Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Berlin’s Elephant in the Room

"Broken Chain" symbolizing broken east/west connection

Berlin is endlessly compelling…a city full of colour and energy, but you can’t honestly blog or talk about Berlin without mentioning its past. Especially today, October 3; the day that is celebrated nationally as “Tag der Deutschen Einheit” or German Unity Day. As much as Berlin has become a world city of 3.5 million people in addition to hords of tourists, it's still able to maintain lovely residential neighborhoods full of parks and gardens, with planters and flowers seemingly on every balcony, not to mention the wealth of cultural opportunities from music to theater to galleries to museums but …. not everything about Berlin is gorgeous.

The city wears the veil of a very dark history. Bullet holes still riddle the walls of old buildings. Others are derelict and abandoned, remnants from earlier times. Half-standing churches that were bombed, plaques (Stolpersterine) literally tripping stones in the sidewalk where Jews were torn from their homes and sent to concentration camps.There are monuments and memorials everywhere, not only from WWII and Berlin’s unique place in history during that time, but from previous wars and struggles, in fact 775 years worth.

In memory of Jewish family
In memory of some who died trying
When I wander the streets and ride the trams of Berlin I feel like I am traveling through a history textbook.  I’ve learned more and come to a far better understanding about the atrocities of war and of the struggles for freedom in one day on the streets here than any history book or class could ever teach me.

I have stood, with tears in my eyes, on the train platform from which my father literally ran for his life from on May 24, 1953 with the police just steps behind him. Had he been slower, or they faster…

I’ve visited the last remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall, now an international memorial for freedom, a number of times over the years and it never fails to move me. In my walks I frequently cover areas where the wall or the death-strip was. It’s fascinating to watch cars race over the brick path that laces around the city where the Berlin Wall once stood, where countless people lost their lives trying to escape. Most tourists might not realize what is under their feet, but maybe that’s ok…Berlin still struggles to move on and rebuild and has in fact become a world powerhouse…but at the same time still wants to honour those who fought for it…lest we forget.

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