I exit the bus after a 30 minute ride from the airport. After my first step off the bus, the cold hits me. A disrespectful hit. The same hit I took when my little brother accidentally got his hands on a metal baseball bat back in the 90s and hit me on the side of my head. The wind yells at me, demanding I leave the country, grab my bag and head out West in search of a better life. It takes my soul, making the capabilities of a dementor minuscule. My soul turns black and I Sirius cannot wait to be in front of a fireplace. The cold wraps itself around me, its hands strangling my jacket, unwrapping my scarf, giggling at my pink cotton. The cold whispers, “bring better gloves next time” and calls me the b word, the “tch” forcefully dancing across my ankles.
I push my way past a crowd of people into Berlin’s Central Train Station.
Guess what? The train station is OPEN AIR. The tracks are outside; I can feel the wind blow through my pants and two pairs of leggings I wear underneath. Suddenly I want to throw myself onto the train track to escape the cold. “Give my Pokémon card collection to my brother,” I say.
My phone dies and I desperately stumble into a burger joint. I order a cheeseburger and fries, asking the manager to charge my phone and he politely agrees. I can feel the cold wrapped around my toes, which I have lost feeling of. When asked what I am drinking, I grab a cold Desperado beer out of the refrigerator, because that’s what I am right now, cold and without hope.
The next morning in my hostel, I throw off the thick blanket I was wrapped in and wiggle my toes. 9:36AM. Santiago, the Colombian guy in the bottom bunk bed across the room, laughs at my hair scarf on my head. I explain to anyone and everyone in our 6 bed hostel room, who may be awake and listening, the plight of the Black Woman, The Pillowcase, and Her Edges. He nods, I translate to Spanish, he calls me “ridícula” and laughs harder, waking up the girl on the top bunk. I blow him a beso and make my way to the bathroom.
We just met last night, but this is such in the world of sleeping in cheap $10 a night hostel rooms with strangers from all over the world that soon become friends. It’s quite the experience. Before heading out, I grab all necessary gloves, hats, and put on two turtleneck sweaters. I don’t bother to roll down the turtleneck part on the sweaters. In fact, I tightly wrap a scarf around my neck.
After a cheap breakfast muffin and cappuccino in a vegetarian restaurant with an Australian roommate in my hostel, I walk around the East End Gallery and observe the wall. Artwork and graffiti covers the restored section of the Berlin Wall. A couple of people surround the artistic piece of two men kissing. I read quotes, see flags and handwriting from people all around the world. Someone wrote “Free Palestine” over the black, red, and yellow striped German flag. It’s absolutely crazy to even think about the divide between East and West Germany and what Adolf Hitler did. I’m standing in history, I take a second to really observe the artwork and it’s significance.
I see a graffiti piece that says “How’s God?” The line underneath reads “She’s Black.” I pause. What a wonderful feeling, I think to myself, smiling, realizing that someone came here to write this years ago. That someone loved it so much that they fenced it off to preserve the art. What a great thing to see, on the other side of the ocean, in a world where the media and news subconsciously tell us that it is just simply better to be another race.
I accidentally walk into a group on a free walking tour and decide to join. Our tour guide, Chris, is a New Zealand expat that fell in love with a German woman. He shows us photos of his one year old daughter. Her adorable, bright smile, and red Afro are the first things I notice. Chris’ laugh as he describes funny facts like when he points out the hotel window that Michael Jackson notoriously held his one year old son draws us in. His somber face when discussing Hitler and the dark historical past of Germany brings chills down my spine. This is no longer in a book, an abstract historical fact that we spent a week studying middle school. I realize the role education can play and assist, but also the importance of real life experiences, and feel grateful to even be standing right where I am.
An hour later in 25 degree Fahrenheit weather, we stand at The Memorial to the Murdered Jews in Europe. The Memorial is a plot of approximately two thousand five hundred gray cement shaped squares/ blocks, all the exact color, width, and length, but different heights. The ones close to the entrance are small in height, first brushing my ankles and later reaching the knees of my 5 foot 7 inch body.
Running my fingers across the top of the blocks, my finger tips are scratched by the rigid surface. I mention aloud, to no one but myself, that the top of each one feels like sandpaper. I realize the sides are smooth; my fingers slide over about ten of them. I start to lose count. I don’t know what to discern about difference in texture, the symbolism, or the intellectual and architectural talent of the Jewish architect from New Jersey who designed the Memorial. Chris later mentions that the Memorial has drawn criticism, while some say the sizes of the blocks could represent how the war didn’t just start overnight; it’s people impacted over the course of time, and suddenly realized how serious the matter was by the representation of the taller heights and structures in the center of the Memorial.
