There’s an old German saying that says ”war rastet, der rostet.” Loosely translated, it means that he who rests grows rusty. Forty hours, two plane rides, one bus ride, one boat ride, and countless steps traveled by foot prove that to be true.
As a history teacher, much of my life is spent trying to get students to understand the world they live in, how that world has been shaped, and why history matters. Unfortunately, those efforts are usually tempered by my own lack of cultural understanding and awareness. The last forty hours have allowed me to start chipping away that shortfall.
While we drove into the city, our tour guide pointed out buildings that previously only existed in pictures and words for me. Seeing the crumbling bricks of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church and knowing that the destruction wrought by World War II still exists as a daily reminder for our world, walking among the sloping grounds and towering blocks of the Holocaust Memorial, standing next to the Berlin Wall knowing that families those mere meters divided were separated for decades, watching the spires of St. Nikolai-Kirche come into view on a lazy tour down the Spree River all left me with the expected awe.
Seeing all of this history intertwined with a beautiful, modern, evolving city complete with state-of-the-art corporations, shopping malls, and bustling street life, however, left me impressed with a nation intent on welcoming all cultures and facing its past with an eye to the future. Meeting a waitress who appreciated a small group of North Carolina girls’ clumsy attempts to order in her country’s native language (even complimenting our “gute Deutsch”), watching German parents bike with their children, and talking about travel routes with day-trippers from Hamburg capped off an amazing start to our journey.
Forty hours ago, I was a person who had never left the happy confines of the United States. Now I am sitting in a hotel room and looking at the sun setting over the buildings of Berlin as music climbs from the street below to my thirteenth-floor room. Despite the exhaustion and hotel room culture shock (ok, ok…so having the shower literally in the same room as the beds isn’t so bad as long as you have that nifty privacy curtain), the past 40 hours have shown me that the world is there to be experienced. I still have so much to see and bring back to my little corner of the world! The only way to do that is to put rest aside in favor of opening my eyes to new customs, to the rich surroundings this world has to offer, and to new experiences that will ensure the rust stays away.