*written Friday April 25 on our LAST bus ride. Leaving Berlin on our way back to Munich.
Berlin was a beautiful city, although our hostel did little to comfort us. Let’s just say it was a “youth” hostel and for us adults, that meant 13 year-olds karaoke-ing “99 Red Balloons” all night long. And yet I still found it easy to sleep – every day has been so packed that I can find a way to fall asleep even in “Racer Car” wooden beds! I learned a ton today on the tour, given to us by a local PHD student who really knew his stuff. I was particularly interested in Hitler’s vision of Germania and to see the city’s tribute to the Holocaust. Little remains of Hitler’s attempt to build an empire in the city. We saw only two buildings standing from his original plans, and they were unmarked or abandoned. It is clear that the Germans want to move on from their ugly past and rebuild. And when it came to the rebuilding, the new architecture put in place is amazing – attractive and innovative all at once. We spent the afternoon after the tour resting in the open air under a glass dome that spiraled and coiled above our heads.
We began our tour at Starbucks, which made me do the “happy dance” because the hostel’s “coffee” didn’t exactly do the job on my post-Racer Car bed crankiness. I got a view across the plaza of the balcony where Michael Jackson dangled his child before we embarked on our walk through the city. We saw what remains of the Berlin Wall and photos of the Gastapo jail cells. It is incredible to think that two vastly different societies lived in one nation divided by a cement wall.
Our guide spoke about how each person in the regime played a specific role that they could focus on, and therefore they could feel detached from the larger, more heinous plan that was set in motion. For example, the man in charge of switching the train tracks did not feel responsible for the fact that the trains were switched to take prisoners to death camps. He simply focused on his task.
It was fascinating to learn about T4, the offices where the practice of eugenics was first experimented with in the 1930s, with participation from American scientists and doctors. We were only able to note the approximate street location of where the groundwork of genocide was laid.
I was most intrigued, however, by our visit to Hitler’s bunker – or rather, the sign that told us we were close to where it used to be. Again, there is no ability to tag or commemorate the life of Hitler in Germany, and justifiably so. Only a subtle trail of the historical context of his life remains there. Nonetheless, his suicide as the Russians approached, the burning, burial, movement, exhumation, re-burning and scattering of his ashes in an unmarked spot of a river makes for interesting history, of which we only got a taste on the tour.
We ended our tour at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, an outdoor monument, composed of 2,711 rectangular graffiti-proof stones that stand in rows and columns as a dedication to the Jewish population who suffered and died. Much debate lies in the artist Peter Eisenman’s actual intentions (why 2,711 stones? what is the intended experience for the viewer?), and in his decision to commemorate only the Jews, when so many other European nation’s peoples were imprisoned and murdered. As I walked through it, I became disoriented, at times able to see the horizon, and then losing sight of any way out from under the shadow of the looming blocks. And when I stopped to look around me for the people I knew, they disappeared and reappeared so rapidly, that I felt as if their presence were an illusion. I was alone and lost unless I just kept moving forward blindly and the blocks finally subsided. And I was free in the sun again. I looked around to see who else made it out.