Monday, June 28, 2010

John Nicodemo - From Prussia With Love

Since the moment I arrived in this extraordinary city of Berlin, a city which heretofore was unknown to this well-traveled tourist, I have been intending to contribute to this blog. My wish was to recount the story of my experience in this country which is both steeped in culture and stigmatized by the dark period that was the twentieth century.

But, I put off writing about my life over the past month for a number of reasons. I was quite busy with my studies, I wanted to visit the historic sites, I needed to sample the beer, I availed myself of the many museums, I needed to sample the beer, I traveled to other countries, I needed to sample the beer...okay, I think you get it. Joking aside, in order to give the reader a good idea of my experience here in Germany, I first had to have an experience here in Germany. Now that the summer abroad program is nearing its end, I can honestly say that I have had an incredible four weeks. I would really like to share.

I have never been to Berlin before. Quite frankly, I did not know what to expect. Here is a city within a country that, until 20 years ago, was divided by cultural, economic and political differences made clear by a 12-foot wall separating the eastern and western sections. I was surprised to find a Berlin that is like a phoenix rising from the ashes. New construction sites are everywhere. Areas of the city that, a short time ago, were falling apart from years of neglect, are now trendy districts reminiscent of the villages of Manhattan.

Berlin's TV tower rises above Alexanderplatz at night.

Yet, despite its attempts at Westernization, the Berlin of today is a noble city that reminds its citizens and its visitors about its regretful past. Whether visiting the Mitte area with its juxtaposition of tourist-centric Checkpoint Charlie and the quiet solemnity of the Jewish Holocaust Memorial or traveling to the area of Grunewald where the condemned were taken by train to their deaths in the camps, Berlin wants the world to remember what took place. It is a city that is not afraid to show its scars, and the scars that were left on the world. Imagine standing atop Hitler’s bunker while a German tour guide holds nothing back in his description of the actions of the despicable mad man. These people seem to be begging for the world’s forgiveness while they themselves are healing.

The Ampelmann, a relic from the former East Berlin, lets pedestrians know when it's safe to cross the street.

All this culture and moving history was, of course, a complement to the reason for traveling abroad: to study. Mediation and International Human Rights are the two classes I took. Because I am earning four credits from a Judicial Clerkship, I was only able to take two two-credit courses. A majority of the students also took International Criminal Law and Comparative Constitutional Law.

I had the absolute pleasure of experiencing a class in Mediation taught by the dynamic Barbara Swartz, a woman whose fan club I am now the president of. Her class was interesting, insightful, and fun...yes, fun! She is warm, inviting, and extremely intelligent, and she cares deeply for her students. I felt as though I were in good hands here in Berlin with Professor Swartz at the helm.

Judge Robert Levy instructed the class in International Human Rights. I must admit that the idea of a Federal Judge with a vast experience in human rights issues helming the class was a bit intimidating at first. Then, I got to know the judge. Not only is he one of the most welcoming people I have ever met, but I also believe I have learned more in the short two weeks under his tutelage than many have in an entire semester. He has a style that allows a student to want to learn. Clerking under him would be a dream job for a new attorney...uh, did you hear that, judge?

Finally, I want to mention my classmates. I find it fascinating that, in a matter of a month, a group of people met and formed bonds that will not soon be broken. Some of the people are schoolmates whom I already knew and counted as friends. Some are schoolmates whom I recognized from school but never actually met. Some are people from other schools who were completely unfamiliar to me. One month changed all that. These people, all future attorneys who will be practicing out in the world with me, are now my friends. Perhaps my greatest experience of the entire summer abroad program was the opportunity to widen my circle of friends. These men and women are now part of my family, and having known them has made me a better man.

Thank You, Touro, for a fascinating experience.

By John Nicodemo, Student, Touro Law Center Summer Abroad Program in Germany 2010

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