It is hard to walk around Berlin—it is a city of walkers and cyclists—and not see and feel its history at almost every turn. Today, I wanted to see the famous Checkpoint Charlie, the preserved remaining Wall and the exhibition devoted to the machinery and its ravages of the Nazi reign of terror. And then to see the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. This was an overwhelming day. It didn’t start that way.
I had some fun at Checkpoint Charlie, now history
embedded into an amusing tourist experience.
Up and over two blocks is the The Topography of Terror museum, constructed on the site of the Gestapo HQ on Wilhelmstrasse, and across the street from Hermann Goering’s Air Defence Ministry (now the Ministry of Finance!). It shows and documents both a portion of the Berlin Wall and the Gestapo and concentration camp system during the Third Reich.
The preserved Wall in a surreal moment:
Below are pics of some of the ministries and their street addresses from the Third Reich. Just the titles alone are chilling.
While the museum is extremely well done, with many photographs and original documents recounting the rise and activities of the Gestapo, it was reading the biographies of its leadership that underlined the already deeply distressing and depressing exhibition. One could see the number of lawyers and individuals with university degrees who became monsters, staring at me in the face, the portraits of men (mainly) who perverted what we value most in civilization. As if I needed to be reminded once more that an education is no guarantee of humanity. I couldn’t help but think that blind ambition, talent, ideologically driven conscience and hatred combine and continue even now around the world to create so much savagery and suffering. I had to leave and the scene below was a welcome respite.
The old Trabant from the days of East Germany, poorly made, hard to get and now a collector’s item. How any government could believe that the ideology behind such a product would persuade people of its validity is simply incomprehensible. It did so however by virtue of brute force, and by converting neighbours and children into police informants (1 in 10 provided info, willingly or unwillingy, to the Stasi – East German secret police).
I decided to do it all in one day and so marched on to the Holocaust Memorial (Denkmal für die emordeten Juden Europas). Nothing more needs to be said except this: while I was there exploring its streets and shadows, parents were playing hide seek with their children. And this is as it should be: children bring innocence into the world and live in the here and now. We must too, but remember as well.
Finally, on my way back to the hotel after an exhausting day, I found this cheery scene, a delightful collage I’ve entitled Roses and Strawberries on the S7 at Friedrichstrasse Station.