Sunday, June 02, 2019

Summer Has Arrived in Berlin

Summer has arrived in Berlin

Last week I was wearing long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and a jacket.  Today, it was shorts and a t-shirt and I was still broiling.  Today’s high was 88; even with the sun nearly set, it’s still 83.  Temperatures are predicted to still climb higher tomorrow with no relief predicted until we head to Dresden on Thursday.  Then, a cold front will pass through with thunderstorms.

Slept ok last night despite the heat and humidity. Breakfast was fine, though there was a little hitch when they said the students didn’t have breakfast rights.  I insisted and made sure they all got plates for food.

My plan was twofold:  give the students an overview on the history of Berlin in the twentieth century by exploring the two neighborhoods adjacent to our hostel; and keep the students out in the sunlight as much as possible to help them adjust to the new time zone.   We started out at Rosa-Luxemburg Platz and I told them about who she was and who Karl Liebknecht was.  Then we walked through what used to be the Schuenenviertel, the immigrant Jewish neighborhood neighborhood, guided by the memorial project created by Shimon Attie and Stolpersteiner.  Attie, an American-Jewish artist, came to Berlin in 1991, and projected images of Scheunenviertel on the original site of the photographs at night.  You can see images of the project here: 

Several years ago, I ran across a Stolpersteine for Manfred Lewin.  I knew his story from Gad Beck’s autobiography, so I brought the section where Beck describes how he disguised himself in a Hitler Junge uniform to smuggle Manfred out of the deportation center where he and his family had been brought prior to their transport to Auschwitz.  After successfully getting Manfred out, he thanked Beck, but then turned around and went back to stay his with family.  The USC Survivors of the Shoah Project has posted the interview with Beck.  It’s in German with English subtitles:  We read the story together while standing around his Stolperstein, and brought a photo of Manfred taken a year before he was murdered in 1942. 

By the time we got to the memorial in Koppenplatz, though, it was really getting warm.  We didn’t spend as much time as usual at The Deserted Room memorial to the Jews who went through Kristallnacht.  We ended at the magnificent Oranienburgerstrasse Synagogue and I told them about Regina Jonas, the first woman to be ordained a rabbi in 1935.  While the only service she was allowed to lead in this synagogue was Havdalah, she and Rabbi Leo Baeck rode circuit, visiting small Jewish communities without a rabbi after 1939.  In November 1942, she was deported to Theresienstadt where for two years she did pastoral counseling, trying to keep people from committing suicide.  In October 1944, she was deported to Auschwitz where she was murdered.

After lunch in Häckische Markt, we headed up to Nordbahnhof to learn about post-war Berlin history.  If the morning took us through the Scheunenviertel, the afternoon focused on Bernauer Straße and Berlin during the Cold War.  Nordbahnhof was a “ghost station;” trains from West Berlin passed through but never stopped.  From there we learned about those who died trying to get over or under the wall.  Finally, we stopped at the information center to watch the struggle to bring down the wall.  Here’s the short version of the film: 

Downstairs, I met some Israeli women in Berlin for the Eric Clapton concert.  We talked for a bit and then I took the students to see contemporary Berlin: the weekly flea market and arts festival in Mauerpark, built on top of where the wall ran.  We watched some girls from Spain singing “Despacito” at Bear Pit karaoke, and then headed back to the hostel.  We all got a little sunburned, I think, and few students were feeling the effects of the heat and humidity.  It’s really hard when there’s no place you can go to cool off (not a lot of AC in Europe). 

For dinner, I headed up to the Prater Biergarten, one of the oldest in Berlin (founded 1837).  I just had a bratwurst and potato salad and a beer, and read the paper.  Then I walked home to burn off some of the calories.  With the students, we walked nearly 15,000 steps today (about 6 miles).  I told them that at least tomorrow we will be indoors more and somewhat sheltered from the heat.  In the time that I typed this whole entry, the temperature dropped to 79.  It doesn’t really feel it, though.  The only good part of it is that the laundry I did yesterday and today has almost entirely dried.

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