BERLIN: Symbols & Memorials – Germany’s Mea Culpa

Posted by on Jun 23, 2015 in Uncategorized | 12 Comments

After visiting such a litany of gorgeous European cities, Berlin was a bit of a shock to the system in term of its banality and lack of old world charm. This is primarily due to the fact that 90% of Berlin was destroyed in World War II courtesy of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. The rest of their human destruction is reflected in the numerous memorials around the city. Berlin has done a wonderful job of contrition and transparency in the way they have conceived these physical manifestations of sorrow and remorse.

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Berlin Generator Hostel

Many locations throughout Germany and Europe This one has a bar and café. It’s clean and modern with w/c and shower in the rooms. Highly Recommended.

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Walking Tour – Sanderman’s New Berlin – Mark, a phenomenal guide and ex-history teacher from Britain, breathes life into the monuments and creates an atmosphere of thought and enlightenment. The Brandenburg Gate, a symbol through the ages, in the background. His tour was so good, I went on the afternoon “Third Reich Tour” that he did as well.

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Brandenburg Gate – It was first a symbol of power that Herr Hitler took advantage of by staging a parade through it after taking power in the Thirties. Then it became a symbol of division when the Berlin Wall went up. After the Wall fell it became a symbol of hope and unification. It has gone through many transformations but has maintained its position as the symbol for the identity of Berlin.

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The Hotel Adlon where Michael Jackson dangled his baby out of the window. This is one of the few bits of levity you’re going to get for a while so enjoy it.

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The Holocaust Memorial – Memorial To The Murdered Jews Of Europe

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The memorial was designed by architect Peter Eisenman and engineer Bruno Haplold. Basically a 4.7-acre site, it is covered with 2711 concrete slabs measuring 7’10” long by 3’1″ wide of various depths. These stelae are organized in rows, and set at right angles but set slightly askew. On first glance, it gives the impression of a graveyard except that in this case, the occupants are anonymous like the victims who had their identities stripped from them to be replaced by a number.

These monoliths are meant to create an uneasy, confusing atmosphere, and the whole sculpture endeavors to represent a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with reality. All of the stelae are different sizes from one another, and walking amongst the taller ones evokes that uneasy feeling I mentioned previously. I think the sculpture is very effective in its subtle communication and powerful emotive qualities.

The fact that it takes up pretty much a whole city block near the Brandenburg Gate, cost $25,000,000 to build and was the result of two different design contests showed that Berlin really meant business in the creation of this memorial. In fact, this comes across loud and clear in Berlin. It is a large open air city with a warning to the world. And that warning is, “If it can happen to us here, it can happen in your country too.” This memorial is effective because it prompts one to ask questions, and creates a dialogue between people.

In fact, it resonated with me strongly this week in regard to some of the unfinished business we have in the USA. We love to point the finger at Germany for the atrocities in their past, but we have some seriously virulent and institutional racism going on in our country. In the wake of white supremacist Dylan Storm Roof’s massacre of nine African American churchgoers, we are once again forced to face our own shortcomings when it comes to handling the issues of race that face us. The fact that it has taken this latest act of white on black violence to finally question the fact that a Confederate flag flies on the Capital building of the state where that murder was perpetrated is completely ludicrous. These flags should have gone the way of Jim Crow with the civil rights movement of the Sixties. I remember the flag in a dorm room in a progressive prep school in the seventies. My roomie in the hostel saw one in a dorm room in college very recently.

Having one of these flags atop one of our governmental building is tantamount to flying the Nazi flag in Berlin. It would be insanity, but that is just what we have been doing. Not only that, instead of building memorials to the slaves that were tortured and killed, we insult the ancestors and today’s African Americans by lending credibility to the philosophies that enslaved them with these monuments to a culture that supported slavery and were traitors to the United States themselves.

Add that to the fact that African Americans make up most of our current prison population at over 40%. Most of them were convicted of victimless crimes and petty drug offenses. Clearly, we have a long way to go.

The good news is that these Confederate flags are now coming down all over the South as fast as the Nazi flags in Germany at the end of the war. These things are now political kryptonite, and the Southern politicians are tripping all over themselves to divest themselves of their association with this repellent symbol. The first was South Carolina, the location of the recent racist massacre. And now Alabama has removed a number of the offensive articles from its monuments.

Walmart, Target, and even Ebay have refused to deal in this kind of merchandise. Soon we will see Confederate flag bumper stickers and license plate holders disappearing from automobiles. It is certainly long overdue movement in the right direction. Rednecks are going to have to find something else to symbolize Southern pride. Better yet they should just reunite with the rest of America, and be done with all of their divisive nonsense.

