Please excuse the following grammatical and spelling errors, but I am writing this as sleep tugs my eyelids down and summons me into its dark grasp. I haven’t ever been so tired in my young life, but the fatigue that pulls my body down is totally worth it because my high spirits just push me back up!
I have yet to experiment with the form of writing that shall follow, but for the sake of interests and organization, it shall be.
Thursday, October 20, 2011
The alarm screamed in my ear, jerking me to wakefulness. My eyes struggled to open and found comfort in the creeping darkness around me. I stumbled into the bathroom and commenced with my daily routine while mental check lists ran through my mind.
I had packed the night before, but had neglected to do many things that should have been done. So I was a bit rushed. Knowing that I wouldn’t be able to eat again until the afternoon, I quickly scarfed down my corn flakes and said my final goodbyes for the following four days.
I shook while waiting at the Abensberg station, but not only because it was so cold. Nerves were pulsing through my body and I feared that my breakfast would come up to greet me again. I had yet to make peace with the stress and rhythms of the train, but having a train ticket in my hand that had an easy itinerary put my mind at some ease.
I finally pulled into Berlin Hbf at one o’clock, in which my buttocks had gone numb from the constant sitting. It wasn’t long until I met up with Lydia and the other Rotex and then later the other exchange students. And to celebrate for my problem free voyage I rewarded myself with McDonald’s for lunch! It was the most delicious hamburger and fries that I had ever eaten and I greedily licked the salt and chemicals off my fingers. I think we can all agree that I must have become a victim of terrible hunger to enjoy it so greatly.
Our first attraction of the weekend was a Concentration Camp on the outskirts of Berlin. Sachsenhausen was a Nazi concentration camp in Oranienburg, Germany, used primarily for political prisoners from 1936 to the end of the Third Reich in May, 1945. After World War II, when Oranienburg was in the Soviet Occupation Zone, the structure was used as an NKVD special camp until 1950. The remaining buildings and grounds are now open to the public as a museum. The camp was established in 1936. It was located 35 km north of Berlin, which gave it a primary position among the German concentration camps: the administrative centre of all concentration camps was located in Oranienburg, and Sachsenhausen became a training centre for Schutzstaffel (SS) officers (who would often be sent to oversee other camps afterwards). Executions took place at Sachsenhausen, especially of Soviet prisoners of war. Among the prisoners, there was a "hierarchy": at the top, criminals (rapists, murderers), then Communists (red triangles), then homosexuals (pink triangles) and at the very bottom Jews (yellow triangles). Sachsenhausen was originally not intended as an extermination camp—instead, the systematic murder was conducted in camps to the east. On the front entrance gates to Sachsenhausen is the infamous slogan Arbeit Macht Frei. About 200,000 people passed through Sachsenhausen between 1936 and 1945. Some 30,000 inmates died there from exhaustion, disease, malnutrition or pneumonia from the freezing winter cold. Many were executed or died as the result of brutal medical experimentation. Towards the end of the war, 13,000 Red Army POW's arrived at Sachsenhausen. Over 10,000 were executed in the camp by being shot in the back of the neck through a hidden hole in a wall while being measured for a uniform. Their bodies were then burnt in a crematorium. With the advance of the Red Army in the spring of 1945, Sachsenhausen was prepared for evacuation. On April 20–21, the camp's SS staff ordered 33,000 inmates on a forced march northeast. Most of the prisoners were physically exhausted and thousands did not survive this death march; those who collapsed en route were shot by the SS. On April 22, 1945, the camp's remaining 3,000 inmates, including 1,400 women were liberated by the Red Army and Polish 2nd Infantry Division of Ludowe Wojsko Polskie.
This was the first concentration camp I had ever been to, so even though I knew of all the terrible things that had occurred in the mid 20th century, it all developed a new meaning for me afterwards.
My genius plan to keep my clothing in the car (that was very far away from us at that moment) blew up in my face, and I learned a very valuable lesson about German weather.
That evening, after we had thrown our things into the hostel room, we again began to walk the streets of Berlin. Here, I had my first experience with a German Doener and I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised! It was roughly similar to Garbanzo’s in Colorado, but also mashed up with the cheap hot dog stands in New York. Germany is really bridging some states here!
