Reflections on Berlin

Diplomats at the Opening Ceremony

We are sitting in the airplane on our way to New York after spending the last five days in Berlin participating in the 23rd Annual Berlin Model United Nations conference. This event brought together over seven hundred students from around the world to debate global issues, ranging from the spread of cyberterrorism to the lack of access to education in the developing world. The main theme of the conference was the importance of education as the “Key to Advancement, Equality, and a Secure Future.”

As the Ambassador of Sudan, Jules Becker ’16 gave a speech  in front of hundreds of delegates who gathered for the opening ceremony at the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, Germany’s oldest organization to promote democracy and political education.

Jules Becker '16 gives speech at Opening Ceremony
Jules Becker ’16

The rest of the conference took place at the John F. Kennedy School, an American school founded in honor of the President’s legacy in the city. On the second day, in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of his assassination, the school showed a documentary about his life. It was a day that gave us pause to think about the influence of JFK’s life on international politics.

We all had many opportunities to play an active role in the conference. Some of us were assigned to represent Sudan in a variety of committees, including the Economic and Social Committee (Lily Canaan ’15), the Environmental Committee (Grant Anderson ’16), Human Rights Committee, (Lauren Mounts ’14), Political Committee, (Ashley Rintoul ’15), and Disarmament Committee, (Jules Becker ’16).

Grant Anderson ’16

Juliet Fontana ’15 represented Sudan in a Special Conference on Education. She stood up in front of her committee of around 50 students to give quickly articulated speeches and debate delegates representing other countries. Later a local Berlin news station interviewed her about the anniversary of JFK’s assassination.

Olivia Taylor ’14 and Conor Eckert ’14 represented the Russian Federation in the Historical Security Council during the 2003 Invasion of Iraq Crisis. We argued about intervention using only information available in 2003, which offered a new perspective to the event. We worked with other nations to pass several clauses and used our influential status as a nation with veto power to block resolutions. It was a great way to learn about how international affairs works.

Olivia Taylor ’14 and Conor Eckert ’14

Outside of the conference, we had a chance to see many parts of Berlin, including the historic Reichstag government building, the Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie and the Holocaust Memorial.

The Reichstag was particularly impressive. It meshed together the tradition of German democracy with Berlin’s modernity. Artists from all four of the allied nations contributed art pieces that represented the foundation of democracy. We got a tour of the German Bundestag, which taught us about how voting procedures worked in the context of the German government. The tour ended with a view from the top of Reichstag’s dome, which was breathtaking and revealed the entire Berlin skyline.

Brandenburg Gate

Conor was also impressed by the Brandenburg Gate, where John F. Kennedy gave the famous speech in which he said, “Ich bin ein Berliner” in 1963 in support of West Germany, a couple of years after the Berlin Wall had been erected.  Once a sign of political division, the Gate now stands in the heart of the city as an embodiment of German unity. It is also adjacent to the Allied Powers’ embassies, which highlights Berlin’s rich international history.

Juliet Fontana ’15 and Olivia Taylor ’14

We also visited Checkpoint Charlie, an American military checkpoint located between East and West Berlin.  It was a center of German culture and history where we got to interact with the past by taking photos with soldiers. The museum showed the dramatic impact that the Berlin Wall had on the lives of people in Berlin. We could only fully experience this history in Berlin, learning from our surroundings and seeing historical artifacts in person, such a car with a hiding spot under the engine that helped smuggle over 400 people out of East Germany.

Berlin in many ways was an ideal place for this Model UN conference. The city itself attracted students from all over Europe and from countries around the world like Bangladesh and Taiwan. It was the most international Model UN conference that we’ve ever been to. As Olivia put it, “Sitting next to fellow high schoolers from Qatar, Germany, Spain and Saudi Arabia was something students of our age could only do at this Model UN conference.”

Conor Eckert ’14 and Juliet Fontana ’15

In our free time the group stopped at the Christmas market in downtown Berlin. Along with shopping for holiday gifts, we tubed down an ice slide.  We walked to many of these attractions along the way eating traditional German meals like the comically named “Hoppel Poppel” and fresh German waffles.

The group really came together by the end of the trip, despite not knowing each other very well when we signed up. We had been looking forward to this trip for the last couple of years and the club hopes that more GFA students will have the chance to experience it in the future.

Juliet Fontana, Olivia Taylor, Conor Eckert and Jules Becker

Reflections on Berlin