In January, 1990 I made my first and only trip to Berlin. It was not on my itinerary at the start of my month-long backpacking tour. Since then, I’ve been to Munich, Kehl, Nuremberg, and Baden (well, I stayed at a hotel by the airport) but have not been back to Berlin. It wasn’t in the original plans because at the time, East Germany wasn’t part of the Eurail network, obviously. So it would have been an extra expense to go.
But as I met other people on that trip who had been there, and gave it more thought, it was a no-brainer. History was being made. The wall was just over a month from “coming down.” Reunification was just nine months away. I’ll post more about the wall and my experiences in another post. This post is about returning to a city that owns its history and puts it out there on display for everyone.
I can’t imagine growing up in a country with such a recent history of horror. A generation that sat in silent guilt gave way to a generation that needed to know what happened. And everywhere in Berlin there are the reminders. There are monuments to the three most persecuted groups by the Nazis: Jews, Gypsies, and Homosexuals.
But more than that, there are somber reminders everywhere, from the Topography of Terror, the former Nazi SS headquarters near one of the sections of the Berlin Wall that remains, to the Book Burning Memorial in Bebelplatz where a subterranean set of empty bookcases, large enough to hold 20,000 books which is the approximate number of books burned by the nazis. are seen through glass in the ground. Ironically, there is a generic parking lot that is paved over Hitler’s bunker, with no plaque or market diagonally across from the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. He gets no dignity, no possibility of a pilgrimage for neo-nazis. Just a parking lot. And his salute, the sieg heil? Do that and get caught and it will cost you 500 euros. It’s illegal in Germany.