I have fallen in love, fully and completely, with Berlin. In this city my husband told me I am a good man, “the best man he knows.”
Berlin is green and gorgeous but red with the stain of Germany’s horrific past – you cannot have one without the other. In all its glory and splendor, its striking architecture and bustling tourism trade, there is an undercurrent of pain and regret, of a history that cannot (nor should not) be forgotten. I am glad that I feel this way. To ensure that history does not repeat itself one must first remember and then examine what has come before.
There are many monuments that pay tribute to those who suffered so meaninglessly and help to honor the dead.
The Holocaust Memorial to recognize the more than six million Jews who died at the hands of the SS is both haunting and awe-inspiring. Beneath the full city block of concrete towers is a museum whose sole purpose is to remind us of what happened and to chronicle the lives of those who passed.
Just outside the city is Sachsenhausen, Berlin’s concentration camp memorial. This “model camp,” the first built on German soil, was opened in 1936 (the same year Berlin hosted the Olympic Games) and housed over 220,000 prisoners from 22 nations including Jews, gays, gypsies and POW’s. Tens of thousands died there from hunger, exposure, medical experiments and executions. As you walk around the grounds it is impossible to escape the overwhelming gravity of what took place less than eighty years ago.
The East Side Gallery is the longest remaining section of the Berlin Wall and the world’s largest open-air gallery. Artists from all around the world came together in 1989 to paint murals and toast the Wall’s fall. It is a bizarre concoction of political statements and unabashed joy splashed liberally with graffiti and tourist signatures – a gorgeous mess that leaves you feeling inspired.
In Tiergarten (Berlin’s version of Central Park) is a simple monument to commemorate the hundreds of thousands of homosexuals who were interned and put to death. It is understated and not at all pretentious, which is just the way we would have wanted…
In Berlin’s Northern suburb of Wedding, in a tiny space the size of an average Vancouver condo, is the Anti-Kriegs-Museum. First opened in 1925 this Antiwar Museum was destroyed by the Nazis in 1933 but reopened again in 1982 by the original founders grandson. It houses a remarkable, yet gruesome collection of literature and photographs detailing the horrors of combat. In a country on the wrong side of two World Wars, in its capital city, it is rather shocking to find such a small place dedicated to the ideals of peace and the end of bloodshed.
If not here, then where?