German History Galore

Last night after drafting my post, we had an exceptional tour of the city center. Our guide was American who studied German history and has lived in the city for six years. She showed us the main attractions (like the Brandenburg Gate shown below) but also smaller sites like the parking lot which now covers the bunker where Hitler spent his last weeks and ultimately took his life. She also showed us the balcony from which Michael Jackson dangled a child… Such rich history, lol. And she explained that much of the city is still being rebuilt as lawyers work out who rightfully owns the land (the original Jewish owners, the Germans who took their land, or the government since it was then taken by the Soviets as part of East Germany). We ended in Potsdamer Platz and saw the new-age SONY center before having a traditional German dinner of meat and potatoes.

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This morning I got a later start to my adventures in Berlin because I had to squeeze in my long run for the week. After a shower and breakfast, I walked to the nearby Museum of German Resistance. This was another free museum and focused on those groups and individuals that played a small role in resisting the Nazi party. The museum was covered with stories about these brave people (see below) but unfortunately they are still in the process of translating all the letters and stories. I could read the descriptions of the rooms and groups in English, but not their personal accounts which was really disappointing.

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There were a few rooms that had been totally translated so I was able to learn about the Sippenhaft invoked upon families of those political officers who disagreed with the SS. Often the men would be killed for treason, but apparently their families were only relocated for the duration of the war. In cases where the wives were found guilty as well, the children were sent to Bad Sachsa where nurses took care of them. Their identities were changed so unless their extended families found them after the war, they were put up for adoption. Anyway, sorry for that long description but it was fascinating to learn about that aspect of the war in Germany.

From there I crossed the river and headed into the Topography of Terrors Museum. This museum focused more on the Nazis, SS, and the Reich. To be honest, I was impressed at how open and honest the stories told in this museum were. It’s taken a while, but it seems the Germans now want to educate people on the terrible things that happened during WWII, while being sure that visitors understand the circumstances that led to this terror. They didn’t shy away from the maltreatment of disabled or homosexual prisoners, they detailed the beatings of civilians in occupied countries, and they even confessed the apparent lack of punishment on most SS officers after the fact. Another informative free museum that allowed me to be a little nerdy 🙂

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By now, I was a little overloaded on museums and knew I still had the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe left to go after Katie got out of her conference. So I decided to head back to Potsdamer Platz to find a late lunch and write postcards. I stumbled upon an adorable cafe on the second floor so I could people-watch out the window. I had “toast”, a ham and mozzarella cheese panini, with some delicious ice cream for dessert!

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Feeling reenergized, I walked up to “Holocaust Memorial”. The city of Berlin has begun construction of memorials specifically for other affected groups, such as the homosexuals, gypsies, and political prisoners, but this is just for the Jewish population killed during World War II. On the surface, there are 2,711 uniquely-sized cement blocks. There is no significance to the number, but many think they are all different to remind us that each person killed, although they might have appeared very similar at the time, was an individual. The stelae (blocks) grow in size toward the middle of the square, at the same time that the ground falls away. This is to invoke feelings of confusion and entrapment as visitors walk among the stelae. A very small comparison to how the Jews must have felt when being forced out of their homes and into concentration camps with little explanation or directive.

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Downstairs, inside the information center, I particularly liked the family stories that traced an entire family through various camps, places of hiding, etc. Unfortunately the result was typically that most members perished before the end of the war. Then there was a dark room with with a victims name on the wall in white. A narrator told the story of their life and death in a minute, first in German and then in English. It said that if the story of each of the six million victims was told in that format it would take six years, seven months and 27 days total. It was very powerful.

That’s all for now, sorry for all that history but it’s what excited me the most about coming back to Berlin! Tomorrow morning I catch a train to Amsterdam where I will be staying in a hostel for three nights 🙂

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