This was an exhaustive trip, though I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. We started our last official day together as a group by taking the tram to the Auswärtiges Amt Besucherzentrum. The lecture was done by a passionate, intelligent, easy to understand professor, Wolf Wagner. He captured my attention throughout the 4 hour long presentation. I took notes furiously on my computer, trying to keep up with his mind-blowing, humorous, over-arching analysis of German and American relations, customs, and ideas. What he did was take everything we learned and saw on our trip and made it digestible and understandable. The best portion being when he ended with his America vs. Germany differences and they were laughable, but so true. Germans don’t use air conditioning, ice, don’t share their emotions as much, etc. One thing that flipped the TOP script is when he lambasted the dual system and praised the American educational system, contrary to the several other presentations which we had seen prior. Leaving this meeting, I was definitely revved back up to start the rest of the day, which was an exciting visit to the Berlin Wall. While random blocks of the wall would pop up sporadically throughout Berlin, there was really only one part where the wall still stood, untouched from graffiti. After taking another tram to this location, you could see the difference between East and West Germany by the cubical like housing apartments juxtaposed to the peaked roofed, intricately designed West Berlin apartments. The unique part was seeing a rust colored wall with about 150 black and white faces of the people who lost their lives trying to cross the border. Each was a sad tale, as there were some stories of very young children who fell into a river, but for fear of jumping in to save them due to the East German police, were left to drown. Most of the people who lost their lives were men. She did bring up the gentleman on my shirt I recently purchased, who was an East German military officer who risked everything to cross the border to West Germany, all the while dropping his gun in East Germany somewhat symbolically. Hans Conrad Schumann later killed himself as soon as the wall came down. We finished our tour at a 100 yard long stretch of the wall, where we were able to peer in and see no mans land as it appeared 25 years ago. It was a sparse, desolate wasteland, void of any life. To think this stretched the entire countryside and was continually guarded. It’s unfathomable to think this could happen in this day and age, then I simply think of North Korea. Afterwards, we split into three groups to visit three different homes from people who experienced the Berlin Wall firsthand. I went with Christina, Lou, Kris, and Michelle, along with Katarina who would simply drop us off. While waiting, we climbed an observation tower to overlook where we had just visited. After departing for the home visit, Katarina showed us the nearby city where affluent young German couples would strive to raise their families in the densely populated, trendy urban area. When we arrived at our home visit, I was shocked to see the front door covered in perhaps the most sinister graffiti I’ve witnessed. Inside reminded me of the abandon buildings in Detroit, but now we were to venture in and go without our guide as she was just dropping us off. Inside, we headed through the court yard where we saw bullet holes plastered along the towering side of the building. These holes were from WWII, still unpatched. Arriving at the apartment, we climbed three stairs and were greeted by a friendly German aspiring filmmaker. Inside, his apartment was covered with American movie memorabilia, in the confined spaces. It looked like a mini-college dorm, with his decorating style of lava lamps and movie posters. His kitchen was very quant, followed by his bathroom which was a renovated closet with a toilet plopped in the center. We stayed in his bedroom, adorned with various cultural knickknacks and movie equipment. He prepared us a strudel before we started. He explained his German film career, where he is working on developing a movie with filmmakers in many continents. What stood out for me from what he said was when he questioned the integrity and actions of his grandparents. He suggested that there is a good chance they did horrible things during WWII. I could never question my grandparents with these serious offenses. When finishing up with him, we made our way to Gaststätte, a German trendy bar. Before leaving Germany, I had to have one more schnitzel, unfortunately, this was lacking in quality compared to Heidelberg. Before leaving, I discussed with Jörge and Lauren our plans for tomorrow.
About Matthew Cottone
Experience the World! This is my creed I bring to my classroom and my life. I'm a World Studies teacher at Van Hoosen Middle School and I have a passion for learning and experiencing the world.