A little over a week ago we spent three days in Berlin, the capital of Germany, on a class trip. We took a 5 hour train to Berlin's hauptbahnhof, which is apparently the biggest transportation station in Europe. On our first day there we took a bike tour of the city and saw the Brandenburg Gate, which is a main symbol of Germany.
We got to tour the Chancellory, or the German version of the Whitehouse. I think its pretty cool that the Chancellor in office now is the first female to hold that honor. The Chancellory is nicknamed the 'washing machine' because part of it looks like a white cube with a large circular window. The design of the building is very modern and mixes sharp cubic edges with curving flowing lines.
Our trip had a very somber day when we visited a concentration camp in Oranienburg called the Sachsenhausen. This camp was one of the first built in Germany. Its first purpose was to hold criminals and those who spoke out against the government, but it was soon used to imprison communists, homosexuals, and jews. Basically anyone that the government saw as undesirable.
Sachsenhausen is not nearly as horrific as Auschwitz, but the methods the Nazis used to kill Jews were first experimented and practiced here. These are the remains of the 'medical' rooms that the S.S. Officers would use to trick the prisoners into getting 'check ups'. They would think they were going to take a shower, only to be gassed to death. Or they would line up against a wall with a ruler thinking they were going to be measured, only to be shot in the neck by an officer on the other side through a hole in the wall.
This camp is also one of the first places the Nazis began to cremate the bodies to get rid of the evidence of what they were doing. They burned the bodies in these ovens and then buried their ashes outside nearby. It was a sad experience to stand where so many people died.
Medical experiments on prisoners also began here. Doctors would inject deceases into healthy victims and to observe the results. Many of these people died from the wounds inflicted upon them.
On a lighter note, we also got to see the East Side Gallery, which is an exhibition of street art on the remains of the Berlin Wall. Our tour guide, Gunther, was actually the artist of the work behind him. He was extremely knowledgeable about all of the artists on the wall.
We visited the Jewish Museum, which turned out to be not what I expected. I thought it would be very traditional and full of historic exhibitions. Instead our tour mainly revolved around 3 modern art installations that each communicated the pain Jews felt during the Holocaust. One of them was the Fallen Leaves installation, which was a sea of iron faces representing the victims of genocide. The piece was meant to be walked on, but it made those who experienced it feel uneasy. The metal clanked loudly as you walked by and the sounds echoed through the hall.
I liked the area about Jewish culture a lot. Its easy to just label Jews as victims and not learn more about them as a people. Seeing exhibits about their customs brought life to the museum. I really liked this intricate wedding belt on display.
A small group of us went to the Computer Game history museum during our free time. I'm not much of a gamer, but I found it pretty interesting. The boys played this game called the Painstation, which literally electrically shocked, burned, and whipped the hands of the players. Its basically pong for masochists.
After that we went and did the complete opposite thing and went shopping at KaDeWe which apparently is the largest department store in Europe. I would believe it, it was huge and full of extremely expensive things I could never afford. I did however indulge in a lot of perfume sampling. My bottle of Escada's Sunset Heat broke in Italy and I'm contemplating replacing it with Escada's Taj Sunset or Marc Jacob's Daisy Eau So Fresh.
The perfume section was absolutely gorgeous. I loved the diamonds that ascended up to the ceiling like stars floating into the night sky. We almost had to make a run for it though, when Stephanie knocked a bottle of Burberry Brit from the shelf and broke it. Honestly, we probably would have bolted if we hadn't been paralyzed in fear. Thankfully the sales lady didn't seem to be upset.
On the top floor of the department store was a massive bear whose only purpose clearly was to have pictures taken with. I believe bears are a symbol of Berlin from the region's crest which features a bear.
Apparently Germany is known for their cross-eyed possums? I never heard of them before I saw this stuffed animal and thought it was a mistake until I realized all of them on the shelf were cross-eyed. I guess if UT can have albino squirrels, Germany can have these guys.
You know I have to mention food before I end a post. One of the nights in Berlin, the school provided us with a dinner at this Italian pizza restaurant. They had over 20 types of pizzas with the strangest combination of toppings. I had to get the basil pizza when I saw it on the menu, I love anything with basil in it. Jill and Marissa ordered this Tiramisu that was nothing short of amazing. I had a bite of it and decided that I must invent a sort of Tiramisu spread to eat with toast. But considering my addiction to Nutella already, I probably shouldn't temp myself by making such a thing.
Again with the bears. In Berlin they really are everywhere. At first I thought this was maple syrup and wanted to purchase it, but then I realized we were in the liquor section and reconsidered seeing as it probably was not meant for waffles. Its still a super cute bottle though.
Overall my impression of Berlin is that it is soaked in an incredibly important past, but at the same time is speeding towards a new modern future. Shopping centers and urban centers stand next to historic masterpieces and graffiti covered rubble.