When Architecture Becomes Your Textbook

Berlin automatically comes with notions of World War II and the Berlin Wall, but in thinking about my preconceived notions of the city, many of them arise from a historical sense rather than a modern one. My thoughts have been crafted mostly from books and movies about the forties and the sixties which I watched growing up or in school. When I think of Berlin from a more modern perspective, I first think of the food then the German language. My thoughts about the language translate into my preconceived notions about the people. Granted, I realize that these notions are likely false and I have met kind German people, but I can’t deny that I assume Berlin is a fast paced city where people do not smile at you as you walk by and do not stop to hold the door for you. I’m a little hesitant to say that because I base this solely off movies and the way the German language sounds, but I expect to discover more tangible evidence as to how I am totally wrong or maybe surprisingly somewhat correct. Though I have to wait fifty nine days until I begin to see this for myself, for now, Google will have to do. National Geographic affirms my preconceived notions in a way as they advise that you do not smile away since it is seen as superficial. It also mentions that Germans come off as cold and stern but are actually much more polite than they come off as.

Further than researching the social aspects, I discovered on Google a thought that had never come to my mind before: the architecture. A title next to the large building shown above says, “Hitler’s Berlin – The Architecture of Dominance.” This brings me to my next question: how do modern day German citizens, especially in Berlin, feel about their city’s past especially when remnants of that past surround them constantly? How do they feel about the Holocaust? How do they feel about the causes and the outcome of World War II? About a year and a half ago, a friend posted on Facebook her stance on the usage of the confederate flag in state flags today. Growing up in Georgia, you’ll still see the confederate flag flying if you’re driving in south Georgia on the way to Spring Break. In said post, she compared the confederate flag to the Nazi flag and sign. Having gone to Germany herself multiple times, she expressed how they are ashamed of that past, and that we as southerners should be too of our own past. To this post, some people fully agreed with her thoughts, but there still existed people who saw the flag as a sense of southern pride. I realize this comparison holds a few differences, but the overall idea between the two holds enough similarities. My question as I prepare to go into Berlin is this: how do modern-day Germans react to their ancestors actions in such a monumental period of history?

In order to answer such questions, my initial plan consists of observation. Through a little digging on the Internet, I read on the United Kingdom Telegraph’s Travel website that “the city is still in the process of facing its past.” This travel blogger noted that in his visit to the first ever exhibit with mentions of Hitler and Nazi Germany, he saw mostly older Germans. What stood out to him most was their silence compared to the foreigners’ avid talking. The most interesting aspect of this is that for some people, those are their great great grandparents. He mentions that one of his German friends did not even want to know of the history. Having this new found information, I plan to pay close attention in these museums to who is talking and who isn’t, who is taking pictures (selfies..? hope not..) and who isn’t, in addition to other behaviors I may notice there. Through these observations, I hope to learn through my own eyes how Germans feel about Berlin’s past as well as Hitler’s influence.

A quick side note before I end this post, I am in the process of beginning research on the movie, Bridge of Spies, which tells the story of the Berlin Wall in its own way. In asking my childhood friend who loved Germany and visited multiple times about her thoughts, she said that from her personal experience, East Berlin citizens still have a lower quality of living then West Berlin citizens. Through this research process, I am excited to see what questions I craft about how this historical wall plays a role in Berlin today. I guess you can consider this a cliffhanger to future blog posts written from Berlin in fifty nine days!