Letters from Abroad

Unconventional Beauty in Berlin

To be honest, if you are going to a city for the beauty, you should not go to Berlin. This city is by no definition beautiful – it is grungy, grey and graffiti-filled. But Berlin has some of the coolest history of any city, and it is just all around cool. There is something new around every corner, and the art scene is fantastic. It reminded me a lot of New York City.

Our schedule was quite packed, but we had the opportunity to see some really great sights. Among these were the Reichstag government building and East Side Gallery. We went up in the “Dom” of the Reichstag at night, so we had some spectacular views of lit-up Berlin. And at East Side Gallery, we had the amazing experience of seeing what remains of the wall which formerly divided this city and its’ people.

In our free time, my roommate and I decided to go to the Pergamon Museum, which is located in the heart of the city on the Museum Island. Unfortunately, tickets were sold out, so we decided to go to the DDR Museum instead. This museum displays various objects from daily life in East Berlin. It even showed a car and an example of a living room, which were both really interesting. With all that we had learned about apartment bugging and phone tapping, it was easy to forget that people just like us had to live their everyday lives during this time.

My favorite things we saw were the Holocaust Memorial, a performance of Spring Awakening and Hohenschönhausen Stasi Prison. The memorial is incredibly hard to describe – you truly have to go there to get the full experience. At first glance, you can only see the tops of the grey stones as you walk in between the rows. But as the ground sinks slowly, the stones grow, and all of a sudden they completely surround you. They seem to stretch on endlessly – you could honestly lose someone in there. Because the aisle is only wide enough for one person, you often have to turn away when another person is coming from the opposite direction. The experience of this monument was unexpectedly unnerving, and it was probably the most impactful memorial I have ever seen.

The dance performance of Spring Awakening took place in a small theater called Ufa Fabrik, which was formerly a factory. I will not lie, I was not sure what to expect, but I was truly amazed by the level of skill that the dancers displayed. The performance was emotional and beautiful, and we all left with goose bumps.

However, Hohenschönhausen Stasi Prison was by far one of the most affecting experiences I have ever had. We had the honor of taking a tour with a man who had been arrested three times by the Stasi, and placed in a prison in Potsdam. He told us calmly of the horrors he had endured, and explained that he only felt pity for the men who had done these awful things to him. I bought a copy of his book and he signed it “Nie wieder Diktatur” or “Never again a dictatorship.” I do not think I will ever forget him, or his experiences.

In the end, I truly believe that going to Berlin for the beauty would be overlooking what makes this city so special. Berlin has so much more to offer than just vain aestheticism – edginess, determination to never forget, or repeat, its’ past and strength to move forward into the future.