First Lodge go to Berlin

Bnai Brith Berlin Trip 10 – 13 May 2018

Report by Valerie Boyd-Hellner

A group of us from Bnai Brith, First Lodge recently returned from a wonderful and very interesting trip to Berlin, beautifully organised by John Reeves, here in the UK and Andras Kain, president of Raoul Wallenberg Lodge in Berlin. Sadly, John and Maureen Reeves were unable to participate in the trip owing to illness, but Roma Gelberg and Martin Aarons very capably and good humouredly took over John’s role whilst we were in Berlin, so many thanks to all of them.

After a special treat on our first evening, seeing Verdi’s “A Masked Ball” at the Opera, we started our sightseeing and experiencing Berlin in earnest. Our tour guide, Nurit, an Israeli, living in Berlin for over 20 years, focused mainly on the Nazi era, the memory of which seemed to be at the back of our minds, throughout the tip. The beautiful wide boulevards and linden trees in this lovely, modern city seemed somewhat incongruous so close to the railway line at Gleis 17, from where so many Jews were deported to their final destinations. Seeing the Wannsee Conference Villa, the Topography of Terror in the shadow of what remains of the Berlin Wall close to the Brandenberg Gate and the “Memorial to Murdered Jews”, with its huge blocks of concrete above ground and its heartrending underground museum was painful and difficult. These were the big memorials, but wherever we walked, we saw “solpersteins”, small brass plaques embedded in the pavements outside homes, engraved with names and ages of individuals who had lived there and their fate, once they had been taken by the Nazis.

On a more positive note, travelling around Berlin, seeing more sights and enjoying the weather, was a real pleasure. We mingled with our new Bnai Brith friends in Berlin and joined them together with the congregation of the Orthodox Synagogue for the Friday night service and very late meal and again on our final evening at a delightful Israeli restaurant where Rabbi Jonah Sievers, senior minister of the beautiful Pestalozzi Synagogue, gave us a talk on “Jewish Life in Germany in 2018”. It was heartening to hear how so many Jews, both affiliated and about 30,000 Israelis, unaffiliated to Synagogues, have now chosen to make their homes in Berlin, a city so conscious of its terrible past. How life has changed!

Following a delicious meal and presentations, we said goodbye and shalom to our new Bnai Brith friends and the following day, travelled home as we unravelled our mixed emotions of an interesting, unsettling but excellent trip.