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Some Student Reflections on their Experiences

For this blog, I will share some sample student journal entries written as part of their classwork.

It is Tuesday morning here, and we had a good day yesterday visiting the German Resistance Memorial Center, where we had a guided tour of some of the groups that resisted the Nazi's. Today we are visiting the Topography of Terror, or gestapo headquarters, and tomorrow Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp.  It is, of course, difficult to assimilate a lot of what we will be seeing and learning this week. We have asked everyone to be particularly supportive of one another as we all react in different ways to what we are experiencing. 

The German Resistance Memorial Center is in the buildings where a high military official, Stauffenberg, planned with a large group of collaborators, to kill Hitler. It was unsuccessful and he and others were executed in the courtyard. One major assignment for students this week is to focus on one resistance group to study in more depth. Our guide at the center, with her Ph.D. in this very topic, spent most of the time elaborating on youth groups that resisted the Nazi's.

Kieran stands in front of the blurry photograph that shows one lone man NOT saluting amid a sea of "heil Hitlers."

Some students writing on their experiences:

Max Jarl, Wednesday, May 17, 4:55 PM

I just got back from the Tempelhof Airport. It was a fairly long trip with a decent amount of walking involved, but it was an interesting site. The airport used to be one of the biggest in Europe, but it ceased operations in October of 2008 and is now a historical site. It is much bigger than it seems, and it housed thousands of American soldiers during the occupation of Berlin following the Second World War. It also contains amenities such as a bowling alley and a basketball court, though the bowling alley is gone and the basketball court seems like it has not been used in many years.

There was a hall facing outwards that seemed to be made of rusty stone and bricks. The hall looked to be rusty and falling apart, and there were visible rust marks created by fires and bombings during the war. The terminal was completely empty except for us, with the baggage claim at a standstill, the once-bright neon restaurant signs now burned out, and the signs boasting the names of now-defunct airlines. In the corner was an American propaganda poster donated in 1987 by then U.S. President Ronald Reagan, depicting American pilots together with happy children. The poster was meant to commemorate the Berlin Airlift, in which supplies such as food and clothing were dropped by planes to the citizens of Berlin after the city had been blockaded by the Soviets between 1948 and 1949.

Seeing such a huge facility at a complete standstill was eerie, but perhaps the most unsettling feature of the airport were the underground air raid shelters, which were noticeably deteriorating after nearly a century of disuse. Our group of about fifteen people fit in one of the shelters fairly comfortably, but there was not too much room to spare, so it’s tough to imagine how many citizens would be scrambling to get into a shelter during a wartime bombing. On the walls of the shelter were drawings by German children’s author Wilhelm Busch which, as our tour guide explained, were meant to urge panicking citizens to stay calm.

After our tour was over, it was about a 20-30 minute walk back to our dorms. It was a long day, but it was very fascinating to experience firsthand a piece of the history of multiple different eras (the pre-war Nazi era, the war itself, the years following the war, and even parts of the late 20th century).


William MacIntosh - Tempelhof Airport: A Timeless Symbol of Berlin's History

Introduction: Tempelhof Airport, located in the heart of Berlin, Germany, holds a special place in the city's history and the collective memory of its residents, especially in accordance with our class visit. Built in the 1920s, this architectural marvel served as a crucial transport hub and witnessed significant moments in Berlin's past, such as Adolf Hitler's visit via a Lufthansa plane. With its grandeur, historical significance, and vast open spaces, Tempelhof Airport continues to captivate visitors and locals alike, making it a must-visit destination for those seeking to delve into the rich tapestry of Berlin's past.

Architectural Marvel: Tempelhof Airport's architectural design is a testament to the ingenuity of its creators. Designed by Ernst Sagebiel, the airport features a unique combination of monumental architecture and functional efficiency, especially during 1933 after the Nazis came into power, using airplanes as their primary method of showing a strong Germany. The massive terminal building, with its iconic curved facade and colossal columns, evokes a sense of grandeur and elegance that best represented Germany in the 1930s... The symmetrical layout and the spacious interior exemplify the attention to detail and meticulous planning that went into its construction. Tempelhof Airport's architectural beauty remains unparalleled and continues to inspire awe in visitors from around the world.

The airport played a pivotal role throughout Berlin's tumultuous history. It witnessed the rise and fall of the Nazi regime during World War II, serving as a major airbase for the luftwaffe. Tempelhof was also the focal point of the Berlin Airlift in 1948-1949, when it became a lifeline for West Berlin, providing essential supplies to the people of Berlin during the Soviet blockade of the city. The airport's hangars were once bustling with aircraft and personnel, creating an atmosphere charged with historical significance. Tempelhof Airport stands as a living monument as a primary source to these events and serves as a reminder of the resilience and determination of Berlin's inhabitants, even during times of great stress.

Tempelhof Airport truly encapsulates the essence of Berlin, making it a must-visit destination for anyone seeking to unravel the layers of this remarkable city's past and present. I see the airport as a sort of reflection on what is to be our remaining two weeks in Berlin. A journey across the many historical wonders Berlin has to offer us and it will provide a fascinating look at modern society.


