Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Germany, 2012/3

A New Year in a New Country! 

To celebrate the new year I went to Leipzig in East Germany, leaving my Christmas presents behind to go and see an old school friend and see a little more of this wonderful world. I was thrilled to still be able to go and see the German Christmas markets for myself, and I found that they're so much more alive and more enchanting than those in Birmingham that I've previously visited. The sounds and smells of cooking apples and cinnamon, prepared by smiling, chattering vendors who offered free samples and a welcoming smile to everyone.  Aside from the inevitable partying and catching up that there was to be done, we had a great day in Berlin - there was definitely a lot to learn and a lot to be seen!

Of course, we couldn't have gone to Berlin without stopping off at the Berlin landmark, the Brandenburg Gate (Brandenburger Tor). It wasn't quite as big as I had imagined, but there were many more people there than I thought. The area all around was packed with 
people and it was great to be a part of it even if it was just for five minutes! From people dressed up as the Berlin Bear to a meditating session in the (freezing!) open air it seemed as though everyone had turned up to celebrate and enjoy the surroundings. 
I think it's amazing to consider how much of German history the gate has witnessed, having been built so long ago in the late 18th Century. It used to be one of eighteen gates, built to represent peace and the figure in the chariot is the Roman goddess of victory, Victoria. This does show that Berlin has once more become peaceful, after all the conflicts between East and West that have created problems. I was able to appreciate the struggle that had emerged during the Cold War after studying it in history which I found really rewarding.

Holocaust Memorial to the fallen Jews of Europe
This Holocaust Memorial has a striking presence in Berlin. Although it may seem like a sensitive subject to consider the Holocaust in the heart of Germany, it was amazing to see this monument to the Jewish people who lost their lives in the Holocaust. I have been to Auschwitz before, and seeing these unevenly sized grey concrete blocks does encapsulate the sombre tone that is so characteristic of their struggle. When you go amongst the huge blocks it's like a labyrinth and almost impossible to navigate because all you can see is concrete. This is a great representation of the disorder, loss and confusion within the order of the Nazi regime. 

Although I can appreciate the positive aspects of this memorial to the fallen Jews of Europe, I would have preferred something much more positive to show the beauty of the people who lost their lives, albeit in the tragedy of the Holocaust. It seemed as though this was instead a representation of the German people during the war, as they lost their way under the Nazi regime. I found another memorial in the Jewish Museum, which I think was much more powerful and resonant in its remembrance of the Holocaust victims. This was a collection of hundreds and hundreds of private family photos found in sites of the concentration camps; from making snowmen to having picnics and Christmas dinner. This was a much more vibrant and celebratory legend of the Jewish victims. I had just enjoyed a merry Christmas with my family, and it struck me that the lives and not the deaths of these people were focussed upon. Real people with real lives just like yours and mine. It made me think of the personal value attached to these photos, as they gave some people the strength to survive for the sake of children, parents and other loved ones.

Another thing that I loved about the Jewish Museum in Berlin was
the huge pomegranate tree where people could hang up a wish.
Reading over the wishes that people had was inspirational.

All languages, all ages, all religions, all different people striving for 
goodness and beauty. Truly magical.
I realise that this blog post explores the Holocaust and the damage caused by the German Nazi party in some detail but it cannot be stressed enough that there is SO MUCH more to Germany than that! The German people have moved on from the troubles of the war and there seems to be very little social trouble between East and West. It was brilliant to be able to see Checkpoint Charlie and the remnants of the Berlin Wall after having studied the Cold War at school this year, and I would jump at the chance to go and visit again. The German people now really embody the motto of "Unity, Justice and Freedom" and I'm so pleased that any stereotypes and prejudice that I took with me were soon shattered, and I was able to see the true beauty of Germany. It was great to see my friend again and I was quite taken aback by the cohesion that I could see in the various communities.

Most of the lovely people that I met in Germany. Thank you
to everyone who made this trip really special.

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