The Holocaust Memorial

The Holocaust Memorial, also known as the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, is located in Berlin a short walk Brandenburger Tor. The memorial is composed of rectangular pillars of varying heights, arranged in a grid-like pattern. You can look down one pathway and see through until the end of the memorial. You can see the curves of the ground as the entire grid is set on a wavering ground pattern.

The memorial is composed of 2,711 concrete blocks with 87 blocks going in one direction and 54 in the other. Aerial views of the memorial show that the ground is a bit hilly and almost makes the top of the blocks seem like a flickering metallic sheet.

I began my walk into the interactive memorial. I walked past the first of the stones that made up the memorial. They were low to the ground and mostly seemed like comfortable places to sit. With friends going down a different, yet parallel pathway, I walked further and deeper into the rows. The stones gradually raised in sized and they were quickly at shoulder length. I could see children and other tourists running around playing games.

I remember looking into the eyes of one teenager as he held his arms in the position of a fake gun with a huge grin on his face. I thought it was strange and insensitive to play such a game in a place like this – a space dedicated to thousands of murdered people. It shows how with enough time and lack of information, people forget the emotional connection these historical events have on us. That young man probably knows what the Holocaust was, but the event feels so far back in history that it’s not a big deal to pretend to shoot another person among the pillars of this sacred place. It makes me wonder how many years must pass for it to be okay to behave as if we don’t respect a space dedicated to such a significant moment in history? My friends returned to the safe outer limits of the memorial as I ventured on.

As I moved a bit further, it was nearly instantaneous that the shoulder length stones shot into the sky. It was an interesting trick of the eyes. The undulating ground steeps downwards as the pillars reach higher and higher into the sky. I became smaller and smaller twice as fast as I expected. One moment, it was a carefree atmosphere, surrounded by friends and kids playing make believe. And the next moment, I couldn’t breathe. I was overwhelmed and suffocated by the height of the pillars. It felt like the inescapable space was closing in on me. The parallel rows I had seen reach to the end of the memorial, now seemed endless. I spun in a circle looking for a way to escape – to escape the anxiety produced weight on my chest and the towering structures. I looked forward, right, behind me, and even to the last route of escape before I returned facing forward with an infinite number of pillars bounding beyond me. When the weight of the memorial was too much for me, I rejoined my friends.

I slowly walked out of the maze of pillars. They disappeared just as quickly as they appeared moments ago. I was taken aback that any memorial could have a physical affect on me. The memorial was remarkable because in some ways, the interactive manner of the piece helped me, and likely others, feel what the holocaust was like for those trapped within the walls and chained fences.

When we had finished, we walked away and shared our experiences. I find it necessary to point out that just like that, we walked away when we were finished feeling suffocated, overwhelmed, and lost in a maze. If only it was as easy for the victims of that historical event.

Martin brought up the location of the memorial and said there was great debate over where it would be. I looked up information on the location and choosing the center of Berlin was intentional. For example, it is set at the same location as the ‘death trap’ from the Berlin Wall. This section of the wall was a minefield filled with numerous traps, which would later kill an estimated 1,200 people. The location of the memorial is worthy of attention, yet I made a few other observations during my visit.

The towering structures of varying sizes all seemed to be about the same length. They looked like they were about the length of a casket, but a few inches longer. It seemed like their increasing size symbolized the increasing number of deaths and those thrown into the mass graves. However, I’m not sure if this was the intentional symbolism. In addition, from the outside, no one can feel or see how people feel what it’s like being trapped in the maze. Similarly, from an international perspective, people knew what was happening, but they didn’t know to what degree. They couldn’t imagine how disorienting it felt being in there.

The Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, Germany is one of the most impactful monuments I have seen and experienced. The interactive design pulls viewers in and makes them feel how the Holocaust may have felt like to those involved: suffocating and inescapable. The memorial engulfs the person slowly and then all at once, the same pace as the Holocaust. While it is uncomfortable for the monument to produce such feelings, I think it’s necessary. It brings us closer to the events that happened years ago. This connection makes history come alive and hopefully, prevents us from allowing these moments from repeating themselves.

Which monuments and memorials move you and make you feel something you didn’t expect?

