As you wander through this amazing city which endured the ravages and upheavals of the 20th century far more viscerally than most, you’re never more than a few hundred meters from a memorial standing silently sentinel over some important part of Berlin’s history.
All are unique, individual in expression, yet united by a common goal – to seek to remind us historically, physically, psychologically, and emotionally, of some facet of history that we should always endeavour to remember and honour in our thoughts.
From the dark, oppressive, haunting desolation of the Holocaust Memorial to the individual White Crosses in honour of those who died desperately trying to reach the safety of the West; from the unapologetic, tasteless, bombastic militarism of the Soviet War Memorial to the rightly triumphant symbolism of the Berlin Airlift Memorial; from the bleak, painful starkness of the Tiergarten Homosexual Memorial to the understated elegance and simple power of the Pink Memorial in Nollendorfplatz, all these monuments speak of the important lessons history has to teach us, and act as a stern reminder of all that can go horribly wrong if we fail to learn from our mistakes.
The Memorial to the Sinti and Roma Victims of National Socialism, just a stone’s throw from the Bundestag (Germany’s seat of Government) moved me greatly, a beautiful and elegiac reminder of an often overlooked holocaust.
On the other side of the Bundestag, tucked away in a corner where most tourists don’t even notice it, stands a wonderfully positive fragment of history. A gift from Poland to the German Government, it is a section of the Gdansk shipyard wall which Lech Wałęsa scaled to organise the strike which would lead to the founding of Solidarity, the first independent trade union of the Soviet Bloc. Who knew then that such an act would eventually lead to the downfall of communism in Eastern Europe?
Naturally, the place I returned to visit the most was the Holocaust Memorial, or the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe to give it its proper title. Standing on the site of the former administrative centre of the Nazi regime, and, in more recent years, where the death strip of the Berlin Wall ripped through the heart of the city, this extraordinary monument consists of 2711 concrete blocks of varying height laid out in a grid formation to create a disturbing, distressing man-made labyrinth in the heart of Berlin. As one moves deeper into the memorial, the monolithic blocks rise up around you, higher and higher, until eventually you almost feel as if you are trapped in a grave, looking up and out to the distant sky above, a claustrophobic, disquieting, and deeply upsetting sensation which loses none of its potency no matter how often one revisits.
It stands as a fitting, and timely, reminder that never again may mankind stand idly by and allow evil to gorge itself upon the innocent.