The hustle and bustle of school has made me focus a lot more on things other than Germany for the last two weeks. But every time I pass someone who was on the trip, or see the slice of the Berlin Wall on Grounds, someone mentions Germany in my Cold War history class, or I glance at the journal that Germany Close Up gave me, I am jarred back into that experience. For me, the Germany trip was a rollercoaster ride of education, emotion, fun, and thinking. It was an experience very few are lucky enough to have.
Some things that have really stuck out to me, that I keep going back and pondering on, were our visit to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, meeting with the German member of federal Parliament, and walking around to street markets on that last day of the trip. With Sachsenhausen, I have been thinking a lot about the courtyard in front of tower A where the prisoners would line up for roll call. I think of the frigid winters and the blazing summers, the smaller children and older men; I think of the Russian POWs and the gays there, of the guards who went back to their quarters for a beer or tea after a hard day of work. I think about how there was life in the camp. I think about how people’s existences were confined in those walls and watched in those towers. I haven’t reacted as emotionally as I thought I would to seeing a concentration camp, but the thought lingers in my mind: “What if that were my family and me.”
The member of German Federal Parliament left me with a completely different feel. His ability to absorb our tough questions and give direct, graceful answers is something I really admired about how he handled us. Not only that, I think he displayed a lot of prudence and strong values, something a lot of us were keen to hear after our political discussion in Dresden. (For those of y’all who were on the trip, I also can’t get the sound of Gunther’s voice out of my head!).
Finally, the last day we were in Berlin, which coincided with Shabbat, was really special to me. Having the time off to walk around the city, explore, go to art exhibits, duck into random stores, do some people watching, eat a bratwurst, and do a lot of the things I wanted to do in Berlin was an absolute highlight of the trip. After spending a week rigorously learning and grappling, it was very cool to settle in and see what “a day in the life” is like. Walking around the city with some of my best friends and just being present in that moment is a memory I’ll keep for the rest of my life.
-- Erik Roberts
Class of 2018
The Brody Jewish Center, Hillel at the University of Virginia, is the focal point in a renaissance of Jewish life for the 1,800 Jewish students on Grounds.