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One of the areas that swallow you up in the monument.

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Hitler’s Bunker is below this nondescript parking lot. The Russians tried to destroy it but ended up just filling it in. This is the place where Hitler married Eva Braun the day before they committed suicide together. Also where Joseph Goebbels and his wife poisoned their six children and committed suicide.

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Hitler’s Barbecue Pit – This is the spot where Adolph Hitler and Eva Braun’s bodies were burned to avoid them being used as war trophies. The Soviet troops were so close that the Germans had to bury them before they had finished the job. The Russians managed to dig up the bodies and reburied them in an undisclosed location in Germany so as to avoid having a rallying point for any remaining Nazis clinging to the philosophy. Unfortunately the final resting place was leaked, and the Russians exhumed the bodies one last time, cremated them, and deposited the ashes in the Elba river. Problem solved once and for all.

Unfortunately, this has led to conspiracy theories of Hitler’s survival. I was amazed to find that one of the twenty-year-olds working at my hostel believed that Hitler escaped to South America. This is as nutty as the one about the USA not actually landing on the moon.

Somehow I doubt there is a lot of demand for the slide in that play area. I did not see any moms vying for a spot for their youngsters.

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SS Headquarters

This is the most reviled building in Berlin, and not just because it was the SS headquarters. The only reason it was left standing is that at the end of the war there were so few buildings that remained that could be used for administrative purposes. This building went from being the SS Headquarters to become the Communist Headquarters, and finally, it now houses the German equivalent of the IRS. This is truly a building that has an all consuming history of infamy.

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A Section of the Berlin Wall – The world’s most hated wall dividing the Capitalist West from the Communist East. What most people don’t realize is that Berlin is completely in the Eastern zone, and West Berlin was an island of capitalism in a sea of communism.

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Marker showing the location of the Berlin Wall.

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Checkpoint Charlie – The soldiers on the right are actors.

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The German Cathedral – Same as the French Cathedral across the square.

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Berlin Concert House – Between the two identical Cathedrals. They were this way to show a physical manifestation for the Tolerance Act which was passed to create equality for all. National, religious, etc. This is a great irony that Germany was a center of tolerance in Europe even up through the Twenties. It wasn’t until Hitler came along that things changed in a big way. These buildings were symbols of tolerance, and the only reason Hitler didn’t destroy them is that he liked that sort of architecture. He just chose to ignore their underlying symbolism.

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The French Cathedral – Same as the German Cathedral across the square.

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University Library – Site of the book burnings in May 1933 by the German Student Union.

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A Commemorative Plaque – It contains a quote from the early twenties that basically states that as soon as you start burning books, people are sure to follow. The horrible irony.

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This is a square room under the ground that indicates how many books were lost to the burnings by virtue of the empty shelves that surround it.

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The Finest University In Germany – Many Nobel Prize winners have graduated from here including Albert Einstein. Sadly it is across the street from the library where the book burnings occurred so many of its students participated.

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The Reichstag Building – The current seat of government in Germany.

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Memorial – This is for the ninety-plus German politicians who voted against Hitler in his bid to become dictator of Germany after the Reichstag fire. They were sent to concentration camps and worked to death. Their names, the camp they were sent to, and the year of their deaths are indicated on the edges of the metal slabs.

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Memorial To The Gypsies Murdered By The Nazis

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Memorial To The 27 Million Russians Killed In The Fight Against The Nazis – Most people are unaware of the magnitude of Russia’s contribution to the defeat of Adolf Hitler. If not for their sacrifice the world would be an ugly place.

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Russian Tank And Artillery Weapon

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Memorial For The Homosexuals Murdered By The Nazis – Gays had a particularly hard time since the Nazis classified them as just slightly more desirable than the Jews, and they were treated accordingly in the camps. Affixed with pink triangles, they were targets of considerable cruelty. In most cases, they were turned in by friends, acquaintances, and family. Hitler saw them as having nothing to contribute to the Reich. Incapable of procreation, and seen as immoral and deviant they were persecuted most vehemently.

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These small bronze plaques in the pavement indicate the people who lived at this address before they were sent to the camps. These plaques are being installed in front of houses and apartment buildings all over Europe to mark the places where people were taken from their homes.

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This sculpture sits in front of a Jewish cemetery to commemorate the fact that the SS desecrated it, and used the grave stones to reinforce Nazi bunkers.