I continue walking and then suddenly I feel terribly alone. I’m lost. I look up, frightened, the large gray monster-like structures towering over me, now twice my size. I look down at my feet. I feel like a small child, not the 24 almost 25 year old adult I am. I can only see the clouded, bleak gray sky, no sign of any sun in sight.
The walkway between each block decreases. I feel like I am suffocating. Panicking, I realize I can hardly fit. I am alone, I am not sure what feeling to describe what I am experiencing right now. I later learn that 6 million Jews were killed during the Holocaust at the hands of Hitler and the Nazis. I hold back tears.
I turn around immediately, walking as fast as I can without running. The sound of my black boots clank throughout the small, gray hallways. It was packed when I entered the Memorial maze of blocks and now it’s empty. That’s when I remember reading Night, a book on a boy’s personal experience during the Holocaust by Elie Wiesel in Ms. Smith’s 8th Grade Social Studies class and being 13 years old and crying alone in my pink childhood bedroom, unable to comprehend how one person could do what Hitler did.
5 minutes later, our walking tour group of about twenty people and Chris stand in front of an apartment building, in the center of a parking lot.
“I know you’re wondering why I brought you here?” Chris’ voice echoes. I’m no longer with the group, my body has followed the tour, but I’m with my thoughts.
“You’re standing right above Adolf Hitler’s bunker in the 1930s.”
Someone in the crowd gasps. I stare at my feet, my worn down homely black boots over the gray cobblestone and yellow and green leaves, wet with yesterday’s rain. Yesterday’s tears. I have no idea how nature continues to grow and support living things, in areas of such despair.
Chris continues to explain that about ten meters below our feet is where Hitler was last known to be. Hopeful that he would lead Germany to victory, Hitler waited out in his bunker. Hitler knew the Russian Soviet Army was closing in on him and knew of his location. He committed suicide two days later. A fact that I did not know, Hitler married his longtime girlfriend the day before he committed suicide in the old, smelly, bunker, both taking cyanide pills the day after the wedding, Hitler choosing to immediately shoot himself in the head after digesting the pill…
I stand there dumbfounded.
Hitler had a longtime girlfriend?!?!?
How can a man responsible for millions of deaths of INNOCENT people and the destruction of an entire country be capable of loving another human being???
Someone loved him?????
Someone married him?????
I keep running this thought in my head.
Then, we stand in front of a small playground, a small circular patch of black dirt. A rusted blue slide is situated in the dirt.
“This is where Hitler’s remains were scattered after he committed suicide. There used to be a garden here.”
I look at the slide. It’s rusted, dark blue color now a light blue and brown mix. I stare at this piece of history, unknowingly related to Germany. To outsiders, it’s just a slide. I wouldn’t let my child play on this slide, I say, noting to a stranger that I don’t have any children. His bright blue eyes stare at me; I stare at the windows of the apartment buildings surrounding us.
This moment in time is something I will always remember. It feels the same way I felt, about 2 weeks ago, when I stood in Ann Frank’s bedroom in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Or when I ran my finger through the book record of how many Jews were killed during the Holocaust, pausing at how many Aaron David’s there were. 14.
… Ann was a child. Her entire family was impacted by this man’s decisions and his ignorance and hatred toward one group of people. She became a world known author, something she never knew. Her story became a museum, a telling story of what happened. She was one of the 8 million people. I cannot comprehend what a million people looks like. I think about all the brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, cousins, aunt’s and uncles, grandparents, and friends lost in this genocide.
The Memorial gave everyone lost a name. Those parents loved their children just like how my parents love me. The victims of this tragedy loved their brothers like how I love my brother. Wanted the great things of life that I want for my friends. They ate family dinners, went skating, the kids played outside, the seasons changed, the parents did simple errands like check the mailbox and go grocery shopping. Think about what they were eating for dinner, help with homework, want the best for those around them. They were people. These things remain the same.
I can’t believe how much one person could impact such a large group of people. Hitler was nothing but a man. This is history, I remind myself. But, standing here, looking at this dreadful slide, I feel small.
Chris reminds us to take whatever perspective we want away with us, but to remember that this is what happens when people do not use their voice, when one person uses their hateful ideology and shakes the world.
That night, I fall asleep in the top bunk of my bed, dreaming of Syria and the once beautiful city of Aleppo, and I wake up, jolted by a feeling that has no name.