Encompassing Loneliness – A Reflection on Berlin, Germany

Berlin, Germany

(Actual Trip Date: September 16 – 18, 2010)

For me, Berlin was all about the breaking down of boundaries. And while Berlin is not a city I would come back to since it was one of those mere ‘checklist cities’, I had an amazing time just because of the people and the moments.

Berlin was the start of our very-much deserved midterm break. Lucky for me, I started the break rather sick, but it’s not a surprise. That’s just how my immune system likes to work. My immunity will keep me going and rather strong during my weeks of energy-draining tests and projects and right when my brain recognizes a break coming, my immune system lets go, letting a fever take over my body. After barely any sleep after a week of History of Medicine project, Clinical Decision Making test, and a Bioethics midterm essay, my body was ready for shutdown.

The whole train ride to Brussels and plane ride to Berlin was a blur for me. I just wanted to sleep my sickness away. I’m not usually a fan of taking medication. I rather take the brunt of the sickness and wait it out, but I desperately wanted to be better in time for Italy and some time in Germany, so I loaded up on medication pretty quick.

We spent two days and three nights in Berlin, Germany. Kind of. Most of the second day was spent in Guben, Germany. Arriving in Berlin by night, the most we could do was check into our hotel and find some dinner. Going out to dinner, many of us were struck with homesickness and we ended up having large hamburgers for dinner. It was one of the most delicious meals I’ve had yet and usually, I hate hamburgers. That was the first night many broke out of their comfort zone of people. We had dinner with different people on the trip, and the new mix-up was refreshing and revitalizing. Back in Maastricht, it still felt like we had many boundaries up around us, but this group trip was the beginning of the lovely breakdown.

But before I dive into the mechanics of the wall break-down, I must elaborate on our very nice hotel we had in Germany. To say it was the best hotel I have ever been in is a mere understatement because it was better than better. The room was gorgeous, the lobby was beautiful with a hanging chandelier, there was free internet in the business room, the bathrooms were large and extraordinarily clean, and the bathroom floors even heated up! Coming down to breakfast the next morning, I realized I was in breakfast heaven with chocolate croissants and pastries galore and waffles and pancakes and yogurt and fruits and eggs and sausage and everything you can dream of for breakfast. I only found out the morning before we left Berlin sadly that you can order hot chocolate as well! To go from community showers and hostel beds to this grandiose, exorbitant priced hotel is mind-numbing. We were definitely spoiled.

Our first official day in Berlin started early in the morning after a scrumptious breakfast with the bike tour. I missed out on the bike tour in Paris, and while the Berlin bike tour wasn’t as great, from what I’ve heard, I’m still glad I did the tour. Because the weather was rainy and cloudy and I felt sick, I don’t think I would’ve ventured out into Berlin to sight-see if it wasn’t for the bike tour. Needless to say, I had a lot of fun despite the rainy weather. It was great being back on a bike. I haven’t been on one in so long and now that I have, I’m probably going to ride my bike more at home now. It’s great, fun exercise so why not?

Having hot chocolate, riding bikes, laughing, almost falling off bikes, bike collisions, peering at different awkward postcards, and looking at sights with different people while making connections. It was just a prelude to what a great time I would be having in Berlin despite the fact that Berlin, the actual city itself, was not my favorite.

Berlin is the most modern city I’ve been in during my time in Europe. Walking around Berlin reminds me of driving around any city in America. This is because Berlin was 70% bombed during WWII. Barely anything was left. Tanks and screams use to roll through there. The financial situation isn’t great so there are some buildings that can’t be completed and therefore giant cardboard painted to look like buildings have been put up to erase the ugly. But despite all this, the people are so friendly.

But the most humbling thing we witnessed on the bike tour? The Holocaust memorial – located straight across a row of warm, friendly coffee shops and souvenir stands. What a contrast of auras and emotions between the two.

Locking our bikes and taking the keys, we all stumbled across the streets into the large gray blocks of the memorial, moving deeper and deeper into its belly. As we moved deeper and separated from one another, everything seemed to disappear and it was just me and the tall, encompassing, overbearing, intimidating blocks of gray. I’ve never read about this particular memorial or the reason behind this design, but I can have a fair guess and say the design was to bring out in every visitor the emotions any person in the Holocaust felt. With the grey blocks so high, it seemed as though the sky was blocked out and only sections of the clouds could be seen. I wanted to reach for the sky, to look for some sign, but it always seemed too far and too remote. I felt so alone. Everything was quiet. I felt trapped, lost in a world of no colors. Every way I turned, I saw the same. Loneliness, despair, and fear.

And while I did joke with my friends about how this would be a great place to shoot a scene in the movie or play hide-and-seek, the gnawing feeling of horror keep brewing within me. It was like inhaling a breath of fresh air after drowning when walking out of the memorial and back into the light of the clouds.

If there’s anything anyone needs to see in Berlin, it would be this Holocaust memorial. I found it more humbling to see this than the Berlin Wall.

After the bike tour and eating a delicious, cheap German meat ‘hotdog’ sandwich being sold on the road, we hopped on the metro and headed to our next destination: Charity Hospital.

Charity Hospital was thought-provoking and inspiring. Before I came on this trip, Dr. Baker told me that this is the trip that would either turn students away from the pre-medical field or make them fall more in love with it. For me? I’m definitely become more enamored. The mysteries and the horrors and the humanities just drive me in. Unfortunately, there were no pictures allowed and alas, I only have my memories to account for.

There are two sections of Charity Hospital that stood out to me. One was the section that illustrated different points in the history of medicine. Right before our midterm break, my History of Medicine group presented Women in History of Medicine, and in my opinion, we did a pretty good job. Dr. Baker was impressed so crossing my fingers for an A. We practically made an encyclopedia covering everything there is to know about women and birthing and babies. Anyways, I had lectured about ancient birthing practices including birthing chairs and birthing bricks. Now only a couple days later in Berlin, Germany, I was glancing at the real things I had shown the class in pictures! I was bumbling with excitement. It felt great to have a proud feeling wash over myself.

The next section of the hospital was the inspiring part. It was also the most gruesome and saddest thing ever. It was the section of real deformed human babies who have died from some internal and external deformity. Staring at the glass jars, a twisted mixture of awe, shock, disgust, confusion, and intrigue washed over me. Questions swirled through my head.

How could God let things like this happen to babies? The shape of them were so messed up, I couldn’t help but reel back. But I have to remember, there are reasons for everything. It’s why murder and genocide exists. There must be a reason, although those reasons are completely obscured in darkness to us. All we need to have are hope and beliefs. These babies are now for studying purposes for science.  There must be a reason for everything, even if we cannot fathom it.

I own all photography.


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