Berlin: The Freedom of Expression

Although the first day in Berlin did not entirely impress me, our second day in Berlin was one of the best days I have had studying abroad so far. Our tour on the second day focused on the street art that blankets the city of Berlin. Thinking back to the first day, I had not noticed the art at all. The beauty of the artwork that is splashed all over Berlin is that it takes patience to understand what is being portrayed. To truly grasp what the artist is expressing, you can not simply breeze by it.

As I mentioned in my last post, Berliners do not want to remember being separated from their loved ones between the years 1961 and 1989. Taking a second glance at those dates you will realize this is not too far back in history. In fact, it’s troubling to understand that it was only twenty-seven years ago that a wall with guard towers held armed guards that shot and killed anyone trying to cross between East and West Germany.

It was not until November of 1989 when half a million people peacefully protested against the government in the local square. With such great numbers standing in front of them demanding change, the government had no choice but to let the citizens, who have not seen their family in twenty-seven years, unite. November of 1989 marked the first time the citizens of Berlin realized, as long as they stand united, no one can stop them. Thus, there is still a heavy population in Berlin that keeps the feelings of hope, inspiration, and freedom of that day in 1989 alive.

The emotions that run deep into the soul of these Berliners spill onto the largest remaining portion of the Berlin Wall as the only wanted remembrance, their freedom. The Berlin Wall is covered in street art all symbolizing what they were deprived of, diversity and freedom of expression.

I was touched by the artwork and the idea of inspiring the masses. Between painting, spraying, sticking, drawing, or carving Berlin is enriched with emotion for all to see. To outline some of the artwork I saw, one read “Many small people, in many small places, do many small things that can alter the face of the world”. Another read, “STAY TRUE, STAY ALIVE” meaning the only way to consider yourself alive is staying true to yourself.

Continuing down the wall, perhaps the edgiest and most pictured mural is The Socialist Fraternal Kiss.  The artwork recreates the moment of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev kissing East Germany President Erich Honecker symbolizing their agreement for Soviet aid in protecting the Berlin Wall and its borders. The mural is captioned, in German, depicting the voice of west-side citizens inside of the Berlin wall pleading for mercy.

God help me to survive this deadly love affair”

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Moving to the Berlin Wall Memorial, we were able to hear stories of the attempts to jump, climb, or even drive through the Berlin Wall in hopes to escape the captivity. The remains are complimented and remembered by visitors leaving inspiring quotes along the wall.

“There is no path to peace, peace is the path

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“When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace”

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“None, but who have lived it can understand the real meaning of this wall. What really scares us is how easy it is to lose our freedom”

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And the final quote that echoed through the memorial remembering the separation of the devastated loved ones.

“Please don’t be angry when I’m not here for you. Love me like I love you always and forever”

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Underwhelming Berlin

To say arriving back to the ESC from Italy with only 8 hours to unpack, do laundry, and pack again and then leave for Berlin at 4am was hectic is an understatement. However, running around has become part of my daily life while studying abroad. After all, how else are you supposed to see all of Europe in just four months?

After arriving in Berlin in the early afternoon, we headed directly to our first tour that would go into detail of the history of the Berlin Wall and even back to World War II. It was very interesting to see that Berlin really does not want to remember either of these impactful pieces of history at all. Checkpoint Charlie, for instance, left a lot to be desired. Typically, most tourists expected to come to the Berlin Wall and feel the hate, fear, and sadness while taking pictures of  the ruins. Do not be fooled, much of the Berlin Wall is simply two rows of cobblestone, flush to the pavement, running through the town outlining where the wall used to be. In fact, it was so subliminal that our entire study abroad program walked right across the “Berlin Wall” on the way to our first tour and had not even realized it.

Feeling underwhelmed, our tour moved on to the history and the remains of Hitler’s bunker where the last siege took place before Hitler had committed suicide. Feeling a bit let down again, Hitler’s “bunker” was a corporate parking lot with business men and women weaving through the cars to get back to work after their lunch.

Understandingly so, Berlin was not as photogenic as the cities we have visited thus far.  This left me pondering of how a war stricken city with so much history of sorrow had so little to show for it. You would think, considering the Berlin Wall is such a big tourist attraction, the town would invest in recreating bits and pieces of the history for the tourists to take pictures of remembrance. That being said, as we went on, walking over the Berlin Wall that separated loved ones for over 25 years and then right across Hitler’s bunker that housed the killer of eleven million innocent people I began to realize a very important fact about Berlin. The shameful feeling of living in a city with so much divide and war crime still lives on today. It is not that the citizens of Berlin can not remember these terrible times in history. Instead, it is that the citizens of Berlin do not want to remember what horrible things had happened on their very home soil.

