Before beginning our study tour, I was sure that Paris would be more glamorous, and that London would be more comfortable than Berlin. I thought that stereotypical German efficiency would interfere with the city’s charm. Because of its postwar reconstruction, I anticipated it would lack the historical architecture that overflows in other ancient European cities. All of these assumptions could not have been more incorrect. Ironically, it quickly became one of my favorites destinations on our tour (admittedly, after I visit anywhere, it’s typically added to my list of favorite spots), and it did not fall short on the character scale.
Up until our visit to Germany, we’d talked about and seen what happened during World War II, and Berlin was a forum for us to conceptualize what happened after the war. We even visited Cecillienhof, a mansion that hosted the Potsdam Conference after the war. At this conference, the United States, Britain, France, and the Soviet Union divided Germany into four occupied zones. As political divisions increased between the occupiers, so did tension between the West and the East German blocks. The city was once divided into East and West Berlin, occupied by Axis and Allied powers, respectively. Today, the two sides are still distinguishable from one another, although they’re integrated into one free, democratic city and country. Ruins from the Berlin Wall, which was erected in the early 1960’s, and fell in 1989, are still noticeable throughout the city and represent a shift from communism to democracy and the end of Soviet occupation.
Additionally, Berlin is full of World War II museums, exhibits, and notable sites that complimented our pre-departure curriculum. We saw the place where the July 20th assassination plot against Hitler was attempted and visited the Wannsee House, where the “Final Solution” for Europe’s Jewish people was decided. In these places and museums, I noticed a reoccurring apologetic tone. In these exhibits, Germany took full responsibility for its Nazi controlled and genocide-ridden past.
As I reflect on our study tour, Berlin represents the perfect ending place. Our time here allowed me to understand how powerful a dictator’s influence can be and how it can change a country’s fate, even decades into the future. I was wrong about Berlin. The city reminded me how important our decisions are as we decide how history will unfold. Although Berlin is no longer divided, its history represents what division can do to a nation.