Situation: Christine has to go to an Asian restaurant. She walks in and sees chopsticks on the table.
Christine’s mental reaction to this situation prior to this summer: “Ahhhh! What am I going to do? Is there any way out of this? What am I going to eat? Do they have silverware? I hope they have silverware… I can probably order plain white rice, right? Do you think anyone will notice if I sneak out for pizza after this!?”
Christine’s mental reaction to this situation tonight: “Awesome, chopsticks. I miss those. Ahhh, Japan…Korea… Good times. I wonder what we’re eating? Doesn’t matter – I know I can handle it.”
This is example #459 how traveling has changed me this summer. I am now food fearless, and I somewhat enjoy Asian food. Also, I’m a pro at chopsticks (I’m not even being cocky here – one of the other teachers noticed and asked how I got so good with them. So there.) We ate at a fancy Asian restaurant tonight with a government official who talked to us about Germany and also about his time in America – he studied at Harvard and also took his family on a four week road trip across our country this summer. My non-aversion to the Asian restaurant was a small reminder to me about how much each day and even each experience on these trips has served to change me – change my perspectives on history, on culture, on life in general. Hopefully these are good changes causing me to become a more well-rounded, globally savvy individual. That’s what traveling is supposed to do, right?
Today was a huge cultural eye-opener. We took a tour through the Jewish quarters of Berlin, and we learned a lot about the Jewish history here. It spans back far before World War II, though obviously there is a lot of relevant history in that period as well. One of my favorite stops was a monument to a time in 1943 when a few thousand Jewish men were arrested during their work day and taken to a detainment center. When the men didn’t come home from work, the wives and mothers of these men freaked out and went down to the detainment center to protest. The guards obviously told the women to go home, but they didn’t. The protest went on for days. Some of the men were shipped to Auschwitz. The women kept protesting and demanding their husbands back. More women joined the movement. Finally the protests started to get out of hand, so the government officials decided that the hassle wasn’t worth it. They released all of the men back to their families, and they even brought back the men who had already been shipped away. So many Holocaust stories have sad endings – I loved to hear one with a happy ending. The inscription on the memorial says, “Love and civil disobedience can overthrow a dictatorship.”
We saw another memorial that was not as happy – this one an art piece depicting liberation from Ravensbruck. You can’t see it well in the picture, but all of the women are gaunt, haggard, and unsmiling. I had never considered the fact that liberation from a concentration camp would be anything less than jubilant. This memorial served as a reminder that these women were released…but to what? Many had lost their families, their homes, their health…everything. While it was a positive event, it was still a very sad time for many of them. Another piece depicted a simple dining room with an overturned chair – a statement about how quickly Jewish families had to leave or were taken during the World War II period. A poem around the piece was beautiful; I will post the words when I get the translation from our tour guide who read it to us.
There is a beautiful synagogue in this part of town, and we were lucky enough to be able to tour the inside of it. Our guide was a Holocaust survivor who was sent to a concentration camp as a one-year-old. By all statistics, he shouldn’t have made it out alive. He said that he has a lot of guilt about living when 1.5 million Jewish children just like him did not, and his way to deal with this is to dedicate his life to serving his synagogue and helping tourists such as us learn more about Jewish culture. It was beautifully intricate.
We had dinner after the synagogue, and now I’m in my room typing this quickly before I have to meet my group for the midnight tour of the Berlin monuments. Rumor has it that this will be cool – I’ll let you know when I figure it out. In the mean time, here are some other random pictures that I took today that don’t really fit in the other paragraphs of this post. The one with the street sign reads “Christine Street.” I’m a little ashamed of how my treasured satchel is carelessly thrown on the ground in this picture, but I was pretty excited about that street sign.
***Three Hours Later***
The midnight monument tour was a lot of fun, but it is now 1:26 AM. I need to finish this post quickly in order to have energy for tomorrow. We saw a lot of great things on this tour, and I’ll tell you more about them in person when I get home (those of you who are reading this in Michigan, that is). The one that probably struck me the most was when we stood at a place where thousands of books were burned in 1933. By the site was a plaque on the ground that said, “Dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen.” (Those who burn books will eventually burn people). This was said by Heinrich Heine in 1823, and it’s ominous foreshadowing of what was to come in World War II. A few feet away from the plaque, there is a clear square cut out in the ground. Below it is a room of empty bookshelves symbolizing all of the books that are now gone. It was extremely eerie, and also sad to think how much knowledge was essentially erased from human history during this period. Enjoy the pictures…I have to go to sleep. Good night!