Today, Ashford students hopped on a train and travelled 416km (258 miles) from Rheda to Berlin, capitol of Germany. Students reflected on Goal 17- Peace Justice and Strong Institutions while exploring Berlin. We traversed the city by bus, boat, foot, and train, learning while participating in several tours. On the bus tour, students saw the Parliament building, Alexanderplatz, and architecture ranging from the medieval period to contemporary. By examining the city, you can see how institutions impact history.
During our tour, we were able to stop at the historic “Checkpoint Charlie,” which was a well known crossing place for the Berlin Wall. Students learned the history of the checkpoint, and we paused for a photograph:
After our bus tour, we hopped onto a boat, where we went around Museum Island and learned the history of this fascinating city. Students also had time to see the Brandenburg Gate in the French Quarter. This is one of the most iconic site in Berlin.
Even more meaningful was the Holocaust Memorial just down the street. Students silently walked by the huge memorial that is both awe inspiring in the historical context and as an artistic symbol. The memorial is largely comprised of large rectangles and sloping and curving stones, which gives you the illusion that once you walk into the memorial, you may not be able to walk out again. While there are many interpretations to the memorial, our students noted that the stones looked a bit like gravestones, and mentioned that the memorial quickly became dark and disorienting- a strong metaphor for the German people’s experiences in WWII.
The student's favorite part of the day was a tour lead by a guide who escaped from East Berlin in 1982. He recalled for us when the wall was suddenly erected and how it separated families, and left half the city with no economic or personal opportunities. Hundreds of people died while trying to escape to West Berlin in search of a better life. What makes the Berlin wall unique was that, while most walls were erected to keep others out, this wall was put up to keep people in. We heard heroic escape tales and heartbreaking tragedies. As we listened to our guide’s firsthand experiences, he emphasized how walls do not solve problems. He told us that “The wall is never a solution. People will always find a way to escape, even if it means their death. The wall cannot be a solution. The wall only shows the problem.” It was a powerful way to end an extraordinary day.