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New Years In Berlin, Germany

Okay okay, so I’m at the airport in Sweden coming from my New Years in Berlin, Germany. This was a short, yet amazing first experience in such a historic city ,and country altogether. I spent time learning about some cultural differences, maintaining relationships formed with German exchange students in Bergen, and seeing as many significant sights as possible. The few days spent in Berlin were filled with moments of excitement and fun, but also the weight of what has happened here.

Berlin is the capital of Germany and one of the largest cities within the country with approximately 3.6 million people. I walked out of the airport into a cold, dreary day. The trees were withered and it was clear summer was long gone. The metro is a short walk of 5 minutes from the exit of the airport. I looked up information on the transportation system before I flew in so I quickly purchased my ticket and jumped on the train…the wrong train I later found out. As I rode the train into the city, I was transported back to a different time. One moment I’m filled with joy to see friends for New Years and the next, I’m imagining all of the Jews, blacks, and disabled people who were shipped to Auschwitz during the Holocaust. The freezing cold weather, withering trees, and the trembling and shaking of the old train added to this new atmosphere. I didn’t go into the train thinking of the awful Holocaust, but the sounds and images around the train brought the images flooding into my mind. Interestingly enough, the power of how my senses interpret the atmosphere would impact me later when I visited the Holocaust Memorial located at the heart of Berlin.

I finally arrived at my friend’s house in Mobit. We spent the first couple of days catching up and just living. We enjoyed meals together just as we had done sharing the kitchen back at Fantoft. It was so so good spending time with her again. Our other floor mate joined us a few days later. Lasse is knowledgeable about nearly every topic. When we walked around the city, he, Eva, and Martin were able to give historical context to what I was seeing. When we reached the different points in the city commemorating the Wall of Berlin, Eva and Lasse explained how it divided East and West Berlin, separating families and friends. It created an economic divide between the regions as well. While one side thrived, the people on the other side were struggling to survive. Even today, one side pays more taxes to make up for the disadvantages faced by the East.

We also visited Museum Island, which is a block in the city with five major museums very close together. The Berlin Cathedral is also in this area as well and it provides a great view of the Berlin Television Tower. On my last day in Berlin, we walked over to the Brandenburg Gate and the Holocaust Memorial. The interactive memorial is one of the most moving and impactful monuments I have seen. Walking though it physically and mentally changed how I felt in that moment.

The memorial had such a profound and memorable impact on me. When you experience something so moving, it can change how you perceive the world and your relationships with others.

 

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

The focus of this post is transportation. I remember when I moved to Berkeley, it was a massive culture shock to find out I had to walk everywhere. Bergen is similar in the sense that you walk every where. The city is small and as an exchange student, you don’t need a car. The city is full of cobble stones so since you’ll be doing lots of walking, make sure you have comfortable shoes.

Planes

If you’re like me, coming to Norway will be your first time to Europe. When you arrive here, you’re quickly realize how cheap it can be to fly between European countries. You can buy a ticket to Paris for $30! Remember that when you buy these tickets, you can use a student discount. 

Norwegian Air – Use the code UNDER26 for discounted prices. Make sure to make a free account because the reward points add up fast AND you can use them quickly. It’s not like airlines at home where you need fifty million points saved before they are useful

SAS – On the left side of the page on the bottom of ‘Book a Trip,’ select ‘Book a Youth Ticket’ and put in your information

RyanAir – They don’t have student discounts, but these are the cheapest tickets you will ever buy

Trains

Bybannen is the metro here. It will bring you from Fantoft (your likely home) to the city center. Once you get into the city, everywhere you’ll want to go is easily walkable.

Automobiles (Buses)

Bergen Bystasjon is the bus terminal in Bergen. The Skyss ticket you buy at the beginning of the semester allows you to take these buses all over the city. Use the Skyssplanneleger to plan a trip using these buses.

Tip: A friend recently told me that since he is 19, he can travel around on certain transportation for free. Research that if you’re under 20, which seems to be a legal age to do many things here.

Trondheim – ESN

I went to Trondheim this weekend for what was meant to be an educational weekend and it turned out to be incredibly fun as well. I learned more about the hosting student organization and students from all over Norway. Every moment of this weekend reminded me of just how important and fulfilling it can be to get involved while you are on exchange.

