Berlin has been…..a city that divides opinion, almost literally. Even now, close to 25 years after the fall of the wall, one can still see the remnants of a city that once was divided and suffered from very different world views, even the architecture differs from the former east and west. But the greatest treat has been to be escorted around the city by Stevie, a wonderful woman who has experienced this divide first-hand. Her stories about what life was like in this divided city are miraculous and she truly offers us the chance to experience inter-generational learning, which is something I think many of my generation do not take advantage of near enough. I quite enjoyed her story about the lengths she went to discuss important topics with her friend who lived in east Berlin, and how they always went outside to discuss important matters, or discussed them in her friend’s bathroom with the shower running full blast in order to muffle their voices. It really shows what it was like to live in this city during such divided times, and we were able to experience that through her. For that I am eternally grateful to her.
Now on to a tougher, more solemn topic: The Holocaust. There is an awareness that you see and feel in this city concerning the atrocities committed during the Third Reich. Outside of the hotel there are small bronze plaques that commemorate Jewish citizens that lived in the same neighborhood and lost their lives in concentration camps. It is a powerful and emotional thing to see. Even more powerful is the Holocaust museum located underneath the memorial close to the center of the city. I have been to the Holocaust museum in Washington D.C., and I hade believed that I was emotionally ready to experience the atrocities once again, but Berlin’s museum made the experience more personal. Inside the museum were biographies of individual families as well as individuals that had been removed from their homes and murdered. It made the Holocaust more than a set of statistics for me. I remarked after leaving the museum that I had hoped I would not have nightmares that night, such was the effect of the museum.
All of this was exacerbated by the fact that we visited the Wannsee museum the day before. The Wannsee House was the location of the Wannsee Conference, which was convened by the Nazi party to specifically address the “Jewish Problem,” and how, logically, they were going to be able to deal with liquidation of 11 million Jews. There are no words to describe what it felt like to be in a place where some of the most sinister men history has ever seen signed away the lives of 11 million people without remorse. It took simply a scribble on paper to turn violent prejudice into full genocide.
It truly has been an emotional experience.