Saturday, March 21, 2009

Touching Berlin Wall and 9/11

The Washington Post is currently sponsoring entrance into The Newseum for children--so that my group, adult, entry rate today, was a mere $15 (oh, that was before we ate at the deliciously expensive Wolfgang Puck restaurant, though...).

Oh, was it ever worth $15!!

[2009 General Admission Rates are typically $20 for adults (19 to 64), $18 for seniors (65 and older), military and students with valid ID, $13 for youth (7 to 18), and children (6 and younger): Free].

We joined several other homeschooling families, today, for what we thought would be a group tour, only to discover that the Newseum defined us as a "group" so we could qualify for a fabulous rate, but that our tour was completely informal; self-guided, like anyone else's, in fact. So, rather than walking floor-to-floor with strangers, who just happened to homeschool in our zip code, we stayed with our friends on the lower (Concourse) level for the orientation movie, and a viewing of all related media about the Berlin Wall.

The movie was fantastic--defining news and describing the museum. War is news. Peace is news. Life is news. Death is news. Love is news. Hatred is news. I'd like to revisit it, as we had to rush out rather quickly for an emergency potty break right as it ended, and I didn't get to sit on the words long enough for them to stick. I'm a slow processor.

(I'm visualizing myself sitting on the words, now, and think a dear friend of mine will get a funny visual of my processing them through my behind, instead of my brain...)

Taken with my iPhone

Before entering the orientation theater, we spent some time in West Berlin. Overhead narration taught about the wall--how & why it was built, and the forces (political, ideological & physical) that brought it down. The video running in front of eight tall graffitied slabs was moving. I never realized one side of the wall was painted white so would-be-escapees could be easily seen (though I had seen a piece of the wall in Seattle in 1991). When we walked around to the East Berlin side, we were met with a large, transplanted observation tower, from which police would shoot those East Berliners silhouetted against the white wall, trying to escape to their freedom. The children and I walked into the base of the tower and stared up the cold, stone shaft, as piped-in alarms sounded around us. Experiential learning will stick forever in my son's mind. Teagan, just 3, may have very little recollection of this day, but Logan has studied WWII and understands the Axis & Allies concepts. We talked in great detail about the 29 years of the wall's existence, countries that are Communist/Socialist in the world today, and the privilege of living in America, where we take our freedoms to assemble, speak, protest, worship & report, for granted. Logan knows.

My son has never taken sudden movement well (from infancy), so he simply will not walk into an elevator when stairs are an option. For the record, The Newseum has the largest hydraulic-life elevator in the world. We enjoyed looking down on the glass walls of it from our perch on the sixth floor later in the day. I look forward to hopping in there one day for a smooth ride.

However, an enticing blue staircase climbs up along the side of the museum that faces the Capitol, so as we walked up each level, we peered out at a progressively better view of President Obama's office building. At the top, we ventured out to the open deck for a couple photos--though my children were tuckered out by then, and not willing to pose together for me. It's OK. We're locals, now. We'll be back.

Taken with my iPhone

The Newseum advises that visitors start at the top & work their way down. As we were stair-walkers, we did the opposite, and I preferred our way! Ending with 9/11 (4th floor) and the rooftop view (6th floor) was our dessert--I would not have wanted to start with that level of poignancy!

If you went top-to-bottom, however, that would bring you to the shops, wouldn't it...? Oh, compulsive buys!

I'm jumping all over the museum, here, but let me just speak to the 9/11 exhibit. It was awe-striking. My children & I toured The Pentagon last June, and stood in the rebuilt section where the hijacked plane entered the building and a memorial room was set up beside a chapel, but as we were then rushed through our guided tour, I did not get to spend any time contemplating the impact. Here, however, the remnants of the only journalist killed on 9/11 were boxed in glass beside large images of his original photos, recovered from his devastated cameras, and a video that shared his testimony. This was a man who ran into the chaos, as others ran as fast as they could away from the collapsing towers. His last photo was taken as the second tower collapsed--and that tower took his life.

(c) Bill Biggart

One mangled, rusty, macabre piece of the WTC was on display with a photo journalistic narrative circling around. It just happens to be an antenna--so the best headline of the day (wish I had written it down) was about how those who intended harm against our nation could not take out our freedom to tell others about it (report the news...). It was a precise line. I'll have to look it up.

Taken with my iPhone

In a small, inconspicuous room, a video ran on loop of interviews with media survivors--reporters who raced to Ground Zero to document the day. Among them was the man who took the award-winning photo of the three firemen raising our American flag.

(c) Thomas E. Franklin

At both the Berlin Wall exhibit (dozens of photographs, running video, preserved signs, etc.) and at the 9/11 area, I was so touched that I had to hold back or wipe away tears. I really wanted to let myself weep deeply, and for as long as necessary. No, I didn't lose anyone I loved on 9/11, and I didn't live in DC, NYC or PA at that time. But, I worked for an international broadcasting company--and the weeks that followed that one day were intense on my job--the emotions come back to me so quickly.

At that time I was part of a three-person team who wrote devotionals about how to remain close to God during tragedies--how to hold on to hope in hopeless times. I spent hours writing prayers which hundreds of thousands of people read and applied to their lives, for the 40 days that followed 9/11. Sitting before those tower images today took me right back.

There were other highlights of the day--Cal Thomas was in a live studio with an audience of Newseum visitors for an open-mic session. He also signed books in the two-story Newseum store, though we did not chase him down for an autograph (I think I should have, now that I think about it, for good Christmas gifts, but there was so much to see, and I had some weakening legs and sleepyhead kids). We watched him through the glass wall, and listened on hand-held phone sets.

Taken with my iPhone

There is one area my children wouldn't let me play in. After they played a fun sleuth reporter game on a touchscreen computer, I really wanted to give a news report from "the field" before one of the Newseum bluescreens! If I were with my husband, I could have asked him to hold their hands as I stepped up, but since we'd separated from our friends before the stairs/elevator hours before, I didn't have an extra hand or two. Again, we're locals! We'll return.

I highly recommend anyone within driving distance of DC get down here while the price is right! We enjoyed our day immensely, and recommend, recommend, recommend!

Metroing back to E. Falls Church stop

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