One Year Ago Today 02/02 – Berlin, Germany

One Year Ago Today I was in Berlin, Germany on a class trip. It wasn’t exactly the most fabulous weekend of my life, but it was an experience I’ll never forget. What follows is the story of my adventure to Berlin. Make sure to check out the Flickr slideshow at the end of the post for all of my photos from the weekend. Enjoy!

02-02-13-One-Year-Ago-Today Berlin, Germany by Britta Swiderski

Three words to describe the weekend: (friggin’) cold, depressing and humbling. Like I said, I am so grateful for the experience, but I wouldn’t do that same weekend over again. I’d go back during spring or fall and plan my own vacation. Ha! That being said, this was a study abroad center-sponsored trip, so most things we did had a lot of educational value; so I definitely learned a lot!

The weekend started off with a warning from our professors that took us on the trip: pack a whole bunch of warm clothing. They expected Berlin to be crazy cold, and they were right. It turned out to be the coldest weekend across Europe in more than a decade. It was so cold, in fact, that people in poorer areas of the continent were dying of hypothermia at a disturbing rate. We were accustomed to 70 degrees Fahrenheit and sunny every single day. (Barcelona winters are literally the best weather ever.) Actually, it snowed in Barcelona the day after we left. What?! The temperature in Berlin hovered around 0 degrees Fahrenheit the whole weekend – just cold enough for even this Minnesotan to want to stay inside.

Me looking like I'm straight from A Christmas Story bundled up in everything warm I brought with me on my trip to Spain. And yes, I looked like this pretty much the whole time. It was COLD!

Me looking like I’m straight out of A Christmas Story bundled up in everything warm I brought with me on my trip to Spain. And yes, I looked like this pretty much the whole time. It was COLD! Here, I’m in the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, one of the many moving places I went that weekend.

We caught an early afternoon flight out of BCN – an EasyJet flight (my current favorite airline – I wish we had them in the US) and landed in the Berlin Tegel Airport in time to take a train to our hotel and check in. We stayed at the Meininger hotel right by Berlin Hauptbahnhof. It was a strange place – half hotel, half hostel where we had to pay a 1 Euro deposit for towels and weren’t allowed to use wifi in our rooms but were in the lobby. And there was a bar that all the students hung out at and drank – all of the 18 year olds, pretty much. It was so strange! We had bunk beds in our rooms, but we DID have German TV. I was introduced to Snooker for the first time and one of my roommates, Vanessa, pretty much served as one of our translators the entire time because she grew up in Hamburg. Therefore, my one major regret of my weekend in Germany is not speaking hardly any German to locals. I did pick up a whole bunch of really odd and random words for my vocabulary over the weekend, though! Ha. (Which I almost instantly forgot once I got back to Barcelona.) I still remember general phrases, though, like please, thank you, sorry, yes, no, “where’s the bathroom” and “one more beer, please.” That’s all I really needed. Ha!

What my coke looked like in Germany - I always took a picture of a coke from each country I went to. (Even though I'm actually an avid Pepsi drinker... they don't really have that as an option in most places I went in Europe.) My big thing about taking pictures of typography in Berlin was finding the longest word possible.

What my coke looked like in Germany – I always took a picture of a coke from each country I went to. (Even though I’m actually an avid Pepsi drinker… they don’t really have that as an option in most places I went in Europe.) My big thing about taking pictures of typography in Berlin was finding the longest word possible.

The next morning, we woke up early and headed out for a bus tour of the city. We spent a lot of our time seeing buildings that had been destroyed in the World Wars and seeing where the Berlin Wall used to stand. I’m a history nut, so I LOVED hearing stories all about the city and seeing everything with my own eyes. I learned so much more about East Berlin than I ever knew; we went and we saw the ginormous Soviet War Memorial Schönholzer Heide and really, truly saw three sides of the same story in one weekend – the points of views of three distinctly different groups of people. It blew my mind.

The Soviet War Memorial Schönholzer Heide was a stunning acknowledgement of a history we're not really talk here in the US - the Soviet participation in World War II and their occupation of East Berlin until the early 90's.

The Soviet War Memorial Schönholzer Heide was a stunning acknowledgement of a history we’re not really talk here in the US – the Soviet participation in World War II and their occupation of East Berlin until the early 90’s.

We also got to see the Olympic Stadium where events from the 1936 Olympics took place. I’m a ginormous fan of everything Olympics. In fact, I’ve now visited six different Olympic cities in 5 different countries in my life. I would love to visit them all some day. :)

The Olympic Stadium in Berlin, which was, at one time, ornamented with svastikas in support of the Nazi party.

