During the second half of our group trip to Berlin we spent one day in Postdam, one day seeing and discussing memorials to those persecuted under the Nazi Regime, and one day at Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. As our focus in Paideia is on the ethics behind memorials, our tours were more centered on this topic which personally gave me a different perspective on things.
Our day in Postdam was really fun! We spent most of the time touring the castle Sans Souci and walking through the beautiful gardens there. Sans Souci was really amazing to see, but I am glad we were not during peak tourism time. The castle itself is rather small, only containing 17 rooms. I believe we got to walk through 11 of the rooms. Each room was very different but they all had cultural influences, most of which were French. There are also a few other castles in the area, but unfortunately, they are all closed on Tuesdays. This was rather interesting to all of us, because usually it is either Sunday or Monday that things are closed in Germany.
The next day we had a three-hour walking tour discussing the memorials to the victims of Action T-4, the Soviet soldiers who died in the battle of Berlin, the homosexual victims, the Sinti and Roma victims, and the murdered Jews. As this is a lot of information, I am only going to talk about a few of them. I found the memorial to the victims of Action T-4 rather interesting. At a glance, you would not know it was a memorial at all; it is just a blue wavy wall. However, if you walk past and read all the plaques it is very evident to whom the memorial is commemorating. On the plaques, there are several different stories discussing the murder of people who had mental disorders. The part I found most interesting was that, on each plaque in yellow wording, there was a shortened bulleted version of the information that made the reading easier for those with mental disorders who are visiting the site.
The second memorial I want to discuss is the memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe. This was the second time I have visited this memorial, but this time I entered the site with a slightly different perspective due to Paideia. The memorial itself covers 19,000 square meters, has all different size stone walls, and the ground appears to be wavy. What was interesting to me was the varying perspectives of the memorial even within our group. Some students felt like the children running around disrupted their time at the memorial, whereas others completely disagreed. Some students commented that because the artist did not actually name the memorial it did not mean as much to them. Some students felt that the memorial itself was poorly designed, whereas others said it does exactly what the artist intended it to do. There was a lot more conversation that took place, and it amazed me because the first time I visited this memorial I did not see how controversial the memorial truly is.
The last tour of the trip was of Sachsenhausen. This was a very unique experience as we did not get the typical tour of the concentration camp. Instead, our tour was focused again on the ethics and purpose of the concentration camp. Our tour guide was outstanding and provided us with her knowledge and opinions while still facilitating a great deal of discussion. After 72 years, it was interesting to see what was still remained (like the stone walls enclosing the camp) and what had been rebuilt for the sake of visitors. Also, this camp is really interesting to me because it had a wide variety of prisoners with the majority being political prisoners during the reign of the Nazi regime. However, when the GDR took over, for five years the Nazis were actually sent to this camp in which they previously held all the power. To me, the concentration camp was nothing like I thought it was going to be but, then again, I was not sure what to expect. I am very thankful to have had this experience and to have had a different tour than if I were to have gone on my own. Our group definitely learned that a tour guide can make or break the place you are visiting.
Berlin was truly amazing. We got extremely lucky with the weather — lots and lots of sunshine! Every day we were busy with something, but Dr. Steding was very kind and gave us a free day at the end of our trip. Most of us used this time to see the East Side Gallery or to just simply relax. Berlin was very nice, but now we are back in the somewhat real world. We all have 2 or 3 papers to write for our actual classes. I guess it is a good thing it is supposed to be rainy in Münster this week! I hope everyone is enjoying their Spring!