Memorials of Past Darkness for a Brighter Future
Beneath a thin layer of grit and a heavy mound of history, Berlin thrives today as a vibrant, cosmopolitan capital. A young city that was rebuilt after its destruction in WWII, divided for around 40 years into communist East and capitalist West, it was reunited 25 years ago as the capital of the unified Federal Republic of Germany.
Among its busy streets, funky cafes, and modern office buildings, Berlin seeks to acknowledge the most recent periods of Germany’s past and to educate the public for a better future.
Roma and Sinti (aka Gypsies),
and politicians who opposed Hitler
who were dehumanized and killed during the Holocaust.
The memorials that stand in place of the many groups of victims embody the idea of loss itself. Stark stone columns, a dark pool surrounded by stone slabs… each memorial is dark, angular, and abstract in its concrete nature, seeming to reflect perhaps not the people themselves but their absence.
Those who died attempting to escape from East to West during the Cold War
A photograph of each of these 136 people, including several children, is displayed in a memorial wall opposite a remaining section of the Berlin Wall, which was built in 1961 to prevent citizens of strictly controlled East Berlin from escaping into West Berlin. The Berlin Underworld Tour explains attempts (some successful) to tunnel under the wall or to make a break for it (mostly attempted by young East German military officers or subway staff) through “Ghost Stations,” or heavily guarded subway stops in East Berlin.
Those who were considered a threat to life in the DDR (East Germany) by the Stasi
The central investigation center of the Stasi, formerly a restricted area left conspicuously blank on maps, now serves as a memorial and museum, staffed by many former political prisoners who lead guided tours to educate the public about history and their personal experiences. From the end of WWII to the fall of communism in the late 1980s, anyone who was seen to be counter to the mainstream culture could be rounded up by specially recruited secret police and, through calculated physical and psychological torture, coerced into confessing to crimes against their country. The older and newer sections of the prison remain as they must have looked when in use, a powerful reminder to reflect on who the real threat is and how a way of life should be fought for.
“Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.” – Primo Levi
May we all learn from history and remember what makes us human.