The day started with a critical thinking discussion of pre-World War II Germany and the rise to power of the National Socialist German Workers’ (Nazi) Party and Adolf Hitler. Specifically, the Class discussed Germany’s position in Europe after World War I and the treaty of Versailles, the advocation of extreme Nationalism, and the rise in severe anti-Semitism, which lead to Adolf Hitler becoming the German Chancellor and eventual Dictator of the Third Reich. The critical thinking aspect focused on the German people’s acceptance of the positions ascribed by the Nazis and willingness to allow the atrocities that occurred during World War II and the Holocaust.
The Class then boarded the tour bus and continued our tour of Berlin. As we wound back and forth across cobblestone tracks in the pavement, demarcating the line between West and East Berlin, our tour guide, Andrea von Klobuzinsky, discussed life in Berlin prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Driving along the River Spree in East Berlin, we viewed Soviet era apartment buildings and discussed the exodus of Berliners from East to West Germany during the early years of the Soviet and Allied occupation, which ultimately lead to the near overnight construction by the Soviets of the Berlin Wall. Our tour then led to a section of the Wall that has been preserved and painted by activist artist.
Our eyes were attracted to many of the amazing works of art, but none captures the eye more than an iconic painting of two men kissing, Leonid Brezhenv, the General Secretary of the Soviet Union at the time, and Erich Honecker, the General Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party of East Germany. Painted in 1990, the work is formally titled “My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love,” but is unofficially called the “Vampire Kiss” because to many Berliners the relationship represented the life sucking nature of the East Germany and Soviet alliance. While the painting would appear to be a satire, it is in fact a painting of a real photograph of the men embracing in a “Bruderkuss,” or a socialist fraternal kiss.
We then continued to another section of the Berlin Wall that has been restored to resemble the Wall as it stood in the 1980’s. The Wall was in fact two walls, an inner wall and an outer wall, with guard towers, lights, and a patrol lane for Soviet military vehicles. Nearby signs detail the walls construction, its evolution, and the desperation of the nearly 3 million East Germans who fled the Soviet Union. Our tour guide showed us maps of Berlin and Germany and explained how East Berliners would escape to Allied (United States, Britain, and France) controlled West Berlin. For many of the class, the reality that West Berlin sat as a virtual island in the Sea, that was Soviet controlled East Germany, was a shock. We learned that the only access routes in and out of West Berlin were by negotiated flight routes from Allied controlled West Germany airports. We discussed espionage and the Cold War, and the eventual reunification of Germany in 1990.
Our next stop switched back to Nazi Germany as we visited the Topography of Terrors, also known as the Museum of Terrorism. The museum is built on the rubble remains of the 1933 to 1945 headquarters of the Gestapo, the high command and security service of the Nazi SS (Schutzstaffel – “Protection Squad”), and from 1939 the Reich Security Main Office. The exhibition details the Nazi SS atrocities from being the primary architects of the Holocaust and the murder of 6 million Eastern European Jews, to the group tasked with the imprisonment, torture, and murder of political dissidents, and the systematic murder of millions of other people deemed “undesirable” by the Nazi regime. The exhibit features videos, photos, and written accounts of the Nazi SS, and allows for a tour of the excavated Nazi SS torture cells.
After the tour of the Museum of Terrorism, the group went to Maximillian’s for lunch and debriefed on the emotional visit.
The afternoon started with a wardrobe change into business attire for meetings with diplomats at the U.S. Embassy, located next to the famous Brandenburg Gate. The class met with Foreign Agriculture Service Attaché, Kirsten Luxbacher, and her colleagues with the State Department representing positions focused on political, economic, and military relations. The meeting spanned topics on commodity marketing and trade, political relations during a time of German government transition, the rise in nationalism, antisemitism, and racism in Germany, issues related to immigration, and the U.S. military presence and strategy in region.
After the U.S. Embassy, the class transitioned back to learning about the Holocaust with a tour of the Holocaust Memorial, also called the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. The memorial starts with a walk through a monument sculpture designed by architect Peter Eiseman, consisting of large rectangular stones of various sizes, arranged in a grid like pattern on a sloping and rolling field. The monument is designed to produce unsettled feelings and confusion in those who walk through it, and supposedly represents an ordered system that has lost touch with human reason. Others note that the field of stones bares resemblance to a cemetery and serves as a remembrance for those unburied or in unmarked graves. The monument ends at the entrance of the Holocaust Museum, which starts with a general view of the Holocaust, resulting in the murder 6 million Jewish people and near genocide, and ends with a focus on individual victims and Jewish families. The focus on individuals and families humanizes the loss of life and makes the viewer think of each of the 6 million victims.
The day ended with a dinner at a local restaurant called Mutter Hopper with Pamela Rosenberg, former General Director of the San Francisco and Berlin Philharmonic, and cousin to core faculty member, Louise Ferguson. Pamela discussed her leadership journey, critical decisions she made throughout her career, and the experiences of her late husband as a German Jew who left Germany prior to the Holocaust and returned Germany after the war.
Tomorrow, the class will visit the Museum of Resistance in Berlin before departing for Warsaw, with a stop at a Polish farm enroute.