Patrick Henry-Village Refugee Center

Over the last couple of weeks, the students from The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) set out to the Patrick Henry-Village to witness the impact of the latest state of the refugee crisis not only facing Germany but the entire world.

Patrick Henry-Village is a refugee center based in the heart of Germany housing asylum seekers from North Africa, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Bangladesh, and many other countries. In only a few visits to this refugee center, it was made clear that there is not just one identity for a “refugee”. Instead, we have realized that each refugee has their own story, own way of coping with their current situation, and own methods of adaptation to their new environment. With just four months to learn how the Patrick Henry-Village operates, come up with ways to improve their schedule, and overall make even the smallest difference, we needed to take this task head on.

Through our first half of service at the Patrick Henry-Village we were able to apply our business operation and supply chain knowledge to pick out minor inefficiencies that could ease the daily operations at the refugee center.

To simply address the inefficiencies, the following points are my written notes from my times working at the refugee center:

  • Lacking translators for a given language
  • Refugees misunderstanding appointment times that are written in German
  • Disconnection between Counseling Center security and staff
  • Countless language barrier miscommunications
  • Refugees awaiting a counselor who is not working/called out that day
  • Limited structured/scheduled programs for children
  • Under-utilizing the volunteers
  • Male security guards working at female-specific housing

These are points that could be easily adjusted to improve the daily operations for the staff as well as the refugees. Given the time and opportunities, we were able to finally decide how exactly the students from The College of New Jersey would represent their school and make their impact on the greatest migration of people since World War II.

At this point in time (October 16th), we are in the beginning stages of creating and implementing our own youth program for the children seeking refuge at the Patrick Henry-Village. Working as project manager for our new program, TCNJ’s Kid At Play (K.A.P), my aspirations are to gradually impact the youth in a positive manner by adding a little bit more structure and schedule to their daily lives. With all of our majors combined, the students at TCNJ have now appointed two Finance chairs managing all donation money being spent, two Language chairs that will teach basic German classes, two Math chairs focusing on the basics with money and counting, and two Arts & Crafts chairs that will supply materials and assist the children in crafting keepsakes for them to take home. In addition to these classes, two Youth Sports chairs will run one program for minors under 14 years old and another program from minors 14-17 years old. Lastly, our program will trust in two Donation & Shopping chairs to accurately allocate how to utilize our donation money and subsequently reach out to local german businesses to partner with TCNJ’s K.A.P. in creating a better life for the refugee children at the Patrick Henry-Village.

We do have a great task on our hands but I do believe in what my aunt quoted from the South African social rights activist, Desmond Tutu when I updated her on what we will be doing while in Germany. She said to me, “Do your little bit of good where you are; its those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” So at that, I say to my fellow TCNJ K.A.P. volunteers, let us always remember to overwhelm this world with little bits of good at a time.

If you wish to contribute to our program at the Patrick Henry-Village, please visit our GoFundMe page for more info: https://www.gofundme.com/2q33ze44

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Badische Anilin und Soda Fabrik

The excursion with the ESC this week was to the largest chemical producer in the world,  BASF. Badische Anilin und Soda Fabrik (BASF), which translates directly as the Baden Aniline and Soda Factory, is located in Ludwigshafen, Germany about an hour (after train and tram connections) away from Heidelberg. BASF coined their slogan, “We create chemistry” and they surely do. For scale, BASF has customers in over 200 countries, supplies their products to a number of industries, and has recorded sales just north of 70 billion euro (about $78 billion). Additionally, BASF is listed not only the New York Stock Exchange but the Frankfurt, London, and Zurich Stock Exchange as well.

The tour itself was only half as interesting as the impact BASF has on the world today. To  start the tour, we rode on a privately chartered bus through the BASF headquarters accompanied by a tour/audio guide. The amenities were very interesting, however, at the conclusion of the tour, we never even saw inside any of the buildings where the products were being produced. Perhaps I was simply spoiled from John Deere’s company tour. *Side note…I did find their BASF photobooth quite engaging…see for yourself.

At the conclusion of the bus tour, we did actually tour their “Visitor’s Center” which was very interesting. Broken down by floors, our group was able to gain an understanding of how BASF came to be in terms of its history, how BASF products are made to tingle our senses of sound, smell, and taste.

