The first part of my second day in Berlin was spent preparing to move to my apartment the next day. I bought a day ticket for the public transportation system (city train, bus, tram, and subway), and proceeded to figure out how to get from the hotel to the apartment. It was surprisingly easy: a train, then the subway, then a walk. I explored the area around the apartment, and found a grocery store nearby. I also found a gorgeous Catholic Church: St. Michaels. St. Michaels is the crowning jewel of long park that used to be a canal. I’m hoping to attend at least one service here. Afer I finished scouting the area, I jumped back on the subway to the next place I needed to find: the school where my German classes will be held. The bus stops right in front of the building, so it should be an easy commute from the apartment to the school. There is a Lutheran church right across from the school that seemed pretty lively, so I will attend there at least once as well. With these two routes in my mind, I began to plan my next adventure. In my German classes at UAH, I had read a great deal about the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. It was definitely high on my list of places to go. I jumped on a bus that would take me to a train station where I could head back toward the city center. But when I got off the bus, I was in for a great surprise: I was at the Berlin wall memorial. The memorial is stretch of the wall along Bernhauer street that has been preserved, with archeological remmants highlighted and memorials for those who had died at the wall. It was crazy how much time, effort, and money was spent to keep people inside East Berlin. There was the wall itself, with an open strip of land behind it, with watchtowers, then another wall, and then a fence. This was patrolled by soldiers and police. What was so bad about the east, or so good about the west, that required this level of fortification?
After the wall, I proceeded to the Holocaust memorial. What a sight! The memorial is so heavy with emotion and remembrance, and it is so amazingly complex despite the simplicity of its architecture. If you have never seen it, the memorial is a large, undulating field of dark grey concrete blocks. I walked around inside it for several minutes, losing myself in my thoughts and in the stone towering over me. I slowly worked my way toward the Holocaust exhibit underneath the memorial. There, the story of the Holocaust is told through the words of those who went through it. Several families from all over Europe and their fates are highlighted. When you realize the lengths that were gone to in order to eradicate a people, from ghettos to concentration camps to mass shootings to poison gas chambers, you can’t be comfortable. When you realize that over 10% of the victims of WWII were killed because some people said they were the cause of complex problems, you begin to question the world around you. And when you realize that each of those 6 million had a story, had plans, had family and friends, you weep.
I left the Holocaust memorial and strolled down Unter-den-Linden, one of the main streets in Berlin. It was getting to be late evening, so most places were closed. I got to see the Neue Wache (New Watch), a Prussian guardhouse turned into a memorial for all those killed in WWII. I sat for a while at the Berlin cathedral, which is stunning. I passed by museum island, which is home to five different museums. I eventually got to the train station, where I headed further east. I had looked up some swing dancing events the previous night, and there was one pretty close to the train station. Unfortunately the venue was 21 and up, so I continued walking until I came to the Eastside Gallery. The Eastside Gallery is another section of the Berlin wall that has been preserved. Artists from around the world have come and painted murals along the entire stretch. I love the symbolism of the project, but unfortunately the graffiti on the murals lessened their impact on me. Sometimes it was hard to tell what was the painting and what was graffiti. After the Eastside Gallery, I found the nearest train station and headed to the hotel.