Enigma Chatter: The Word on Berlin

The last portion of our study tour was spent in the city of Berlin, Germany.   Immediately, I got a feeling for the immense culture throughout the city, just by viewing all the graffiti, people, and buildings through the window of the bus. Once off the bus, I was able to immerse myself into the Berlin culture, and absolutely fell in love.

The graffiti was unlike anything I have ever seen. It was not just your everyday, run of the mill graffiti, but an actual art form. An example of this was along the longest standing portion of the Berlin Wall, known as the East Side Gallery. Each portion had a different illustration from different artists. Each painting was so different, yet somehow they all ran so fluidly together.

Portion of the East Side Gallery

Portion of the East Side Gallery

Not only did I love the street art, but I also loved the street food. On the first night in Berlin, our professors took us to a traditional German restaurant, which was absolutely delicious. Having German heritage, I was no stranger to pork and sauerkraut, but this meal was much better than anywhere in the states. Aside from this meal, my diet mostly consisted of bratwurst and currywurst from little roadside stands. These brats were quick, easy, and undeniably delicious.

German trash can that says "Thank you for the Hot Dogs"

German trash can that says “Thank you for the Hot Dogs”

While in Berlin we visited many German and Soviet museums and memorials. It surprised me how objective the German museums were, as opposed to the other museums we have seen in London, France, and Poland. The museums such as the Topography of Terror Museum and the German Resistance Museum simply stated the facts, as opposed to being blatantly one sided. Not only were these places objective, but it also surprised me how accessible they made the memorials and museums. This goes to show how trusting the German culture is, and also how they have taken responsibility for their past. School age children are required to visit a certain amount of Holocaust and war related sites in order to complete their curriculum, which I think is a great way to educate the German people about the events of the war. Another difference I noticed between German museums and others I have seen on the trip so far was that they were largely text based. Museums I had seen up until Germany were largely based on pictures and physical items, so while walking through museums, I wouldn’t see a large wall of pictures or war souvenirs, but a large wall of text that was occasionally accompanied by a few pictures.

Portion of the Berlin Wall outside the Topography of Terror Museum

Portion of the Berlin Wall outside the Topography of Terror Museum

Ohio State’s motto is “Education for Citizenship.” I believe that from my experiences here in Berlin, and throughout this trip, I have gained a worldly perspective that I would have never been able to get if it weren’t for the amazing people, places, and professors that I had the opportunity to learn from these past three weeks. The knowledge I have gained from this study tour, both about myself and about World War II, are not something that can be taught from a classroom, but are things that needs to be felt and experienced. I have come out with life long friendships, and a greater understanding of where I fit in this larger than life world. This trip has been everything I thought it would be and more, and I could not be more thankful.




Berlin’s Past and Future

Berlin was the most interesting city we visited because it is heavily shaped by the effects of the war, more so than London or Paris.  Despite World War II having ended over seventy years ago, remnants Berlin’s past as the capital of Nazi Germany are still present throughout the city.  My preconceived ideas about Berlin were that it is a modern city with little remains from the Nazi era.  After visiting Berlin, I realized it was both a modern city with remnants from its Nazi past openly throughout the city.

It seemed as though on every street corner you could find a building or monument marked off to commemorate victims of the Nazi régime.  For instance, outside our hotel there are stone markers on the sidewalk to commemorate the Jews who lived at that address and were deported.  On the Berlin skyline you can see the building of the chemical company BASF – formerly known as IG Farben – who made the Zyklon B for the Nazi gas chambers.  Or even just the random building covered in bullet holes from the war remains as a constant reminder of Germany’s past.


Bullet holes in a building

The Bundestag – German Parliament – is a great example how the German people acknowledged their Nazi past but are looking forward towards the future.  The Bundestag was built in 1995 after the reunification of Germany and is proud monument for Germans as it represents their democratic ideals.  The design of the German parliament is very modern inside and made of all glass so that the people can have a transparent democracy and literally watch parliament in session.  The structure of the building is the original Reichstag building which has some association with the Nazis, although the Nazis never used it during their reign.  There was a major battle for the Reichstag and when the Soviet soldiers captured it they drew graffiti on the inner walls.  The graffiti can still be seen today and is a reminder of their past inside parliament.  It is almost as if they gutted out the Reichstag building, which represented the old Germany, and built their new democracy from within.  The idea of what the new Bundestag represents was important for the woman who gave us a tour of the Bundestag as she told us her grandfather was a member of parliament and ousted when the Nazis came to power.



