Wow. What a busy first few days in Germany for my Transition to Professional Practice Global Service-Learning trip with Amizade and Western University.
Day 1- arrival and first look at Berlin:
We arrived safely in Berlin and were met by our guide Mattias Hass at the airport. From there we took the bus to our really neat hostel, “Generator”. It had fun bunkbeds, a ping pong table that was never freee (too many people loved it), WiFi, and an in house bar. Even though most of us had not slept in over 24 hours once arriving in Berlin, Mattias was sure to keep us moving and give us our first glimpse of the city. Mattias is of German desent and has incredible knowledge and insight into the history of Germany in regards to the Second World War. He has his PhD, has worked in Germany as well as Philadelphia, and completed a Postdoc at UofT. Mattias began his tour by sharing with the group that Germany does not have a central national narrative to share her history. It is made up of different pieces including historic sites, events, and monuments. Mattias provided this question to us: How do Germans come to terms with the Nazi party? I think this question is an important one, and currently do not have an answer. From listening to Mattias and discussions with my colleagues, and through my own experience in the Public History field, I think that through commemorative activities such as memorials, people can begin to come to terms with difficult historical narratives. Through memorial work, people that have a lot or very little knowledge can learn and begin to change their understanding and point of view about a certain subject. I will hopefully return to this question throughout my trip.
On the first day we visited: Oranienburger Strasse (central street of old Berlin), 1860s synagoge built on the aforementioned street, stumbling stones in various locations, Alex Beer commemorative plaque, Catholic hospital, Potestant church, the art installation “Missing House”, first home of the elderly Jewish community plaque and monument, Jewish cemetary, the Berliner mischung, and the Museum Blindenwerkstatt Otto Weidt.
Mattias provided us with some background information about the thriving Jewish community that lived in Berlin prior to the Second World War. The synagoge on Oranienburger Strasse opened in 1866 and was used regularly by the growing Jewish population in the area. The Jewish community saw great success during this time up until 1933, including acceptance of their vibrant society.
Two types of decentralized commemoration work bring done in Berlin: stumbling stones and plaques. Both types need active citizenship to complete the projects and maintain them. Other commemoration work is being completed in conjunction with the government. Stumbling stones are small metal plaques fitted to the cobble stones on the ground all over Berlin to commemorate those that fell victim to the Nazis. The plaques include the name, occupation, and where and how they died. The stones are usualy placed in front of their old place of residence. There are over 5000 stumbling stones and are all provided through sponsorship and volunteer researchers.
We had our first meal in Beriln at an Italian restaurant, which was a funny thing to do, but it certainly was tasty. Later on that day we had dinner at another restaurant near our hostel, I had some yummy sausage, potatoes, and salad.
Overall, day 1 was great, even though the jetlag and exhaustion had overcome us. We had an early night and got up early to explore more of what Berlin had to offer concerning the Holocaust.
Watch for my next post about day 2 in Berlin!