ericaamber

Berlin and Sachsenhausen

In Uncategorized on August 26, 2013 at 5:50 pm

I know I wrote last week about an impending trip to a concentration camp, however it’s been a bit of a mission. Last cruise I was delighted to be on nights and have the whole day off in Berlin to attend a shore excursion to a concentration camp. The night before Berlin, our safety officer sent out an email that we had a fire safety drill the next morning. Of course I was upset, as I’d been planning this excursion for what felt like eons. It especially annoyed me because in case of a fire on board, my duty is to report to the office and await further instructions. In case of a real fire, at that point we would head to our muster stations or wherever we were needed. In case of a drill, (like this one), all I do is sit in the office until the drill is over, which felt particularly pointless this time when I had the whole day off and now had to stay on board for the drill, hence missing my excursion. However, the safety of our crew and guests is of the utmost importance and at the end of the day, I’m here to work first and foremost so of course, I attended the drill with my best smile on. I was sad to miss my excursion.

Fast forward to this cruise, and due to an inter-office hospitality contest, we have each been rewarded with a 2 hour work day. If course I chose our last Berlin, hoping to go on my excursion this time. The schedule request was granted, the shore excursion was granted and I was over the moon excited. Then, yesterday, and email came through from the safety officer……general emergency drill….Berlin (aka, no one can get off the ship until after the drill, as this one is an all hands on deck type of situation). SERIOUSLY?! It seems as though the universe does not want me to go on this tour. Needless to say, many crew weren’t happy as this is our last Berlin and its a very long day in port, but if you want to make it to Berlin, you need to get the 3 hour train ride started ASAP.
2 hours later, another email came through from the safety officer…..GENERAL EMERGENCY DRILL POSTPONED!!! Pretty sure the whole ship cheered. So my excursion is now back on!! I ran to the shore ex office and did a happy dance.

Which brings us to today. I’m currently on the train to Berlin. The way the shore excursions work in Berlin is that we have a private train just for all our Carnival tours. So each excursion has one car of the train and we all leave together. Needless to say it can be a bit hectic as up to 900 people can be on the train every Berlin. I’m curled up in the corner of my train car, writing this on my iPad and gazing out at the German countryside.

In my train car are two lovely American couples, both of a retirement age, and very lovely people. We’ve been sharing cruising stories and discussing everything from Hurricane Sandy to 9-11. It’s always very interesting to hear other people’s opinions about these kinds of things and its put me in a pensive mood. Our tour today will start with some important German landmarks and then take us to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. This particular camp was not an extermination camp, however thousands of people died there. I’m not entirely certain how I will feel when we get there, but I am certain I will have lots to say on the train ride home.

……………..

We made many stops along the way, I was so fixated on the concentration camp itself that I completely forgot we were seeing anything else. So when we took in multiple German landmarks, such as the Parliament buildings, the Opera house, and the site of the infamous book burning (there is a really cool memorial exhibit in the courtyard there…..four walls of empty bookshelves underneath the sidewalk, visible from a glass hole in the ground) AND got a traditional German lunch, I was extra excited.

After lunch and a visit to Checkpoint Charlie, we headed towards Sachsenhausen. I must say that our tour guide could write a book on German history, she knew EVERYTHING! I learned so much, and she had such an elegant way of speaking. I was very impressed with her.

Sachsenhausen was the second concentration camp that was built, the first two were the ones that all the other camps were modeled after. It was also the location for the training of all the Dead Hat soldiers. The Dead Hats were a faction of the SS that were in charge of guarding the concentration camps. They were also trained in suppression as the Nazis were always afraid that the German public could rise against them. The Dead Hats could be distinguished by the black of their uniforms as well as the skull and crossbones on their hats. Among Sachsenhausen’s prisoners was Stalin’s son, who eventually killed himself by running into the electric fence in the neutral zone.

I have a lot to process right now. This was an incredible experience that I will never forget. The camp itself is quiet, eerily so. As you walk through the gates and see the famous inscription; Arbeit Macht Frei – Work Makes You Free, it takes your breath away. The air is heavy with history. Even the trees seem reluctant to rustle in the breeze, as though it requires extra strength to get them to move.

I’m not even sure that I can fully express how I felt there, but I’m very glad I went. As we were walking through the barracks, we encountered a group of Polish Boy/Girl Scouts. At that moment I very much appreciated the extent to which the German government has gone to in order to preserve these camps, as upsetting or sad as they might be, these are parts of history. They say history is doomed to repeat itself, and the only way we learn from our mistakes is to not forget them. As much as horrible things did happen there, there is a sense of quiet peace around the monuments erected to the fallen and the survivors.

Our guide told us many stories and I saw a great many things, but I don’t necessarily feel the need to repeat them all here. I’m still digesting the experience. There is a film that I’m now eager to see, a foreign film called ‘The Counterfeiters’. Our guide told us about it, it was set in Sachsenhausen. During the war, the prisoners of Sachsenhausen were forced to make many items, such as boots. The boots they were also forced to test, over various rough terrains with 15kg backpacks on. One of their other products was counterfeit bills. One of the prisoners was a master counterfeiter and he along with his team, reproduced many different types of currency in the camp. The film is based on their story.

All in all, I had a day I will never forget, and saw things Ive always wanted to see. My perspective on the world is forever altered.

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