There was no other city like it. It was sad. It was sincere. It was enchanting and beautiful. It constantly reminds everyone of the bitter, distant past that no matter countless seconds have passed, would always and forever be a grave reminder of how greedy, how despicable, how inhumane man can be. How wars and decisions made create such a deep, inconsolable misery that transcends time, transcends races, transcends places.
Berlin as Germany’s capital, stands as a historic reminder not only of the country’s turbulent history, but also the whole of Europe’s and the western world’s journey through the wars that have shaped the modern world.
One of the best known landmarks, the Brandenburg Gate was built on the site of a former city gate commissioned by King Frederick William II as a sign of peace. It is the point of entry to the Unter den Linden, leading directly to the royal City Palace of the monarchs.
All over the world, there are several museums and monuments built to serve as a memorial to the Holocaust, the genocide of six million European Jews killed by Hitler’s Nazi Germany. Standing next to the Brandenburg Gate is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, also known as the Holocaust Memorial.
Growing up in a south-east Asian country with our own brutal history of Spanish, Japanese and American occupation and its own account of World War II destruction has somehow blurred my perception of the Holocaust. Learning about it in class is one thing, but visiting actual memorials and seeing first-hand reminders of it has allowed me to gain a whole new level of understanding.
At first glance, the memorial site is covered with rows and rows of concrete slabs in a grid pattern. Straight away, it wasn’t visually stunning. But it soon reminded me of a graveyard as we’ve spent more and more time around the site. Based on Eisenman’s project text, “the stelae in the memorial are designed to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere, and the whole sculpture aims to represent a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason.”
After the World War, divisions and disagreements persistently remained in the country, leading to the creation of the Berlin Wall. Constructed by the German Democratic Republic in August 1961, the Wall completely cut off West Berlin from the East. At present, there are several sites in the city where the Wall serves as a reminder of the past.
The Topography of Terror, sited where the headquarters of the Gestapo and the SS were, is now an indoor and outdoor museum where preserved sections of the Berlin Wall and images and accounts of the past years can be seen.
Another site where remnants of the Wall can be found is in Bernauer Strasse. Longer sections of the Wall and metal bars mark where the East and West were previously divided are situated here, together with markers of victims’ images, has turned the area into a memorial park.
And finally, standing as an international memorial for freedom, this long section of the Berlin Wall consisting of 105 paintings of artists from all over the world is now known as the East Side Gallery. Possibly the longest open-air gallery, the paintings found here depict change and express the artists’ hopes for a better future, where people are free and without boundaries.
It is difficult not to appreciate the fact that the city of Berlin, with its government and its people, did their part in preserving remainders of the past and making it an integral part of the city. It is sad. It is sincere. It is enchanting and beautiful. And it was all real. Because of these memorials and preserved sites, the haunting past will always be real.
Will always be real. And never forgotten.