Berlin Remembers

Memorials of Past Darkness for a Brighter Future

Flowers and candles outside the American Embassy in support of Orlando victims
Flowers, candles, and gay pride flags outside the American Embassy in support of the Orlando victims

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.

Berlin remembers…

Jews,

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

IMG_6210

Roma and Sinti (aka Gypsies),

Memorial to the Sinti and Roma Victims of National Socialism
Memorial to the Sinti and Roma Victims of National Socialism

homosexuals,

Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism
Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism

and politicians who opposed Hitler

Memorial to the Politicians Who Opposed Hitler
Memorial to the 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.

Berlin remembers…

Those who died attempting to escape from East to West during the Cold War

Berlin Wall Memorial
Berlin Wall Memorial
Illustration of the defensive layers around the wall
Illustration of the defensive layers near the wall
Preserved section of the Berlin Wall
Preserved section of the Berlin Wall
Recreated escape tunnel
Recreated escape tunnel

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.

Berlin remembers…

Those who were considered a threat to life in the DDR (East Germany) by the Stasi

Gedenkstätte Berlin-Hohenschönhausen (Former Stasi Central Investigation Center and Prison)
Gedenkstätte Berlin-Hohenschönhausen (Former Stasi Central Investigation Center and Prison)
Single cell used in the 1940s
Single cell used in the 1940s
Cells from the 1950s-1980s
Cells used during the 1950s-1980s
"Tiger Cage" outdoor exercise area
“Tiger Cage” outdoor exercise area
Interrogation room
Interrogation room

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.

Berlin remembers…

“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.

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3 thoughts on “Berlin Remembers

  1. “Remember” -one word that provides a perfect thread on which to stream Berlin!
    Alot to see in a weekend. And didn’t you say that a number of Stasi tour guides were former prisoners? Must be very strange that former guards and former prisoners live side by side.

    I remember watching news on activity around that Berlin wall for years.

    1. Thank you! Berlin is a fascinating place with so much history. Yes, many of the guides are former prisoners. Our guide wasn’t (but was very knowledgeable) and told us a story about one of her coworkers who found herself (a former prisoner) across a desk again with her former interrogator when she went for an appointment at the unemployment office. Strange how things change over time.

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