There was a giddy atmosphere in the air as all the exchange students were once again reunited. A little tune was playing in the background and I couldn’t keep my dancing body still, thus I stole the spotlight for myself. I also dragged a few into my acts of embarrassment to dance with me. Let’s just say that I wasn’t as successful I would have liked. Some people really know how to resist Shandre’s charm. I really didn’t think it was possible!
After a quick meeting in the hostel, everyone closed their eyes and made themselves vulnerable to the forces of sleep.
Friday, October 21, 2011
Once our acceptable breakfast had ended, we made our way to Madam ____’s Wax Museum. Truthfully, if I hadn’t known it was a wax museum, I would’ve thought the characters inside were real! Jared Leto was missing from the crowd, which hurt my should, but It didn’t lessen my experience! It was really awesome, but I am not sure if I could work there in the night time. The mind likes to play tricks on people!
We then made our way to the Berlin Capitol in which we had an extraordinary bird’s eye view of the Berlin Skyline. But before walking in the ball we had to go through and extensive amount of security. It surprised me until I realized that I was walking into the capitol of an entire country. It was also by this time that I realized that converse are probably not the best shoes to tour a city in. I definitely won’t be making that mistake again.
We didn’t have much free time throughout the weekend, but we did have an hour on Friday to explore the city. Unfortunately but this time everyone was so tired and hungry that the entire hour was dedicated to filling our bellies. But it is at the dinner table (well in this case lunch table at fast food restaurant) that people become the closest and share a part of their soul (and meal), so it was quite nice!
The meeting place after lunch was a small piece of the Berlin Wall that still remained in that part of the city. I neglected to follow the rest of the group because I was so mesmerized by the surroundings and was thus left behind. But luckily Rotex came and saved the day, and so a disaster was avoided.
The memory of the Holocaust seems to still haunt Germany; I realized we arrived at a Jewish memorial site. It was constructed in remembrance of all those that lost their lives, and when you enter the rows of stones an emotional cloud looms over you. Sadness and loneliness slowly begin to creep into your heart and the warmth starts to fade from you. To evoke such an emotional rampage with architecture is truly the definition of art.
Under the exhibition there was a museum documenting the harsh times in the mid 20th century the photographs stand the heart because they were portraying actual events, and not just some fantasy that was thought up by an author. One room inside forced you to sit inside a dimmed room that showcased many Jewish families on all four corners. By isolating us in such a manner we were forced to acknowledge our own mind and heart in the wake of this terrible tragedy.
It was around this time that we realized that our group was no longer whole. Marina (Italy) had fallen ill and Maite (Ecuador) was not far behind, but luckily she recovered and was able to remain with us. To be sick during a Rotary weekend must be horrible, and this fate has fallen on too many exchange students. I can already tell that my immunity is in an overdrive because of all the hell I am putting it through.
As soon as the sun began its slow decent, leaving us in darkness, we arrived at the Berlin Dom. My heart has found a special place for the churches in Germany for their magnificent beauty and intricate history. We didn’t stay too long, but just to take another group photo (of the greatest Rotary group ever!)
By the time we arrived at the _____ River, the sun was nowhere to be seen, but the city was lit up with bright lights. We had dinner in the lower dicks of the ship, but most of the time was spend on the roof, admiring the city night life. It was a bit chilly. But the company of friends and laughter warmed us from the inside.
In the late hours of the night, our day had ended, and we all fell asleep with smiles on our faces.
Saturday, October 22, 2011
A bit of chaos is always present at these weekends because moving a group of teenagers in unison isn’t an easy task. Punctuality is the most important trait for the Rotex because if we are lagging and end up late, the we miss our appointments.
Saturday morning as a bit less chaotic because we didn’t have a set time for our morning activities. Instead, we could choose a museum which captured our interest and mosey around it in until the afternoon break. I decided to travel to the Images of Terror museum and let the other students enjoy the history, science, and Anne Frank museums.
We arrived a bit late because Martina was feeling sick again, but everything worked out fabulously. The museum didn’t open until eleven that morning, and then our group of two had a new addition! Our group may have been small, but it was a lot easier to move only three people. And I anyways had enough excitement and energy to compensate for the lack of physical people there.
