Berlin. Germany. Both place names conjure up visions of World War II and/or the Berlin Wall. Yet, during our visit, I kept forgetting the city had been the scene of so many tragedies, despite Germany making every effort to help visitors remember.
This is weird because when we visit England, I swear I can feel the history beneath my feet. In Berlin, I got … nothing. Or mostly nothing, which bothered me. I should have felt it, should have been overcome, steeped with visions of man’s inhumanity to man.
That’s probably why it’s taken so long for me to write this post, which in the end will only share the brief glimpses of when and how I felt flashes of horror.
These are Stolperstein, or “stumble stones.” Each represents a man, woman or child who was torn from their home by the Nazis and sent to die in a death camp. There are many of them in Berlin, inserted in the pavement in front of the former homes of those who were murdered. (For more information, visit this Reuter’s blog: http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld/2010/10/21/germans-atone-for-holocaust-with-stumble-stones/ or this NPR feature: http://www.npr.org/2012/05/31/153943491/stumbling-upon-miniature-memorials-to-nazi-victims.)
This is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. The Germans seem unwilling to sugarcoat what happened in their country by using euphemisms. The design calls to mind caskets, which may have been its intent. (Here is an article which further explains the memorial: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/05/09/arts/design/a-forest-of-pillars-recalling-the-unimaginable.html.)
As you probably know, the Berlin Wall, or Berliner Mauer, ran right through the middle of city. I always pictured it as a straight East/West division. It wasn’t. I know this because much of it is demarcated throughout the city, and it was shown on our map. The Wall zigzagged all over the place, cutting across streets and neighborhoods, separating families and friends. If your house happened to have a door or window opening to West Germany, the GDR (East German government) bricked it up. Some East Berlin residents leapt to freedom or death, and in the end, more than 100,000 tried to escape in the years of the wall’s existence. This happened in my lifetime, but I found it hard to picture even when listening to a recitation of the names of those who died.
(https://www.berlin.de/mauer/geschichte/index.en.html for more complete information.)
This parking lot, which was built on the site of Hitler’s bunker, is hard to find, a deliberate choice by the German government to prevent it becoming a rallying point. I rather like the idea of oil and gas from non-German cars leaching into his bones. He got off easy, taking the coward’s way out, after orchestrating the senseless death of so many.
Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp was not a death camp. Yet tens of thousands died there, and its history of horror didn’t end with the war. Instead it became a Soviet “Special Camp,” a place where people disappeared. (Read more: http://www.stiftung-bg.de/gums/en/index.htm.)
This is the crematorium. The dirt there is quite ashy.