Breaking Down Walls by Ms. Kayla Gabehart

Breaking Down Walls

“Ich bin ein Berliner.”

(I am a Berliner)

-John F. Kennedy

Berlin, June 26th, 1963.

In fewer than two weeks, the inaugural semester of the Sustainability in Berlin program will end, and the nine of us will part ways, board planes, and return to America. The thought of leaving our Prenzlauer Berg flats and bidding farewell to Berlin, the city that we have made home, is truly bittersweet. And it’s bittersweet, I think, because it has been eye opening in so many ways. So, as we wonder how exactly we will transport all of our souvenirs and purchases home (you only get one free checked bag), we are also in the midst of planning our Thanksgiving in Berlin, as well as reflecting on what our adventures have taught us and how they have changed us.

Striking a pose with our bikes in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Striking a pose with our bikes in Copenhagen, Denmark.

A few weeks ago, we embarked on an excursion across the Baltic Sea to Copenhagen, Denmark, named the European Green Capital in 2014. While we were there, we did as the locals do, and we rode bicycles everywhere. In Copenhagen, where they are well on their way to achieving carbon neutrality by 2025, more than half the population utilizes bicycles as their mode of transportation, in rain, shine, and even in several inches of snow. With one of the most progressive cycling infrastructure systems in the world, Copenhageners find it to be the most convenient, efficient, and healthy way to get around, and many have attached trollies to their bikes in order to transport groceries, children, and elderly relatives. I have never seen so many bicycles in my life.

Riding our bicycles along “the Snake,” a bike-only route in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Riding our bicycles along “the Snake,” a bike-only route in Copenhagen, Denmark.

A Green Infrastructure project under construction in Copenhagen, Denmark. The finished product will provide communal space and divert potential flood waters.

A Green Infrastructure project under construction in Copenhagen, Denmark. The finished product will provide communal space and divert potential flood waters.

In the past five years, Copenhagen has also been plagued by flash floods, which they refer to as “cloud bursts,” a result of climate change. In response, they have began building green areas all over the city that drain to large, underground grids of pipes and storage areas designed to transport the excess water into the harbor. Under normal circumstances, these green areas are utilized as parks and communal spaces. Copenhagen also engages in the extensive use of wind turbines and district heating fueled by excess energy from the waste disposal plant to help reach their carbon neutrality goal. Copenhagen believes very strongly in sharing their ideas and infrastructure with other cities, as they are determined to help break down political, financial, and ideological barriers regarding renewable energy.

Balloons illuminate the path where the Berlin Wall once stood

Balloons illuminate the path where the Berlin Wall once stood

Our return journey from Copenhagen took twelve long hours due to the Deutsche Bahn strike, but we arrived home to one of the most inspiring sights I have ever witnessed. Illuminated balloons lined the site where the Berlin Wall once stood.

On November 9th, the twenty-fifth anniversary of the fall of the Berliner Mauer, I stood with one of my feet in West Berlin and one in East Berlin, something Berliners could not do in their own city for nearly thirty years without a “shoot to kill” order being issued by Soviet soldiers.

On Nov. 9th, I stood with one foot in the East and one foot in the West. An action that seems insignificant now was impossible in Berlin just a quarter century ago

On Nov. 9th, I stood with one foot in the East and one foot in the West. An action that seems insignificant now was impossible in Berlin just a quarter century ago

I was deeply moved in that moment, and I felt solidarity with the Berliners. For decades they sought unity, a single city rather than one divided by a wall, a physical barrier. And when it finally, happened, it happened peacefully.

We hosted our own festivities on the 25th Anniversary, and were joined by Dr. Christoph Stefes and his family, as well as Mr. Klaus Dittmer. They told stories of the GDR and of a divided Berlin, and translated the television broadcasts of the various ceremonies throughout the city. It was truly an honor to share such a special occasion with Germans that have known both a separated and united Berlin.

It was both somber and inspiring to know that on the night of November 9th twenty-five years ago, the first East Berliners crossed the bridge on Bornholmer Straße into West Berlin. On the night of November 9th, just a couple of weeks ago, the nine of us watched the memorial balloons released into the air at that exact same spot.

