Berlin: Silently screaming history

My time in Berlin began with a nighttime walk along the longest remaining chunk of the Berlin wall. We went and enjoyed the murals as we talked and joked with each other, but the reality of the sight would occasionally creep into my consciousness. Today it’s a long stretch of outdoor art. Less than 30 years ago it was a prison wall that sprung up and drastically changed the lives of a generation.

As we walked, lightening began to illuminate the dark clouds and fat drops of rain dampened our clothes. Nature has its way of creating the appropriate soundtrack.

Section of the Berlin Wall
I could’ve spent the entire next day just walking the Wall and taking in the art. It’s varied and beautiful and serves as the perfect canvas to memorialize the struggle of the city. Having been ravaged by war, split in half and only recently unified takes a major toll on a region and its people. The rubble was taken out and the buildings came up but there are subtle reminders everywhere of the terrors from just a few decades ago.
I went on a walking tour of the city with a really interesting guide who showed us the discrete monuments all around us. It’s easy to miss them since they are so subtly integrated into normal, modern life.¬†Apartment complexes have sprung up where divides and No-Man’s Land once existed. Even the very spot where Hitler killed himself is now a quiet apartment building with a green courtyard and a pleasant facade.

After the tour, my sister and I went to the Topography of Terror Museum. It is a part outdoor, part indoor museum that thoroughly relays how the Nazis systemically came to power and radically made history. The insanity of the whole thing settles in as you walk the outdoor timeline.

I couldn’t fully comprehend how quickly and systemically the situation escalated. Hitler and his cronies fell into a perfect storm of factors where they where able to persuade a broken people that things could be better and they were the men for the job.

Outside of the extremely detailed museums, the Germans say a lot about the past with small brush strokes of monuments.
Not far from the Topography of Terror Museum is the square where 20,000 books deemed unworthy by the Nazis were burned. There is a small plaque on the ground there that bares an eerily appropriate quote from years before the Nazis even existed.The translation is roughly,
“When you burn books, you will soon burn people.”

A few meters away is a hole in the ground covered by glass. If you look down at an angle, you can see rows of empty bookshelves that would hold roughly 20,000 books.

This is such a testament to the power of knowledge. I think it reinforces the idea that we have to be skeptical of anyone who tries to repress information. Maybe its the journalist in me, maybe its a result of having a hippie dad with a jumbo library, but I think free flowing information is what keeps society in check. Its how we learn from each other and how we make sure the people in power have our best intentions in mind.

Okay, the soapbox is going back in the laundry room.

One of the amazing aspects of Berlin is that the city was demolished and rebuilt not very long ago. The buildings are new but done in an older style which boggles my mind. It feels like you could be in any other European city, but at the same time you know so much devastation happened in the exact place where you stand.

The Berliners don’t shy away from their messy past. It’s acknowledged, embraced and integrated into their normal life. I would think they would want the forget the horrific memories and opt for Eternal Sunshine on the Spotless Mind, but it seems to be the opposite. By subtly integrating their history into their march forward, they are able to live with the wounds and work for a better future.


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