Concentration Camp, Rain, and Spy Games (Day 12)

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Speaking of mortal embarrassment: I have foot-in-mouth disease. It’s a chronic condition in which the afflicted are unable to thoughtfully process intended speech before initiating conversation. It’s really a tragic lifestyle, but the people inhabiting the spaces around the afflicted benefit from the endorphins produced by the laughter which results after flare ups. I had one such flare-up when we were trying to figure out who was missing from the coach before we left. My suggestion? Contiki should tattoo travelers upon the start of the tour. That way, when trying to make sure the group is present, everyone could count off like in elementary school. Unfortunately, the reason we were on the coach, you may have gathered from the title of this blog, was to pay a visit to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. As one of my tour mates was kind enough to point out to me, they were also given tattoos upon arrival to aide in counting. If I was ever going to pitch myself from a moving tour bus, that would have been the time.

Someone just shoot me and put me out of my misery.

Someone just shoot me and put me out of my misery.

Today was the day that we were given the gift of our Day Song. Now, when a virtual stranger plays you a song and says, “We’re going to dance crazy to this song every day and you are going to fall in love with it,” everyone is kind of hesitant. I’m not, usually, but that is part of being on enthusiasm overload almost all the time. I’m not 100% sure that we got the song on this day, but it’s as good a time as any to share it. What’s crazy is: since I’ve been back I have been so ridiculously sad. I miss holiday. I miss my friends, some of whom, it feels like, became part of me. I miss the sense of constant adventure. I miss going all the time, never allowing myself to be tired or bored or lazy. I’m also incredibly grateful to have been where I was, when I was and with whom I was. I’m already planning two reunions. It’s just a bit of a bummer that no matter what, the group of people we had will NEVER be in the same place all together ever again. So when I hear this song now, I laugh and a tear up, happy and sad, thankful and greedy for more. I don’t know if I can really explain it thoroughly enough. I wanted to share the song though:

So, headed to the camp, I  took some time to breathe, and truly meditate on the place to which I was going. I don’t believe in ghosts, but I do feel like tragedy leaves its mark on the earth. I read a lot, especially about the Second World War, and I wanted to soak up this experience; I think we owe them that much, at least. When we got there we were given maps and then we walked up the path to the front gate, the same path they used to walk. I hung back, already feeling heavy, walking in the very back of our group.

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“My” Barrack

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The stone is where the foundation of the building stood.

When we got inside, Luce was giving an orientation talk, but my head was already gone off to other things. Meet at the museum at a certain time, gotcha. When we were released, I wandered off to absorb the magnitude of the place. I picked a barrack that drew my attention and I sat in it for a while, wondering what it was like, who had walked there, lived there, lost there, or died there. I saw everything, took a lot of photos. I was about 30 minutes early for the meet-up, so I walked into the the museum and got a soft pretzel from the cafe inside and went outside to wait. And wait. And wait. Because, apparently, in my haze of historical significance during Luce’s talk I had heard the wrong meeting place. At least I wasn’t alone, because about 8 of us started walking toward where the bus would be parked. Whoops! The sign at the Entrance/Exit to the camp:

Work Makes You Free

Work Makes You Free

I hopped on the bus and since there were still so many people that I hadn’t really gotten to know yet, I grabbed an open seat next to someone I had only spoken to briefly in the lobby. My new seat mate? Liam: Aussie, robotic engineer/college professor/dance monster, listener and observer. He is very smart and was actually in Germany to present some research to an international convention… SMART. It was a long drive back to Berlin, so it was a good time to get to know my new friend.

When we got back to city center I set off in search of the illustrious Berlin street curry wurst along with Liam and two more new friends Tavis and Tiana: Canada, brother and sister, train engineer and bartender. Tavis and I have very similar senses of humor and we both laugh VERY loudly. Tiana is fun to banter with and is super silly, which happens to be a trait that I love. We found a sort of open air market and I bought a super cute pair of handmade silver earrings. At the end of the road the market was on there was a food vender and we got our curry wursts, which I ordered in German and I got what I thought I asked for so all went well! It was pretty good, but it could have been just a tiny bit spicier.

Currywurst

Our group was joined by Candice and Kendra after the food, to walk to the TV tower. While we were headed that way it started a really light rain, but none of us were really worried about it… until it started pouring. We ran for refuge under the covering of the TV tower and made our way around to the entrance to go up to the top. Apparently so did EVERYONE in Berlin. The lobby had no less than 6,000 people inside. I’m not exagerating. I swear on all of the change in the bottom of my purse.

So, instead of going in and waiting in line to go to the observation deck and risking being late for our pick up, we waited for the rain to let up a bit, watching some couple feeling the birds  by covering their own bodies with bread and waiting for the birds to attack. Then we walked back to Karl-Liebknecht Straße, which is the touristy shopping area and sat in the covered area with tons of shops, cafes and restaurants called Heiligegeistkirchplatz. Mouthful, right?

