Today we decided to step a bit out of Berlin and see a few areas.
We first headed to the concentration camp Sachenhausen. We had been to Dachau outside of Munich with Gabe on his trip a couple of years ago, and it had been a moving experience, so we decided to take the kids to Sachenhausen.
We rented a car and headed off. We had a few problems along the way as we ran into some police baracades. The police officer politely told us we had to go around the center of the town as there was a bomb they were dealing with.
He said it in the calmest, most non-chalant way. We figured it likely must be one of the bombs that we had heard about that are all over Berlin and neighboring cities from WWII that remain undiscovered (Rob came home and did some research and sure enough, the area has quite a history with WWII bombs).
We got a little lost, but enjoyed the scenery:
Just like when we were at Dachau, we took very few pictures, and just listened to the audio guide and read some of the history in my guidebook. Words can not really describe these camps, so I won’t try.
We went back into the small town of Oranienburg, where we had a lovely lunch at an Italian restaurant
We continued down my quest for family history and headed towards some neighborhoods mentioned in Granny’s book.
Over the past couple of days, I have also referred to my Grandmother’s book for information about my Grandfather, Papa or more formally, Wolfgang Friedrich Paul Büsing (he went by Paul).
He was born in Berlin, and there are several sections dedicated to his life in Berlin, especially the time in the early to mid 30’s.
He met my Grandmother while he was studying at University in Tübingen. He began his studies in Bonn, beginning with German literature, and then as he says, “lightning struck” and theology became his passion.
He decided to go to Tübingen in the summer of 1932 and in his words again, “it proved to be the most fateful decision I have ever made in my life”, as it was there that he met and rapidly fell in love with my grandmother (they were engaged in under 6 weeks). Marriage would not come easily to them, as my grandmother was half Jewish (her mother’s parents were both Jewish).
In Papa’s memoires, he writes that in the summer of 1933, he was at Greifswald where he was part of the “confessional theological students’ group”. He tells the story of putting up a poster on the faculty’s notice board protesting the threatened election and having a leader of the Nazi student appear at his door step a few days later demanding the withdrawal of the poster. He writes to my Grandmother (Erika) (who was in Hamburg studying at the time) a postcard that he had , “single handedly thrown a storm trooper down the stairs from my landlady’s apartment.” She was not amused; she was worried.
In the winter of 1933/34 and the following winter, he was back at the University of Berlin. It was there, during a little address he was making that a door on the far end of the room opened and in came Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Papa writes, “I am quite sure that I was not aware to what extent his coming into my life would change it, and to what extent I would be indebted to him from then on.” Later, Papa took full part in the often underground activities of the Confessional Church at the office of Martin Niemöller.
Granny writes how she was in Berlin from October 1935 until March 1936: “That was when we had all these sessions in Niemöller’s house, and since one was forbidden to do anything, we had only Bible studies and there were crowds of people. We were a whole group of young people in Berlin…. There was a great feeling in Berlin with this group that you were fighting together. I never felt that way in Hamburg. Yes, the months I spent in Berlin were in a way very exciting. As I said, we spent some time over at the famous Niemöller’s house, putting cushions on the telephones for fear of being bugged and so on. We were close to Niemöller, who was a very prominent pastor. He had been a U-boat commander, and now was taking a strong stand against the Nazis. There was a lot of enthusiasm and camaraderie. We were quite involved as young people in fighting this horrible system.”
Niemöller was eventually sent to Sachenhausen and Dachau for his opposition to the Nazis’ state control of the churches from 1937-1945, and fortunately he survived both.
We saw a plaque on the wall in a cell in Sachenhausen where he was assigned.
After lunch, we drove to the Dahlem area, where the Bonhoeffer family lived, and where the Niemöller house was. Apparently my Grandfather was ordained at Niemöller’s chuch there too. I wasn’t able to find that (I didn’t have enough info), but we went to Niemöller’s house which was turned into a “Peace Center” in 1982 (unfortunately, it was closed).
We continued on to an area called “Friedenau” where Granny writes about Papa’s family: “One member of his family built much of the suburb of Friedenau in Berlin, and it was there that Max Büsing lived and worked.”
A very cute area, and we were quickly able to find “Büsingstrasse” where Zach was particularly pleased that he is the first of the next generation of Büsing blood to come to this street.
We made our way back to city center, returned our rental car and headed back to the hotel.
We made our way to have dinner on the waterfront.
It was a fascinating day, one that I will always remember. There is something about immersing yourself in little bits of family history, and seeing where YOU come from. Who YOUR people were (are?). It gives you a sense of belonging and pride of being part of a larger family and knowing who your ancestors are.
I think part of travelling is to see history with your own eyes. To feel that history is more than just words on a page, or scenes in a movie. It is the story of people’s lives. Real people. Real lives. Struggles. Challenges. Joys. Love. Travelling helps you broaden your perspectives and gain a deeper understanding for diversity. It is to help you appreciate what people have lived through in order to give you the world that you have now.
Our visit to Germany has been incredible. It has been intense, it has been overwhelming, and it has been moving. It is a place I want to come back to and spend even more time. Again, I’m glad that I have had the chance to share this with Rob, Zach and Zandra.