In the end, Germany is a country that acknowledges the past that is present throughout the city, but looks towards the future.  It was really amazing to see how even though the war ended, it really would have been impossible to totally de-Nazify all the memories of the war throughout the city.  The new Bundestag acts as the piece of Germany that is looking towards the future as it is built within the remains of the past.


History is Alive in Berlin

Our last stop on our European tour was Berlin, Germany. Germany has always been a country that I have wanted to visit. Many of my ancestors come from Germany. Not only that, but throughout my study of history Germany has always been a country that has shown up frequently, and after being in Berlin it’s easy to see why. There is history engrained everywhere into the city, just like every other city we visited in our tour across Europe. However, there was something different about the way history could be found in Berlin. In London and Paris the historical sites were more noticeable. It was easy to see the difference between the historical buildings and sites in these cities. The pieces of history found throughout Berlin were more embedded.

One of the most unexpected places where historical significance can be found is in the crosswalk lights. It’s a little man in a hat, referred to as ampelmann. He was originally from East Berlin back when the city was divided in two by the Berlin Wall. When the wall came down West Berlin also decided to adopt ampelmann as their crosswalk lights. Ampelmann has grown into such a phenomenon that stores can be found throughout the city selling ampelmann merchandise. It’s a simple reference to Berlin’s history but it is everywhere in the city and serves as a good reminder of the combining of East and West Berlin.


Graffiti found on the side of the Berlin Wall.

Another place where history is engrained into the city of Berlin is in the graffiti and street art the visitors and locals alike can see everyday when walking around. This first most obvious place where street art and graffiti can be found is on the Berlin Wall. Throughout our time in Berlin we saw several different sections of the Berlin Wall. The first was one of the largest pieces of the wall that was still standing. Located in front of the Topography of Terror Museum. There were large amounts of graffiti on this piece of the wall but one of the most prominent declared “Save our Planet.” The Berlin Wall is obviously a significant part of the city’s history but the art and the graffiti found on it shows how popular culture can be combined with places of historical significance.

Berlin is a city that doesn’t try and draw attention to its history. Instead, it integrates the history and makes sure to integrate it into the modern scene. This is why I loved stopping here. It didn’t take very long to begin exploring the rich history of Berlin.

Germany’s Honesty

A painting of a Soviet terrorizing East Berlin on the Berlin Wall.

A painting of a Soviet terrorizing East Berlin on the Berlin Wall.

Berlin was different than everywhere else we had been so far. There was graffiti everywhere, but it felt like art not vandalism. It gave the city character. Then there was the fact that remnants of the war were around every corner. We visited Checkpoint Charlie (only about a ten minute walk from our hotel), the site of Hitler’s Bunker, the Wannsee House where the Wannsee Conference took place, and the Berlin Wall. We were always standing on or in a bit of history.

The biggest difference from the other cities I noticed in Berlin was how the museums were set up. There was much more text than stuff in the exhibits. There was still the basic Nazi propaganda posters, the maps of the invasions, and even the Nazi propaganda film, Triumph of the Will, played on a loop. But instead of the museums being filled with all those objects, there was more text next to each thing explaining what it was and giving the background on how it was important in the war. They were just more informationally based than based on how much stuff they could fit in a glass case.

The Berlin Wall outside the Topography of Terror Museum. A faded painting of the American flag is shown here.

The Berlin Wall outside the Topography of Terror Museum. A faded painting of the American flag is shown here.

Furthermore, the most shocking part about the museums for me was that they were so honest. We visited the German Historical Museum on May 27th, and it was arguably my favorite museum we went to. I loved how objective the museum was. All it did was state the facts of the war. In no way did the museum try to manipulate us into having a certain emotional reaction, leave out any important information (like how almost every museum in France conveniently left out information on the collaborationist Vichy government), or even try to put some blame on another country. This museum simply stated the facts, and it stated everything. There was information about the Holocaust and even a replica structure of how the gas chambers operated in Auschwitz-Birkenau. I was really surprised by this considering it was the Nazi-German government that operated the Holocaust. I thought that a German museum would leave out any information about Holocaust, and it did the exact opposite. The German Historical Museum gave me the most information on the Holocaust out of all the museums we visited in Europe. There was information on the deportations, the systematic killings, and even on the Nazi propaganda movie to depict Jewish people as awful, greedy human beings called Jew Süss.


