Narrative (June 1, 2015)

Written by John Watters

_MG_6370Just two days left on the Heritage Tour. This morning, we toured Berlin by bus, with the afternoon free for shopping. Tomorrow, we will visit Madgeburg and enjoy a final dinner together before taking our leave. It has all gone by far too quickly.

The day began drizzly and dreary, befitting the subject matter. Berlin is dynamic and modern, but its recent history hangs heavily over the city. The tour followed a narrative we’ve heard all too often: Here is where all of the wonderful things were, before they were destroyed; here is what little is left; here is what the Nazis did; here is what the Communists did once the Nazis were finished.

We saw the remaining pieces of the Berlin Wall, and the route that it followed when whole. We heard about the watchtowers and Checkpoint Charlie and the no-man’s lands and the best current estimate of how many were shot trying to get from East to West. We heard about how the East Germans created phony maps misrepresenting distances, so citizens hoping to escape by tunnel or balloon or other means would come up short.

We also heard about the Nazis’ plans for a world capital at Berlin, and saw where Gestapo headquarters had been, and Hitler’s bunker. And where Jewish books were burned.

Then we visited the Holocaust memorial, built above former Nazi bunkers. A sea of gray concrete blocks stretches out in front of you, and pathways criss-cross the entire space. Once you’ve entered, and taken a turn or two on the pathways, you quickly find yourself alone, aware that others are present, but unable to see or touch or talk to them. Anxiety, isolation, and an oppressive sense of scale (so many of these blocks, so many paths) creep in. It is deeply unsettling.

Our brief stay at the memorial concluded a difficult morning. Later, at dinner, I was lamenting to my wife that I didn’t have anything for the blog. The tone of the day was entirely one of despair. For the first time on the tour, I could find nothing positive or redemptive to say about the experience, and I wasn’t quite sure why.

Then it dawned on me: This was the only instance on the entire trip when faith was not present in the day’s narrative. No churches, no abbeys, no Norbertines. No prayer, no Mass, no warm greetings. The story was an entirely secular one.

I think that’s where I will leave things.

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