Being in Germany makes me think of my Opa a lot, and wonder whether or not he ever walked down the same streets that I find myself strolling down. I’m not a huge history fan, but for some reason the only era that has ever been able to hold my attention is WWII and the Holocaust. Growing up I often found myself gravitated toward books like The Diary of Anne Frank and The Devil’s Arithmetic, but I had never been able to explain why I was. When my mother first told me that my Opa, who died before I was born, was German and grew up there during that time, I was devastated. My mom didn’t know many of the details, as my Opa rarely talked about the war and what happened, but what she was able to tell me was that he had only been a boy when he was forced to enlist in the Nazi Youth and that his father was a Nazi recruiter who worked in propaganda. As a boy, my Opa was forced to carry a gun around at a very young age and was forbidden from kissing his mother as it was considered a sign of weakness according to Hitler. At the time when I was told all of this, I was extremely upset and angry that my own family had any part in it. However, now as an adult, I can’t help but sympathize with my Opa about the conditions in which he was forced to grown up in. Can you imagine what it must have been like for a boy during that time? Having to submit to the evil deeds and manipulation of the political party in power? If you were one of the German’s who didn’t succumb to Hitler’s spell, you risked not only being ostracized from your own nation, but your life as well.
My senior philosophy seminar in college was on human rights, so the Nuremberg trials are nothing new to me, as they played a very important role in the field of human rights. For those of you who do not know what the significance of the Nuremberg trials is, it was the very first international trial held after WWII in order to hold those Nazi’s in high positions of power accountable for the events that they allowed to unfold during WWII and the Holocaust. Robert Jackson, an American, was the Chief Prosecutor during the Nuremberg trials and was one of the most influential proponents who originally advocated for the trials to be held and for justice to be served by those responsible. The international trial began in 1945 and was held in Nuremberg, Germany. Although Hitler and other key components of the Holocaust committed suicide prior to the trials, there were 22 German defendants during the Nuremberg trials and out of those 11 were sentenced to death. It was interesting going to see the actual place which the trials were held, and to stand in the very courtroom where the men who were responsible for taking countless lives during WWII were convicted. Also, the building still holds international trials today. I can’t help but appreciate the difference in learning about something in person and be able to explore the places where all of these experiences occurred. Knowledge has a way of taking on a greater meaning when you are able to be where the events you are learning about unfolded. Needless to say, Nuremberg was a very educational and enlightening experience.
Dresden, Germany is such a lovely city, despite all of the physical damage that it suffered during WWII. I wasn’t aware that the U.S., who were allies at that time, dropped a bomb on Dresden which took thousands of civilian lives and virtually destroyed a large portion of the city. However, the city has come around in full circle since then and has managed to successfully reconstruct and repair the areas that were damaged during that time. Today, it is a beautiful city, much more beautiful than Berlin to be honest, and holds one of the best opera houses in the world. As well as, a gorgeous castle with an expansive outdoor courtyard which they would hold balls in during the summer. Additionally, Dresden is known for their fine porcelain china that is traditionally pure white with cobalt blue detailing and designs. It’s funny because we had this china displayed all over the house that I grew up in, and I’ve always adored it, but didn’t have a clue as to where it came or what the significance of it was until our visit to Dresden!
Oh Berlin, there is definitely something very different about Berlin, Germany. It’s a very industrial-looking city, and isn’t very aesthetically pleasing at all, but I will say that there is a very lively and eccentric disposition to it to say the least. It isn’t abnormal for couples in Berlin to be laying on a blanket at the park stark naked in broad daylight. In fact, I don’t think the word abnormal or normal have any significance in Berlin. It’s understandable though I assume, considering the era of communism that consumed the city and it’s citizens for so long and forced them into conformity. It’s not surprising that the city embraces individuality as much as it does today.
I’m sure many of you know or at least have heard of the infamous “Berlin Wall,” which separated eastern and western Germany following WWI. You see, following WWI, Germany was separated into divisions which were controlled by other countries such as Russia, the U.S. and France. Well after a while Russia, who was a communist nation, decided to build a wall around it’s German borders in order to assert its independence from the socialist regime that was under Hitler’s control outside of it’s borders. As a result, Germany became separated between the West and East. The West which was under the control of the socialist party was symbolic of freedom, and the East was under the control of the communist regime. One day, the communist regime just started building a wall which separated the West and eastern territories of Berlin. If you happened to be at work that day or at school in the West, but you lived in the East, you were unable to cross over without abandoning your freedom from that point forward.
There was a ginormous TV tower located on the “Eastern” side of Berlin in order to impress the Western side. However, as a result of the often pompous, cruel and down-right arrogant actions of the communist regime, karma came back and burned them a new one. You see, the communist regime was not a huge fan of religion, morals or even God. So much so that they even tore down one of the famous churches in Berlin because it was blocking their full surveillance of the Berlin wall. Ridicules right? Well, as a result, God decided to show his own sense of humor on the huge TV tower than they created by forming a huge cross on it every time that the sun hits it. So pretty much all day, everyday, so long as the sun is out, there is a huge cross highlighting the curved windows of the TV tower. The communist regime hated the cross so much, that they tried scrubbing the rounded windows and had no luck at removing the cross that illuminated the tower. I just absolutely adored the irony in this situation, because it only continues to illustrate the influence of karma and the power of God.
Originally, the TV tower was supposed to create the illusion that those living under the communist regime were more well off than those who weren’t. However that was far from the case. In fact, after visiting the Stasi museum, who were the former secret police of the communist party, I was given a glimpse of what life under communist control was really like. For instance, the decor and everything was the same in the building that housed the office of the former president during that time. When I say that everything was the same, I mean that literally the rugs, ceramic pots, furniture and other decor of every room within the building were the same. Not only that, but they were the same within every house during that time as well. When we think of communism, we think of equality, yet rarely do we understand the implications behind what was considered “equality.” They literally only had one type of potted plant, one brand of television, one style of artwork, one selection of flooring and it goes on and on. The building was incredibly bland and boring, even the smell was reminiscent of the dullness that often comes with conformity. If you can even begin to imagine that.
Anyways, this whole experience has only continued to show me how valuable freedom is and how important it is to fight for our human rights. I’ve always been fond of human rights, but rarely do I or any of us realize how important they are until we lose them. I can’t even imagine living under any form of dictatorship like the communist regime, I already don’t do well with authority and they definitely took authority to a whole new level. Furthermore, the idea of having to live in such a bland and boring world with little to no options only made me even more thankful for all of the options and possibilities that I have each and every day. It really helped me to realize that variety really is the spice of life, at least in my opinion that is!