Summer Session I Trip to Berlin and Prague: Histories of Both Cities

Panoramic photo of Prague from the Pražský hrad ‘Prague Castle’ gardens

Self-taken panoramic photo of Prague from the Pražský hrad ‘Prague Castle’ gardens

I can safely say that this short whirlwind of a study abroad trip was the most fulfilling and adventuresome experience I have had in my life thus far. If I had one word to describe my trip it would be this: magical. Prague and Berlin have momentously different histories and I was unable to overlook the juxtaposition in how both cities showcase their pasts and presents. Prague and Berlin showed me one main theme that I will never be able to forget: the way they embrace or ignore their history. It begs the question: What are these cities proud or ashamed of?

Prague has a nearly 1,000-year-old, rich history, and you are surrounded by this reminder of the past as you walk down the cobble stone streets and gaze up at the Gothic architecture. Prague is a city that screams, “Look, there’s history here! And here!” The two sites in Prague that help to explore the answer to this question are St. Vitus Cathedral and the Jewish quarter. St. Vitus Cathedral has been a central monument in Prague since the early 1300’s and its Gothic architecture and grandeur are something that Prague is most certainly proud to display. However, the Jewish quarter has a much different historical feel. In the Jewish quarter, you can see the revered Old Synagogue and the magnificent and morbid Jewish cemetery with its layers and rows of Hebrew inscribed tombstones. Alternatively, the strange aspect of the Jewish quarter is that it now has been turned into a swanky, upper-class shopping district for the wealthy tourists of Prague. To me, the Jewish quarter is the most glaring evidence of the Czech people not being so proud of their history.

In comparison with Prague, Berlin has a much different historical feel. Berlin is not nearly as old as Prague and has had a much more recently tumultuous past of destruction and subsequent reconstruction. Two sites are literally feet away from each other and could not be more polar opposite in remembrance: The Holocaust Memorial and Adolf Hitler’s underground bunker where he committed suicide. The Holocaust Memorial is located right in the heart of Postdamer Platz and next to the Brandenburg Gate. This site for the murdered Jews of Europe is impossible to ignore and I believe that is a reflection of German memory and willingness to look at their terrifying past with World War II and the Holocaust and learn from it. Nonetheless, Hitler’s underground bunker is mere feet away from the Holocaust Memorial and is barely given a mention other than one short informative plaque. Clearly, this speaks to Germany’s willingness to accept and confront the two driving forces behind their guilt surrounding their most recently (in)famous history.

At the end of my travels, it is still hard to reflect on and remember all of what I had seen and experienced. Additionally, I know that both Berlin and Prague have aspects of their history that they are either not ready to fully confront or have immense pride in being able to remember and learn from. These magical cities will forever hold a place in my heart.

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