European Adventures: Spring Break Part 2

We entered the second week of our spring break and traveled further into Europe. As soon as we got off the train in Amsterdam, we headed straight for the Heineken factory and museum. At this point, we had been traveling for nine days, and I was pretty museumed out. However, I was pleasantly surprised at how fun our experience was. The tour took us through the process of brewing Heineken’s secret recipe, and I learned about the four ingredients used to make beer (water, barley, hops and a special type of yeast). I also learned that even today, after 150 years, Heineken remains a family-owned business throughout Holland. Our tour concluded with a taste test inside of a party room. There was even a DJ!

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On our second day, we headed out bright and early to the Anne Frank house. Though we had to stand in line for about 2.5 hours, the wait was well worth it. It was also so inspiring that hundreds of different people, who come from different backgrounds and religions, stand for hours on end each day just to see and witness this part of history. Though I wasn’t allowed to photograph any of the artifacts inside the house, the experience was moving. We walked through the house, which was actually the office building of Anne’s father, Otto Frank. During the war, he continued his business while hiding his family and a few friends in the upstairs portion of the house. During the day, Anne, her mother and sister would have to remain silent so that the employees downstairs wouldn’t suspect anything. Their hiding spot was concealed with a makeshift bookcase which hid the entrance to the upstairs attack. Being able to climb the attic stairs and stand in the same room where Anne had slept was surreal. I was also able to see her actual diary entries, where she documented the war through her own eyes. Seeing her handwriting was extremely moving and set the stage for what was to come in Berlin.

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Overall, Amsterdam was an exciting and fun city to travel to. Aside from the historic-looking town houses, which charmingly lined the rivers and dams, the city was totally hip and modern. Amsterdam was busy and happening but not overwhelmingly large. In addition, almost everyone rides a bike, which added to the laid-back feeling. I loved how comfortable I felt walking around the city, and it was a perfect midpoint for the trip. And how could I forget, who doesn’t love a large stack of apple cinnamon pancakes? Oh Amsterdam, you did me well.

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Our final destination was one that I was excited yet hesitant to get to. We arrived to Berlin and immediately set out touring the city’s streets. Being in Berlin was definitely an eye-opening and interesting experience that I’m glad I was able to share with my friends. On one hand, the country is still trying to rebuild from its dark past during World War II. Almost every place we turned, there was another monument memorializing the horrors of the war and Holocaust. Yet on the other hand, Berlin was very trendy and up-and-coming with tons of shopping, ethnic restaurants and street art.

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We decided to hire a private tour guide for this city since we didn’t have much background on it. Our tour guide Jeremy took us all across the city, giving us a entire history lesson of Berlin’s past and present state. Because we saw so much, I’ve posted the highlights of the tour along with pictures below.

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Holocaust memorials: Since we are studying in Tel Aviv, Jeremy was sure to show us as many Holocaust memorials as possible. From large monuments to small engravings on the steps of a subway stop, the memorials were everywhere. Each one was unique and remembering someone different, but the underlying message was clear: May Germany never forget what happened to the innocent lives taken during the Holocaust.

The gold stepping stones are located throughout the city, outside homes or office buildings, remembering those who once lived there and were taken innocently to concentration or extermination camps.

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The memorial below is located in a park. Simply constructed, it consists of a table and chairs that are knocked over. In German it says, “We’re in the middle of dinner, and the next thing we know the Gestapo is dragging us away.” The memorial illustrates how people’s lives were abruptly changed in the matter of seconds.

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These, along with many others, showed how almost 80 years later, Germany is still trying to socially recover from the acts of the Nazi regime.

Acts of Heroism: The photo below is of a bakery that still stands today in Berlin. During the various roundups that took place, this bakery was in charge of supplying the people with bread before they were put on deporting trains. Because the owners knew what was going on and knew the fate of the innocent Jews being rounded up, they baked Challah breads to put at the bottom of the breadbaskets. The SS never knew about this, and the bakers ran a huge risk of doing so if they were ever caught. But, the Jews were comforted when they found a traditional Challah at the bottom of the basket during this frightening time.

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Historical Buildings:
One of the most interesting parts of the tour was putting the events of World War II into perspective. We visited several of the city’s freestanding buildings and monuments where Hitler and other powerful Nazi’s used to give speeches and demonstrations. It was interesting to think about the events that occurred there and how life has changed now. An area that was once so ominous and dark is now flourishing with young and new life.

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Our final day in Berlin was spent traveling to and from Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. About 45 minutes outside the city, the journey to the camp was eerily symbolic. We took a train with a group tour and then walked about a mile to get to the camp’s gate. Sachsenhausen is located in Oranienburg, and imprisoned about 200,000 people over a nine-year period during the 30s and 40s. Mainly a camp for labor as well as political prisoners, Sachsenhausen was still filled with hunger, disease, overcrowding and systematic extermination. In addition, after the camp’s liquidation in 1945, it ran for five more years and was used as a Soviet camp. Though many of the original buildings and artifacts were destroyed after the war and rebuilt for memorial purposes, several aspects of the camp remain intact, including: the pathology lab, mortuary and watchtowers.

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At the entrance of the gate, the signs reads: “Work will set you free.”

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In English, the sign reads: “Shots will be fired immediately and without warning.”

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A memorial commemorating the 18 different groups of people interned at the camp.

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Though my visit to Sachsenhausen was somber and upsetting, it was something everyone should see and an experience I’ll never forget. Being able to see both the good and bad of Germany truly allowed me to appreciate the country for its immense historical past. Ending our trip in Berlin was also unique because after seeing the decades of persecution right before our eyes, I was able to return to Israel- a place that is young and flourishing, and more importantly, a homeland for the Jewish people. My European adventures truly came full circle, and I couldn’t be happier to have had this opportunity. Though my trip was unforgettable, I am more than thrilled to be back in Tel Aviv for the final few weeks of the semester.

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