My first Berlin travel experience
There I was in dead of Winter, standing on a street corner near the Holocaust Memorial, experiencing my first real moment of inner reflection during what would turn out to be a very atypical Berlin travel experience. The sun, on its way down, painted the clustered Art Deco buildings shades of orange. I looked around only to discover a vast area of what resembled equally proportioned cement blocks, which sat in a public square like a lifeless park. I was puzzled by these blocks and wondered what the significance was, or if there was any significance at all. After crossing the street I came to a sign that said there was a Jewish memorial site beneath the blocks, which were a monument dedicated to the 2,400 Jews who were murdered by the Nazi regime in that area. I couldn’t quite comprehend what the blocks symbolized, so I entered one of the aisles for a closer look into history.
The Berlin Holocaust Memorial
The Berlin Holocaust Memorial monument was deceptive from the street level because the ground was uneven, like waves traveling across the surface of the ocean. Every block was a different size and as I continued inward, the blocks began to dwarf me. At first it felt like a maze, though I could easily find my way back to the street. As I turned and walked down various aisles of the Berlin Holocaust Memorial, I began to feel trapped, lost even. I wasn’t lost in the sense that I couldn’t find my way back, but I was in fact lost in the archives of history. This walk was no longer a journey through a monument, but through the reality of the Holocaust. With every step I took the light seemed to change, affecting the different emotions stirring inside of me. I felt, being Jewish myself, as though I was connected with my ancestors by journeying through the monument. I was hidden within the blocks that represented the Jews who had died, but they seemed to represent the totalitarianism of the Nazi party instead. I could not escape, for every direction I went the aisles got darker and darker.
I closed my eyes and took a few deep breaths. I took my warm hand out of the comfort of my glove and gently placed it on the cold cement surface of one of the blocks. Each block was unprotected just like the Jews who perished; each block was the representation of a dead Jew. A swift breeze snatched me out of the past and brought me back to reality, my hand still on the stone, my eyes still closed. I took a few steps with my hand gently brushing the cement block for stability until I came to its edge. I turned and opened my eyes. There was a clear path to the street from where I stood, but it seemed to end where the sun was about to set. I spread my arms out to the side and ran towards the light, the light that most Jews did not have the fortune of seeing.
I was on the street once again. I found a place in the line that was heading down underneath the Berlin Holocaust Memorial. I entered the underground memorial and parts of the blocks above came down through the ceiling, as if to symbolize that no Jew was safe, not even underground in the darkness. As I ventured through the memorial, I felt all this hatred inside of me boiling to brim as I watched the films of the Jews who stood in lines to get shot. They had no choice but to go one after the other and watch as their race decreased one by one, day after day. How could humanity lower itself to display such violence and brutality? Intimidation was the only word I could think of. I even forgot about the cement blocks above my head. I realized that they were like the weight of fear that every Jew in hiding felt, never knowing if they were going to survive. I couldn’t bare the fury that was inside me, so I exited out the doors back on to the street. I inhaled the brisk air like I had never done before. That moment represented how every Jew must have felt after they had escaped from hiding. Freedom, liberation, and comfort in a world free of war was what I could imagine.
The Jewish Museum Berlin
I couldn’t leave my Berlin travels without exploring the Jewish Museum, designed by Daniel Liebeskind. I stood in front of the museum at night and thought that it was just another old German building, but I was extremely surprised by the modernism when I entered. In order to get to the exhibits one has to go underground and then up into a different building. This building was simplistic, but jagged with black, gray, and white paint on the walls to evoke a plain feeling, even one of monotony. All the display cases housed many things that I had previously seen at the other memorial, which still made me disturbed. I wandered over to a window only to realize that I couldn’t see outside. I anxiously walked to the window on the opposite side of the hall and could only see a glimpse of the outside world. This design is supposed to make people feel captive, as if they are prisoners to the building. I looked down the hall where a large group of people gathered. What was over there? I saw a large metal door and as I drew closer the hallway got narrower, making the area very crowded. I opened the door and entered the room.
Pitch black and shrilling cold was behind the heavy door. The door shut behind me and I couldn’t even see my hand in front of my face. I looked around and spied a beam of light that projected through a hole onto a wall in the top of this empty room. The yearning to know what was outside of this room of darkness, even though I knew what was outside, was overwhelming. The door opened and I quickly escaped the shadows. Upon exiting, I felt a sense of hatred, but knew I had to rid myself of it because that is exactly how history repeats itself. The past can easily become the future if we’re not careful. During my time traveling in Berlin I had the opportunity to experience history through the eyes of the suffering souls of the past, giving me the impression that education, experience, and love are the only ways to make sure events like the Holocaust never occur again. You learn from the past and learn to extend love to the world because hate leads us into the darkness.