Thursday, February 27, 2014

On this day ten years ago...

Ten years ago today I visited Berlin, Germany for the first time. That visit was a pivotal moment in my life because it opened my eyes to the realization that the world is so much bigger and wonderful than I first imagined it to be. I wanted to experience every piece of history that I could find in that first visit. I wanted to soak in the frenetic, youthful energy of a city that was once divided by not only a physical wall but a wall of ideologies.

There is something so poetic about Berlin despite its harsh, bold exterior. Watching footage of the Wall coming down on that fateful day in November of 1989 still moves me. That wall came down, not with weapons, but from the will of the people who wanted to live in freedom. The study of history glorifies wars more than anything else, but that's why Berlin and the Cold War are my favorite era of history to study: because it didn't end in a battle. It ended peacefully with people on both sides  hugging and kissing and celebrating together. That joyful energy is still there. It still exists and for that reason it remains, to this day, my favorite city on earth.

As I think about the passion for history and travel that visiting Berlin instilled in me, I'm reminded that sometimes education requires us to leave the classroom and become students of  the world. The best education I ever received was the two years my husband and I lived in Germany and traveled through Europe. It helped me to leave my comfortable bubble and think about the ways in which other people live and maybe that everyone doesn't want to be like us. Americans have this superiority complex in thinking that everyone in the world wishes they could live here. And while that is true for many, it is not true for all. Some of our laws can be just as oppressive as other places around the world. We are not a perfect government, nor will we ever be. But seeing how people in other countries live has a way of making you feel not only grateful for your own way of life, but also long for another at the same time.

But isn't that what education is all about? To always be seeking and longing and questioning? That first trip to Berlin reminds me every day to always seek new knowledge and to celebrate the people and places I have had the privilege of visiting in this short life. I can only hope that ten years hence, I will have been able to learn even more from being a student of the world.

From the top of the East Berlin TV tower, East and West were obvious even 15 years later
Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church: a bombed out shell from WWII left as a memorial
East Side Gallery: An art gallery on a remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall

The stunning Brandenburg Gate which many of us recognize from Reagan's famous "Tear down this wall!" speech

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