5: The Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp
Given the size of the camp and museum, it was like a totally different experience the second time around. For one thing, this time I came without a tour, and entered for free as a result. I came with the intention of sketching more than I had before, and seeing more of the museum than I had before. I didn’t grasp the size of the place the first time. Anyway, morbid as I am, I enjoy learning about the horrific history that took place within the guarded walls of places like Sachsenhausen. To see how prisoners lived and died, were stripped of their citizenships, possessions, family and friends, is a potent experience. Both times that I came here, I experienced a long period of being alone, seeing no people in any direction. I could find things for myself and was often surprised at what I stumbled across. For example, one of the exhibition rooms, full of artefacts and explanatory signs, has stairs leading into the basement that I never noticed. I went down there and found shockingly political artworks painted on the walls. They were cartoons of anthropomorphized vegetables going about daily camp life: washing, being inspected, walking from place to place. They were painted by Hans Fischer, who was apparently popular Germany during and after the Third Reich. However, the paintings are clearly cynical of camp life, with the ‘guard’ carrots sharpening knives, little vegetables dragging big bloated vegetables, and potatoes being herded in large numbers into baths (the Nazis often pretended that the gas chambers were “showers” to get cooperation from prisoners). The paintings, to clarify, were done during the Soviet occupation of the camp, when Fischer was held for three years in captivity. I couldn’t believe such tongue-in-cheek political art was painted and left up during the entire operating time of the Soviet concentration camp. Also during this second visit, I also stumbled across the extension of the camp erected when the Soviets took control of it in 1945. It was basically like a third-world village of stone shacks. Nobody else was around, as if people didn’t know that this area was still part of the museum. I also entered one of the watch towers where an odd and incredibly out-of-the-way little exhibition was set up, detailing individual instances of death and suffering in the camp. This is one of the places I visited that filled me with a strong desire to go online as soon as I got home and order every history book on the Holocaust that I could find.
I wrote more on my first time visiting the camp in one of my January 2016 blog posts.
4: Meeting the Managers of the Watch Tower
3: Organ Concert at the Berliner Dom
2: Hohenschoenhausen Stasi Prison
1: The Abandoned Refugee Center/Meeting Mascha
The Abandoned Stuff
It’s certainly gotten me thinking of doing things like this again. I would write more detail on it here, but I’ve already written so much on it. For more detail and photos, check out the other blog entry (also under February 2016).
Hanging out with Mascha
I met Mascha through another friend, Marie, who lives in another part of Germany. Marie let me know that she had a friend currently staying in Berlin, and asked if she wanted to get me in touch with her. I figured it’d be cool, though I was honestly quite nervous about it. I had to ask if she spoke good English so I could at least interact without embarrassing myself! Then I sent Mascha a few emails and we talked a bit. Being that she seems as much a dork for cartoons and heavy metal as I am, I figured we could probably get along alright. She wanted to meet me at a comic convention. I was picturing something fairly big, with cosplayers and nerds everywhere, with tons of vendors and artists and a big room. I was surprised when the directions I got turned me down a small residential apartment street. There was a bar on the corner that I nearly walked past. The ‘convention’ was in the basement of this bar. It consisted of five tables and people shuffling around in the dim light. By the time Mascha showed up (only ten minutes later), I’d seen everything. At first, I found the interaction kinda awkward, and the whole thing was quickly looking like exactly what I had been afraid of—neither of us were saying much to each other, and not five minutes in, she said she had to go smoke and disappeared upstairs. I actually kinda thought that she wouldn’t come back!
We left shortly after that and sorta started walking and talking, and then we went back to the bar for a drink (being the sober wuss that I am, I only took a sip from her water bottle, heheh). Throughout the night, we basically walked and talked all over the place. Mascha wanted to show me some of the local metal bars. She turned out to be really awesome—we showed each other our sketchbooks, discussed metal bands and music in general, and shared stories. Mascha speaks Russian, English and German, from the Ukraine, and travels at least as much as I hope to be able to travel myself, going around Europe and the UK. Absolutely awesome. She seems to know everything about going from one place to another on the cheap, from finding work fast to making use of food banks and the like. Kind of a backpacker, in other words?
We ended up going to three bars: one we left right away because they were only playing sports on the TV (boring). The second one we sat around in for a couple hours. Learned something about Europe that night: smoking inside bars is a-okay. I usually get sick pretty quickly from being around cigarette smoke, but I actually handled it pretty decently, and the conversation was strong enough that I didn’t mind as much as I would normally. Mascha was pretty considerate about it and asked me occasionally if I needed to step out for air. She made sure not to blow smoke in my direction :D The bar was really cool—the ceiling was covered in guitars of all kinds. We were sitting next to a framed and signed Jeff Beck guitar.
The next bar we went to was one that Mascha called the “Judas Priest bar,” and I could immediately see why. Inside, peering through the fog of cigarette smoke, I saw that nearly every decoration on the wall and ceiling was Judas Priest inspired: there were life-size statues of Rob Halford and his motorcycle, a floor-to-ceiling statue of the “Killing Machine” album art, etc. There were flat screen TVs playing metal music videos, demons on the wall, etc. It was so casual in there that Mascha and I ended up sitting on a windowsill. We also got free pretzels! Unfortunately I didn’t get any pictures of this place—the brightest thing in the room was the TV screens.
We actually had to get through a gigantic police blockade to get in to the area where a few of the bars were. Thinking of the attacks in Paris and the recent threat in Munich, I was understandably nervous to see literally hundreds of full-armed cops with riot gear and big guns standing all around, accompanied by dozens of armoured police vehicles. I was hesitant of getting any closer to things, figuring we’d either give up or take a long way around to get to the bar. Mascha just strolled confidently up to the line of cops and asked in German how to get through. Turns out that the cops weren’t altogether blocking people from getting around, but they were forcing people to bottleneck, only letting a few people in at once. There was a protest going on within their perimeter, and because of the amount of people and police I couldn’t read a single sign. I had the suspicion that this sign-blocking was intentional—maybe it was some sort of hate-oriented protest? I don’t know. Anyway, we pressed through the police perimeter, but there was always at least one police van per block pretty much all the way up to the area with all the bars. When we came back through a few hours later, the cops and protesters were all gone.
In the end, meeting Mascha was one of the few times where I truly felt at home in Berlin. I’d been sure that we probably wouldn’t be hanging out for much longer after that ‘comic convention,’ but we didn’t end up going home until around one in the morning. I didn’t think it could be so easy to meet friends internationally. I’m thankful that she took the time to learn English at some point, because (since I speak German so badly) it wouldn’t have been possible for us to hit it off otherwise! Also glad that Marie (my other friend) got me in touch with her.
When I leave Berlin, she will be leaving to visit New York City for a few months. It’s going to be her first time in America. I wish her luck! We’ll probably keep in touch afterwards. Actually, we’re planning on meeting up again just before I leave for Leipzig. Also, last thing, I took a picture of Mascha in mid smoke-blow, and I’m honestly pretty proud of it, haha.