Saturday, August 31, 2013

From Berlin, With Love

Berlin Dom
Berlin Wall
Our journey started in Berlin, with a brief layover in Brussels. The trip did not really hit me until the layover in Brussels at about 2am NY time when I was laying my head on Mike’s lap, trying to get in 15 minutes of sleep, and I heard a flight attendant announce a plane boarding in French. I had a teacher once say to me, "You just love words." And it is still true- I love words in any language. When we landed in Germany, the feeling was no different. Language - be still my heart.

I have been to Europe before, but I never made it to Germany. But having made a German friend the last time I lived in Ireland in 2003, the invitation had always been open to come for a visit. And what a visit! Did I mention my German friend works in the hotel industry and hooked us up with a reserved tour of the Reichstag, a hop on-hop off bus tour, a boat tour, and dinner reservations at the TV Tower? When I say we did Berlin, we DID Berlin, (Thanks, Nicole!) complete with beer gardens, audio guides, memorials, all sorts of different sausages, even Russian pancakes, and lovely evenings with Germans! (Oh, and when I say “we” I mean me, Mike, and Danielle @dromeodromeo who was traveling from Hamburg!) I fell in love with that city and I learned so much. I have to say the tour of the Reichstag still remains one of my top three experiences so far. The audio guide was very interesting and takes you through the new glass dome of the Reichstag which has a 360 degrees view of Berlin. The guide has senses in it that tell you when to stop and look out at certain buildings or monuments and then it tells you the history. The tour was very well done and the architecture is very inspired. The Germans call the glass dome of the Reichstag the "heart of democracy"
Reichstag
and you can actually look down through the glass onto the parliament floor even when it is in session. There is a genuine symbolic effort to be transparent in a country with such a murky and dark political past. (It should be noted the Nazi party never held office at the Reichstag) And on that note, the “Topography of Terror” tour on the Nazi’s rise to power was fascinating. They were terrifyingly systematic. They took this fragile, vulnerable country suffering the effects of a devastating depression and then they agressively pointed blame and “gave reason,” then instilled hope through a distorted nationalism and then once they earned enough support, kept their power with violence and terror and this was before the Holocaust even began. It kind of blows your mind to learn more about World War II while in Germany. But what really blew my mind were the tiny gold plaques in the cobblestone all around the city. You may not notice them at first, but Mike found two. The plaques are a part of a new memorial to mark the places where Jews who were sent to concentration camps once lived. Germany will never get away from that piece of their history, just like America will never fully get away from our history of slavery. It's important to remember. It's important to keep trying to heal.

Nicole and I met while working in a tiny sandwich shop in Caherciveen, Ireland back in 2003. We reconnected years later via Facebook. She and another friend came and visited Mike and I in 2010. Though we have not seen each other much, we have now known each other for ten years. She is the kind of friend that always says something that makes me think. My favorite part of my Berlin trip was talking about our respective countries. From her experiences and her understanding of America seen through a European lens, her observations of the country were very conflicted. She brought up the Janet Jackson Nipple/Superbowl incident as one example. She was so surprised about the country’s reaction especially when most of
More Walls to Come Down (Berlin Wall)
the music videos on TV objectify women. As with any honest conversation on American politics and culture, eventually we talked about racism and we talked about Trayvon Martin and how  “Stand Your Ground” seems to be no more of a defense as simply a license to kill black people. Trayvon is not the only unarmed black kid whose killer has been able to claim this as a legitimate defense. Despite having elected Barak Obama, racism in America is institutionalized and the world is watching. 

We also talked about the Berlin Wall. Having just been a child in East Berlin when the wall came down, she did not have many memories of the division or reunification. I wondered if like my Reagan-era generation who grew up being told we could be and do anything,  if somehow though she had no memories of this piece of history, if a footprint had still be left on her perspective of life. As you Americans, we were told we should follow our dreams and then grow up and get married and buy a home. What is a man with out his homestead? A woman without her family AND her career? And I watched so many of my friends, as well as myself, over the last decade struggle with these distortions about what we “deserve.” Where as she grew up acknowledging that certain things were out of reach so why long for it?  I had a very wise woman once say to me, if you want your life to have meaning, stop looking for it.

Later that night, we ran into an old friend from Ireland (her ex boyfriend) and joined he and his friend at a pub and the night could not have been better if we planned it, certainly not better if we were looking for it.

Of all the places we saw in Germany, my favorite thing was spending time with Nicole (and Chris!) which left me with so much to think about. Germans are smart and they are no bullshit and she is no exception. I will miss Berlin, but my friend even more. 

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