Fake and Real History

The morning after my return, we began the day with a hearty breakfast of muesli (A granola-like mix introduced to us by Erlis and Gisene) and drove back into Berlin for a day of sight-seeing. Just before entering the city we heard some clunking up top and, looking back, saw to our dismay that the roofbox was disgorging its contents onto the busy highway behind us! Slamming on the brakes, we tore out of the car and ran like mad men back up the road where traffic had slowed and was weaving around and between our scattered luggage. The cars slowed to a crawl as we approached, allowing us to run into the middle of the high way and throw things to the berm.

The indulgent Germans never honked or shouted curses; they just waited for us to clean up our mess and went on their way. A very nice lady even stopped and drove us back to the car so that we could get away before the police showed. After driving through that stretch of highway several times we found everything we had lost except for a can of insect repellent. It is chilling to think of how differently events could have played them selves out. That our luggage flew out in the middle of busy, 80 mph traffic without damaging another vehicle, being smashed by a semi, or causing an accident is almost a miracle. Be comforted that all your prayers are working! And, yes we are now making sure the roof box is closed every time before we start driving.

When we finally got everything back together (Though 4 hours behind schedule) we began our exploration with the Großer Stern, or “Chick on a Stick,” a monument to Prussian victories over France. Its column is decorated with gold plated cannons captured from the French, and the goddess of victory on top was molded from the bronze of melted down French guns and also gilded with gold. We all thought it a splendid memorial. We walked together to the Holocaust Memorial, a field of 2,500 stone coffins. Here we went our different ways. I hurried to see the Pergamonmuseum, especially the Ishtar Gate, before it closed in 2 hours. The others balked at paying €10 for so short a time, and went instead to the Holocaust Museum, the Berlin Wall, and the Jewish Museum.

The Pergamonmuseum was amazing. Most impressive were the Alter of Pergamon and the Market Gatebof Miletus, genuine examples of Greek and Roman architecture that are presented in their original forms as much as possible. To walk on and under ancient architecture, millenia old, was spectacular. The museum also contained many ancient sculptures, mosiacs and other architecture. The most impressive were the artifacts from Syria and Assyria some over 5,000 years old. It was amazing to experience such direct and concrete links with ancient history.

Walking under the Ishtar Gate was an experience akin to seeing Stone Henge for the first time. The age and magnitude were overwhelming. I tried to wrap my mind around the reality that I was seeing the same thing Nebuchadnezzar saw when entering Babylon. I was walking under the same span Xerxes passed beneath when he marched on Greece! It was incredible to be in the presence of such a huge remnant of a different world. Eager to learn more about the jaw dropping relic, I hurried to the small placard in front of it…. It said that the bas reliefs in the gate were based on molds from the original bricks…what was “reconstruction” supposed to mean? All my excitement drained away as I realized the gate was a fake, based on the expert’s best estimate of how the original looked. It wasn’t even one hundred years old. I consoled myself by viewing the rest of the museum’s world famous collection, but was unable to completely shake my disappointment.

After the Pergamnmuseum I made my way to the longest surviving section of the Berlin Wall, complete with some well preserved no-man’s land where desperate East Berliners could be shot on sight. I was struck by how much the world has changed in the past 19 years, how what seems like a different world is in fact recent history. I was inspired to pay more attention to the world around me where interesting history is always in the making, and the story of the human race is always developing. It also made me wonder where the world will be in another 20 years. The potential for change is both frightening and exciting. The Berlin Wall is also a symbol of Marx’s utopian vision gone terribly wrong and of the great harm people can do pursuing the course that seems best to them, by forcing it on others. It is a warning we should all heed.

At 8:30 I met with Matt, Dan, and David to go up inside the Reichstag’s impressive glass dome. It is a beautiful synthesis of classical form with modern technology and materials. At highest point inside the dome we stopped with Berlin spread beneath us, just as twilight gave way to night. In the past century this city had seen multiple radical change in the ideology of its government. Its history is a sort of cross section of the ideas and consequences of different ideologies of power and government. One hundred years ago it was a monarchy; today it is a republic. The journey between those two points is one of history’s most interesting and important. That evening we drove towards Dresden and another part of the story that shaped the world as we know it today. Hopefully we continue to learn about each other and ourselves as the trip continues.

Daniel Shenk

One Response to “Fake and Real History”

  1. hans wenger says:

    Daniel; my sympathies with the fakery
    I enjoyed your analysis of change; particularly with the changes that in your chronology are almost a lifetime away, but still seem current almost to me – my favorite three most major changes right now for me are: 1) watching the civilian domolition of the berlin wall in real time on our living room tv – this wall that was iconic for “the enemy” that formed the setting for all my grammar shcool formative years; it was unbelievable.
    2) the ending of Aparthied in South Africa; for so long it seemed intractible
    3) the laying down of arms between the protestants and catholics in Ireland, and the ending of British army occupation; such a long horrible fight marketed as religious strife, and I got to be alive the day(s) it officially ended
    have safety and joy
    uncle Hans

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