On The Spree

Instead of an Airbus A300, I’m currently on a Boeing 767 and am directly south of Greenland. My knees are smashed into the seat in front of me, and my trip has come to an end. I also was able to visit Prague. I’m still thinking about my experience there, so I write about our time in Berlin, Germany. Berlin is the capital of the country, and its fall to the Soviets brought about the end of the war in Europe in 1945.


Upon coming off our well heated bus that left from Krakow, we sprinted to the Bundestag building. The Bundestag is currently where Germany’s parliament meets, and has had many uses throughout history. It was torched in 1933, and that incident led the Nazi party scapegoat the communists as the perpetrators, leading to the banning of their party. During the war it was rarely used. One of the most famous pictures of the war came from the Soviets raising a flag over the taken building. There are still pillars and portions of the building that are decorated by original Soviet graffiti. One art exhibit in the basement had post card sized boxes with every member of the Parliament democratically elected from the 1910s to the 1990s. Some boxes are noted with a tag reading, “Opfer des nationalsozialismus” along with a date. These dates correspond to that member’s death at the hands of the Nazis. Out of the thousands of members, one could find names like Hitler, Himmler, and less infamously, Angela Merkel. Boxes belonging to Hitler and Merkel have had to be filled with concrete to prevent vandalism (Hitler’s box is low to the floor, so it typically receives a swift kick to the tin). We then went to the roof and the top of the reconstructed dome and caught some beautiful views.


After this, we navigated back past the Brandenburg Gate and took a metro to Potsdamer Platz the center of the city, or so. Through the middle of the plaza runs a brick line marking where the Berlin Wall stood. That night we ate a place that served one liter steins of beer, so I have no complaints.


The next day we went through two museums, the German Historical Museum and the Topography of Terror museum. The Historical Museum was split in half, with one half discussing about Germany from World War I to present day. It covered the political discord in Germany before World War Two and had many artifacts. The Topography of Terror museum was very intriguing, sitting at the site of the one time Gestapo Headquarters, there are excavated portions of jail/torture cells used during the Nazi regime. One part that was especially interesting was the bastardization of protective custody. In Nazi Germany, the term did not mean you were being sheltered from possible violence, but that you were being taken in to protect the state and masses. This type of custody sent many people who did very little into Gestapo custody, and typically into a concentration camp.


The next day consisted of a trip to St. Mathias Church, the Benderbloc/German Resistence Museum, one Soviet Monument, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, and the now car park that was once the site of the Fuhrerbunker. At St. Mathias, we learned from my trip roommate Chris Herrel about Friedrich Bonhoeffer’s resistance in the war via the church. The Benderbloc was the office space of the Home Armies in WWII, and much of the July 20th Plot fallout took place there, such as the execution of Claus von Stauffenberg. The museum at the site dedicates itself to people from those involved in that plot to German youths who listened to swing music. The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe was also a thought-provoking sight, with stone blocks of varying sizes laid over uneven ground.


My favorite moment of the day does not come from any of the things we did as a full group though. Once we finished, a few friends and I decided to stop at the ice cream shop near the hotel, where you could buy a kugel (scoop) for a euro. When we were nearly finished, a motorcycle pulled up on the sidewalk, and the man riding it dismounted and began talking to us. We didn’t catch his name, but he was certainly a proud Berliner. He told us about the office he works at having a facade that is pockmarked by bullets, and detailed defenses of the Berlin Wall that are typically forgotten about now. The Berliner was fourteen years old when the Wall fell, and had many stories of it. Talking to him about his city and seeing how proud he was of it may have been one of my favorite parts of Berlin.


We saw a few more things after this, like the massive Soviet Memorial in Treptower Park, and the Wannsee House, where some details of the Final Solution to the Jewish Question was planned out. My favorite part came at our group dinner on the last night. This was the same restaurant from the first night of the trip, and having everyone together celebrating the trip was incredible. For me, it ended a journey that began in Fall Semester of my second year on campus. During a study abroad expo, I met David Steigerwald and learned about the program, but avoided going due to cold feet and a lot of indecision in my life. I decided that the trip was one i could not pass up, and worked to figure out a major and class schedule to help me take it. With the trip over, I couldn’t help but to see how far I have came as a person, with this study abroad playing a factor in that as well. I have now transferred onto a massive thirteen row jet from JFK to Columbus, and miraculously I am not white knuckled like I was when I first touched down in Heathrow so long ago.


Thank you for reading and auf wiedersehen,


Beau Bilek

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