Remembering the past

The past week I have the pleasure of accompanying EF Educational Tours Canada and a group of senior educational leaders from across Canada to tour Germany. The main event was the Science and Innovation Summit. I will write a separate post on my experience with the summit. Prior to the summit however, we were able to visit the cities of Munich, Berlin and the Dachau Concentration Camp.

Our tour director was a young lady from East Berlin. Anna was 10 years old when the Berlin wall came down. It was interesting to hear her perspective of living on the “other side” of the wall. Most of us “westerners” have a slightly skewed version of life in East Berlin. “We are good and they are bad” should be replaced by a more moderate thought that it is simply different. We’ve worked hard on teaching multiple perspectives in our school systems in Canada and this was a wonderful example. Anna is well-educated, very articulate and provided excellent support for the group. She was “German” as she proudly stated, disciplined and always on time but never without a kind heart and big smile.

Munich was a first stop of the cities. City ordinances do not allow sky scraper buildings so there is a very different aura immediately. I found Munich to be extremely cosmopolitan and trendy. There seemed to be light-hearted atmosphere in this fashion forward city. It is difficult to make any great statements after spending only a day in the city but my first impression was I would like to return one day!

Our next excursion was one that I will remember forever. We visited the Dachau Concentration Camp. Dachau was the first concentration camp established by Adolf Hitler’s regime. Built in 1933, it was the model for future concentration camps. During its existence over 200,000 prisoners were held and some 41,500 people were murdered. It was an eerie feeling entering the gates knowing that those who entered during the time of Third Reich would never be released.  The video clips, photographs and other information painted a brutality that was hard to imagine. It is hard to explain the deafening silence as you wander throughout the camp.

Anna explained to the group that every grade nine student in Germany is required to tour a concentration camp. It is a mandatory part of the curriculum. This is not a proud moment in Germany’s history and one that you would assume would want to be minimized. Instead, every student in Germany learns about these horrific events in order to remember. It is part of their history that they must remember. Every country has a past that they would like to forget. Yet Germany, with some of those most horrific events in history chooses to ensure that it is never forgotten. How many other countries would choose to highlight their own greatest injustices and darkest times?

Our final destination was Berlin, which from my vantage was in stark contrast to Munich. While Munich seemed to be full of vibrant color, Berlin was grey! Although 90% of the city was destroyed in World War II, it was rebuilt to “showcase” their history. Some may believe it is a tourist ploy, but I think that they are simply willing to expose their history and become vulnerable. The memorials throughout the inner core of the city are reminders of the atrocities of the Third Reich. Regardless of the motivation, Berlin provides visitors with an intense experience of the world of Adolf Hitler and of the cold war. Although Berlin leaves many in a reflective mood, it still possesses a lively core with inviting, friendly and warm people.    

Often the past is remembered better than it lived. In Germany, there is a strong belief that the history was real, it was brutal and it must never be forgotten!!!

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