At dinner with a friend a few nights ago, the subject of the Holocaust came up in our conversation. She (my friend) had spent the summer in London, and had been planning to visit Berlin until one of her friends flat out refused. His whole entire family had been killed by the Nazis and Germany was not a place he wanted to be. He had a hostile image of the country, after what had happened to his ancestors and the unbearable suffering that the Jewish citizens had to endure during the Holocaust. This story is not only completely understandable, but also common. Today I want to explore how you can visit the past in Berlin, from the dark Nazi period to the suffering that followed long afterwards throughout the Cold War. Seeing traces of the past in Berlin is so important I think, even though most of the information can be quite difficult to process and understand at times.
In Berlin, the darkest times of its history have not been forgotten. Quite the opposite. The city that rebuilt itself after WWII and the divisions of the Cold War is facing up to its history and wants to make sure that lessons are learned and the past will never be forgotten. As a German, who still cannot understand how such horrors could have ever come from a country I love so much, Berlin is the perfect European starting point to come to terms with it all. If you ever have the chance, go and take in this incredibly important part of German and European history.
Some spots that really resonated with me were:
Typography of Terror – An indoor & outdoor museum. The area was the former site of the Gestapo headquarters. Today it’s a museum educating visitors exactly what happened on its grounds and around the country.
The Wall Memorial – An outdoor museum and memorial built where the Wall used to separate East and West Berlin. Part of the wall is still standing, while other parts have been made known by poles stuck in the former lines. Both walls are still present in one spot, giving you a chance to peek through into the death zone and get an idea of what the Germans must have felt like. The museum educates you of escapes from the East & life with the wall.
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe – A very impactful outdoor memorial sight made up of concrete blocks. The maze of blocks seem endless, and the number doesn’t even begin to cover the amount of people who died.
Trail of the former wall – The wall varies around Berlin. In a few places it has been left standing as was, in others it has been turned into public art, and yet again in other places it’s a labeled line on the ground. It’s so easy to step across now, but for so many years people died trying.
“Stumbling Stones” in front of the homes of the deported Jewish citizens- What got to me the most were these stumbling stones. They’re little bronze squares set in the sidewalks, and on them it says “name lived here, deported on this date, and killed in a camp“. You’ll see many of these stones in the former Jewish quarter.
Berlin was a resonating experience for me, one that I think every person should have. It was hard, but you simply can’t block out or forget the past, especially if it lies so close.