The Story of Berlin & Schloss Sanssouci by Spencer
The Story of Berlin was a wonderful museum explaining the history and evolution of the capital of Germany. Starting in the late 12th century, Berlin started out as a small settlement and gradually became a fully fledged city. It then became the capital of the German Empire, then the capital of Prussia, then the capital of the Weimar Republic and Nazi Germany, then the capital of East Germany, and finally the capital of the Federal Republic of Germany.
The museum also went into great detail of the city’s state during WWII explaining the massive book burnings, the numerous Nazi rally parades, the Kristallnacht (Crystal Night), and the dozens of bombing raids by the Allies. I found, by far, the most interesting part of the museum to be the division of Berlin in 1961 into the communist East DDR (a.k.a. GDR) and the capitalist West by the Berlin Wall. For 28 years no one could go in or out of West Berlin unless they met the very specific requirements. One side stood for equality, while the other stood for freedom, both sides speaking the same language and both sides were in the same city, but they lived completely different lives. Finally in 1989 the Wall fell reuniting Berlin.
Even after being leveled to the ground, broken up, then put back together again, Germany stands with the largest economy in Europe. Berlin on it’s own could fill an entire history book even if you just started a century in the past. This just goes to show, that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
Schloss Sanssouci is one of the many castles in Germany. This one in particular was built by King Frederick the Great of Prussia in 1755 and was used as his summer palace. Sanssouci was loosely based on the Palace of Versailles and the word “Sanssouci” is French for “without a care.”
Only Chaim, Stella, and I went to the castle, while the others went to the Holocaust Museum and the Topography of Terror. The night beforehand we bought potatoes for the each of us because King Frederick is known as the “Kartoffelkönig” (Potato King). He introduced potatoes into Germany, so it’s tradition to leave potatoes on his grave at Sanssouci because of this. I had learned this in my German class this past school year, so when I told Stella the story of the Kartoffelkönig, she was convinced that I was pranking her, but nevertheless when we arrived at his grave, we were not the only ones that put potatoes on his grave. We took lots of pictures while walking around Sanssouci Park as we admired the wildlife and beautiful structures along the way.
Johanna-Eck-Schule and Refugee Workshop by Cat
It’s the little things that make a difference and fill our hearts. In my life, I am blessed with the certainty that I will live in a house that provides a roof over my head, food on my table, and wearable clothes. These are the little things I take for granted every single day. This realization that I lack appreciation arrived during my visit to a refugee school and also from attending a workshop focused on refugees.
Our Experiment group was fortunately given the opportunity to visit Johanna Eck School and interact with local youth. We bonded with a group of high school refugees over our similarities and differences. We shared our love for sports through a friendly game of soccer. We shared our love for music by listening to our song interests. We shared the different pasts we have experienced through deep and personal discussions. One refugee’s story really left an impact by creating a new perspective for me. At the age of 13, she left her home in United Arab Emirates. At the age of 13, she left her beloved friends and still to this day longs to see them again. At the age of 13, she embarked on a new journey in Germany. From this encounter, I have learned that although we have different pasts, we still share an abundance of similarities. Adding on to this experience, I have learned in our workshop even more about the refugee crisis and the hardships they go through.
Through this workshop, the whole Experiment group was able to gain a new insight on the refugee crisis. We started the workshop by expressing our reasons why we would want to visit a country. Most people said they would for the great food, beautiful scenery, to visit family, new cultures, and many more. After expressing our reasons, we were taught that most refugees do not flee for the same reasons – they flee due to the lack of good education, war, poverty, and so much more. However, the only reason international protection can be granted is a well-founded fear of persecution. Furthermore, we learned about the constant struggle refugees face in their daily lives: the strong presence of uncertainty of whether or not they will be sent back home or the lack of freedom they experience in their new countries. In the workshop, we also got the chance to help refugees by being a part of the change. Our group thought of three ideas: a school club centered around raising awareness on the refugee crisis, an organization that will provide housing and money to refugees which will help create support and integration within society, and lastly another organization that would collaborate with the government to simplify the paperwork process that refugees go through. This workshop has given us a chance to become more aware of the refugee crisis and has given us the power to voice our ideas on how to create an easier life for refugees.
Overall, bonding with high school refugees has made a difference by creating a new point of view in life for me – I must realize that I should be more grateful for the little things I am blessed with, such as my safety and the opportunities I receive. Also, the workshop has expanded my knowledge on the refugee crisis and has inspired me to be more involved in creating a better world for refugees.
Community Garden and Sachsenhausen by Abby
Himmelbeet community garden
For one of our volunteer projects, we built a wall around a community garden in Berlin. Recently, a guy jumped the preexisting fence around the garden and stole their tools. One of the men in charge of the garden, Jonas, showed us how to cut wood pallets and take the rusty nails out so they could add the planks on top of the fence to increase protection and improve aesthetics. We worked on this for several hours. There were not enough tools for everyone because so many were stolen, so we all helped each other out and took turns so others could have breaks. During our working time, we saw how community members visited and used the garden. This made the experience so rewarding because we could see that we were doing something that truly benefits the people of the community.
Jonas and his colleagues provided us with green tea and water with fresh mint, coming from the plants they had grown in the garden. For lunch, a couple of us helped pick fresh fruit and veggies. The cooks at the garden’s cafe prepared the most delicious bibimbap, Korean rice bowls with eggs and fresh veggies. Our group all agreed that the meal was one of the best we’ve had all trip and we eagerly asked for any left overs.
After lunch, half of us helped wash the dishes from the meal and the other half put more of the fence up. Though we didn’t have enough time to finish the fence, we were still able to learn a lot about giving back to the community and seeing how we can all make a change.
Sachsenhausen concentration camp
One of the days was unplanned and set for the group to decide what we wanted to do. We all agreed to go the Sachsenhausen concentration camp just outside of Berlin.
After a 45 minute train ride and a 10 minute bus ride we arrived.
We all had free audio tours with a corresponding map and we could play whichever info piece we wanted to based on where we were within the camp. From the moment we walked in the gates I felt overcome by the power of where we were. It is a feeling I still can fully comprehend.
There were many outlines of where the barracks were, but there was only one still standing. Inside of it was a very small washroom with two fountains and a few foot baths where all of the people held at the camp had to quickly wash up. There was also a bathroom with a few toilets, which many people had to use in the few minutes they were allowed to in the morning. I read on an info board that the elderly or weak people would sometimes fall and be trampled to death. That was a horrific piece of information that made everything so surreal to think that actually happened right where I was standing at that moment. We also saw a small storage closet for rooms and such, however it said that sometimes the Nazis would put the people in the camp in there and tell them not to move an inch or sometimes put so many people in there that they would suffocate.
We also saw a prison and the many cells with some tributes to the prisoners held there. It was such a powerful feeling to be walking down the hall and walking by cells where actual people were held and killed during WWII. Outside the main wall of the camp was the crematorium where the bodies were burned and also the execution pit in that area. Some people were told they were given medical exams and when they lined up against the wall to be “measured” a hole opened up in the wall and a gun came out and shot them in the back of the head. It was incredibly sad to learn about everything the prisoners of the camp had gone through and to be where everything happened and imaging what was happening there many years ago was such a surreal and impacting experience. Visiting the camp was definitely worth it and I would highly recommend it to everyone as it was an incredibly moving and impactful experience. It also inspired me to do more research and educate myself more about World War II.
As we were waiting for the bus to pick us up, it started pouring down rain and our whole group was crowded under a few umbrellas but we were all laughing and having a great time.
All in all, it was a great day full of both unforgettable experience and fun memories