The Olympic Stadium in Berlin, which was, at one time, ornamented with svastikas in support of the Nazi party.

The feel of Berlin is so interesting. It is a mixture of art and the appreciation for culture mixed with a strong want to move forward and build things anew. There are museums and monuments all over the city where people can look back, but around them, big malls and skyscrapers are being and have been errected to look into the future. It’s a really fascinating conflict and coexistence of progress and history. Some of it’s good, and some of it’s bad. Some of it’s happy, and some of it’s depressing. Berlin is truly like no other city I’ve ever been to, but at the same time, the people and the restaurants could be down the street from me in Minnesota. For me, it was a weekend with a lot of reflection and introspection.

Without a doubt, my favorite part of Berlin was the graffiti. I felt like it was unapologetic and really told what everyone was thinking but not saying.

Without a doubt, my favorite part of Berlin was the graffiti. I felt like it was unapologetic and really told what everyone was thinking but not saying.

When the tour was over, they dropped us off at the Jewish Museum Berlin and we experienced the design, architecture and tasteful exhibition about Jewish people in Germany. It focused on sharing the whole history, not just talking about the holocaust. The two most moving parts of the exhibition for me were the Holocaust Tower – a dark, cold, cavernous room that let only a slit of sunlight in through the top of the tower, and the “Fallen Leaves” exhibit by Menashe Kadishman. We were encouraged to walk over the faces made out of punched steel in the “Memory Void,” which created loud, unstable sounds but gave the faces a time to talk. It was incredibly moving and meaningful; the piece is in memory of all victims of violence and war.

Walking in the "Memory Void" of "Fallen Leaves" by Menashe Kadishman.

Walking in the “Memory Void” of “Fallen Leaves” by Menashe Kadishman.

After visiting the museum, we went back to the hotel to change and rest for a little bit. Then, a group of us girls decided to go out for dinner. We walked, and we got a little lost, but we finally made it to the place we wanted to be. The couldn’t fit all 12 of us in their open space, so we walked across the street to Bötzow-Privat and ate there. That was the best decision we made all night. The food was AMAZING. The picture at the top of the post was my first beer with dinner, then we had the best bread basket I’ve EVER had, I ordered an entree of steak and potatoes (finally! I had been craving non-Mediterranean food for so long) and finished with seriously THE BEST DESSERT I’VE EVER HAD. Yeah, it’s an all caps thing. It was amazing and I think of it often. I would literally go back to Berlin if only for that. For real.

Seriously the best dessert I've ever had in my life - a handmade molten cake that took 30 minutes to prepare (we stayed for another drink) served with delicious vanilla ice cream. It was the perfect combination of crispy baked outside, molten chocolately goodness and super cold vanilla ice cream. Love, love, love.

Seriously the best dessert I’ve ever had in my life – a handmade molten cake that took 30 minutes to prepare (we stayed for another drink) served with delicious vanilla ice cream. It was the perfect combination of crispy baked outside, molten chocolately goodness and super cold vanilla ice cream. Love, love, love.

After the most delicious dinner, we went to another cute bar for more drinks. There were froo-froo ones and lots of beer, and a whole bunch of high school boys who wanted to talk to us about being Americans. Ha! A few of us went back up to the hotel to go to bed (since we’d been up for far too long) and the others went out to a club.

Delicious froo froo drinks after dinner with the girls.

Delicious froo froo drinks after dinner with the girls.

The next day was the coldest and longest one. We started off the morning with walking around Berlin Hauptbahnhof and learning about the design and architecture of the station. I did some shopping a picked up a few cute things to send home to my family and Jake and then picked up another cardigan to put underneath my coat. While we were waiting for everyone at our meeting point before catching a train to go outside the city, we saw a bachelor party walk in. We had hardly even realized that we were staring (trying to figure out what they were doing and why there was a guy in a fuchsia bear suit) when they came over to us and asked us to participate in their list of challenges. The groom had to carry ten girls up the escalator in his arms. Well, we helped him. Ha! He didn’t speak very much English, so when he carried me up, I spent the whole time trying to explain that I hope he has a happy marriage. This was definitely the weirdest, most random thing I did when I was in Berlin.

The groom carrying me up the escalator as part of his list of challenges for his bachelor party. So random!

The groom carrying me up the escalator as part of his list of challenges for his bachelor party. So random!

