Dzien Dobry, everyone. I am currently composing this blog on my way to Budapest, Hungary. So much has happened during this past week, and I’m excited to tell you all about it.
We left The Netherlands on July 3rd and made our way to Berlin, Germany; the first country we’d visit on our study tour. On our way there, we stopped to grab lunch in a small town in Germany called Hamelin. I realized the importance of knowing languages in this stop. As I’ve said before, I’ve been learning small things to say in every language of the countries we’re going to. Our guide, however, said I shouldn’t have to worry about doing that since most people knew English. It turns out that I had to speak Spanish to the Italian waiter in the restaurant we went to. But this hasn’t been the only time it’s happened! During the week, I’ve had to use either my Spanish or French to get by, which makes me all so thankful that I know more than one language- it really gives you a huge advantage, especially when you’re traveling.
We finally arrived to Berlin, and I have to say that although the city itself isn’t one in which I would see myself living in, it turned out to be a special city to me because of all the wonderful things that happened to me while I was there. It’s worth mentioning that I’d been feeling very homesick even before I arrived to Europe. The last time I was in Puerto Rico was in March (and for a very brief week), and the last time I saw my mom was during winter break (she was herself traveling when I went in March). It’s definitely been the longest time I’ve been without being home, and I’ve been missing the island, my family, and my friends a lot!!! As we made our way to Berlin, I remember praying to God to give me just a little taste of home, at least just enough for me to get through the week.
Off the bat, Berlin reminded me vaguely of Puerto Rico. There were areas that were very similar to Santurce, Rio Piedras, and Condado (minus the beach, of course). During the first night, the other students and I went out to experience the Berlin nightlife. We stopped at a club that seemed to be lively. At a distance, I could’ve sworn I heard lyrics in Spanish. “¿Cómo va a ser? It can’t be possible… We’re in Germany!” It wasn’t until I got inside that I realized the DJ was playing reagguetton. And not any kind of reagguetton, but old school Puerto Rican reagguetton as in like Hector El Father, Wisin y Yandel, and Daddy Yankee. ¿¡Qué, qué!? I immediately hopped on the dance floor and started dancing like no one was watching… although in reality everyone was watching given that I was the only one dancing. For a minute there, I felt I was in La placita. I was so happy even if it was just only me enjoying the moment, because for that brief moment, I was home again.
The next day, we went on a hop on/hop off tour all throughout Berlin. Some of our visits included the Berlin Wall and the Holocaust Memorial.
After a day of touring, we headed to an authentic German restaurant for dinner. There was live music playing and people sipping on good German beer; the atmosphere was amazing. I didn’t think it could’ve gotten better than that. Before I knew it, I was dancing with a 60ish year old German to German music. He asked me where I was from, and I said Puerto Rico. Little did I know, there were Puerto Ricans dancing next to me who heard me. I couldn’t believe it! It turns out two of them had just completed their graduate studies in Spain and were in Berlin celebrating. Again, a little piece of home was sent to me when I needed it the most.
On the following day, we went to the former Stasi Prison where the Soviet Union had imprisoned many people during the time they took over that area of Germany. It was very overwhelming seeing how prisoners were tortured mentally, physically, and emotionally. Nonetheless, it all came to a touching reality when we went to the Charlie Check Point the next day and were guided by a man who had been a prisoner for 9 years and had spent 2 years in the Stasi Prison where he had been tortured. I could not imagine going through such a traumatic experience and then be able to wake up every day and tell people about it. I was shocked and yet inspired by his strength to surpass such a terrible past.
Our last tour consisted of going to the German Parliament. Our tour guide was a very friendly (and handsome) lawyer who volunteered in the Parliament as a tour guide. I told him about wanting to become a lawyer as well. Further along the tour, I took a picture at the main meeting room, and the tour guide stated how great it would look for my campaign as the President of the United States. I firmly told him I was not aiming at that position but rather at leading Puerto Rico, which sparked a nice conversation about the island’s political status. At the end of the tour, he told me that he hoped to see me one day back in the Parliament but as an official representative of the country of Puerto Rico. WHAT?! Best comment I’ve gotten on this trip!!!! #GermanyforafreePuertoRico
We arrived to Poland that upcoming Tuesday. We visited Wroclaw and stayed at Krakow. The small towns reminded me of the outskirt towns of Puerto Rico such as Hatillo and Manatí. At Poland, we did a walking tour along the city of Krakow, visited the salt mines of Wieliczka and finally visited the former concentration camp of Auschwitz.
Auschwitz was very surreal and moving. As I walked along the bricked roads, I kept thinking about all the people who probably took their last breath at the very spot I was standing on. I couldn’t imagine being in the same place where 1.1 million people were mass murdered not even 100 years ago. I reflected on the present day and realized that the world still has a long way to go with regards to discrimination. For example, the Black community along with other minorities have been facing quarrels for a very long time in the United States, and the Roma have been secluded throughout Europe for centuries. Although it is not currently exactly like the Holocaust, the same hate that started it all still prevails.
I’d like to add that I had no interest in visiting Germany growing up because of its infamous history. Nevertheless, I’m so glad I did. The people in the country have truly taken it upon themselves to teach others about what past generations did in order to prevent it from happening again. They are definitely not proud of their past, but they seem to accept it with responsibility and with a positive outlook as to how far they have come as a country. I admire Germany for that and wish other countries would take on the same attitude regarding other past and current events.
Alright, I think I’ve written enough for just a week. I’ve just arrived to Budapest (roughly 10 hours later), and I’m anxious to see what this new week brings. Until next time