Lessons from Berlin

03 January 2013

I've always loved history since I was little. Ancient history that is. The closer an event comes to present times, the less interesting I find it to be. Therefore, when it came time to study World War II in history class, I could hardly even feign interest. I let the facts float over my head and accepted my poor grades on tests. 

A building scarred by war
Fast forward and I'm standing in Berlin. Suddenly I'm surrounded by all these places mentioned in my history books that I let slip out of my memory. And, while it was easy for me to try to forget about these events before coming to Berlin, the German had to live on a day to day basis, remembering the atrocities their country had committed, constantly surrounded by memories of the past. It would have been easy to simply bulldoze all those memories- destroy them and cover them up with new buildings that didn't harbor such pain. But instead the Germans acknowledge their past.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe- This was the first of several monuments I visited while in Berlin. My guide introduced the site with only "Everyone experiences something different. I'll give you a few moments." Indeed, walking through these rows of blank, concrete pillars was an experience. Slowly the path way sinks down as the columns become taller and you feel a strange sensation of being engulfed by the monument.

Bebelplatz- Located between several cultural sites is the infamous plaza where the Nazi book burnings took place. To remember the event and acknowledge the loss, a memorial was installed underground which can be viewed through a glass plate. The memorial beneath is nothing but empty bookshelves, enough room for every book burned.

Memorial for the Victims of War and Tyranny- Just across the street from Bebelplatz you can find this memorial. Inside the building is a sole statue of a woman holding her dead son. Above her is a hole in the ceiling, exposing her to the weather. She endures the blazing sun and the freezing snow, symbolizing the suffering of victims. It is said that when it rains it looks like she's crying.

Parliament- When recreating their war torn government, the German people wanted to make sure that never again would they be pushed around by the government. This idea permeated the design choices when reconstructing their parliament building. On top of the classic building was added a large glass dome. Visitors are welcome to go on top of the parliament building and look inside at their law makers while at work. Quite literally they get to look over the shoulders of their representatives, ensuring that they are working for the people.

In all these monuments came the lesson that I learned from Berlin: don't forget your past or you will repeat it. Germany committed some horrible acts during World War II but instead of denying their past, covering it and smilingly warmly at tourists, they admit their faults. This acknowledgement is what enables them to move forward, strive to do better, and create a new era in German history. If we, as individuals, could only accept in ourselves our faults and failures of the past, maybe we too could move forward and be better people.

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