As part of our recent trip to Europe and Asia, we spent 2 days in Berlin. Little did I know that it would be a powerful, and somewhat deep experience. Berlin, to me, has always been a city that I have heard of, but never realized the deep impact in recent history it had. I was unprepared for the amount of dark history contained within the streets of this modern city. Before I left for our trip, I purchased this book, a journal about the life of a German lady during WW2 and beyond. This put stories with locations and history with what I was seeing. Although the book was a little choppy, I found the true story fascinating and completely appropriate to read while visiting this historical city.
My first mistake was forgetting the centrality to WW2 that Berlin was. Not only was it the center of the Nazi’s, but during the war it was stricken by bombs and was a center to the war. Visiting the modern day city we can see the holocaust memorial, Nazi headquarters, and many places taken down, then replaced by the war.
I think one of the most impactful experience was going to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. From what I understand this was one of the camps that not only was occupied by the Jewish people, but prisoners of war and those suspected of war crimes. It was a mournful location, and massive in size. We did the audio tour, and probably listened to half the information before we were overwhelmed with the awful things that took place where we were walking. Towards the end of the tour, there is a site where ashes of human remains were discovered. While we were visiting, this location there was a group of students having a poetry reading and memorial service. The sound of acoustic guitar and the somber reflection of the students made this moment so profoundly deep and painful, I couldn’t even speak for a while after leaving. So much evil in one location.
Berlin is not just central to the holocaust and WW2, it is also central to the fall of communism and the Berlin wall. I have never been very clear on this part of history. I didn’t really understand what life was like with the wall and why it was necessary. As we visited parts of the wall and heard the history of this important landmark I began to understand the suppression and segregation that the wall created. We visited a museum near check point Charlie (the entrance to the part of the American section from the Russian section) that told stories of people trying to live in the freedom of the west by sneaking over the wall from the east. I began to understand how one city was so divided and how much that hurt the country. Although I still don’t know what it would have been like to live in such a dark time, I am grateful for a short taste of history in this city.