Berlin and The Holocaust | Monument to the Murdered Jews of Europe and The Reichstag

November 9, 2017
Berlin and The Holocaust | Monument to the Murdered Jews of Europe and The Reichstag | Andrew Jones-Brothers

After our first day and night in Berlin, we slept like the dead. Jet lag had its way and we slept through the arrival of our friends Cortney and West. Well… at least some of us did.

Scott and I awoke to a Ring Ring – Buzzzz around 7:30 that morning. We had missed all of the previous announcement messages that our friends had sent us. One telling us they had landed. One telling us they were on their way. One asking if we were alive. One telling us they were downstairs.  Jet lag is a no joke – I normally wake up at the softest ‘ding’ of my alarm chimes.

I’m not sure if it was the first, or the 5th call they had made to us – but we were up! Well… again, at least Scott was. I opened one eye, muttered something about “they’re here!” And promptly rolled back over and went to sleep.

Cortney and Wes had fueled up on espressos once they had landed. Therefore the idea of them catching some sleep while the rest of us slept in was pretty much out of the question. Scott – being the trooper that he is – stayed up and talked with them for close to an hour before I rolled out of bed and joined them. One by one, the apartment came to life and we were up and running.

After everyone had their coffee and breakfast items, we all took our turns in the 2 showers the flat had to offer. Before long, we were out the door and ready to see more of the city!

As I mentioned in my previous installment, we promised Cortney and Wes that we would be saving much of the holocaust sights of Berlin for after they arrived. We held true to our word! First up, we headed back to the same part of Berlin as the Brandenburg Gate and to visit the Monument of the Murdered Jews of Europe.

It’s hard to explain what the monument was like. When we first approached the maze – we were all in great spirits and excited! The monument appeared to be some kind of concrete version of a hedge maze. The stones of the monument start just mere inches from the ground. Yet, as we proceeded through the monument, the stones grew taller and taller. Over 15 feet tall at the center of the maze. Before we knew it, we were separated from our group – all going our own direction among the vast stone columns. The mood, had also changed. We all began to feel uneasy, nervous, and alone. While we would glimpse each other from time to time between the columns it was hard to stay with your loved ones.

I believe this to be the idea of the monument. To make you feel alone, nervous and lost. To show you glimpses of your loved ones, but when you try to find them – you can’t.

The photos I took really don’t do it justice. To get a better idea the monument, check out my vlog on Berlin here.

After wandering around the monument for a while, we slowly gathered our group back together and headed for higher ground.

The monument sits atop a subterranean museum to the victims of the holocaust. The museum was hands down one of the most impactful parts of the trip.

The museum exhibit began with a large quote on the wall that stated simply “It happened. Therefore it can happen again.” Even as I sit here typing this blog, seeing those words in my head sends chills down my spine.

I knew the holocaust was certainly more than just Germany. However, until I went through this exhibit – I didn’t know just how large the reach of the Nazi holocaust really was. The number of concentration camps. The number of victims. Close to 6 million lives by best accounts (basically the entire population of Berlin + an additional 1/2).

If you ever go to Berlin, you simply must go to this museum. You truly get a sense for the tragedy of the whole thing. It isn’t just text books and placards. You see the faces of many of the victims. You hear audio clips. You read the final letters of many who were lost. It was absolutely heartbreaking. I’m certainly not one who is brought to tears easily, yet even I couldn’t help but shedding a few.

This was another instance where it felt wrong to take my camera out and photograph the exhibit. It would have broken the reverence of the space. However, I did take a few photos of spaces in the museum that were particularly impactful to me.

Below, you will see a map of Europe. The red dots are all of the big concentration camps people know of. The yellow – are all of the areas where work camps, holding camps, and smaller concentration camps took place. It was absolutely epidemic. The room with the glowing tiles, is the room of final letters. Where you read first hand account of those who knew they were in their final days. Some of these letters were literally scribbled on pieces of paper and tossed from trains as they went through towns on their way to camps. The final photo is a family who was featured in the museum. I think as Americans we often just think of the victims in mass. We don’t personalize them, nor do we realize these were people like you and I who were simply taken from their homes for who they were born as. Once you see their faces, something just makes it infinitely more personal.

I know that got heavy, I apologize. But I think it is important to address, important to remember.

After we left, we all felt a little out of sorts. We needed to go fuel up with a bite to eat and a stein of beer before we continued on with our day.

We headed toward the financial district of Berlin and found a row of restaurants. We found the one we felt looked the most “authentic” and enjoyed a famous Berlin favorite – curry wursts – and steins of local beer.

Feeling our spirits again a bit lighter, we headed to meet up with some of the other wedding guests for a tour of the Reichstag.

The tour was another surprise Angelique and Thomas had set up for their guests. Just one more thing that made us feel extremely special to be able to witness.

The Reichstag is the seat of Germany’s Parliament. The building is a fantastic marriage of old world, and modern architecture. The facade of the building appears to have hardly been touched since it was first constructed. In fact, if you look closely, you can even see bullet holes in the exterior of the building that took place during the fighting of WWII.

Once inside, you are ushered through a set of lock-style security glass where one door opens only after the door before has closed. We were taken from the security checkpoint to a gargantuan elevator that delivered us to the top of the building.

The top of the Reichstag is an amazing example of modern German architecture. A massive glass dome that houses a beautiful mirrored glass funnel sits atop the structure like a crown. At the base of the funnel is a skylight window into the Parliament chambers. This is to represent the transparency of the German government. In fact, it was my understanding that anyone can sit in on a session of Parliament – however, there is a bit of a waiting list as seats are numbered for the public.

We walked all around the outside, and inside the glass dome for probably close to an hour. The views were incredible, and it was a photo-op dream to say the least.

As the day grew later, jet lag was returning and we were again in need of sustenance. We found a quaint little riverside restaurant where we enjoyed espressos all around, and the absolute best apple strudel I have ever tasted!

Needless to say – we were all exhausted after a full day of sight seeing. We all agreed that the best thing for our future was a night in. Wine, pizza and playing cards was just what the doctor ordered. We all went to bed very early to rest up. After all – the wedding was the next day!

– Andrew Jones-Brothers

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