Back State Side

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Well, I'm back. I really wish I wasn't, but I am. The rest of the trip was amazing and I wish it didn't end but I guess we all have to come back to reality at some point. I have taken way too many field notes to go into a lot a detail about the trip, plus we visited so many similar places that they are all sadly begin to blur together. Auschwitz, of course, stands out in my mind. It was very cold, wet, and windy that day. Very fitting weather while walking though one of the most notorious concentration camps in history. KL Auschwitz (the name of the German camp) is not to be confused with the town of Oswieciem, where the camp was located. When we were going though passport control in Warsaw one of the students in our group was actually yelled at by a Polish man working there because she said we would be visiting Auschwitz. It is clearly still a very touchy subject to the Polish people. The camp is split up in multiple parts that were so large we were only able to visit two, Auschwitz I (the show camp) and Auschwitz II or Birkenau.

Auschwitz I had been the military barracks for the Polish army so it appeared that the prisoners were being treated much more fairly than in actuality. This part of a camp was for mainly Polish Political Prisoners and it was now turned into a museum about the Holocaust. There were several rooms that covered the history and there were also other rooms that were much more effective in showing the horrors of the Holocaust. One room was filled entirely of shoes, another of pots and pans, one more of toothbrushes and clothes, and finally one of human hair. The most disturbing part of this room was the smell. You could still smell the hair from the hundreds of thousands of men and women that had been shaved at Auschwitz. After that we visited Auschwitz II which was persevered as a concentration camp. While many of the barracks had either been dismantled by the villagers or torn down because of health threats, there were still dozen of cold wooden barracks left up. We went into the women's section where we could go in and still see the wooden "beds" that were meant to fit 10 people almost on top of each other. Walking around these camps makes the suffering of the Holocaust much more real. It is still just beyond my comprehension, but as I walked alone at one point it all began to sink in. I was drenched, cold, and even though I was there with a group I felt very much alone.

We also visited Terezin which was more of a "transit" camp where the prisoners would be held until the were shipped off to other places to either be put to work or put to death. This was a show camp/ghetto. The Red Cross came here and were easily fooled by the nice porcelain sinks that were not even hooked up to water. We visited several museums and monuments that have all kind of merge together.

The city of Prague was very nice, however way to touristy for my liking. There were warnings about pick-pocketing at our restaurant table IN our hotel. There was a constant fear of having something stolen and there were way too many people in the city. We went out to lunch one day and were charged 1400 Kronas more than we owed (almost $80). The worst part is that our tour guide warned us about this and we tried really hard to avoid the tourist traps, but it clearly didn't work. I'm still trying to block that meal out of my memory. Other than that Prague was great. It was a beautiful city. We took a tour of the the city at night and got a birds eye view from the top of a tower which was a fun trip.

After Prague we drove to Berlin which was nice but the area we were staying in was a little too high class for me. We were on the Kurf├╝rstendamm or the "Kudamm" which was the mile long shopping district of West Berlin. The only store I actually went into was a Chocolate shop and while I'm usually not a big chocolate person I did enjoy my purchase here! We visited a museum in Berlin that I personally thought was amazing. It was very interaction where you could figure out how to write your name in Hebrew and play games to see what your status would have been as a medieval Jew. There was, of course, a much more serious aspect of this museum. In the basement were three intersecting hallways title "Axis of Exile," "Axis of Continuity," and "Axis of Death." At the end of the hallways were very intense exhibits. There was the Garden of Exile which was very similar to the Memorial in Berlin. It was simply tall stone pillars however here everything was slanted. Your eyes felt that you were standing up straight and were in line with everything around you, however your body felt very confused. I literally began feeling sick after a few minutes here. At the end of another hall was the "Holocaust Tower." It was a large concrete tower. There was only a small slit that let in light and air however it was not heated so it was very cold and dark. You could hear noises from outside but because it echoed off the walls the sounds of cars sounded like screams to me. The third hallway had other hallways of off it that were wide and open. It was called the exhibit of the "void" which I just assumed was referring to the open hallways, but as we continued to walk I began to hear loud clinking noises, as if many people were working with hammers. When we finally arrived at the exhibit it turning out to be a hallway of metal faces, "fallen leaves". The artist who created it wanted people to walk on his art. As you walked the metal faced moved and hit one another making this loud noise. As terrify as that noise was it was even more scary to hear the silence when everyone stopped moving.
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On our last day in Berlin we went to the Berlin Zoo which was probably the best zoo I've ever been to. All the animals were adorable and I'm pretty sure everyone enjoyed it. I have a video of a dancing polar bear, too. It may be Knut but I'm not sure because they all really looked the same. After that a few of us went to an Erotic Sex Museum which was extremely different from the Zoo but definitely just as interesting. Check it out if you're ever in Berlin! That night we went to a really cool bar where the entire floor was sand. It was very fun. Quite possibly too much fun if you asked me the next day while waiting in the airport.
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We finally got back here around 12:30 a.m. Monday morning and luckily Wheaton is on spring break and my teachers for the LC canceled classes for the day. I should have been able to sleep in but unfortunately jet lag had me up at 5 in the morning and then 7 the next day. Finally today I was able to wake up to my alarm. Now I only have 3 days of classes left before Easter Break! I've had a week with one day of classes, a week off, and two weeks with three days of classes. Unfortunately, this is just covering up the extreme amounts of work that I know I have to get done in a very short amount of time. For today, however, I'm just going to enjoy the fact that I don't have classes tomorrow and St. Patty's Day is this weekend. After then then I'll get back to reality.

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