Site of one of the assassination attempts on Hitler. This is located in the German Historical Museum.

Site of one of the assassination attempts on Hitler. This is located in the German Historical Museum.

The most interesting part about the trip was seeing all the countries’ different perspectives on the war. By the time we arrived in Germany, I figured that every museum we would go to would have its own thoughts on the Second World War. I had no idea how a museum in Germany would take a nationalistic point of view for the war considering Germany was the home to the Nazi party that caused all the destruction in Europe, but I thought they would at least try. Fortunately, the German Historical Museum did none of that. It was refreshing to be in a museum that just stated all the facts and let me digest all the information and interpret it for myself. As another student stated on the trip, he would rather leave a museum with questions based on the content than leave the museum with questions because of lack of content. That was exactly how I felt leaving the German Historical Museum.


A Canvas of History: How Berlin Tells Its Story Through Art

Our first night in Bayeux, I had a conversation with Professor Davidson at our group dinner about how different cultures approach the arts. We discussed that Americans have a high-cultured approach to the arts. There is an idea that the arts are reserved for elites or someone “other.” It is as if only the ritzy couples in fur coats can go to the ballet or the eccentric enthusiasts can appreciate a modern art exhibition. There is a barrier between public life and artists. The arts seem above and disconnected from the quotidian rather than reflective of it.

Finances, availability, and exposure decrease American accessibility to the arts. Certainly, admission rates are enough to dissuade those on the fence. Yet, in the eyes of many American artists, reduced admissions fees devalue their work rather than promote it. It is notable that Berlin’s museums and performances are much less costly and offer ample discounts.


A portion of the Berlin Wall, currently displayed as the East Side Gallery.


Prof. Davidson explained that there is a “come as you are” approach to the arts throughout most of Europe, particularly Germany. In other words, the arts are meant for everybody, in every state, bringing whatever they have to offer. A night at the symphony elicits visions of dollar signs in the heads of Americans. In Berlin, these events are accessible to everyone, even college students. Art is affordable, recognizable, and advertised. It is available and appreciated.

When I arrived in Berlin, the streets colored in graffiti and murals suggested this same idea. In many ways, Berlin feels like a city-wide art exhibition. There is hardly a building left unmarked by the tags of gangs or the murals of street artists. Berliners not only appreciate art, they create it.


An artist paints the Wall in the East Side Gallery, coloring the history of Berlin.


I wondered what ignited such a strong sense of artistry in this city. Every corner seems to have been claimed by an artist, or at the very least someone with a can of spray paint and an idea. During the Third Reich, this spectrum of art was truncated. Hitler deemed many artists and their works, namely Jewish and Expressionist artists, as “degenerate.” He not only devalued their work, he rendered it meaningless. The National Socialist takeover erased freedom of creativity from the lives of German artists.

The abundance of art decorating the streets of Berlin depicts a reclamation of artistry. Abstraction, emotion, and expression are once again produced and appreciated. Artists can practice their work without inhibition. With the streets of Berlin as their canvas, Berliners put art in the spotlight and paint vibrancy over a void of creativity left by the Nazis.


Dancing To Freedom: another segment of the Berlin Wall.

I began thinking about my own place in the world as an artist. Moving and discovering, articulating a thought or a fragment of one, and honing strategies and techniques are catalysts for me as an artist. As I move and create, I am driven by a desire to find realities. I work to make sense and to connect to the world around me instead of leaving things—dance, theater, history, and current events—behind as if they are isolated.

The art of Berlin accomplishes much of the same. Every building tells a story of Germany through its architecture and an artist’s claim that overlaps it. Germany has not left its history behind, but displayed it throughout the streets.

Art is a life. Within it I find a reality laced with the intricacies of creating, being, and a work in progress. What a beautiful life to be preserved in time and space. What an amazing history etched into the walls of Berlin.


Graffiti near our hotel on Stresemannstrasse.