Then we took a train to Oranienburg to take a tour and learn more about the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. It was a humbling experience. It was absolutely freezing outside (and almost all of the tour took place outside), it was absolutely horrifyingly depressing and at the end of the tour where they showed us a spot where thousands of murders happened, I was sobbing uncontrollably. So yeah, I wouldn’t exactly do that again. I am incredibly grateful that I had the chance to learn more about what happened and to really see things for myself, but it’s hard to just wish that that place never would’ve existed in the first place. This particular camp wasn’t one of the most murderous ones, but it was the brain epicenter for all labor and execution cames throughout Europe. You’ll see in the some of the photos below inside one of the barracks where the paint is burnt and peeling off of the ceiling. They left this there to show that this is still a current issue within our world today; Neo-Nazis vandalized the barracks on several different occasions in the 1990s – this residue is left from a particularly awful arson attack.

This is about the time I started sobbing uncontrollably at the concentration camp. I'm grateful for the opportunity I had to learn from the pasts' mistakes, but I'm sad this monument has to exist.

This is about the time I started sobbing uncontrollably at the concentration camp. I’m grateful for the opportunity I had to learn from the pasts’ mistakes, but I’m sad this monument has to exist.

After this, we took a train back into the city to talk to an artist in the famous Kunsthaus Tacheles to meet with an artist in residence there. The walls were covered in graffiti and art; upstairs, there were installations on display to the public. We met in the artist’s studio and he showed us some of the work he’s done documenting peoples’ stories from the holocaust. It was amazing to get to see Tacheles before the artists peacefully gave up their holdings to a corporate developer (they gave in after pressure for a really, really long time) later last year; it was truly a place of statement and art.

Walking up the decorated stairs at Kunsthaus Tacheles. It was finally taken over by the owners of the land (corporate developers) in September of 2012 - 7 months after we visited.

Walking up the decorated stairs at Kunsthaus Tacheles. It was finally taken over by the owners of the land (corporate developers) in September of 2012 – 7 months after we visited.

Then a few of us indulged in some currywurst and burger king and I fell into bed and fell asleep for as long as possible. I think I finally was warm by the time I woke up in the morning… maybe. Ha!

Super "traditional" currywurst. Not bad! The fries that came with it were amazing, too.

Super “traditional” currywurst. Not bad! The fries that came with it were amazing, too.

The next morning, we said goodbye to the hotel (and stored our bags in a spare room) and went on a …wait for it… a freaking walking tour. In the snow. Where it was colder than zero degrees out. Needless to say, it wasn’t exactly a “fun” experience, but more of a taking pictures and trying to keep our digits attached to our hands and feet kind of thing.

02-02-13 One Year Ago Today Berlin Germany by Britta Swiderski-133

Me and some of the girls from my program standing in front of the quintessential Berlin monument – the Brandenburg Gate.

I did, however, really enjoy seeing some of the great landmarks of Berlin on foot and exploring the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas). It’s a controversial monument, but it can’t be ignored and means so many things to so many people. It was one of my favorite things I saw in Berlin. The concept of all of the different slabs is so moving, but walking amongst the stelae invoked so many more emotions and gave me a really unique interaction with the monument. That’s what art is meant to do – create emotion. It brings out emotions in the viewer and allows them to reflect and look at life from different angles.

Walking amongst the tallest stelae in the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.

Walking amongst the tallest stelae in the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.

After our tour, we walked back to the hotel to pick up our bags and then flew back to (much, much warmer) Barcelona. That was really the first time that I felt really the want to go home to Barcelona. I felt a longing for my home-away-from-home. I value my time I spent in Berlin so greatly, but really I was so happy to go back to paradise.

Thanks for stopping by today to see what happened one year ago today. I promise that pretty much everything else I did the entire time abroad was a whole lot less somber and much more celebratory. I felt like this trip was just as important (if not more important) to share with you, though. It’s part of me today and still lives on in my heart as a treasured time. Be back soon with another card for you. I just got the most fabulous idea for a video tutorial; I can’t wait to put it into action!

Love,
Britta

2 Comments

Filed under Life and Health, Scrapbooking

2 Responses to One Year Ago Today 02/02 – Berlin, Germany

  1. That was an awesome post, Brit. So well written and thought out. I really feel like I was there with you. I can only imagine the emotional aspect of that trip. You’ve traveled so much, I envy that. Thanks for sharing this part with us!

  2. Barb Ghigliotty

    Hi Britta ~ I can’t thank you enough for sharing this amazing story with us! My ancestors are from Germany, so I am always interested in its’ history.
    As I’ve said before, you have had a truly unique experience by studying abroad, and I’m sure you know how lucky you are :-)
    Thanks for the photos, too…wow! I’m looking forward to your next post ~ hugs to you!!!

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