Berlin has a horrific past. However, unlike other cities or countries, namely the U.S., Germany does not try to disguise their sins of the past. Obviously Germany must acknowledge the “elephant in the room” that is the Nazi Regime and WWII, but the country does so much more than simply being transparent. In Berlin, the government is loud about their past and upfront on what went wrong in the 1930s-40s that led to war and the Jewish genocide. They force you to remember by the many memorials and museums present all throughout the city. Not only was I shocked about how honest Germany is about confronting its past, I was also surprised by my reaction to the plethora of reminders of WWII in the middle of the booming city of Berlin. All my life, Germany has been a primary ally to the U.S. and our interests. Seeing the memorials reminds me that only a mere 70+ years ago, Germany was our mortal enemy. In addition, the museums and memorials, particularly the Memorial for the Murdered Jews and the Topography of Terror, angered and upset me. It is easy to forget the carnage of the past in America, but being in the place where it all happened made my experience exhilarating, very real, and quite sad.
Berlin not only shows you the story of their past, but also forces you to remember the tragedy experienced by many in this country. Memorials are absolutely everywhere, from on top of an apartment parking lot where Hitler’s bunker was to taking over an entire block near Postdamer Plaz. The city’s dynamic almost revolves around the past, yet also is bustling with new activity and young people. I found this contrasted with the United States in that we tend to work to forget the unsavory aspects of our past and certainly do not memorialize it the way Berlin does. We work to forget about the Native Americans we forced off their land, the slaves we took from their homes, and the Japanese Americans that we imprisoned because we were scared. The U.S. has done some pretty unamerican things that we do not really memorialize or even learn about in school. Germany has admirably handled their past and taken responsibility for the terror they inflicted, which I found inspiring.
Usually, it is difficult for me to comprehend the magnitude of suffering that occurred during the holocaust, but visiting the Topography of Terror and the Memorial for Murdered Jews made that history feel more real. It was both infuriating and interesting to read about the rise of the Third Reich and the slow progression of the Holocaust at the Topography of Terror. My group, team Charlie, (shouts to the amazing Christian, Chandler, Kate, and Will) visited the Memorial after the Topography and that solidified the eerie feeling that began to overcome me. The Memorial for Murdered Jews consists of thousands of slate gray concrete boxes of similiar width and length, but differing heights. It takes up an entire block of downtown Berlin, in a very popular area too. The meaning of the boxes is unclear but as you walk through the lines of boxes and they become your height, then two or three times your height, a feeling of isolation and uneasiness soon takes over. The gray boxes reminded me of the millions of faceless and nameless Jews who were killed in the Holocaust, a number beyond comprehension, and it becomes quite overwhelming. After, we went underneath the Memorial, as if entering a hidden bunker, to see the museum dedicated to the Jews. There, we saw diary entries of the horrific events and fear many Jews witnessed. This felt different than a typical entry in a museum because most of the authors ended up being killed in a death or concentration camp a few months, weeks, or days after they wrote the entry. Next, we visited a room in which a name of a Jew killed in the Holocaust is on a dark screen and first in German, then English, a narrator briefly describes where the person is from, how old they were when they died, and what year they were killed. It was tragic that their lives were defined by their deaths. This was an instance of Germany/Berlin being honest and facing their past, while never forgetting those who were lost.
Berlin’s integrity in displaying their history is something that should be recognized and repeated in other countries. Even the rhetoric museums use in their presentations is startlingly upfront. The government recognizes that the Jews were not just killed or perished, but were murdered. It was refreshing to see a country holding themselves accountable and something that the U.S. could really work on. While Germany’s past is terrible and heartbreaking, it teaches us all to love each other, always.
As for Charlie Company, those people are the most compassionate, understanding, and hilarious friends a girl could ask for and I had the best time in Berlin with them. I am sitting on the train, that we almost missed, heading out of Berlin to Munich. Berlin exceeded my expectations and I am so excited for the next city and next group of people that I have the honor and opportunity to explore Munich with.