Berlin’s East Side Gallery

East Side Gallery One

The first thing I saw when approaching the East Side Gallery. This is near the edge of a piece of the Berlin Wall that still stands.

The East Side Gallery is long and winding along the Berlin Wall. When we got there, the day was hot and sunny, and the city was alive with people. There was a train station near the gallery that undoubtedly left off many interested in viewing the art. There were many restaurants on the streets near the Wall and their smells wafted over to those walking past. As we approached the Wall on our left, we could see it curving far into the distance. It stretched forward as a lengthy testimony to the past and the present, and baring prophecy for the future.

The East Side Gallery is a long stretch of the Berlin Wall that remains up in the middle of Berlin. Artists have come for years to paint whatever they wish on the Wall, each getting a section to call their own. A fence protects a lot of the art, not even it is protected from the ubiquitous graffiti of the city. The top is high, seemingly at least ten feet when looking up at it, a testament to oppression. It is because of the Wall’s oppressive history that the art seems so appropriate; expression rightly covers repression.

East Side Gallery Two

The first writing I encountered on the Wall. This text mentions dreams among other texts and pictures along the Wall.

The Wall looks like it was made of cement and is quite thick, seemingly around six inches. But amazing art covers much of the cement, and now, there seems to be more bright color than the dull gray of the original Wall. There is some writing on the Wall among the pictures and designs. One of the first things written that we came to said “Lead me on my dreams among different time and space.” Dreams seemed to be a reoccurring theme at the wall. Perhaps the Wall held in dreams for so long that it was inevitable that it would be decorated in dreams once that was allowed.

East Side Gallery Three

The painting of colorful, futuristic-looking gas masks on the Wall. War seems to be a common theme in the Gallery.

Not far into our walk we came upon a painting of gas masks. They were blue, yellow, red, and black and looked futuristic. Their tubes were twisted and knotted. The masks were disembodied, but strange and darting eyes appeared in their openings and were unnerving. War, death, and destruction were other common themes of the Wall. Perhaps that too is appropriate for a Wall built in the mounting tensions of the post-World War II world. It seemed further appropriate for a wall maintained in an age of possible nuclear destruction. Like the shadows of people burned into the ground of Hiroshima, the Wall, in a way, documents the possibility of total annihilation.

East Side Gallery Four

A colorful painting on the Wall. Here, panicked people seem to curl into the distance in some kind of explosion.

East Side Gallery Five

A swishing torrent of variegated faces. Many of them look disturbed in their blue-black world.

The Wall is happy also, and vibrant and artsy. The art covers the ugly Wall beneath it and symbolizes a new nation and a new people, or perhaps an old people finally let loose from the fetters of oppression. The art is more than a mere mask though. It cannot simply fall off at any moment, caught in a brisk wind. The art is there to stay. Now, the only thing to replace the art is another coating of art. And I don’t think that would be a bad idea either. Just as nations and people built their culture and themselves upon the previous nation and people, the wall can built upon itself. New paintings could cover and use the paintings beneath them to create new things. Just as the German people are built now on the Cold War generation, and the World War II generation before them, they will continue to build. In fact, the Wall as a medium is kind of the first painting in itself. The first layer of art is only the second painting, and happily a more colorful and expressive one. The art and the Wall carries repression and dreams, real and prophetic death, art and artlessness. And the Wall carries on it Berlin and its people. I think maybe every city would do well to find its Wall, whatever that may be, and begin painting. The layers of the past don’t need to be permanent. Art can always cover the dull gray Wall.

“I still keep a suitcase in Berlin.”

IMG_7776Out of all of the cities in the program, I was the most excited for Berlin.  My family has German roots, I took German language classes at Ohio State, and my focus of study the past semester was the Nazi Regime.  Having studied Berlin’s past and present during my first two years at Ohio State, I felt that I would learn more from Berlin than some of the other cities.  I was not disappointed.  As I write this post I am sitting in a hostel near Alexanderplatz, a hub of transportation and shopping in the Mitte district of Berlin.  I will be sad to leave this city in the morning, but I know that I will return in the future.


