Three Experiences with Unexpected Results

As our time in Berlin concludes, I feel compelled to share the moments that blind-sided me. These three changed what I knew about symbolism, what I knew about history, and what I knew about myself.

Soviet Stonework Depicting Mobilization for War

The Soviet War memorial stunned me, that first full day in Berlin. Not only did it exemplify how the German Motherland submitted her future to the USSR, but the attention to detail is amazing. Every part of the memorial, from the metal USSR flags to the tomb of the unknown soldier, tells the story of how the Soviet people and soldiers served each other for the common good of the nation and will carry these Communist ideas towards a glorious rebirth of Germany. Stone Facades show the response of the Soviet people to Nazi invasion, while weeping willows line the path to create a somber mood. However, I could not shake the feeling that there was another story to be told. Then as I sat at the foot of the metal statue of the Soviet Soldier, it hit me: I was unsettled by how the entire memorial was a psychological tool to recruit future soldiers. If an unknown soldier receives such an honorable treatment, then why not leave the miserable living conditions and serve Mother Russia in a position that can bring you honor and glory? Prior to this monument, I would not of been able to understand the idea of a monument to a fallen soldier as being a recruitment tool, let alone as a story-telling device.

The Grave of the Unknown Soldier

Among the amazing artifacts that are found in the German History Museum a medieval clock left me with more questions than it provided answers. First, let me preface this paragraph by stating that I do not have a photo of the clock because I read the “no flash photography” symbol as a “no photography” symbol. It is not one of my prouder moments. Now, why is this clock so cool? Because it is written in base 4. For those who are not math majors, number bases signify a way of counting. We normally count in base 10, so base 4 is very abnormal. (This article explains the concept of numerical bases: https://www.mathsisfun.com/numbers/bases.html) Base 4 is not the most simple system , nor is it very efficient because even a relatively small number like 66 requires two more digits when written in base 4. This lead me to two conclusions, either societies were still experimenting with the idea of a convenient number system (which is a current topic in computer science) or Medieval Germans did not have to count very high. Regardless of which theory may be true, one thing is for certain: every basic scientific idea we have had to start somewhere in history. The building blocks of our society (mathematics, modern medicine, large-scale farming, etc.) all had to have their most basic principles worked out through trial and error. Someone had to fail at making a number system multiple times in order to decide on a base 10 system. (Also the concept of zero had to be introduced to Europe, but that is a discussion for another time or maybe the comments section.) This clock signified that not just in terms of history, but in all subjects, our present day success is built on learning from our previous failures.

Soviet Soldier Mass Graves at the Foot of the Grave of the Unknown Soldier

Finally, Dr. P surprised us with a dinner in the dark on our Second day in Berlin. Once I got my bearings in the pitch-black, I was very comfortable with my temporary blindness. Not having visual input was oddly relaxing as it was a great way to let go and put your trust in the waiter. But, that trust did not last long as we happened to have dinner and a show that night. The “show” was a horror theme that relied on the dark as a medium for performing jump-scares. I thought I would be frightened greatly because I have never been a fan of horror movies, but I found the situation very bearable in the dark. It was almost as if movies groomed me to only be spooked by movement, rather than sound or touch. With no scary creatures to pop out in front of me, the situation became very entertaining as there were many people who were greatly frightened by being tapped on the back in the dark. This is not to say that I was neither alert, nor anxious, but I did enjoy the show without being completely overcome by fear. Overall, I was intrigued by the fact that while I might be afraid of the monster under my bed, I would be better if I just turned off all the lights.

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