A city might make an impact on you, large or small. Sometimes you don’t realise it, sometimes you do. Berlin is absolutely one of those cities where you know exactly how big an impact it has, and why. The history.
Of course, everyone knows the history surrounding Berlin. I don’t need to explain that it was the epicentre of the Nazi’s rise to power, even if you were the kid in class who drew willies on your neighbour’s work.
Even if you wanted to escape the history of Berlin, you couldn’t. I’ve never witnessed a place so brutally honest about its own dark history. It doesn’t work on pride or turning the other cheek; Berlin doesn’t view its history as a way to self promote or to make itself look good (granted, it would be pretty difficult to do that). The attitude is matter of fact and educational… and I’m torn between feeling sobered by what I read and see around me, but also finding it so refreshing.
The country I visited before Germany was USA. The way they portray their country’s history is extremely different. In no way do I want to insult or offend, but the US is very proud and “fist-pumps” about their achievements. They big up their victories and often make the losers to be the bad guys – the one in the pantomime you boo every time on stage. The history of America – and so many other countries, I hasten to add – is reinforced and taught from the viewpoint of that country to rally pride. Berlin as a city didn’t give me that impression – I have no idea about schooling and in Germany generally, of course. But if I didn’t know I was in Germany, I wouldn’t be able to tell which country was imparting the information, and for whose benefit.
What opened my eyes most to the history was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. I won’t go into too much detail now as I want to do a separate post on it – but it was one of the most heart wrenching, drop-you-back-down-to-Earth experiences.
The path of where the Berlin Wall used to be is outlined throughout the city. I don’t know if I’m weird to think this, but that’s incredible to have put such a reminder on the ground, everywhere. Really gives you a sense of the comparison between modern Berlin and how it used to be. With the few remains of the Berlin Wall, I would stand right up close to them and look up; I wanted to imagine what it must have been like to have really had this physical barrier preventing you from going any further. I thought what little children must have wondered was on the other side.
There are memorials everywhere, always with information educating you, reminding you. You think you’ve had one hit of a solemn feeling, and then along comes another one. From the crypt in the Berlin Cathedral to the Book Burning Memorial to the Neue Wache (Central Memorial to the Victims of War and Tyranny) to the Memorial of the Murdered Jews.
The way I phrase that sounds pretty horrific, but it puts things in perspective for us. It shows us we should show the respect of learning the history of where we are. It shows us how to become better people by understanding where others have come from. It shows us how to let go of the little issues in our own lives, teaching you to just know what and who you love, and get on with it. Because guess what? A lot of shit has happened in a lot of places, and the sooner we really try to understand that, the faster the world will be a lot more accepting of each other.
So really: learning about the country you’re in is so important to understanding it and the people within it. When I was younger I would complain about going round all these museums and Cathedrals on holiday. Now I love it. I find America’s history fascinating because it’s so young yet so bold; I couldn’t be happier that I studied in Australia, taking a class in the relationship between Aboriginals and settlers over time. I still remember wondering around Athens, marvelling over the beginnings of democracy – genuinely not believing it because in no way could I be standing in the same place that the foundations of our society started.
How important do you find the history of the place you’re in? Is there anywhere’s history you’re particularly interested in?