Being a history guide: My professional philosophy

So what is it really that I do? In two words: applied history.

Like the term "artist", that doesn't say much about what a particular artist might do, "tour guide" is a very general term too, that covers many different fields. One of these fields describes precisely my expertise and is known in German as Geschichtsvermittlung - a literal translation into English yields "mediation of history".

It refers to a certain kind of historians like myself that do practical history, in contrast to the theoretical work done by the other kind of historians, those who work at universities. There's a common misconception about me and what I do, namely that I supposedly teach at universities. Actually I don't, although I do guide history classes quite often, when it's time to take the students out of their theoretical framework, into the practical manifestations of history in society.

To put it shortly, my work as a "mediator of history" has a lot in common with, for example, the history channel: Both of us apply academic knowledge by conveying new perspectives to audiences interested in a deeper understanding of history. The major difference, however, is that the history channel is a one-way channel - your television talks to you, not with you. Having true, real conversations with my guests is a key aspect in my understanding of myself as a history guide. In fact, this is exactly what keeps me going for years: Every tour is different, because you, my guests, are different.

In this work of mine, I accompany mostly Jewish visitors, for whom traveling to the capital of reunified Germany is not just tourism, but is usually also a personal examination of - and a journey to - the past.
 
The past can mean, in this context, one’s family history (sometimes, although nowadays naturally seldom, also one's personal biography), but it can also mean the collective memory of both peoples – Germans and Jews. The visit to Berlin often has a very special character: It resembles a voyage of discovery, during which both the Jewish and the German sides of the story are experienced anew.

Therefore, my work is based on three central aspects:

Firstly, to provide my visitors with professional and high-quality guidance in Berlin. This naturally requires continuous investments in keeping one's level.
In addition to my academic diplomas and official tour-guiding permit, I also hold guiding licenses issued by the German Resistance Memorial Center and the Sachsenhausen concentration camp memorial.
 
S
econdly, to help the visitors during their journey into history, by accompanying them when they deal with the sometimes difficult and sensitive questions that this confrontation with the past might raise.
 
And thirdly - last but not least - I am thankful to all my guests that share with me their thoughts, as each one has his or her own perspective on this pained city and its meaning for us today. Allowing this space for dialog and mutual enrichment is therefore central to my understanding of being a history guide.


  Dear Yoav, the day we spent with you was most enjoyable and informative.
It was exactly what we wanted and gave us an insight into Jewish life
in Berlin that we could not have got any other way.
Once again many thanks, Annette & Alan Woolfson, London

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