The sun setting on our first night in the city

The sun setting on our first night in the city

I absolutely fell in love with this city.  Every aspect of Berlin left me wanting more.  Being surrounded by the language, and being able to pick up some of it, was extremely satisfying.  Navigating on yet another public transit system was challenging, yet very rewarding.  The walls and buildings here are covered in graffiti, but the graffiti didn’t make me anxious or alert like it would in Cleveland or in Chicago.  In Berlin, graffiti is part of the city.  Here it is viewed as art rather than a signal to move to a more populated and well-lit area.  It gives the city character.


My favorite thing about European cities is being surrounded by history.  I definitely found this in Berlin, but the history around me was much different than that of London or Paris.  It is not unusual for buildings in London or Paris to be hundreds of years old.  Many of the structures in Berlin are more reminiscent of the 1970’s or 1980’s.  The city looks much younger than other cities we visited, but there are still structures like the Brandenburg Gate or Berlin Cathedral Church that gives it the feel

A piece of the wall still standing at Potsdamer Platz

A piece of the wall still standing at Potsdamer Platz

of an old city.  Berlin was subjected to 363 air raids during World War II.  As a result, a massive number of buildings were destroyed.  Following the war, Germany was divided into four sections.  Berlin was also divided into four sections. When the Berlin Wall was put up in 1961 the city was split into East Berlin and West Berlin.  The country of Germany was also split into an East and West side.  Walking through the streets today I sometimes have a difficult time figuring out if I’m on the East or West side, but several pieces of the wall are left standing as a reminder to the city and its visitors.  In addition, different colored pavement and brick runs along the old boundary of the wall.  Plaques are placed along this line which read, “Berliner Mauer 1961-1989.”  Last night on my way to my hostel I had to cross this line.  Thirty years ago I would not have been able to casually roll my suitcase over that line.  The city seems to have come a long way since the end of the war and since the reunification of 1990.


Memory Void at the Jewish Museum

Memory Void at the Jewish Museum

What was most interesting to me about Germany is the manner in which it handles its dark and complicated past.  In France, the museums refer to the Germans or the Nazis as being responsible for the horrors of the war.  They seemed to quick to place blame on Germany and they do little to acknowledge their hand in the Holocaust.  They reduce Vichy to seem like it was just a few bad apples who made poor decisions.  After being disappointed in the French, I was anxious to see how Germany would present the events of the war.  In contrast to the French museums, the German museums didn’t obviously try to manipulate the way visitors viewed their part in the war.  The history was presented in a matter-of-fact manner.  It neither took nor placed blame.  The German museums very bluntly stated exactly what had happened without loading the presentation with emotion.  I found this to be a constant theme through the museums I visited during my time in Berlin.  Even the Hamburger Bahnhof, a contemporary art museum I visited, had a section dedicated to “Die Schwarzen Jahre” (the black years) which places art praised and denounced by the Nazis side by side for viewing and critique.  The Germans present the facts, and allow others to form their own opinions and questions based on those facts.  As a student of history I greatly respected this approach.  With their dark history I can’t imagine it would be easy to take the blame, but they are working to move forward rather than dwell on the past.  Most notable to me is that the schools require their students to visit a certain number of war or Holocaust related sites during the time they are in the school.  To me, this is a prime example of Vergangenheitsbewältigung (coming to terms with the past).  By including their more recent past in school curriculum, Germany is acknowledging the problems of the past and working towards a stronger Europe through their youth.


As I leave this city and end the program, I carry with me a deeper understanding and appreciation for all sides of World War II and the struggles to rebuild and deal with the aftermath.  I have seen and heard perspectives and methods of coping that could not be done justice in a text book.  I’ve been reminded how our history doesn’t necessarily define us, but helps us to grow and move forward.  I’ve opened myself up to new experiences and ideas, and I think this will greatly help me when I return to Columbus to start my junior year at The Ohio State University.  I cannot express how grateful I am for the experiences I’ve had over the last three weeks.  I’ve gained more academically and personally than I could have ever imagined.  I will leave Europe a more confident person with friends who are more like family, and professors who have become mentors.  This adventure was truly once in a lifetime and I can’t wait to use what I’ve learned to impact my community and my future approach to historical study.  My expectations were shattered, but what I ended up finding was so much better.


Auf Wiedsesehen,



Dealing with the Past while Moving into the Future

To the unobservant eye, Berlin is just a city filled with nice buildings, a beautiful river, good food, and friendly people. Just under the surface, though, Berlin is a city that deals with a dark past. From the Nazi era to the Berlin Wall, Berliners face the challenge of acknowledging their dark past while still moving forward.

