The Dichotomy of Berlin’s History and Our Own Lives

HALLO! Madelyn Hicks here, reporting live with my first ever blog from Berlin, Germany after a whirlwind of experiences in this wonderful place. Today is our last day in Berlin. The time has FLOWN by and I think I may have discovered my favorite city on Planet Earth.

Yesterday, I turned 19 years old (WHAT? Last year as a teenager!) and I am blessed to say that I was able to joyfully celebrate another year on this wonderful Earth in Berlin with the greatest people around. Yesterday was incredible. The culmination of these past four days in Berlin have been incredible! This city and the people I have been exploring it with is greatest birthday present I could ever ask for. To CR Familia reading this, THANK YOU for the most awesome birthday of my whole life and thank you for being you.

Pretty cool way to spend my birthday (even though our team TOTALLY lost)

The past four days I have been challenged to think hard about both the beautiful and dark parts of the history of Berlin; the goodness and the horror of humanity. When I look back on all of it, it is series of both/ands. Not “either/ors” but by all means, both/ands. I have discovered that Berlin is a city of dichotomy. Dichotomy of history, culture, and art.

Part of the CR process includes getting assigned to a team of 5 to explore the city with. I am a PROUD member of Team Bravo, consisting of myself, Conner, Cooper, Kevin, and the best Berlin roommate ever, Chloe. We were given a map in German, funds for exploration fees, and a list of important Berlin museums, monuments, and cultural landmarks to visit. Our motivated, intellectually curious, passionate, and efficient group has absorbed every bit of adventure Berlin has offered to us, and I am so glad I began my Cultural Routes journey with these outstanding people.

Team Bravo in front of the Brandenburg Gate

To Team Bravo – you all have beautiful souls. Thank you for your kindness and acceptance and constant all-in attitude. Thank you for being there in both the difficult and joyful parts. Thank you for reminding me to let go, live a little, and embrace each experience as it comes to us. On another note, thank you CONNER and KEVIN for your strengths in map-reading. We would be lost without you (literally.) This proved to be true when Chloe, Cooper, and I tried to navigate and rode the train the wrong way for 30 minutes. #goodtimes

The Map Boys

Some of my favorite places I visited with Team Bravo included the Berlin Wall Memorial, The Memorial of the Murdered Jews of Europe, Berlinerdom (also known as the Berlin Cathedral) and The Soviet War Memorial, among many other spontaneous detours (shoutout to CR10 – we found the infamous slide on our way to one of our destinations). What stuck out to me about the aforementioned places was, as I mentioned earlier, the true multidimensional quality of their histories.

As many of you know may already know, a wall divided Berlin, physically and ideologically from 1961 to 1989. It is baffling to think that the Berlin Wall came down only 11 years before I was born. Seeing the memorial and going into the museum afterwards prompted me to think a lot about the nature of the GDR period and the violence that came along with it. On August 13th, 1961, citizens of Berlin woke up to the news that a wall was built overnight dividing Soviet occupied Berlin from the rest of the city, dividing it East and West – a literal Iron Curtain across Europe as communism and democracy clashed.

As conditions worsened in the German Democratic Republic (East Berlin), people began making attempts to escape – people as young as 19 and 20 – the age of many of us on Cultural Routes. It is hard to imagine ever being in a position like the people in East Berlin making life-threatening escape attempts. Upwards of 5,000 people were able to escape East Berlin and cross the wall, but at least 140 people were killed in the process of doing so. Some were children, only 6 years old. On our first day in Berlin, Team Bravo stared at the deeply moving Berlin Wall Memorial in the pouring rain and reflected on the bravery of these individuals. With all of this in mind, the fall of the wall is something beautiful in my eyes. After 28 years of extreme tension and numerous lives lost, the wall came down peacefully, in what is often referred to as “The Peaceful Revolution.” Altogether, the brutal violence and tension of the Berlin Wall’s existence compared with its peaceful, nonviolent collapse drew my attention to the dichotomy of this story. A wall that tore apart families and took lives came down in a manner that was opposite of its past. Berlin acknowledges both aspects of the story in an equal manner, and that, to me, is very relevant.

The Berlin Wall was not the only thing that reflected Berlin’s multi-faceted history in my eyes. The Brandenburger Tor has altered back and forth in history as a symbol of both revolution/war and peace/openness. The Berlin Cathedral, built in 1905, reflects the style of a typical grand Catholic Cathedral, yet is actually a Protestant place of worship. Its architecture, sandstone reliefs, and mosaics commemorate key figures of the Protestant Reformation that took place not too far from Berlin in Wittenberg, Germany. The Soviet War Memorial honors the 22,000 lives lost in the Battle of Berlin at the conclusion of World War II. Although the Soviet Union was responsible for imposing communism in East Berlin that divided the city for 28 years, it was also the Soviet Union that immensely contributed to the conclusion of World War 2 and the end of the Nazi Regime.

Taking in the Soviet War Memorial

I have discovered that I have a deep appreciation for the way that Berlin, Germany has preserved all parts of its history – the good and the bad. I have never seen such stronger awareness and reverence for the history of this city. I feel that the people of Berlin are cognizant of its importance, keeping in mind that we MUST know history so that it will not be repeated. Berlin and its people do not shy away from the treacherous parts of the past; Berlin confronts them with bold remembrance and integrates this reverence into its culture. Berlin has reminded me of the dichotomy of not only history, but many aspects of our lives. More often than not, the experiences we have, the memories we make, and the things we learn are layered and sometimes even ironic and paradoxical.

It’s been awhile since I’ve hit the history books, but Berlin has revived my history-loving spirit. Berlin has revived my love of adventure and my love of mystery. Above anything else, the city has reminded me that the past is always something we must learn from. As we reviewed the dark history of Berlin, it was easy to get caught in the fray of losing faith in humanity, but in the midst of the darkness, there was so much light. There was light in Berlin’s well-preserved cultural memory; there was light in street art that preached love over hate; there was light in Kevin’s jokes, Conner’s smile, Cooper’s deep questions, and Chloe’s warm personality. There was light to be found in the Austrian girls who taught us how to swing dance the first night, and light to be found when my friends sang happy birthday to me on the train at midnight, and there was light to be found when Dr. Pitcock took the leftovers home from dinner so that we could hand them out in case there was someone who was in need of a meal. Goodness always prevails, no matter how hard the past is. Thank you, Berlin, for reminding me of this in an extremely difficult but worthwhile way.

That’s all for now, folks.

Thank you and goodnight!

Madelyn Hicks

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