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International Study Trip: Berlin and Central Germany: 15 May - 1 June, 2003

Egypt 2000 | England 2001 | Cuba 2002
Trip Information and Schedule

Our modest group of 18 professionals, students, and academics wandered through the former Eastern Block with bright eyes and bushy tails (well, at least after the jet lag wore off!). We began our trip at Hartsfield Airport in Atlanta by gathering in the atrium, and making sure our film was safe from the harmful rays of the dreaded security machines. Upon arrival in Frankfurt after the not-so-short plane ride, we whisked through the airport to the train for a short jaunt to Weimar - the home of the Bauhaus and Johannes Goethe.

Though we were a bit drained from the trip, we joined our first tour guide, translator, and companion, Annette Krug – an intern with the Thüringisches Landesamt für Denkmalpflege. She graciously led us around the city and familiarized us with the sights. Afterwards, our first group dinner introduced us to the local cuisine, which largely consisted of bratwurst, some other wursts, and of course, beer!

The next day, we met up with our other intern tour guide and companion, Sophie Ritz. Together we tackled the Thüringian village of Volkenroda where we examined a Cistercian church dating from the Romanesque period that had been restored and partially reconstructed with glass, steel, and concrete – quite a contrast and quite the amazing project. Later, we traveled to Wartburg “Luther” Castle where we took the expanded tour and were able to view ongoing restorations of several paintings. The castle itself was amazing to view – meandering snake-like high on a hill overlooking the town of Eisenach. We wrapped up with an ice cream at the tourist restaurant and bussed it back to Weimar for Museums Nacht. Museums Nacht is a night-time event when all of the museums in the city are open and free to the public, when beer and a bratwurst can be sampled from vendors on the street, and when the sounds of concerts drift to people from lighted windows.

Arrival in WeimarVolkenroda AbbeyWartburg Castle

On a more somber note, our group visited the Buchenwald Concentration Camp and had a great brown-bag discussion with our tour guide. The grounds at the camp itself were truly amazing; little but rubble outlines of the prisoner barracks is left on the sight of this work camp, but much remains. The Nazi barracks, the electric fence, and the monumental Russian memorial stand in testament to the long past. None left the concentration camp without a sense of what conflict the site’s curators must experience when attempting to interpret a place like Buchenwald to the public.

Buchenwald EntranceSoviet Memorial at Buchenwald

The next day, our group met with the Thüringian (state) preservation office and their professional specialists in the nearby city of Erfurt, where we were able to get a sense of the various roles the office plays in preservation and in the interpretation of history for the public. Our guided tour around the city was led by Dr. Christian Misch, who showed us many of the medieval treasures lurking in the attics and cellars of restored houses and businesses. After a tasty lunch in one of the medieval houses we toured, Professor Christoph Merzenich of Erfurt University presented his work on the restoration of paintings in a local church. Their combined use of various technologies, new and old, to reconstruct lost portions of the painting was very interesting, as was the ensuing discussion of the pros and cons of restoring portions of the paintings that had been either entirely lost or badly damaged by time and pollution. Our late afternoon tour of Erfurt Cathedral and the ongoing tower stabilization and stained-glass window restorations was great, and we were able to watch as one of the windows was being cleaned in a local glass workshop. Some of us stayed on to sample the Erfurt night life before heading back for our last full day in Weimar.

The last day was a walk in the park – no, really! We joined landscape architect Dr. Marin Baumann of the Thüringian preservation office for a guided tour of Weimar’s Ilmpark. And how appropriate that it should rain in this romantic garden in the midst of false ruins, herds of sheep, and acres of green vistas!!
Erfurt Cathedral Kramerbrucke in Erfurt Roman House in the Ilmpark