Many may not know that BASF actually manufactured the poison gas called Zyklon B that was used in extermination camps during World War II. Needless to say, our tour guide did not cover this part of their history. Therefore, I conducted my own brief research on the topic.

Zyklon B is a toxic gas created from hydrogen cyanide typically used to kill rats and insects. These chemicals supplied by BASF were in pellet-form and were thrown down air shafts  and killed over 1 million prisoners in the camps. The record shows that BASF and their chairman, Carl Wurster, claimed they were not aware of the misuse of their Zyklon B.

In their defense, they claimed they thought the Zyklon B was being used in the camps to kill off lice. Because of this, they figured the increase in demand was due to the increased population in the camps. Surprisingly so, Wurster was later acquitted of all charges in 1948. Talk about damaging a brand’s image. In fact, BASF practically had to build their company from the ground up after World War II had ended.

Moving away from BASF history, we had the opportunity to interact with BASF products that we see in our daily lives. A pair of running shoes, astroturf, cars, styrofoam, artificial scents, and even pieces of furniture were all created with the help of BASF production. It was interesting to know that many things I have used so often, have come straight out of the BASF factory.

Souvenir from the trip? Surely. A little BASF (assemble yourself) worker-bee.

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Good Ol’ John Deere

On our first company visit in Germany, we ironically went to visit the John Deere Factory in Mannheim. John Deere is an American born corporation dedicated to integrity, quality,  commitment, and innovation in manufacturing agricultural, construction, and forestry machinery as well as diesel engines, drivetrains, and other heavy duty equipment. Of course, most people recognize the brand for their bright green and yellow  lawn maintenance equipment. Do not be fooled, these colors are in fact a staple to their brand as we saw the whole factory building completely surrounded in that same green and yellow colors.

John Deere was founded in 1837 in small town Grand Detour, Illinois by a man named, wait for it, John Deere. Yes, John Deere himself invented the polished-steel plow and went on to build, by hand, nine more plows until partnering with Leonard Andrus and opening their first factory in Moline, Illinois. Fast forward 179 years and the company is now sitting on net sales and revenues of about $36.2 billion.

Being in Germany, I always inquire of how the company responded to the World War II crisis they faced around the 1940’s. Around these dates, John Deere faced “Limitation orders” by the government which meant they could not mass-produce farming equipment for civilians. Instead, John Deere began manufacturing military tractors, ammunition, aircraft parts, and cargo to assist the U.S. in their efforts in the war. Around these same years, the company saw 4,500 employees including their very own president and the son of John Deere, Charles Deere, accept their commission in the U.S. Army to serve their country in Europe.

At the factory, we were able to observe the completely innovated construction and lawn care equipment on display for all to see. We learned about each tractor and the detail that goes into manufacturing and delivering the product, in a timely matter, to the customer.

Although born in America, John Deere manufactures equipment throughout Europe and  even specially customizes each tractor with concern to the geographic region the “big green tractor” will eventually be delivered to. Considering this was our first company visit, we finally were able to witness how much of a global impact an American company has around the world.

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Having this opportunity that was unlike any other, we had the chance to walk through the manufacturing facilities and watch each nut and bolt be tightened on the beginning framework and continue down the supply chain to the last test-driving farmer maneuvering the 215 horsepower machine capable of pulling up to 12,000 pounds.

What I found most interesting was their commitment to customer assurance. To properly test how each tractor would feel to all sizes of farmers around the world, they actually hire farmers from different countries to personally come to their factory in Mannheim and put it to the ultimate test in the field. I found this important because John Deere takes that extra step in the supply chain to guarantee quality with the help of their experienced customers.

For a factory that delivers a brand new tractor hot off the production line every 3 minutes and ships these tractors to over 100 countries, it is clear John Deere still holds true to their original core values and dedication to integrity, quality, commitment, and innovation.

Weekend Trip in Prague

This past weekend my friends and I traveled to the Czech Republic to visit the capital city  of Prague. We toured around the Old Town Square which is considered “the heart of Prague’s historic core”. We visited the John Lennon wall, the Prague Castle, the Prague Astronomical Clock, and the many cathedrals including the most well known St. Vitus Cathedral. Only being in Prague for three days we, undoubtedly, left parts of the beautiful city unseen. Because of this, you could say another trip to Prague is inevitable.