Quaint and super convenient location.

Quaint and super convenient location.

It was a little chilly out still from all of the rain earlier. It really was a bizarre change of weather. While we were at the camp it was almost hot. Fast forward to just after we ate currywurst, and it is absolutely FREZING. I really detest carrying a jacket, so I was braving the elements that evening. We had a walk-about dinner, which means that we were taken as a group to an area with 5-6 restaurants and we all split up to eat whatever we wanted. I had schnitzel (thin pounded meat, breaded and friend), fries and beer. I likes the schnitzel, but I think it might have been better with beef or chicken… I’m not a huge pork fan, aside from bacon.

Schnitzel is good, think chicken fried steak.

Schnitzel is good, think chicken fried steak.

After dinner, we went to go see a portion of the Berlin wall left completely intact at the Berlin Wall Memorial on Bernauer Straße. There were actually two walls with a space in between them called Death Strip. One wall was quite tall and curved over at the top to make climbing and gripping more difficult; the other, shorter and easier to scale. The death strip was a sand strip about 100 meters wide between the two walls that was equipped with numerous defenses like vehicle trenches, beds of nails, landmines, dogs and armed guards. There were nearly 120 guard towers, necessary to prevent the East German soldiers, meant to patrol the death strip, from defecting to West Germany.

This is the section of the wall where we went, from a viewing tower in what would have been West Berlin

This is the section of the wall where we went, from a viewing tower in what would have been West Berlin.

We walked NW on Bernauer along different parts of the Memorial. When there were houses where the death strip was to be, they were razed to ensure that there was no cover offered. There was a church in the death strip that somehow survived the destruction of the buildings around it. The bell tower of the church was used by the guards for keeping watch. However, in 1985, the church was imploded.

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4 years after the church was leveled, the wall fell. The rebuilding project was started the very next year. The new building was super cool and all, but the part that makes it special is the statue that sits outside the entrance to the church:

The statue is named Reconciliation, for the church. There is a ‘sister statue’ located in Coventry, England, that Ashley and I were fortunate enough to visit in 2011. The statue is incredibly emotional and it had a very powerful effect on me 2 years ago. Art is such an emotional thing, and it absolutely delights me that someone wanted to use it to inspire forgiveness between two neighbors who did so much harm to each other. I find the statue so moving. It is an incredibly vulnerable moment between two people (whom I choose to believe) were once inseparable. Something came between them, something seemingly small. It grew and continued to feed a root of anger and resentment until it exploded. BUT when the dust settled, their love for each other, though damaged, was strong enough for each to swallow their pride and and reopen the lines of communication. I completely forgot that the statue’s twin was in Berlin and getting to see it by chance was one of the most exciting things that happened in Berlin.

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Coventry Cathedral, Coventry, England

Anyway! The focus of the night was a sort of spy game. We went to a couple of communist memorabilia pubs that were super sketchy and hidden. Then to get to the last pub we had to decipher clues and find it in a race against each other. I am normally competitive but that night I didn’t really care. The last pub had stone walls and was super dark. It would definitely be a place I would go again, if just for the shady, KGB atmosphere.  We hung out in the last pub for a long while. The group I was with sat outside and chatted while there was a foozball tourney happening inside. It was a really good night!

Braving the cold. PLEASE notice that EVERYONE else is bundled.

Braving the cold. PLEASE notice that EVERYONE else is bundled.

When we left the last pub, we were headed to a dance club called the Matrix. We danced and sweated. Great music. Met some super cool Germans. We did made a couple of circles and danced it out in these ever-changing Contiki groups. I don’t recall a mass amount of specifics from Matrix but there are two that I find amusing:

1] there was a legit creep. He stood behind the group I was dancing in for (I’m not exagerating) 4-7 minutes, staring intensely, without blinking or moving or possibly breathing. I, for sure, thought that he was going to pass out or vomit. I can only think to compare him to a meme: Sudden Clarity Clarence. It could actually be him in the meme. There is THAT close of a resemblance:

I know that my tour mates are reading this. Someone PLEASE verify that this is what the dude looked like.

I know that my tour mates are reading this. Someone PLEASE verify that this is what the dude looked like.

2] Giant George was dancing with his back to me at one point, because he was in the other circle, and I thought I would be funny to booty bump him. I tried. It really was more like bumping into his legs. Sooooooo when he returned the bump, he basically just sat on the middle of my back. Being short makes things interestingly uncomfortable. We danced for a long time and then I was quite ready to call it a night. I took a cab back to the hotel with Liam, Daniela and Katherine. It was the end of another really good night. Also, since a bunch of us left the club at the same time, there were two cabs. Our cab raced the  other the whole way back. It was nerve wracking. Like Mario Kart Euro Cup.

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