The next hour was one of the most enlightening experiences that I have ever had. The images evoked emotion within me that I had never felt before. The exhibition took me on a roller coaster of feelings as sadness, fear, and anger poured out of me, seeing the power that a mere photograph can make inspired me to pursue such in my life. I want to the be passage way of truth and morality, and with a pen in my hand and a camera in my pocket I will set out to change the world. Because change really occurs when “many small people who in many small places do many small things that can alter the face of the world.” This change is good because “she who wants the world to remain as it is doesn’t want it to remain at all”. My mom had casually commented that I may realize my “life’s purpose” in Germany without the influence of my family and friends. And I think that has proven to be true. And I would like to thank Paula and Martina for helping me J
It was a bit difficult to change my mind set back into the sing-dancing-photographing Shandre after having such a sobering and enlightening experience, but my fellow exchange students made it easier for me. We once again had a break to eat and shop, and I happily spent my whole monthly allowance on corny souvenirs. I also realized that it is pretty pathetic that I have an “I love Berlin” hoodie, but have nothing related to New York! Turns out I am not the perfect American. But to redeem some American qualities I once again ate at McDonalds. I am pretty sure that they actually use real meat in the German hamburgers. It was quite exciting (but then again, everything excites me in Germany)!
According to the plan that was handed out on Thursday, we were to see an art show for the remainder of the night. You can imagine our surprise as we began to walk through the streets as fans were beginning to get pumped up for a athletic game. We finally stopped at the Berlin Arena, and everyone was a bit confused (not me of course, because I am too gullible to take note of anything peculiar)
A large wave of excitement whipped through the group as the tickets to a Berlin West vs. Mainz soccer game emerged from Lydia’s purse.
There isn’t much to say about the soccer game per se, because I didn’t have a clue what was going on half of the time! But it was really great to be in the company of some of the best friends I have ever had. People were having good laughs with beer in their hands, and I even heard them utter a few “yays” and “boos” as the game progressed on. I was beginning to feel that our multikulti group was morphing into a more German group! Now if we could only manage to speak more German (but it’s nice to have a little English break once a month)
After watching the game for an hour and a half, only for it to end up in a double zero tie, we retired back to our hostel for a few minutes before heading out to dinner. I decided to have the big balls to go without a jacket again, because I had apparently not learned my lesson from Thursday afternoon. Luckily, the subways were so crowded that I wasn’t cold at all. And I usually make places hot with my unbearably good looks!
Dinner was most certainly a jolly affair! It would be our last dinner together for two weeks, so it wasn’t as sad. It was a typical exchange student dinner, with at least a hundred constant flashes from my camera. Since it was our last night we were all allowed to enjoy some beverages of the alcoholic sort, and I indulged myself a bit.
We moised back to the subway station with no rush at all, and just enjoyed being a part of the Berlin night life. Berlin is filled with as many hopeful wanna-be stars as America, so we got to be a part of a mini-subway concert. Who knows, maybe one day they will be famous and look back upon the exchange students of District 1880 that were a part of their history.
The rest of the night was pretty anticlimactic compared to what had happened earlier that day, but I did have the honor of being the head of Rotex for the night.
Sunday, October 24, 2011
Sunday was a slow morning as people struggled to get going. The last three days of minimum sleep and constant sleep had left us little more than zombies. I think the only think that kept me going was the knowledge that I would be able to sleep on the ride home.
It wasn’t a difficult morning for the only activity that was planned before the train station was a leisurely walk along the Berlin Wall. It is amazing to stand in such a close proximity to a genuine piece of history. I channeled my mind’s eye to imagine the locations fifty years prior. But living without freedom and with such stark restrictions is something so completely foreign to me that I was unable to do it. It brought a new meaning to: I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free”.
Once we had completed the length of the wall, we continued on to the train station. Feelings were mixed as usual – people were excited to go home and sleep, but sad to leave. But just like we had to do every month, we said our goodbyes, and bid well till the next time.
It’s quite difficult to recover from Rotary Weekends because the life back home is bland in comparison. Exchange has not only taught me to live I the moment and not to take the small things (like sleep) for granted, but it doesn’t matter where you are, but who you’re with.