While walking through the city, I could not get very far without seeing something to remind me of World War II of the Cold War. On a simple walk down the street, I would any combination of gold plaques on the sidewalk marking the locations where Jews were deported to concentration camps, the façade of a train station that had been bombed, pieces of the Berlin wall that still stand or had been transferred for display, or a cobblestone line marking where the wall had once stood. Berlin also has museums that address World War II, the holocaust, and the role of the Gestapo and SS in Nazi Germany.

Overall, I think Berliners have done a good job acknowledging their history while still moving past it to brighter times. This was especially evident to me when I saw how the city handled the remnants of the Berlin wall. Instead of completely destroying the wall and trying to forget about it, there is a strong effort to remember the history of it and the reasons why it was built. I was both surprised and impressed by this. It can be difficult for people to recognize and acknowledge darker times that they or their ancestors were responsible for. Berlin does not try to hide from their history though. Instead, through displays, informational panels, and museums, they embrace their history.

Sign at Checkpoint Charlie, where people could cross from one side of the Berlin Wall to the other.

Sign at Checkpoint Charlie, where people could cross from one side of the Berlin Wall to the other.

While they do not try to turn it into a spectacle, Berlin does not try to hide their role during the Nazi era. I learned this through the Topography of Terror museum and the placement of plaques throughout the streets to remember the people who were deported from those sites. I made me uneasy every morning when I would walk outside of the hotel and immediately see those plaques. The spot where I began my day was the same spot where others’ lives were torn apart. It was difficult to comprehend the horrors took place where my hotel now stands. The Topography of Terror museum shows pictures and provides information of the Gestapo and SS’s roles during the holocaust. The museum fully acknowledges the roles Germans played in the Holocaust. It does not try to make excuses. Many other countries I visited seemed to point blame at another group and did not take ownership for their actions as well as the Germans did.

Plaques marking the location of deportations.

Plaques marking the location of deportations.

Being in Berlin was a bizarre experience. I was standing in a modern city while surrounded by so much history. I could go from looking at a brand new building to seeing the Berlin wall to seeing a plaque or memorial from World War II in under five minutes. This made Berlin fascinating city, and I feel like there is still much to be discovered from it.

Erik Smith

And Thus We Have Reached the End

Berlin is one of the most historic sites in regards to World War II as well as one of the most well-known cities in Europe, so I was extremely excited about the opportunity to see it in person. Walking throughout Berlin was very interesting. Compared to places like London and Paris, it didn’t feel as city-like; it almost felt more like walking through suburbs. Sure there were subway stations, but there weren’t too many sky-scrapers and the streets were not nearly as crowded relatively speaking. As far as the food went though, I was more than pleased. There were bratwurst stands everywhere and the German doners were pretty amazing themselves.

But one of the other big parts of Berlin was its history from World War II and the Berlin Wall that was littered all over the city. There seemed to be signs with pictures and information at almost every historic site, regardless of what was left from it. There were numerous signs about the Berlin Wall and its history in certain areas. Some places had remnants of the Wall left, like by the Topography of Terror museum, while other areas had bricks laid down across the sidewalks and streets to show exactly where the wall ran across.

As far as World War II goes, there were some small plaques on the sidewalks to show where Jews were taken from their homes to be killed during the Nazi era. They also had a sign at what was formerly the Fuhrer Bunker, which laid out information about the Bunker and its history during World War II. It was very weird to see signs showing how the Bunker was right underneath what is now currently a parking lot and a hotel. Interestingly, the museums weren’t much different. Many of the other museums we have seen on the trip seemed to have a lot of artifacts from World War II and told a bit of a history about their involvement in the war, but you could always see a bit of the nationalism in their telling of the history as well. The French museums, for example, placed a strong emphasis on Charles de Gaulle trying to mobilize a resistance and seemed to downplay Petain and Vichy’s government as more of “a few bad apples.” Meanwhile we know that the French resistance wasn’t really big enough to make a strong impact on the war as a whole and the Vichy government garnered a lot more support than they made it seem like, and they collaborated with the Nazis much more than they needed to. Germany, meanwhile, seemed to at least try and take a much more objective approach at the war. Granted they definitely wanted you to believe what they were telling you, it was mostly just reading signs with statistics and facts from the war. We saw this in every museum we went to. They were mostly placed at historic sites, but their content was all presented the same way with just a different aspect of the war that they focused on.

