Today started off a little differently than other days so far on the trip; mainly because I’m waking up in Berlin, but also because the bunk bed that I’m sleeping in had me a little disoriented at first by bringing back memories of summer camp when I was younger! Breakfast is one of my favorite parts of being in Europe. There is always an abundance of different food choices and of course (and more importantly) plenty of coffee!

The first thing that we did today after leaving the hostel was experience the Berlin transit system for the first time; which was interesting to say the least. Public transportation is much better here in comparison to many places in the US. We used the U-Bahn (underground train) to get to our destination. After a little balancing practice (with all of the stopping and rocking on the U-Bahn) I think that group had no problems with the train. We met up with a man by the name of Dr. Martin Jander who gave us a tour of Jewish history in Berlin. It was the first time that we were able to get out and really see the city, so it was very cool. Some of the highlights were “Jüdenstrasse” (where the original community of Jewish people in Berlin lived long ago), the spot where the “Alte Synogoge” was located (near the place that one of the few protests against Jewish deportation took place), and seeing the “Neue Synogoge” which was very beautiful. We were surprised to learn that every Jewish institution in Germany has to have intense security and police officers standing guard outside for fear of any anti-Semitic acts; pretty sad.

After the two hour walking tour (which was very cool and very cold) the group grabbed some coffee at a little shop. I think I was able to learn some important German lessons since Kari gave me the inside scoop as to how to meet German men; which is of course very important! Haha. After coffee we went to lunch at a really cool little restaurant called Sophieneck. The food was delicious as usual, and I think the highlight for most of us was being able to try Glühwein (it is a special winter drink consisting usually of red wine, spices and served hot) it was delicious! The recipe is for sure coming home with me. It was also nice to have a little bit of story time with Kari and others during lunch since there is never a shortage of interesting tales within the group.

When we arrived back at the hotel we had a special speaker visit us; his name is Helmut Stern. Mr. Stern is a holocaust survivor and quite the knowledgeable man. His stories were amazing. His family was able to escape Germany (Berlin) before the worst parts of the war/holocaust and forced into exile in a few different countries including China, Israel and the United States. Mr. Stern started playing violin (or fiddle as he liked to call it) when he was quite young and became one of the most accomplished violinists in the last century. He has played with symphonies all over the world. I think that it is impossible for us to fully comprehend what Mr. Stern has gone through and experienced throughout his life. The man knows at least 5 languages fluently, survived WWII/holocaust as a Jew and is still a firecracker at his age of nearly 85 years old! I think that we all had a few good laughs because of his blatant statements and witty attitude. Haha, a few of us were even led into some (what I would call) trap questions posed by Mr. Stern. He had so many stories and so much knowledge that it would take weeks to hear all that he has to tell. I think the most morose part of hearing Mr. Stern speak was him saying that he doesn’t think many people will remember his stories/knowledge. I personally would find his tales hard to forget, but I can see why he might think that the younger generations may take his knowledge for granted. I also found it interesting when he spoke about things that he considered common knowledge. There were quite a few facts that he mentioned that basically no one in our group knew, and Mr. Stern was rather disappointed by it. He said “You will all be surprised by the things that your own children won’t know one day.” I can understand because I’m sure there are many things that I would think everyone should know during these current times, but one day won’t be very important. Overall, it was great listening to Mr. Stern and an honor to have been able to meet such an accomplished and wise human being.

People are still tired and worn out from traveling, so hopefully we will be able to have some more adventurous days ahead of us here in Berlin!

-Hannah

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