Joined by our amazing Berliner Stevie once more, we began our day by visiting Track 17 at Grunewald Station. Track 17 is the primary location where the Nazis kidnapped deported the Jews of Berlin. The majority of which went to Theresienstadt and later death camps such as Auschwitz. The track was hidden, in a less populous part of town surrounded by a rich forest. Because of this, the Nazis viewed the track as the best location in which Jews could be deported out of the public’s sight. Nowadays, the track features a memorial listing the number and locations of the deportations alongside a monument. Stevie pointed out the Israeli flags nearby, most likely from a memorial gathering a few days prior. Besides this, the area was still filled with bikers and joggers, as well as a small grocery stand. This environment, much like what we saw at the bunker site of Hitler’s suicide, shows how Germany seeks to remember the past while remaining careful not to glorify it. This visit was a nice precursor to the Wannsee house, which we made our way to shortly after.
As we approached the Wannsee house however, it was interesting to note the area in which we were entering. The Wannsee area is a beautiful suburb of Berlin on the shores of the Havel river. The neighborhood was calm and lavish, hardly preparing us for what we were about to experience. The Wannsee Conference was held at this house, property seized by the Schutzstaffel (SS) a few years beforehand. The conference was a meeting of senior officials of Nazi Germany ordered by Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich. The purpose of the meeting was to establish the logistical implementation of the “Final Solution” plan, previously agreed upon by Hitler and other high-ranking officials. Although the conference lasted a mere 90 minutes, the decisions and planning implemented here had an unimaginably destructive impact of Europe, WWII, and society as a whole. When touring the museum on the inside of the building, it was made apparent that something of this caliber could and possibly will happen again. Antisemitism, bigotry and institutionalized violence and oppression did not start with the Holocaust and it will not end with it. The house served as a reminder of scale on which these atrocities were committed. What was simply at short meeting out of thousands at the time, is now remembered as a crucial and devastating part of world history.
After leaving the Wannsee house, we made our way to a biker restaurant and indulged on some homestyle German food. We then made our way to the German Federal Foreign Office. As we were walking in, it was interesting to see a world cup viewing area, complete with a giant tv and refreshments. We then made our way to the briefing room at were greeted by a high-level official rom the Office of European Correspondent. Our briefer began by describing her role within the MFA and how her office coordinates between German’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and the European Union. The office was busy as the EU would hold a FA ministerial meeting the following Monday, a monthly attempt to coordinate member-state foreign policy according to the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and bring awareness to various issues of concern. We then moved into Q&A and discussed several current topics include migration, tariffs, and the Iran Deal. Many of us asked similar questions to those we asked in Brussels as it was interesting to hear the purely German perspective on various topics. In the realm of security and tariffs, Germany has distinctive positions, somewhat contrary to those of France and the rest of the EU. Exploring this dynamic was an interesting way to examine the issues from varying perspectives. We then delved into the transatlantic relationship and specifically, the German-US relationship which has transitioned from the Obama-Merkel bond towards a weaker relationship. We finished up with a few more questions, putting a busy and informative week in Berlin behind us.