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Okay, finally a pleasant story. This is one of two Synagogues that was not burned down on Kristallnacht. How was it possibly spared you ask? A policeman was standing out front when the Nazi hoodlums approached with their torches to set it ablaze. He held up an envelope and said that he had direct orders from the Fuhrer himself that the synagog was not to be touched. The fact is that the envelope was empty, but the subterfuge worked and it was spared. It was later destroyed during the war but was rebuilt as you see it here.

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Angela Merkel – The chancellor of Germany gets her kebaps at this shop according to Mark on the left. This tour guide has witnessed this himself and has briefly chatted with her.

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More Levity – Really, Really Good Apple Strudel

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Additional Fun – The Ramones Museum

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Johnny Ramone’s Jeans

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Dee Dee Ramone on the right pictured with Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen. Sid died of a heroin overdose after being accused of stabbing Nancy. Dee Dee followed suit and succumbed to a heroin overdose of his own in 2002, post-Ramones. Johnny and Joey Ramone both died of cancer. So much for a reunion, and so much for the levity, I was seeking.

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Blurry shot of Dee Dee Ramone’s Sid Vicious style necklace.

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Poster for the Ramones last show.

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Museum Island

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Tango By The River

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Drum Fun

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Radio Tower – Alexander Platz

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Alexander Platz Fountain

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Curry 61 – My go-to place for currywurst in Berlin, a favorite of Germans young and old.

12 Comments

  1. Jason B.
    June 24, 2015

    How are you enjoying Germany? Great thing about Europe is the diversity in close proximity. Have you been riding lots of trains?

  2. Jason B.
    June 24, 2015

    Really enjoyed reading your insights on German history. Being of German descent myself I have always had a dual sense of pride and shame regarding my ancestry. it would be hard to mention any country on the planet without a history of atrocity somewhere in its past but German stands out in part because of the very things that impress the world regarding there feats of engineering. When you are that good at making guns and machines and point your talents toward world domination it makes for one hell of a problem. But as my favorite leader of all time once said, “you do your worst and we will do our best”

  3. The Travel Zealot
    June 24, 2015

    Jason,
    The interesting thing is that Germany had a very progressive history of tolerance before Hitler was even born. I just added some commentary about this since I was not finished with this thread. I added some interesting stuff about our own issues with racism in the USA which may not have been there when you checked the thread so definitely check back. I have learned a lot here, but it is not a pretty city and the history’s painful. I will be glad to move on to Hamburg where the Beatles got their start. It should offer up some more cheerful subject matter.

  4. The Travel Zealot
    June 24, 2015

    I’m not doing any trains in Germany. The buses are much cheaper. I think I will enjoy Germany more once I am out of Berlin. Fascinating but hard to escape the painful past.

  5. Jason B.
    June 24, 2015

    On to Hamburg! Looking forward to more good stuff from the road.

  6. The Travel Zealot
    June 26, 2015

    Don’t hold your breath, Jason. I’m just not feeling the whole Germany thing. Hamburg is another city badly bombed during the war, so there is little charm to speak of. It boasts the most bridges of any European city, but it certainly can’t compare to the wonderment of Amsterdam, and the food sucks.

  7. BigD
    June 28, 2015

    So the aesthetics of the city are no comparison to other European greats like Paris or Amsterdam. But I’m wondering how the general attitude/ personality of the people compare? I would assume Germans as a whole would be more welcoming to foreigners than, say, the French. But maybe they’re about the same and it matters more on a person to person level.

  8. The Travel Zealot
    July 1, 2015

    The Germans are a mixed bag, but the young German lady who led my Third Reich Tour was wonderful, and gave a very interesting view of Hitler’s effect on the German youth of today and the culture in general. Sometimes the friendliness factor has to do with whether you are in the city or the country. The French in the countryside or smaller cities are just fine.

  9. Danika
    July 19, 2015

    Did you make it to Dresden? We spent a week there and of course visited the Lange factory! We actually got Berlin Residence Visa so that we could stay in EU longer than 3 months. I absolutely love what you’re doing!

  10. The Travel Zealot
    July 19, 2015

    No I did not go to Dresden. I should have gone there instead of Hamburg. I envy your visit to the Lange factory. Of course I can always get there later on, and make a return trip to Salzburg as well!

  11. Alia
    February 22, 2016

    What a wonderful site with such beautiful pictures! So nice to see everyone!! I was looking for Anjum and found your site. I’m putting a holiday card in the mail to you. Much love to all, Danielle

  12. The Travel Zealot
    February 23, 2016

    Welcome Danielle,
    Stop by anytime.

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