“The historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence.” ― T.S. Eliot
As we walked past no man’s land, through Mauerpark to the Bernauer Strasse educational Berlin Wall exhibit, we were captivated by the audio recordings and educational information along this route. We walked the path of the Wall all the way to Checkpoint Charlie where the U.S.S.R. and the U.S.A. faced off in 1961.
We heard East Germans tell stories of being moved from their homes along the wall as the property now belonged to the government. We saw enlarged images of escapes and crosses in the pavement marking places where people young and old were shot or died trying to escape to the West. As we wound up our journey along the wall, we felt informed and compassionate and grateful for the freedom we have always known.
In contrast, we decided to focus on WWII history the following day in an effort to continue the knowledge gained from our time in Normandy and throughout Europe with the kids. We stopped at Brandenburg Gate and talked about its role in history from Napolean’s triumphal procession, to its symbol of strength as the Nazi’s rose to power, to Regan’s address to Mr. Gorbachev to “Tear down this wall!” in 1987.
As we rounded the corner, we found ourselves in the Jewish Memorial but we were not yet sure where we were. We looked for signs and information, audio booths and poster sized images, but they were non-existent.
To be fair, with three young children, we have not talked in depth about concentration camps or the horror of the Holocaust apart from touching the very surface. We were not looking for in-depth coverage of Hitler’s destruction but we had a hard time finding any information about the unimaginable loss that came before the freedom Germany now embodies. We saw no reference to the Holocaust, only that the memorial is in memory of lost Jewish lives.
The kids fired off questions we couldn’t answer:
- Who were these people murdered by?
- Why are there no names on any of the “graves.”
- Why are there no flowers on the graves?
- Did all these people die during the war in Germany or in all of Europe?
There was a huge amount of information available about the East Germans plight for freedom in contrast to what was not being said about the Holocaust. The 1,000 people that died trying to escape from East Germany were given a voice and plaques.
The 6 million people murdered in the Holocaust were memorialized by this installation of a sea of coffin like shapes, “In their variety of heights, the slabs were like a horizon of unfinished sentences, each truncated at a different moment, nothing but aborted utterances.” Book of Clouds
Berlin is a tenured professor and a youthful student. It is a place where the past meets the future at surprising intersections. The city showed us every side of ourselves from our deepest secrets hidden in the shadows to shining technicolor moments. It is a place we felt alive every moment, from every angle, and we are still redefining ourselves after such an experience.