Berlin is a city filled with history. Everywhere you look, there it is. You can even find history in the most fun things – like a day at the zoo! On our free day in Berlin, numerous students went to the Berlin Zoo to enjoy the oldest zoo in Germany and a nice, sunny day – finally! It’s located on the West side of Berlin and opened in 1844. With over 1,500 species an 20,500 animals, its the most expansive collection in the world! It was really great to spend time with the class, but also the locals doing what an average Berliner would do on a summer day. It normalized the Berlin people for us, as we are normally so consumed by their history in class and museums that we forget that they are real people who have overcome great strife and are now members of a very prosperous country.
After the Zoo, Cora, Carrie, and I went to find the East Side Gallery. We wanted to have the chance to walk along it and have an up close glance at the murals. However, we got very lost. What caught us off guard was how long that wall was. We thought googling “Berlin Wall” (no judgments, please) would lead us to a tourist starting point. Which it did, it took us to the Berlin Wall memorial on the other side of town where they had blank pieces of the wall and large plaques filled with information and pictures explaining the time period. The blank sides of the Wall represent what the people on the East Side saw and were very sobering as we realized that one day these people could at least see the side of the city they could no longer go to, but now they all the sudden had a massive blank wall with guards blocking it from them. After looking around, we decided to continue looking for the East Side Gallery and went to Check Point Charlie. There we did not find the murals, but found the U.S. checkpoint sight for the wall and the lines that sprawl throughout the city marking where the wall once stood. These markers went on for a very long time and it was amazing. We didn’t realize how long the Berlin Wall was until we started walking along the marker lines. Two hours later we found the East Side Gallery (after googling “East Side Gallery” … ) ! It was in this moment of reaching the paintings that it hit me – we had just spent two entire hours looking for a little part of the wall in the largest city we have been to all summer. I then realized that I would never be able to imagine what it must have been like to have had my life separated by a wall like they did. To one day be able to freely move around and visit with friends and family and then one day to never be able to see them again. One person told us that young kids who were born after the wall went up never saw the other side and had no comparisons to make. So when asked about the other side, they would just respond that they would like to see it one day. How crazy is it that they couldn’t even see the other side of their own city. But also, how insane is it that the political leaders were so paranoid that they felt the need to surround half a city with a wall. I guess I had never had the reality of the Berlin Wall hit me until it was right there in front of me, and sadly I think this is the case for most people. However, I am so impressed by Berlin and the progress they have made.
To me, Berlin does an amazing job of acknowledging their history. They do not pretend that they were not a part of WWI or WWII. They do not pretend that they did not suffer when their city was torn apart by the Berlin Wall. However, they also refuse to let that stop them from moving forward. Berlin is modernizing. There is construction everywhere amongst the historical buildings, showing the progress they are making. They have not let the shadows of history dwell on them, but have come out on top and are making strides towards success. Berlin was impressive. It was clean and green. The metro system was insane and elaborate, able to cover such a large city efficiently. The people were nice and I thoroughly enjoyed my time spent there.