother than it already was. It was nice for that to be able to happen, and to see how far our two nations have come since the Second World War, because we know it wasn’t always like that. The conversations had reminded me of an episode of the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers. During the episode “Why We Fight”’ Shifty Powers spoke on the same situation he wishes he could’ve had that I was able to take advantage of because of the efforts of him and so many others during the war. A rifleman in Easy Company for the 101st Airborne during the European campaign, Darrell ‘Shifty’ Powers expressed a solemn idea about the enemy while interviewed for commentary used in the series during its production in the early 2000s. “We might have had a lot in common. He might’ve liked to fish, you know, he might’ve liked to hunt.” Shifty said. “But under different circumstances, we might have been good friends.” Shifty understood who the enemy was, but definitely had the ideas in his head that things could have been different. I’m glad that in 2016 I can now communicate with and admire the Germans and have the same mutual respect for Berlin and for Germany. Berlin was a fitting end to my time here in Europe. I will be grateful for the time I spent here for the rest of my life.

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