I’m adding a segment to my blog that I’m calling “Travel Files” and it will feature info on various countries and states that I’ve been to. I’m really excited for this because I love to travel and the first place I’m starting with is Germany! My blog is called Fraulein and Me after all.
Berlin is a city rich in history from its days as the capital of the the Kingdom of Prussia to the modern city, you could spend months in the actual city of Berlin and still not learn all of its history. I’ll try to spend more time on my experiences there more than history, since that can get pretty boring.
First things first: Berlin is pronounced burrr-lynn (as if you just got really cold and added the name Lynn to it). Germans really did put a lot of stress on the pronunciation.
If you’ve taken a world history class then you know what happened in Germany and much of Europe- it’s not a some huge secret that Germans are trying to keep from the rest of the world. World Wars 1 and 2 DESTROYED Germany. Events of World War 1 of course led to the rise of Adolf Hitler and numerous atrocities and trust me when I say that the history of these events is everywhere- German culture won’t let you forget it. Markers of World War 2 history are on posts, billboards, education, in museums, on television-everywhere! This is of course a good thing as Germans don’t want to see their country go through all this again.
My input on all this:
There’s two things I want to talk about here: asking about the Holocaust and how Germany has dealt with its past in comparison to the United States.
If you’re in Germany and just having a conversation with a German friend or even just a tourist DO NOT bring up the Holocaust, concentration camps, Jews, Judaism, Palestine or anything related to the subject. I made the mistake of asking a question that I thought was simple and harmless and was shunned because of it. I asked if there are many Jews in Germany today and a friend of mine asked a German if they had ever been to any of the nearby concentration camps and immediately the person we asked walked away from us. Even though the history of this time is everywhere in Germany, it is seen as rude and impolite for a foreigner that doesn’t understand the remorse Germans feel about the issue to bring it up.
Germans also have a term called vergangenheitsbewältigung, which seems like the world’s longest word but roughly translates to “coming to terms with the past.” This is describes the process the nation has used to learn from and move on from the past and it’s part of the reason why World War history is everywhere. To put this into perspective for my American readers we’ve had a number of atrocities in our country- decimation of our indigenous tribes, slavery, internment camps, issues with women’s rights, rights of the LGBT community, etc.., yet there has never been a national dialogue where we all come together and recognize that some really bad things happened in the past and instead of letting these things divide us and cause further hatred, we are going to work together to move on. Germany, on the other hand, has by creating “denazification” and working towards moving on from the past. Surely there are people in Germany who still have such beliefs, but unlike in the United States, just mentioning denial of the Holocaust in Germany is a potential crime.
P.S. the Berlin Wall is still up and the border divides a large portion of Berlin even to this day.
Things to do/Food
Berlin is a modern city that is extremely diverse and people of all backgrounds, ethniticies, and nationalities are in Berlin. I’ve eaten some of the best Indian curry of my life in Berlin and the best ever Turkish Kabob. Football (soccer) is a major sport throughout Europe and Germany is one of the best teams in the world. Soccer is a must if you ever visit Germany or Europe. There’s a lot of options for museums, nightclubs, restaurants, and the arts. It really just depends on what you’re into.
Reception as an American and as a black American
As I mentioned earlier, Berlin is a very diverse city that has large populations of just about every ethnic group you can think of. If you’re from the United States you likely won’t be bothered or looked down upon like in some other countries. I speak German, so I had something working in my favor because it tells someone from Germany “even though she’s not from here, there is still something very big that we have in common.”
If you’re a black person in Europe it will be assumed that you are from Africa. It doesn’t matter how your hair is styled or how you dress (they wear jeans now), if your skin is black then you MUST be African. On my flight to Germany if I remember correctly, I flew from Chicago-O’hare to Berlin-Tegel with a layover Barcelona. When I came on board the second plane I was greeted by a flight attendant as usual, only I wasn’t greeted because she stood there waiting for me to greet her. I just smiled and walked passed her and as I was putting my bag into the overhead bin that same attendant came over to assist, but this time she spoke to me…in French. Besides “bonjour” I can’t speak a lick of French, but like I said if you are black and in Europe (outside of the UK) you MUST be from Africa and apparently you MUST speak French. This happened several times in Germany and honestly got a little annoying because people would just come up to me and start speaking French and be in shock when I replied in English.
Germans know that there are black people in the United States, but for an everyday German (even those of color) meeting a black person from the United States that’s not in the military just on the street is almost unheard of. Africa is closer to Europe than North America, so they are coming into contact with more black Africans than anyone else from the African Diaspora.
Would you be surprised to know that Berlin has a huge rap scene? Hip-hop in Germany is very popular and there is a strong portrayal of being “hood” in Germany just like in the United States. Most popular German rappers include: Sido, Bushido, Seeed, and Fler. On the whole, however, German music is not that popular because American music and culture is everywhere. If you were to turn on the radio in Berlin you’d hear the same top 40 songs that you hear in the US.
Hot New Hip Hop Song 🙂
Germany was one of my favorite countries to visit and Berlin was a blast! All the culture and history you could ever dream of, paired with amazing food and an overall welcoming country. Do visit if you ever get the chance!