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Reflections on ASB Berlin 2017

Sunday, 26 March, 2017 - 9:18 am

 This year's ASB Berlin trip was quite an experience.  Having previous visited Berlin briefly, I thought I had a bit of an idea of what the city was like. But after spending an entire week (with the exception of a day in Prague) living in the heart of the German capital and being immersed in their unique culture, I had a much different experience.  Here are just a couple of observations from this years trip:

I found the German people to be incredibly likeable and well-mannered. Each morning me, Matt, and Taylor would take a trip to a local coffee shop and have an early breakfast. The attendants behind the counter were more than friendly and enjoyed seeing us each day.  It was obvious to them that we were American and they had no qualms with our blatant inability to understand any words that came out of their mouths. Our amusing transactions were shared over laughs and provided a nice underscore to the evident language barrier.  Other examples of this German hospitality include: uber drivers who provided their local recommendations, street strangers we had lengthy conversations with, governmental figureheads we questioned, and the unbelievable and exceptionally talented tour guides we had at literally every stop.

To say the Jewish connection to the city of Berlin is complicated would be a gross understatement.  There was no shortage of somber sights at the tracks of Gleis 17, the various Jewish cemeteries, and the city of Theresenstadt. 

As we toured the city we uncovered more and more of the fascist architecture that Nazi Germany had left behind. But seeing Berlin's ugly past made it increasingly important that we start looking toward the future.  And today I can proudly say that the future of Berlin's Jewish community looks very bright.  After visiting the Jewish day school held in an old Nazi building and the beautiful Chabad it became clear that Jewish life in Berlin is beginning to flourish again.

Prague is such a great city! I was amazed by the stunning views from each and every vantage point and also pleasantly surprised with the amount of early Jewish history founded in the area. We visited several amazing synagogues and even saw where the Magen David originated from.  From there we covered the city head to toe and of course visited (my favorite) the famous Astronomical clock in the downtown square.  I was so glad we took the time to travel to the Czech capital and enjoy some downtime with friends in one of the most elegant cities in the world.

Overall, the trip was truly a once in a lifetime experience that provided incredible insight into the history of Berlin as well as great confidence in the direction that the Jewish life of the country is heading in.  Thank you to Rabbi and Illini Chabad for all of your hard work and putting this exceptional journey together!  We are grateful for your infinite energy and contagious spirit! L'chaim!

-David Iola

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