Two posts in one day. That’s what I get to do when I have time on my hands.
Today was my last day in Berlin, and it was chilly and damp with occasional drizzle. While the weather has been not been all that great during my stay, it has never been bad enough to prevent me from getting out. (The Thursday night forecast was for 4-6″ of snow, and we got nothing. It’s good to know the forecasters here are just as prescient as their American counterparts.) But it was a day for hot chocolate and warm food and good company.
I spent most of the day in the company of fellow chorister P. and his wife S. We met at the Brandenberger Tor, which has quite a storied history that you can read up about elsewhere. What was most interesting to me is that it has served as a symbol for just about everything – resistance to French occupation in the Napoleonic wars, the power of Prussian might in the 19th century, the devotion of the Volk to Hitler, the freedom of the democracies against Communism, and finally reunification. At the end of the day, it’s just an old city gate.
We did the short walk to the Holocaust Memorial. Unfortunately the exhibition was closed on Mondays, so we only saw the memorial itself. I’m not sure I cared for it. It felt dehumanizing. Maybe that was the point, but it didn’t move me particularly.
We started afterwards towards Checkpoint Charlie and the Jewish Museum, but did a detour to look at the Topography of Terror exhibition. It proved to be quite interesting and very chilling. The exhibition basically presents the narrative of the organization of the Nazi terror apparatus from its beginning shortly after Hitler came to power to its zenith during World War II to its eventual destruction along with the Nazi state. Of all the documents on display, the one that struck me the most was a simple typed list of each country in Europe (including unoccupied countries like the UK and Finland) with a rough estimate of how many Jews were in each. This plain piece of paper contained the blueprint for the destruction of 11 million people.
The other thing that struck me was the sheer banality of the apparatus and the enormous amount of paperwork that was produced. There had to be a lot of people sitting down in front of a lot of typewriters typing all this horrible stuff up. Who were they, and what were they thinking? Were they junior members of the security service working behind a desk, or were they civilian secretaries? Were they excited about what they were describing, or was this just a job and their minds were on what they were going to make for dinner or where they would spend the weekend with their boyfriends? More questions that will never be answered.
We eventually made our way for a quick stop at Checkpoint Charlie and then on to the Jewish Museum. I’ve heard different opinions about the architecture and the exhibit, some positive and some negative, so I’ll give you mine. I didn’t like the way the museum was designed – it was too easy to miss portions of the exhibition and physically exhausting to walk through (maybe that was the point). But I thought the exhibits themselves were for the most part very interesting and informative. I saw the lute that my former Rabbi used to entertain at the Jewish rest home in Lehnitz. I also found something about Lewandowski (but only because I heard music while walking by – it was tucked away). I could have used more time there, but I was museumed out, and it was time to get some dinner and wrap things up.
Speaking of wrapping things up, this will be my last post. I will try to add some more links and maybe some photos at some point in the future, but I wanted to cover the time from preparing for the tour to its end, and I’ve accomplished that. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about it as much as I have writing the blog.
Some last impressions:
- About Berlin: I wasn’t sure quite what to expect, but I enjoyed the city. There is certainly a lot for the visitor to do, and everyone I met was gracious and accommodating. I think Berlin is still in the process of establishing its new identity. Given what it’s been through in the last 70 years or so, that will take time. I’d like to come back at another time of year, maybe late spring or early autumn, and do some more exploring. But for me the place is also full of ghosts. I can hear goosesteps echoing off cobblestone streets, and I can the screams of the crowd as their savior drives by in an open touring car, and I can hear the wailing of all those people, and not just Jews, who were the victims of that awful time. It’s not that it got in the way of my interactions with people or that it prevented me from doing what I wanted to do or enjoying myself. It’s just there.
- About the tour: The tour was great. The organizers from the Lewandowski festival did an excellent job managing the event. Publicity was everywhere in the city. The hotel was first class. The venues were terrific, and the audiences were appreciative. There were really very few glitches. And the Zamir staff that managed the tour did a great job in making sure we knew what was going on and making sure we were ready to go and were prepared. Sure there were minor glitches, but that always happens and they were dealt with quickly and professionally. And the opportunity to sing such wonderful music in such interesting venues with such a talented group of singers made it a memorable experience. When I was at Rykestrasse Synagogue, I remember saying to someone , “In what other choir do you get to experience this?”
And so I say danke sehr. Let me close with a joke I made up while walking down Knaackstrasse in Prenzlauer Berg in the company of some of my fellow choristers – my friends (this will make no sense to a lot of you, but there you go):
Wer is da?
Zamir bistu sheyn, please let me explain, Zamir bistu sheyn means you’re grand.
Auf wiedersehen! Zamru achim zamru!