Most of us spent our remaining time in Weimar relaxing or shopping before our train ride to Berlin, where we had a crash course from Dr. Perry in U- and S-Bahn orienteering (Berlin subway system). We took a quick walking tour of the Häckescher Market’s winding courtyards, and then wandered over to Oraienerburgerstrasse in the old Jewish Quarter for some Indian cuisine.
The sights and sounds of Berlin are too many to list, but some of the highlights included a walking tour of the city, a guided tour of the Neues Museum Reconstruction Project, tours of the Hansaviertel and Stalinallee, a tour of the Berlin Jewish Museum, and a guided tour and examination of Prenzlauer Berg, a district in Berlin undergoing extensive restoration. The walking tour allowed us to see the major monuments and quarters of Berlin including Unter den Linden, the Brandenburg Gate, the Old Government Quarter, the Book Burning Memorial, and the Palace of the Republic. Later, some of us wandered through an out-of-the-way artist’s market and enjoyed an indoor nouveau sculptural garden (along with an ice cream).

Brandenburg GateKonzerthaus at GendarmarktRussian Embassy
on Unter den Linden

The Neues Museum was quite amazing, and our group of shutter bugs was in heaven! Ongoing restorations are so comprehensive that they cannot all be described, but they include interior and exterior renovations. Portions of this amazing museum, originally constructed in the early 19th century, were damaged during WWII. Stabilization of many of the supporting walls and columns are an important part of the project, and steel rods were a familiar sight along with peeling wall plaster and missing staircases. Still, the building retained much integrity, and many of the wall paintings and original columns continue to old up. So much so that we were able to watch a local theatre company put on a play in the recesses of one of the old rooms from scaffolding high above – quite a sight!

Neues Museum

The Hansaviertel and Stalinallee were living architectural testaments to the Cold War – amazing in their monumentality and clear messages. The gardens, winding paths, modern International Style architecture, and community services all separated from one another in the Hansaviertel truly spoke to a Western orientation, while the classical architecture, central location, and monumental, axial design of Stalinallee spoke of an Eastern ideology.

Prenzlauer Berg, a lively district of circa late 19th century industrial worker housing, was a delight to tour and we were guided through the area on more than one occasion by representatives of the company S.T.E.R.N., a consultant for the City of Berlin hired to make recommendations on improving the quality of life in the area. We explored these picturesque streets with an understanding of the difficulty of providing an environmentally safe and livable area while also retaining the historic integrity of the district’s buildings and businesses. Retaining the area’s GDR-period residents was another area of concern, and gentrification was an issue we discussed at length. The Kultur-Brauerei, an old brewery in the district, is now being used in new capacities as a cultural center and handicraft business complex (complete with a beer garden, of course). To see these ongoing changes was a great experience, and the group truly enjoyed the walking tours.

StalinalleeAlt Wassterturm
in Prenzlauer Berg

No tour of Berlin was complete without a visit to the new Berlin Jewish Museum designed by architect Daniel Liebeskind – a tribute to the history of the Jews through the centuries. The poignant and symbolic design of the museum is one that is most unique and that can be overwhelming to visitors. The portion of the museum that is specifically dedicated to the history of the Jews could take days to walk through, and portions of the museum that are completely symbolic in nature take only a few minutes – a dichotomy that was not lost on our group. Between walking on metal faces, walking through the slightly slanting cubic columns in the “garden”, and walking through the “Axis of Exile” concentrating on victims of the Holocaust, our group left the museum disoriented but in awe of the experience.

Jewish Museum Garden of Exile and Emigration Holocaust Void

Despite our intense itinerary in Germany, the trip home was much more exhausting! Between the Indy-500 taxi rides and the customs line in Frankfurt, everyone wished they were back at the hotel in Berlin (from whose windows many of us were able to watch a Celine Dion concert each night on a large wall across the street in the beer garden - thankfully, the concert was without music!)

Once we arrived in Atlanta, the verdict was in, the trip was a one-of-a-kind experience – in no small part due to the unrelenting efforts of our Director, Richard Laub, and Dr. Joe Perry, who graciously and without complaint translated many of our German-language tours.

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