Highlighting the most memorable parts of our trip, the Prague Cathedral is a Roman  Catholic metropolitan cathedral depicting a dark gothic architecture. Being able to see this castle from almost anywhere in Old Town, I never would have known the St. Vitus Cathedral sits entirely enclosed and protected by the Prague Castle. In fact, it was not until we got through the gates of the Prague Castle and into the courtyard that I noticed the St. Vitus Cathedral standing 317 ft. tall and completely surrounded by the castle’s architecture and protected very formerly by the Prague Castle Guards. These guards are an autonomous unit of the Armed forces of the Czech Republic directly acting as the  first line of defense for the President of the Czech Republic’s seat inside the castle.

On the other side of town, we were able to climb the Prague Astronomical Clock. Considering we missed the top of the hour on our way over to the area, we decided to reach the top of the tower for the next hour and look down on all of the town observing the show. Coincidentally, we found ourselves on the balcony of the clock tower standing directly next to the trumpeter playing on-the-hour for the crowd applauding below.

Without a lack of things to do by day, equally, we found plenty to keep our group busy by night. On the first night, we headed over to a local 80’s/90’s Pop music and video bar. It continues to blow my mind to hear how much the American, English speaking, music industry has swept most of the world. In the midst of a completely Czech culture, there is always a familiar American song playing in the background.

Come the second night of our stay, we found ourselves walking into a five-story bar. This bar was one of the most popular in Prague and it definitely delivered as expected. The ground floor was the “Ice Bar” in which you bundle up in their beer-branded parkas and hats completely surrounded by an ice bar and ice chairs. The second floor offered their “Oldies” music which brought the previous night’s adventure back to life. Continuing up the stair, floor three played “House” music you would hear in any typical American bar. The fourth floor, being the most popular, was the “Hip-Hop & Dance” music which is where we found ourselves most of the night. Finally, the top floor was the “Chill out” bar offering relaxed music with a very casual, laid-back atmosphere. You could say the diversity of this bar could please anyone in any mood. And if you didn’t like the floors current song? Simply head on up to the next floor.

As we continue to travel around Europe, we have been breaking down the language  barrier and slowly learning how to read any tram map, no matter what country we are in. Each trip is getting a bit easier to book ourselves and pull-off with no problems. The best part about traveling around Europe? Each time we come back to Heidelberg it feels more and more like a familiar home.

Speyer City Tour

This past Wednesday, we visited the city of Speyer, located just next to the Rhine River. Speyer, having been founded by the romans, offers magnificent architecture throughout the  whole city. We toured the general city and main street through town and even went to the Jewish worship section of the city. Before WWII, Speyer served as a significant landmark for jewish communities and now rests as a historic landmark to view the Jewish courtyard containing what is left of the synagogue and the mikveh. We then walked up the 150 stairs of the clocktower in Speyer that was left neglected in the bombings during WWII. Finally, we walked down to the Speyer Cathedral to tour the breathtaking architecture inside and out.

The most memorable part of Speyer was, surprisingly, the Jakobspilger. This statue is a figurative public sculpture in the middle of the sidewalk on the main street. I found this sculpture so interesting because it is bold in detail and stature but so many people seemed to walk right around it.

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After questioning, the guide informed me that this was a figurative sculpture representing the pilgrims that walked the Path of St. James which was the route the pilgrims took to cut through the town. The sculpture is facing  the outskirts of town, showing the path and direction he walked, and now many will walk to leave the main center of town. Throughout the day I did not see anybody stop for a picture. Granted, the statue did not have any information about the meaning behind it. Because of this, this sculpture was a special memory I have of Speyer that many may have passed by.

This tour was important to me because this was officially the first guided tour we had  through a city other than Heidelberg. It meant a lot to me to veer from what I already know in Heidelberg and become educated on it’s surrounding areas. With aspiration to travel to many countries in Europe over the next four months, I find it just as important for me to take in what Germany has to offer as well.

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Coming from a Roman Catholic family, these tours through the Roman architecture and religious centers allow me to connect with the religion I have grown up in on a much greater scale. Only spending a few weeks here, I have already felt the religious connection that is imbedded in the history of these cities.

This study abroad program is proving to be a worth-while trip to say the least. I am opening my eyes to a new world view, culture, language, and more. The best part about these tour and guided experiences is what I take away from the time I spent there. In Speyer, I decided for the rest of the trip that I would buy a postcard for each place I went. Postcard, I found, are cheap memories usually less than one euro. This way, I get to send home these memories for my family see while also documenting my time, for me to reflect on for years to come.