Berlin – A City of Cultural Memory

Hello again, all! A few days ago the group traveled from Berlin to Munich,  leaving behind one of my new favorite cities. As you all probably have read in other blogs by now, the large group was separated into three smaller groups to explore Berlin. I myself was a member of Team Bravo along with my incredible comrades Chloe, Cooper, Kevin, and Madelyn. Even though we spent five days in Berlin, I feel as though I could have spent infinitely more time there and still not see every incredible thing the city has to offer. I really connected with Berlin.

As Dr. P has said thousands of times before, Berlin handles cultural memory in an excellent manner. This is readily apparent as you traverse the city, provided you know what to look for. There are two categories in which I would place these relics of remembrance: easy to see and understand, and integrated into the city so well as to be almost invisible.

Most obviously, the abundance of museums remembers and honors the history of Berlin. One such exhibit was the Topography of Terror museum located on the site of the former Schutzstaffel (SS) headquarters. (The SS was a Nazi paramilitary organization that perpetrated horrendous acts against many groups of people during World War II). The museum was one of my favorite parts of Berlin and tells the story of a part of history I didn’t realize I was so interested in. It details the history of the Nazi party, specifically with respect to Hitler’s rise to power and gradual escalation of policy and force to seduce the German people into total warfare. It does so specifically by describing the history of the SS, the secret police, and the other organizations of the Nazis specifically designed to rain terror on the occupied people. This museum was fascinating to me and just one of a multitude of examples I could choose to explain. Like all others in Berlin, this museum was put together and organized extremely well. Madelyn was right by my side the entire way through the museum, taking in the photographs and text with passion. Several times we stopped to discuss particular quotes or images that stuck out to one or both of us. Debriefing with my group both during and after these museums filled to the brim with heavy and deeply saddening material was essential during the time spent in Berlin. I would have been overwhelmed going through that range of emotions alone, but having people with which to discuss my thoughts and feelings while simultaneously listening to theirs was key to processing Berlin. This is really the power of CR as I have seen and experienced it so far. Exploring in this way with peers and friends who are just as passionate to learn and question has been and will continue to be a most excellent experience.

The other component of cultural memory present in Berlin is that which blends in to the rest of the city. On the first night we arrived in Berlin, we embarked on the first of many “night adventures.” This adventure in particular was a walk through Humboldt University in the heart of Berlin, ending with a stop at the square in front of the university library. The group was told to split up, find something interesting or unusual in the square, analyze it to try to figure out its purpose without help, then to ask those with knowledge of the area (Dr. P) for an explanation. Within minutes, we had discovered a transparent panel in the middle of the square which acted as a window to a white room full of empty bookshelves. The group gathered and threw out potential uses and meanings for the room. When its purpose couldn’t be discovered in this manner, Dr. P guided us incrementally to the conclusion that it was to serve as a landmark dedicated to the memory of the books burned by the Nazis during WWII in that very spot. This is one of many integrated landmarks in Berlin. This small, unmarked, underground room in the middle of a town square is the site of huge historical impact. In addition to this memorial, there are plaques integrated into the street in one of the Jewish neighborhoods in memory of the Jews who were taken from their homes there during WWII. Finally, there are statues everywhere, all with symbolism, all marking some event of significance. And this is what I love about Berlin – the city doesn’t let you forget what happened there.

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