Sunday, June 12, 2011

Days 9-11: Berlin

Daniel Olson '12 writes about Berlin.

We’re packing up for Prague this evening and continuing the behind-the-iron-curtain leg of our
European Tour. It’s incredible how much this part of the world has changed in the past 25 years! That change is certainly on display in Berlin, where the glee club has spent the last few days.

We arrived on Saturday evening, with just enough time to change quickly at our hotel before taking off for a Vespers service at Berliner Dom (Photo at left: Daniel Cruse, Daniel Thompson, and Daniel Olson in front of the Dom). The Church is spectacular. Badly damaged during World War II, it was restored in 1993 and is a major site in Berlin, very close to the center of the former East Berlin. The glee club sang for the majority of the service, but it was really cool to hear the minister repeat the words “bleib bei uns” during his sermon, the opening words of Rheinburger’s Abendlied, which we had just sung!

After a group dinner, we had time to check out some of Berlin’s legendary nightlife. One group went to a bright red space-themed bar in the former East Berlin and one dance club housed in a former train repair warehouse had a beer garden, two dance floors, and a rock wall!

The next day began with a bus tour of Berlin. I think the entire glee club was moved by the tragedies that occurred in this city in the 20th century and how contemporary Berlin has confronted them. At Checkpoint Charlie, one of the most famous border crossings between East and West Berlin, an exhibit explained the history of the wall and of the people who were killed trying to cross it. The East Side Gallery features the longest remaining portion of the wall that is now covered in murals painted by international artists.

At the Holocaust memorial (or the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe) concrete Stele stand in a wave-like field right in the center of Berlin. There, the glee club contemplated this utterly horrifying genocide. The memorial has no didactic message. Our guides explained that it was the architect’s (Peter Eisenman) intention to leave interpretations up to the people who walk through the stele and experience the memorial themselves. We also spent time in the museum downstairs, learning both about the lives of Jewish families in Europe before the Holocaust and about their inhumane treatment and murder at the hands of the Nazis.

Later that afternoon, the glee club confronted history head-on, with our performance at Zwinglikirche, a church in the former East Berlin. Built at the beginning of the 20th century, this church was abandoned during the rule of the GDR. Because being a member of a religious organization meant serious consequences (like not being able to go to free university), people simply stopped coming. Since reunification, an organization called KultuRaum Zwinglikirche has tried to bring culture back into the church through concerts, lectures, and other cultural events.

It was an honor for us to be included in this series, especially because of how amazing a space it is both historically and physically. It had an amazing acoustic. It was resonant, but we could also hear each other very well. Everything seemed to click during this concert. We were also encouraged by the enthusiastic audience, who burst into thunderous applause after almost every piece. I think it’s fair to say that this was one of our most memorable concerts on the trip so far. What made it even better was the reception afterwards featuring beverages and German pretzels!

The next day we had for ourselves in Berlin. Glee club members explored the city in so many ways! Some biked around Potsdam, a city on the outskirts of Berlin, home to the great Prussian summer palaces. Many visited the Pergamon Museum, on Berlin’s incredible Museum Island. Inside are monumental and huge treasures from the ancient world, including the entire Pergamon altar and the blue Ishtar Gate of Babylon. Thanks to the minister at the Berliner Dom, the glee club was given free admission to the roof of the Cathedral in the afternoon. We ended the night with a festive German dinner at a local restaurant all together.

Berlin is such a dynamic city in so many ways; it certainly is one the favorite cities I’ve been to. It’s hard to believe that we’re already at the halfway point of tour, but we’re all very much looking forward to being in the medieval city of Prague. It will be quite the contrast to contemporary Berlin.