The program I’m studying abroad with involves a couple of trips together outside of Marburg, so we all basically took a field trip to Berlin!
We left on Thursday morning and didn’t get there until around 6 that evening. We didn’t have anything formally planned that day, so a group of us just walked around our hostel to explore the city a little bit. On Friday, we had a tour of a former Stasi prison at the Berlin Hohenschönhausen Memorial. The prison was in a restricted military area and was completely isolated from the outside; it wasn’t marked on any city map of East Berlin. I learned a lot about the GDR in general and some incredibly shocking and disheartening facts about the prison itself. Many of the tour guides are actually former inmates of the prison, which gave such a distinctive perspective and really highlighted how recent these events were. Visiting places like this is where I become especially grateful for the opportunity to travel abroad. It is impossible to describe the feeling of walking through the numerous cells and thinking about the things that took place there. There is nothing like experiencing something like that first hand.
On Saturday, we had time to explore the city. I saw many of the popular historical landmarks such as the Berlin Wall, Brandenburger Tor, and Checkpoint Charlie. In the evening, we had a tour of the Deutscher Bundestag (the German federal parliament building). It was really exciting to see the inside of the building and sit where parliament is held. Something else that stood out to me was a wall of signatures and graffiti that our tour guide had pointed out. These writings were from when the Soviet Army took over the building in 1945. They had been covered up, but in 1995 the architect involved in renovating the building discovered them and it was decided they would be preserved. The decision was slightly controversial, but it was ultimately decided that displaying such things acts as a reminder of the past. This attitude is prevalent throughout Berlin (and many other parts of Germany) and is the reason why many buildings, such as the Stasi prison we visited, are preserved despite their unpleasant history. They act as educational and historical tools and the fact that they are still standing allows people such as myself to visit and gain a better understanding of the past.