Our final full day in Berlin began with some gorgeous weather and a short walk from the subway station to Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas (Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe). We spent the morning walking through the underground exhibit and then spent some time outside walking around the stone memorial area (which covers a square city block). This is a national memorial to this genocide and, as such, is of immense importance to reconciliation and remembrance.

After our visit here, many began shopping that lasted through the afternoon and extended into the evening. Bergmannstraße and Nikolaiviertel were both popular spots to get gifts at for ourselves, our friends and families.

Our trip then back to Kansas City was relatively uneventful. Thankfully we procured a fleet of taxi vans to take us (and our increased amount of stuff) to the airport. We thus avoided the two subway trains and express bus ride.

Today we visited Ravensbrück Concentration Camp in Fürstenberg, about 1 1/2 hours north of Berlin. We took the Regional Express Train (a double-decker with a great view of the windmills, farms, and architecture) to the Bahnhof (the actual station prisoners came through en route to the camp).

This was a women’s camp, predominantly for political prisoners and “asocial” people. Though it is much like Sachsenhausen’s population, we are now visiting a women’s forced labor camp instead of a men’s forced labor camp. Here more than 132,000 women were prisoners and over 10,000 were murdered, in particular over 6,000 died in the gas chamber (no longer standing) within a month before the Red Army liberated the camp on April 30, 1945. Many survivors provided sketched testimonies of their experiences and we were able to view these in the camp prison’s cells.

Unlike Sachsenhausen, Ravensbrück has chosen not to reconstruct buildings in order to create an experience of what the camp was like. Rather, the goal is to preserve the state of buildings as they are. Thus, all of the structures are original to the camp (including the crematorium we visited at the end of our tour).

We thank our wonderful guide for his expertise, compassion and sensitivity to the testimonies of the victims and the survivors.

Please pardon the camera work on some of these videos. While I was a bit shaky, I was doing my best to avoid photographing our guide, as he could experience repercussions from hate groups.

Here is the group walking down the road up to the camp, in fact, on a cobble-stone road constructed by the prisoners:

In this video you see the main administrative building for the camp’s operations as well as the homes of the SS officials (1/2 of whom were women officers):

We had the chance to view a special part of the camp – pictures and a manuscript which cataloged all those who were murdered at Ravensbrück:

Here we are in the main are of the camp right near where the kitchen was located (standing where roll call happened and punishment by standing occurred). The barracks are no longer standing, so in the second clip you can see what the camp looked like previously (the first taken around 1944 & the second around 1958):

This is inside the camp prison, where many survivors & countries were given cell space to display memorials to those who were murdered:

We finally took a day off from our busy schedule to allow ourselves to explore Berlin’s many museums, cafes, shops, etc. Small groups visited a variety of sites:

We also experienced a spontaneous performance in the Zoologischer Garten area of Berlin. Here is a sample:

Tuesday was spent at the first of two concentration camps we will be visiting, Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. We traveled 50 minutes north by S-bahn (street train) to the small town of Oranienburg, the central headquarters for all Nazi concentration camps in Germany and the occupied territories (i.e. Poland, Austria, etc).

This camp was a model forced labor camp, designed in part by Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler. It housed political prisoners (e.g. Communists, Social Democrats), homosexual men, criminals, Roma, Sinti – that is, those who were deemed “socially undesirable” – and, after 1938, many Jews. After 1945, the camp was used by the Soviets to house and kill prisoners and POWs. We had a top rate 2-hour tour in English of the whole camp – the massive outdoor roll call area, the barracks where prisoners slept and ate, the infirmary where medical experiments and tortures took place, and, the small gas chamber and crematoria areas. It put it in perspective for all of us when we saw the charred ceiling in Barracks 38, where in 1992, Neo-Nazis attempted to burn down the barracks to erase this portion of the site. After the tour, we took some time to reflect on what we were seeing in the exhibition center and watched a short documentary on Sachsenhausen and the larger context of World-War II and Nazi Germany. We thoroughly thank our guide, as it was an immensely meaningful experience.

After some money exchanging, we visited the Topographie of Terrors. Here is the entrance:

We then walked down the path, looking at the outdoor exhibit, before heading to the north side of this block to see a section of the wall. Before lunch we spent a bit of time at Checkpoint Charlie and found a spot in Berlin with lots of souvenir shops. In the afternoon, we went to Die Pergamonmuseum (The Pergamon Museum) and Die Neues Museum (The New Museum). Finally, in the evening a large group of us went to continental Europe’s largest department store, KaDeWe, where we feasted our eyes (and mouths and stomachs) on some tasty cheese, pastas, chocolates and more.

Today we head to the Topographie of Terrors, Checkpoint Charlie, and what many students are excited to see, Nefertiti and The Ishtar Gate at the Museumsinsel (Museum Island, specifically the Pergamon and the Egyptian Museums). Check here for a daily picture of the Topographie of Terrors site, and to see what our weather actually looks like here :).

We had a good time of independent exploration at Die Jüdisches Museum (The Jewish Museum), a tasty lunch (some ate Tapas and some ate German), a brief visit to Die Neue Synagogue (The New Synagogue) as well as a walk (and a bit of shopping) at Die Kunsthaus Tacheles (The Plain Arthouse). The snow was unwelcomed, but everyone endured and enjoyed our first full day here. As sleep is still a bit of an episodic event (it is the middle of the night here) due to jetlag, I’ll let our pictures speak further.

Here are pictures from the Jewish Museum:


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