When I arrived at UIB, I joined the Erasmus Student Network (ESN). Their goal is to help international students better integrate into Norwegian society through a variety of social events. ESN is awesome because it has branches at universities all over Europe. There are 12 sections in Norway alone. As a whole, the organization hosts hundreds of events during the year at every level: locally, nationally, and internationally. This weekend was the National Platform (NP), which is held two times a year and hosted by alternating ESN sections. Although ESN Bergen has hosted NP in the past, it was ESN Trondheim’s turn this year.

The members of ESN Trondheim did an incredible job planning the weekend. On the first day, we were given a tour of the city. We saw the Old Town Bridge, which is also known as the Gate of Happiness. When I crossed the threshold, I did feel a wave of happiness overcome me. I thought of the busy weekend to come and that I was going further around Norway, a place I’ve wanted to go for years. I was still happy when we crossed back over the bridge and we continued on to see the rest of the city. Later that night when the remaining participants arrived, we hiked to a cabin where we would get to know one another better. There were students from Trondheim, Alta, Ås, Molde, Stavanger, Oslo, and more.

For the next two days, we sat at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) to learn more about ESN and ways to be have a more efficient section. We learned about a program they are starting, ExchangeAbility, which is about making it easier for students with some disabilities to go on exchange. ESN is starting the conversation and working to lower the barriers for those who feel that their disability prevents them from experiencing another country. We also learned about budgeting by building a paper tower with a team. We were given a budget and to use any material, like paper, markers, or a stapler, we were charged a fee. Each tower was graded and luckily my team won. Our tower was the most attractive and stable according to the judge.

When we weren’t learning about ESN, we had fun getting to know one another. We went to dinner at Egon Restaurant, which is a spinning restaurant elevated in the air. We also went to a Halloween party at another cabin. Throughout our ten-hour days, we were provided, breakfast, lunch, dinner, and coffee breaks with lots of fruit and cookies. Going to Trondheim was a fun, enriching experience. I broadened my network by meeting passionate students from all over Norway.  It also didn’t hurt that the trip was virtually free. The Trondheim planners covered the cost of hostels, transportation, and food through their generous sponsors. On top of that, my local ESN section paid for the participation fee. For the low cost a flight, I had an incredible weekend further exploring Norway, accumulating skills, and meeting new people who challenge me.

When you get to Norway, join a student org. and see your time in the country transform.

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Oslo

I went to Oslo this weekend with a long time friend, Tine. She’s from Bergen and since she lives near Oslo, we thought this would be a great opportunity to meet up. We went for three days and first impressions – beautiful, city feel, but still a small area, and very cold. I took a metro straight from the hotel to the city center and our room was a short walk from there.

We went to see Maria Lena on the first night. The concert was at a small venue and back at home usually, it is common to get as close to the stage as you possibly can. It’s best when the tickets are general seating and there is freedom to stand wherever you want. Imagine, people have the freedom to roam around and the audience starts filling the seats in the balcony…in the back…as far as possible away from the musician. Yes people have their preferences, but I think seating choice had more to do with the Norwegian’s cultural preference to their personal space. Eh, it benefited me because I got a front row spot.

Saturday was a much busier day. I made the most of my time by planning and doing a wide variety of things. We walked to the Opera House, which was beautiful. The crisp, white building was a stark contrast to the black waters darkened by the cloudy day. Then we walked through Akershus Fortress. Norwegians who are involved in the military often work here, patrolling the area. The fortress was one of the most breathtaking places I have been. It’s fall in Oslo now and since I’m from California, I rarely see such drastic changes in the trees’ colors. Bright yellows filled the trees and the a layer covered the ground around these trees.

We finished here and walked through the city where we went to the National Museum. I was deeply impressed by all that I saw. I even learned that some of my new favorite artists are Thomas Fearnley, JC Dahl, and Adolph Tidemand. Go check them out and maybe you’ll see what I did with each brush stroke. We followed our special Norwegian dinner by meeting some of Tine’s friends in the city.

On our last day, Tine and I went to Munch Museum and the Botanisk Hage aka the botanical garden. I’ve never been so speechless because of nature. We went to the kongen huset, or the King’s house, where we checked out the guards who stand there in the terrible cold daily. The last place on my list of musts was Frogner Park where we saw the Vigeland Sculptures. 

Full days full of unforgettable experiences. I must return to Oslo and further experience the diverse environment. Oslo has a high population of refugees that contributes to the diversity. It would be interesting to see how the growing number of refugees and their cultures influence the cultural practices of Norway. Observations for another day.