Germany was essentially one big history lesson accompanied by some pretty good beer. For the record, two days in Berlin is not enough. But if that’s all you got then I highly recommend Sandman’s New Berlin walking tour with Mark.
“When you think of German history, what do you think of?”
Our tour guide prefaced the question with a prompt to keep it to ourselves, although we were all thinking the same thing.
Nic knows more details about German history than I do. All I know is that my last name is German and hard to pronounce. Our tour guide, Mark, was from London and considered Berlin to be the best city in the world. His love for the city and passion for history made for a quality walking tour.
World War II and the Nazi regime isn’t necessarily a pleasant topic, but one that is so necessary in order to understand present day Germany – specifically Berlin. Berlin is quite the hipster city, with great food, music and lots of street art. The majority of architecture has been restored since WWII, but still holds on to the life and energy of traditional Germany.
Mark was brilliant at painting a picture and making us understand the importance of checking the rearview mirror every once in awhile. I learned that Germany was once very accepting and a safe haven for those escaping religious persecution in France. Mark wasn’t surprised that this was new information to most, as a 15 year period cast a shadow over 300 years of greatness. To help clear the cloud, Germany has willingly taken on a constantly growing number of Syrian refugees, sending the message that any and all are welcome.
At this point, it’s hard to say whether this act will be what comes to mind when one day asked what I think of German history. But it definitely got me thinking.
After Berlin, we spent one night in Dresden, a city that was heavily bombed during the war; but holy moly did they restore. The contrast between old cathedrals, museums and government buildings compared to modern apartment complexes and shopping centers was so amazing.
We enjoyed cheap bratwurst & schnitzel where the beginnings of Oktoberfest was taking form. We strolled and gawked at the ominous statues that hovered over us. Then we noticed a man with a megaphone and heard shouting in the distance. It grew louder and then German flags came into view. We attempted to translate the posters and make out the chants. After a quick Google search, we learned it was a rally against the spread of Islam across Europe. It wasn’t a violent riot, but it wasn’t a parade either. We watched from a safe distance and I tried to sort my feelings on the matter.
The message was clearly meant for incoming refugees. While abroad I’ve heard stories of both refugees being welcomed and shunned. I’ve heart stories of refugees rioting and refusing to assimilate. I’ve heard stories of refugees desperate for a safe place to live and work.
And honestly, I”m having trouble forming an opinion. I hurt for the people who are ready to build a quiet life in a new place and are instead faced with hate. I don’t understand the people who are welcomed into a new place and choose to destroy rather contribute.
As a wannabe world traveller, I am constantly learning just how similar we are to one another on a basic level. But I am also learning how much culture, religion, language and resources can make us forget that. I’ve had countless conversations that involve breaking stereotypes. Whether it’s explaining that not all Texans are cowboys or that no, not all of America wants Donald Trump for president. There were also questions I couldn’t answer after realizing that I can’t speak for my entire state/country/race/gender/etc. I can only speak for myself.
I think that is why travel is so important. You get to have really intense conversation with people who come from what seems like a world away and realize that you have a lot in common. You can also have mediocre conversation with people from one state over and realize that you couldn’t agree less.
Point is – I find it incredibly dangerous to lump groups of people together, unless we’re thinking really broad like…we’re all human and we all need food/water/love/etc. I mean I won’t even declare a political party. My views and opinions are always changing – because I plan to keep learning and taking in new information that may end up swaying my vote. I don’t consider it “wishy-washy” or “unsure.” I consider it open-minded; a quality my family name is proud to share.
Let’s see what I learn in Italy!
Update from Italy: We met a couple from Berlin at our B&b and they told us about ‘Pegida’, a movement based in Dresden that stands for “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West,” which they consider to be a very small representation of public opinion & assured us that their government does not support their ideals. After some more research, we learned that 18,000 people were a part of the rally we witnessed in Dresden and that we were right not to join the march; as some of their ideals are quite hateful. Nic and I realize that differing opinions are everywhere and that it was total coincidence we came upon such a rally on a Monday evening. I’m going to continue to have my eyes/ears/mind open and will report back with updates.
Stay classy San Diego.