RJ Miller - Journal Entry 1: Architecture of War

Over the course of half a week, me and my classmates and educators toured several cultural and functional architectural artifacts, reclaimed from Nazi occupiers and altered significantly to offer concurrently recognition to past victims and accommodation to future national interests. The current reinterpretations of deceased Nazi architecture, the first a national airport in development, the second a grandiose stadium dedicated to Olympic competition, each made little attempt across our tours to conceal its abhorrent origins, in defiance of efforts previously given to redesign it wholesale. The entire country, from its stadiums to its delivery infrastructure to its people, were rendered instruments and gears within a monumental war machine intended to slake a few powerful men’s bloodlust. Decades following the nation’s liberation under an unprecedented alliance between America and the Soviet Union, Germany’s most recent generations elected to preserve these dismal mementos to a limited degree even while they reclaim the rest. They hope it will guarantee their children are adequately educated regarding the deadly tolls of tyranny and bigotry.

Owing to its unfinished status, the airport (Tempelhof) we visited ranks among the few of its variety to possess a foundation whose importance exceeds its exterior, to the point wherein it casts a shadow over the rest of the structure. It featured from an outside perspective an impressive size, nearly equal in length and width, bolstered via towering rows of stairs and a basketball court painted brown and green which appeared at first glance to stretch over miles. However, the most important feature contained within the airport’s grounds rested beneath the surface, in a harrowing, dimly illuminated concrete hallway. There, we encountered rows of discolored bomb shelters, adorned with children’s hymns and fables and depictions of fairy tale characters, combined with instructions concerning where, within the array of shelters, they must go and how long they must remain inside.

While the tour guide for the airport explained to us the way the paintings were intended to provide comfort and information to the families who discovered themselves trapped inside the constructions as bombs were dropped upon their houses, I could not help except to reflect upon the uniquely totalitarian tactic of molding entirely personal matters of child-raising, health, well-being, and even storytelling into tools of dominion via the state over the people. Understated yet important historical Nazi artifacts were likewise present outside Germany’s monumental Olympic stadium, conceived initially via the Nazis for identical self-serving purposes. Here, it assumed the form of a giant steel bell, rusted into a brunette hue and defaced with two large cracks on its surface, and a hole the size of a mouse’s home drilled into it. The tour guide assigned to the stadium elucidated how an allied attack against the stadium blew the bell from its hinges between two towers in the distance, where it was once held. After it was removed, a soldier noticed a swastika in the middle of the bell and drilled hole to conceal it. Hitler and his men considered the technological achievements which went into the bell and the tower’s construction a vindication of national and philosophical superiority, and yet both of those inventions, like Nazi Germany itself, was fickle enough to be decimated via a few interventions from the soldiers they provoked into war.

However challenging it could be to force ourselves to remember the infamous violations inflicted upon humanity via the Nazi regime, it is important to preserve the vital lessons imparted upon us via their failure. Authoritarianism appears all-encompassing in its zenith, yet it is the most fragile political construction, incapable of upholding itself before criticism and certain to crumble upon being faced with the slightest challenge.


Molly Talbot - Our Journey to Tempelhof Airport

On a beautiful Tuesday afternoon, me and my classmates walked to Tempelhof Airport. It was about a fifteen-minute walk from the CIEE campus. Pretty soon after we arrived, our tour guide was ready to go and take us on our tour. Before arriving at Tempelhof, I took an educated guess that it was going to be the airport planes that flew in and out during the war. Soon after our tour guide started going over the basics of what the airport was and what it was known for, I realized that my assumptions were very different than what I had originally thought. After mentally acknowledging my educated guess was wrong, our guide continued and did a really great job by attaching trivia facts to the exterior of the building to make us more engaged. A fact that really stuck with me was how it was mostly tan concrete but above a few windows, there was red concrete which helped resemble a fire that was set there during the 1940’s. She also mentioned how important this airport was before the war, as it connected central Berlin to different parts of the country as well as some international flights.

As we went up six floors in the cargo elevator, our guide mentioned how the upper floors are more remodeled than the downstairs floors. As we went through the more modernized room, she explained that those spaces were used to home American soldiers. Some of those rooms were also used as bowling alley, a basketball court, and a control room for the pilots to track the planes. As we progressed through our tour, we walked down through the floors we couldn’t reach through the elevator. As we walked, you could see the interior design also becoming different from the upper levels. As we got to floor three, the walls were old brick and concrete from the early 1930’s.

After gathering all sorts of cool facts and tidbits, we entered the main room of the airport. It was a big open area and off on either side was the gate to where the airplanes used to come in to pick up passengers. It had all the airlines used from the 1990s to when the airport closed for good in October of 2008. On top of that, we got to go out onto the actual airport runway itself and that was super cool. Overall, this field trip was a very positive experience and I’m glad I had the experience to go.


Charlotte Mazur - Thoughts in the Olympic Stadium

During our first week in Berlin, we went to the Olympic Stadium. During our visit I could not stop myself from picturing what it must have been like for other individuals to be in the stadium when the Olympic games were first happening there. I kept wondering what they must have thought of the stadium at the time of the games. I could easily picture people lining up against the walls. I could picture moms talking to their kids. I could imagine women chatting in groups and I could imagine crowds of people standing around up and down the halls talking about the games and athletes that they were wanting to win. I also could instantly imagine my own family and I there together as a group like we used to always be standing huddled together in big, crowded areas when my brother and I were younger.

Now, looking back reflecting on this rich experience I wonder if the people felt pride when looking at the building. I wonder what they must have been worrying about at the time. I wonder if they wondered about the legacy of the building. I wonder if they have gotten to see the building for what it is now or if they all have died since that time.

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