After driving across most of Germany, we finally arrived in the bustling, edgy, unique city of Berlin. We quickly got ready for what we knew would be the New Years celebration of a lifetime. Unlike the tame (lame) American tradition, the Germans go all out and take full advantage of the lack of open container and fireworks laws. It was certainly a memorable experience.
Through the magic of the New Year, we ended up meeting a group of Syrian refugees who had been in Germany for about a year. Through a complex chain of translating from English to Arabic we were able to have a fascinating conversation about their families still in Syria and American responsibility to intervene. I was struck by the similarity of the conversation we were having about appeasement and crimes against humanity in Syria, and the ones that must have been had as the Nazis and later the GDR rose to power.
A theme of our time in Berlin would be exploring the German national identity and the ways in which they have begun to reconcile with the wounds and wrongs of the past. As xenophobic rhetoric reigns in the USA, I was absolutely awed by the German commitment to provide a safe place for those fleeing persecution. It seems that the painful process of remembering the history of totalitarianism and fear in Germany has allowed them to see past nationality to the common humanity in all those seeking a safe place to exist. America has largely chosen to ignore the dark and shameful parts of our history, hoping that the future will abstain us of guilt. However, it seems obvious to me that this has created a cycle that returns the same problems of racism and distrust into the national dialogue frequently.
As we continued our time in Berlin, exploring both the Nazi and Soviet history, I was consistently reminded of the willingness of Germans, and specifically Berliners, to publically explore their past. This was a powerful theme as we would continue into Poland to explore the pain of the Holocaust. Instead of being able to think about these events in black and white dichotomy as is frequent in the American conception of suffering, we were introduced to the power of the German dialogue regarding Nazism.