Building in Berlin that is still riddled with bullet holes from World War II, showing how much of it's history is still left in the city.

Building in Berlin that is still riddled with bullet holes from World War II, showing how much of it’s history is still left in the city.

Seeing the way that Berlin, and all of these countries presented World War II differently definitely has made me begin to question my own views on it and we are presented history in the United States. In the U.S., we are taught that the U.S. played a very heroic part in the war and that we were definitely the good guys and essentially saviors of Europe. But perhaps we need to question how we present World War II and the Holocaust ourselves as after all, history is always written by the victors.

A Grand Finale

Final stop. Berlin, Germany.

Being from Cincinnati, it is well assumed that there is some German linage in me, about 50% actually. I’ve grown up with the Hofbrauhaus down the street and traditional German food my entire life so there was no one surprised when I was most excited to visit Berlin. The atmosphere from the beginning was much different than I expected. On the first night we had a meal that contained traditional German dishes. I was used to sauerkraut and pork but let me tell you this was far better than any food I could get at home. Surprisingly enough this would be the last “real” meal I ate in Germany. The rest of the time I spent eating bratwurst and currywurst from street vendors.

Enjoying some of the most delicious bratwursts.

Enjoying some of the most delicious bratwursts.

After being in Poland, I knew how delicious street food could be but this was something completely different. The frites that came with them were some of the greatest French fries I have ever eaten. Everything about Germany seemed relatively simple. The building were all much newer than the previous cities and there didn’t seem to be a huge rush to get anywhere. The most interesting thing I found was that most businesses were closed on Mondays.

As we began to explore museums and historical sites, we were given an even newer perspective. We were seeing the war from the eyes of those responsible for it. Most of the museums were much more factual than any we had seen before. They contained no sense of nationalism or emotion. I was also surprised to learn that German school children must visit a certain number of holocaust informational or memorial cites in a certain period to enhance their curriculum. This might be the most powerful way that Germany is taking responsibility. This complete acceptance of responsibility for their part in the war is being turned into a learning tool to help Germany stay a part of the Western World.  I think putting Germany at the end of our trip increased my knowledge to let me see just how much responsibility they took for the war. A tour guide told us her Grandmother was a part of the war and when asked about it she always said she didn’t want to talk about it or that it was the Nazis and not the peoples fault. It’s surprising to me that the next generation had to be the ones to change the views and education to reflect the faults in the German past.

View from the top of the Bundestag.

View from the top of the Bundestag.

The place I found most nationalistic was the Bundestag, the home of the German parliament. Here it was repeated over and over how much the city believes and supports democratic ideals. The architecture even led to the ideal of the people being the main voice in government decisions.

Berlin is known to be the site of division of the eastern and western worlds because of the Berlin Wall. Going into the city I had no idea the size or power of this wall. After visiting the eastern gallery, a small section of the wall dedicated to the art created on it, I began to gain a perspective of just how large the city was. This small part took around thirty to forty minutes to walk past. The gallery has dedicated their time and money to the upkeep of the wall. In 1990, a year after the wall fell, they had local artists use the remaining portions as a canvas. I found this incredibly inspiring as they took something that was so ugly and so destructive and made something incredibly beautiful. Most of the art encourages the viewers to look at their world and change what is wrong with it.

The 1936 Olympic stadium.

The 1936 Olympic stadium.

Overall, this city and the entire trip in general, gave me a new found appreciation for myself and the world around me. This journey has taught me not only that I am completely capable of navigating foreign countries but also that perspective is everything. Over time I have gained a certain beliefs or expectations of the world and this trip destroyed that. By immersing myself in so many different cultures I began to understand much more about the bubble I had been living in and how happy I was to change that. This journey will be one not soon forgotten and as I sit in the Orlando Airport I am desperately tempted to jump on a plane back to London. Over the last month I have been given so much more than I could’ve hoped and I couldn’t be more grateful.

The best people I have ever met.

The best people I have ever met.

żyje się tylko raz,