Imagine what other walls we could break down…

A piece of the Berlin Wall in Potsdamer Platz commemorating both the Wall that once was and the peaceful protest that brought it down

A piece of the Berlin Wall in Potsdamer Platz commemorating both the Wall that once was and the peaceful protest that brought it down.

Author: Ms. Kayla Gabehart

Author: Ms. Kayla Gabehart

About the Author:  Kayla Gabehart is an undergraduate student in her final semester at the University of Colorado Denver. She is double majoring in history and psychology, and minoring in political science. She will begin her MA in history at CU Denver in the spring of 2015. At her core, Kayla is a writer and hopes to somehow incorporate that into her future career.

A Luncheon with Justice Scalia by Mr. Mark Olson

I received a last minute email invitation from my constitutional law professor asking me if I wanted to see Justice Antonin Scalia speak. Constitutional law I and II have been my favorite classes at CU Denver. But I hesitated to accept, at first, because I had come to dislike many of Scalia’s decisions. But an offer to see a great mind speak, even one that I disagree with on many, but not all, issues was an opportunity that was too good to pass up.

But an offer to see a great mind speak, even one that I disagree with on many, but not all, issues was an opportunity that was to good to pass up.

Colorado Christian University put on a great event, and they were gracious hosts. Though I was a bit surprised when one of the school directors opened the luncheon by saying, “If you are here to show your support for Obamacare… you are in the wrong place!” This received a warm round of applause and laughs. This scene quickly reminded me that I was sitting in a room full of people with different perspectives than me. But that is why I love political science because it allows me to sit among people of differing interests, and learn from them.

…I love political science because it allows me to sit among people of differing interests, and learn from them.

Justice Scalia’s speech was a very fitting topic: the separation of church and state. He noted that it was the religious who seemed to struggle the most regarding this core principle. He said that this was mainly because some of the secular laws in existence are contrary to their religious beliefs (i.e., gay rights, abortion rights, etc.). However, to the non-religious person, the separation of the church and state rarely causes conflict, and is as simple as 2 plus 2 for them.

Antonin Gregory Scalia, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Antonin Gregory Scalia, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Now, maybe I missed it, but I never really felt like Justice Scalia ended the talk with any kind of reconciliation for the predominantly Christian crowd. He seemed to dance around the notion that Christians could still implement laws that were in line with their beliefs. He even used the example that we have “moral laws” that prohibit people from walking around naked in the public. Regardless of my personal take on his speech, Justice Scalia did impart with a salient point about the nature of the state, and the nature of the church.

“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” – Mark 12:17

Justice Scalia pointed out how the nature of the state has to deal with issues in society that cannot be reconciled with the teachings of Jesus, or many of the other religions. And this is why Jesus told his followers to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” However, Scalia stressed that it is not that the state is inherently evil, but that it has to deal with issues where “turning the other cheek” and “forgiveness” might not work. In other words, how well would a state function if it told a victim of violence to turn the other cheek, rather than wanting the state to have the perpetrator arrested? Thus, Justice Scalia seemed to be suggesting that the religious may need to come to grips with the fact that the state will never be able to act as a Christian should act.

All in all, I am happy that I accepted the invitation to attend this talk. It confirmed for me why it is important to listen, not just to the people that agree with you, but also with the people who don’t always agree with you. The struggle over religion and tradition, and the nature of the secular state, will continue to be a prominent theme in our world. And I don’t know if this issue will ever resolve itself. But I do know that by sitting down and listening to opposing viewpoints was an experience that helped, not hindered, my personal understanding of the issues that surround the separation of church and state.

About the Author: Mark is a student for life.  A former ski bum turned academic who enjoys writing about political issues, and such.  His dream job is to get paid to teach, research and write.  When not immersed in books, he enjoys skiing, whitewater kayaking, good conversations, beer and watching the Minnesota Vikings.

Author, Mr. Mark Olson

Author, Mr. Mark Olson