Putting it all in perspective

Hey guys! Sorry for the lack of updates, things have been pretty busy here in Scotland! I’m officially halfway done with my classes (WHERE does the time go?) and the weather has started to get slightly warmer and sunnier here. Today was the first day that I managed to get away with wearing not wearing a coat- I don’t think any of you understand how happy that makes me!

Last week was our Innovative Learning Week,  aka our random week off in Feburary, so my friends and I decided to venture off to Amsterdam, Berlin, and Prague for 10 days. My week off definitely lived up to the name “Innovative Learning Week’, because I couldn’t have asked for a better way to experience the recent history of Europe, especially during my time in both Amsterdam and Berlin.

On our last day in Amsterdam, I got to visit the Anne Frank house, which I HIGHLY recommend to anyone traveling there. We all know the story of Anne Frank, but when I read it as a young girl it always seemed more of a “story” than something that happened in real life. Getting to tour the house where Anne and her family hid for over TWO YEARS was amazing and awful and haunting and terrifying all at the same time. There’s so many emotions that run through your mind as you walk through tiny hallways of the corridors of this house – a part of me thought it was so cool to get to visit where Anne Frank wrote her world-famous diary, but the other part of me was ashamed that this family had to hide like this in the first place. The whole exhibit is very moving and made me appreciate Anne Frank and her optimism and wonder even more than I already did.

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From Amsterdam we flew to Berlin, which is not as “quaint and cute” as Amsterdam but still quite a phenomenal place to visit. I can’t get over how much has taken place in Berlin in the last century, from the Third Reich (unfortunately) to the Berlin Wall to the alternative subculture that is very much a part of the city life here. On our first day we did a walking tour of the city, where we got to visit the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, and bewilder ourselves in the amazing architecture of places like Museum Island and Brandenburg Gate. But there were two stops on the tour that really stood out to me as signifiers of German culture and their attitude towards the tragedies that occurred in Berlin during the 20th century. The first was the enormous Holocaust memorial in the middle of (name of park). The formal name for the memorial is “Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas,” which translates to Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. The memorial is HUGE, around 5 acres, and features thousands of marble slabs that vary in height. The slabs are all arranged in rows that allow you to walk through the memorial, and the further you walk through the memorial the steeper the ground gets, which is very haunting. It’s very emotional to walk through the rows of these slabs and just remember all of those who perished in the Holocaust.

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The second stop that really stood out to me on the tour at first looked like we were standing next to a parking lot for an apartment building – I would have never guessed from a first glance that right below where we were standing was Hitler’s air raid bunker where he lead the Nazi regime from until his suicide in 1945. I found it very interesting, and was actually very thankful for, the fact that this “landmark” did not have attention brought to it at ALL. I showed me a lot about the character of Berlin, and how they want to forget about this man just as much as (if not more than) the rest of the world wants to.

The next day, we decided to take a day trip to Sachsenhausen, a concentration camp in Oranienburg, which is about an hour outside of Berlin. The camp was established initially for “political prisoners”, and almost 45,000 people were murdered there. One of the Nazis who ran Sachsenhausen went on to run Auschwitz, which is where most of the Jews who were still at Sachsenhausen were sent in 1942. Most of the buildings at the camp that are still standing have been recreated into museums and memorials to commemorate the memory of those who died there. During parts of my stomach I felt sick to my stomach just being there, imagining the torture that occurred right where I was standing only a few decades ago, but I knew that visiting this camp was something I had to do. Really, if you are ever in a part of Europe where you have the opportunity to visit a concentration camp, do it. It’s not the most pleasant thing you will ever experience, but it’s the least we can do to preserve the memory of those who died in (and survived) these horrid places.

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My time in Amsterdam and Berlin will be a trip that I will never forget. I had a lot of fun in both cities, but I will be forever grateful that I got to get a whole new perspective about the history of World War II and the Holocaust. My whole reason for studying abroad is to experience everything I possibly can, and my trip during this week off definitely gave me that.

Until next time,

Jessi

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