As we began exploring the city of Berlin, I was continuously intrigued by the way the city, and the nation of Germany, perhaps, displayed its own history. Growing up in the US, I often heard stories about Germany through a ‘statistical’ lens, and I categorized the nation as one that had clearly made mistakes. Through my exploration of Berlin, I’ve left with one major question: “How has the government of Germany handled its own history?”
We started off the adventure standing in front of the Brandenburg gate. We learned about the significance of the gate: its use as a sign of power and strength, its use through major military events, and its use as a divider in the Cold War. I was blown away by how the significance and perception of the gate have changed so much over the years. The gate shifted from a sign of power and conquest to a sign of division and strife and, to now, a sign of peace and unity. The German government used what may be seen as their thorn to be their pride and joy. Now, the gate hosts events, watch parties, and speakers every day. The gate shows how Germany accepts its past, embraces it, and has made attempts to move on from its mistakes.
Germany’s approach to be transparent with their past is also shown through its handling of the Berlin Wall. Despite the Wall’s negative perception, Berlin has made an effort to display the Wall for all to see. Not only can people view the Wall at the East Side Gallery and Checkpoint Charlie Museum, but its remains are also left all around the city. Just outside the Brandenburg gate, we were pointed to look at a paved brick path on the busy main street. The path was the shadow of the wall, interwoven all throughout the city’s streets. This action further emphasizes Berlin’s transparency with their mistakes.
This transparency was also shown through the Memorial for Murdered Jews. I was especially impressed by the monument’s central location and message. The memorial’s message is left open to interpretation, as the designer refused to share the purpose behind it. I think this further exemplifies Germany’s actions to embrace their own history. Leaving the meaning open to the imagination of the viewer is somewhat dangerous, but the German’s feel that they must face their mistakes head on, not run away from them. Many more monuments and artifacts are placed all throughout the city and citizens move through the history as they perform the tasks in their daily lives. That’s pretty powerful.
I’m excited to see Munich, but I’m saddened to leave Berlin. I’m thankful for this group of people who all want to learn more about culture and grow. I plan on continuing to study Berlin, its unique history, and transparent mindset. I wonder what America would look like if we did the same thing with our past?