Dresden, Germany was the sight of major bombings during World War II. The city was basically flattened…every church, school, municipal building, and house was completely destroyed. Driving through parts of Dresden you wouldn’t notice that everything had been rebuilt; the city decided to restore the buildings after the war, especially in the inner city, to their original plans. THANK GOODNESS. In my opinion, the historical significance of each one of those buildings is much too important to completely tear down and replace with the concrete boxes that line the streets of other Eastern Block sectors. The beautiful Museums and Churches in the Old Town stand as if they had been since they were erected throughout the early 17th century.
Leipzig, although only a momentary pause on our way to Berlin, was probably my favorite stop. It is a smaller city, mostly for University students, but incredibly worth more time than just one afternoon. We visited Bachs Kirche which is the church Johann Sebastian Bach worked for a large portion of his life. He is also buried in the church and his gravestone lies at the altar. A large statue of Bach stands in front of the church. Leipzig, other than being home to the most publications and newspapers in Germany, is also home to the famous church where the “Monday Demonstrations” took place. The Nikolaikirche stands as a symbol of resistance to Communist rule after World War Two. People of Leipzig of all ages and religions came together in this church to protest the oppressive nature of East Germany. The demonstrations took place for months every Monday and were peaceful aside from a few police incidents. A sign now stands in front of the church and reads: Nikolaikirche: Open for All.
On the contrary to both Dresden and Leipzig, Berlin is a quite modern city. Buildings from the 1960s and 70s line the streets. Modern architecture throughout the city omits the historical context with which Berlin arose from over 200 separate states. It’s an eerie feeling of a century of history forgotten.
Every city we visited in Germany was a part of Eastern Germany after WWII, under Soviet Control. If you’re ever wondering if you’re in the old eastern half of the country, Berlin specifically, just look at the cross-walk signs. The ones like this will let you know you’re in eastern Germany. All other old sectors retained the old, simple crossing signals.
Berlin was a bit overwhelming. The city is so large and has so many more people than Vienna. I had gotten used to the cozy, homey feel Vienna offers. Although each district in Vienna has its own unique qualities, the differences from one district to another in Berlin is much more drastic, especially since it was split into four parts and combined only within the past 20 years.
Regardless of Berlin’s intimidating qualities, there is so much to see and do you will never be bored. The highlights for me were Checkpoint Charlie and Museum, The Holocaust Memorial and Museum, the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, the Berlin Wall, and many other historic sites throughout the city.
The Holocaust memorial museum was an interesting portrayal through technology of lives saved and lost through the Holocaust. In contrast the Jewish Museum was a history through artifacts and some interactive technology of Jews in Europe from the start to the present. Instead of focusing on the Holocaust we were all able to learn about the roots of Jewish life and therefore anti-Semitism and its effect on Jewish culture in Europe. The most moving portion of the museum, however, was a specific exhibit all its own. One first had to walk through large and open hallways bordered only with white walls and filled with an eerie silence. You continue walking as the faint sound of clanking metal becomes more and more audible. Finally upon rounding the corner you see this:
It was simply a small corner of the building, but it looked very much like a cell. The oppressive gray cement walls grow above me and the pale light from the skylight far above gave the illusion of freedom, but one felt quite closed in. No one spoke, but I finally uncovered what the clanking metal sound was…the floor. Round metal pieces with screaming faces, their mouths wide open, covered the cement floor. I don’t really know what else to say, besides that it was the most moving dedication to the holocaust and Jewish suffering in general I have ever experienced.
On a lighter note, I was in Berlin during the Berlinale Film Festival! We were able to see the red carpet entrance of many international stars as they arrived for their movie premiers. Many of the films looked very interesting so I tried to get tickets to one. After standing in line trying to figure out which movie to see as the monitor in front of us flashed those already sold out, we decided against it. Everything we wanted to see was sold out until Sunday and we left early Sunday morning. But, the experience of standing in line with people from all over the world was worth it. Berlin film crews and reporters interviewed those standing in line and all over the streets people waiting to catch a glimpse of a movie star. In the end, standing at the red carpet in the snow and rain watching “stars” we had never heard of before was more fun than watching a movie in a language we wouldn’t understand, let along knew existed.
The Germany trip opened my eyes to the reality that Germany has a rich and diverse history and culture that allowed cities throughout the country to develop in different ways. From quiet and country-like Dresden to international Leipzig to a combination of old and new in Berlin, there is something so rich and different about each city. It was a nice change from Vienna for a week, but as we crossed the border back into Austria, I let out a sigh of relief: I was home. Vienna has a comforting feel that fast-paced Berlin did not. Regardless, being back in the city I now call home would have been a relief no matter where I had been. That was a nice ending to such an incredible trip: knowing that no matter where I go this semester, Vienna will always feel like home.