Berlin 3 – remnants of Hitler …. September 2014

On rereading this memoir I am surprised at how, unlike most things I write it is free of opinion, explicit or implied. It may be that there is so much factual material I want to record or it may be that the subject is so complex and large that I have refrained from playing superficially at the edges.

This panel in the Topography of Terror provides the context.

This panel in the Topography of Terror provides the context.

***************************************************************************

There is nothing left of the grand architectural vision Adolph Hitler and Albert Speer designed for their Germania/our Berlin except some lampposts along Strasse des 17 Juni. The ghost of Hitler himself is tightly lassoed. The very public icons of remembrance and reconciliation are the museums about the evil that was initiated by the Third Reich and the touching homages to the victims. Some of the shadows of the city’s history are to be found in memorials and museums I visited. At all the places below as at others, I was constantly impressed by the number of visitors and the quiet respect they showed for the evil acts to which they were bearing witness.

  • The Topography of Terrors – a museum built on the site of the old Gestapo and SS headquarters, which details both the perpetrators and the victims of their crimes. A visit here reduced me to tears. Not only are there the stories of individuals from all the persecuted minority groups but a picture of SS men and women enjoying Xmas in their party hats is a terrible counter-point. Much of the story is told in the ever present stark cardboard hangings
The Topography of Terrors on the site of the old Gestapo and SS HQ

The Topography of Terrors on the site of the old Gestapo and SS HQ

Former female guards in the first trail before a British military court of 45 of the SS camp personnel and Kapos from Bergen-Bergen camp.

Former female guards in the first trail before a British military court of 45 of the SS camp personnel and Kapos from Bergen-Bergen camp.

While the world knows that jews, homosexuals, and Jehovah's Witnesses were rounded by and sent to the camps, we are not so aware that the "work shy" also faced that fate.

While the world knows that Jews, homosexuals, the mentally ill and Jehovah’s Witnesses were rounded up and sent to the camps, we are not so aware that the “work shy” also faced that fate.

  • The Jewish Museum . This silvery zinc building details the history of Jewish people from Roman times until today and explores cultural and political themes often in minute detail.
One of the splendid architectural achievements of modern Berlin.

One of the splendid architectural achievements of modern Berlin.

  • The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. It takes a whole city block, 2711 stelae of different heights; land slightly undulating; sombre, yet at one stage I saw young children jumping from one to the other and thought  that maybe as a sign of their innocence it was OK. In one of the rooms under the memorial a brief biography about each of  the 6 million murdered, is being read. It is said that it takes 6 years to complete.
People walk silently through the memorialMost stelae tower above head height.

People walk silently through the memorial. Most stelae tower above head height.

A panel in the Topography of Terrors speaks of the seeming indifference of “ordinary” Germans to the treatment of the Jews, It speaks about  how the “mistakes” or “excesses” in the Nazi’s treatment of Jews  were seen as marginal in the context of the great political ‘events’ and the improvement in the social and economic lot of most citizens. These latter disposed people to view Hitler and his crowd’s treatment of the Jews with indifference. But there were exceptions……….

  • The Workshop of the Blind in Hackescher Hof was where Otto Weidt employed  a number of Jewish people in his brush making business and then hid them for as long as possible from the Nazis.
  • The German Resistance Museum- Again, we have the simple stories on cardboard of those individuals who did their best to stand up to the Nazis . In the courtyard is a tribute sculpture to the military men who tried unsuccessfully in the Valkyrie operation to bring about Hitler’s downfall.
The memorial on the sport where the military men charged with the assassination plot against Hilter, were shot.

The memorial on the spot where the military men charged with the assassination plot against Hilter, were shot.

A small sign in this museum to those who tried to stand against the Nazis.

A small sign in this museum to those who tried to stand against the Nazis.

Goring’s grand old Luftwaffe HQ from where he directed the Battle of Britain, inter alia has been put to a more practical use. It is now the department of finance managing the national tax.

Once Goring's Luftwafee HQ, now tax is collected here and during the Cold war it was incorporated into the Wall.

Once Goring’s Luftwafee HQ, now tax is collected here and during the Cold war it was incorporated into the Wall.

Around town there are other smaller remnants of the Third Reich:

  • A small memorial to students who tried to start an anti Nazi demonstration stands near the Lustgarten
  • Small brass plaques are embedded in the paving in the old Jewish quarter with the names of the Jews who were taken away. In 1933, the Berlin Jewish population was 163,000 or 0.77% of the city’s population.
Brass plaques in the cobblestones stand as reminders outside the homes where murdered jews lived.

Brass plaques in the cobblestones stand as reminders outside the homes where murdered jews lived.

  • Outside an Wittenbergplatz railway station is a sign that lists the names of all the concentration camps where Jews departing from this central point were taken
Yet another simple, stark reminder in a central area.

Yet another simple, stark reminder in a central area.

  • In Bebelplatz, opposite the grand library of Humbolt university a glass covered view of underground empty bookcases marks the spot where Nazi students burnt 20,000 books. Goebbels addressed the crowd of 40,000 before the fire.
Near this spot in front of the Opera renovation and opposite the university library, students fired up by the Nazis burnt books by Brecht, Mann and Marx. Under a glass pane  empty bookshelves are the reminder.

Near this spot in front of the Opera renovation and opposite the university library, students fired up by the Nazis burnt books by Brecht, Mann and Marx. Under a glass pane empty bookshelves are the reminder.

  • The broken spire of the bombed memorial church near the Zoo station and near Kurfurstendamm (the famed centre of West berlin during the Cold War) stands as a reminder of the Allied bombing.
  • Schinkel designed the neo Classical peace memorial on Unter den Linden for the Prussian court. The Nazis used it as a Hall of Fame for Heroes and now it is a memorial to the Victims of Fascism and Militarism. It houses only a pieta sculpture by the famed Kathy Kollwitz.
This is the pieta which sits in the peace memorial on Unter den Linden.

This is the pieta which sits in the peace memorial on Unter den Linden.

About 30 minutes outside Berlin on the edge of the  charming German village of Oranienburg is the former Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. I went there with a guided group. Nigel the guide was wonderfully knowledgeable.

The gates of the camp bear the slogan "work makes (you) free".

The gates of the camp bear the slogan “work makes (you) free”.

How in a simple travel aide memoire can one write about a place where such horrors occurred? Although nearly 30 years ago I visited Dachau, it perhaps wasn’t with the increased sensitivity of my now age.Suffice to say, at Sachsenhausen I was flattened and tearful.

Among the prisoners, there was a “hierarchy”: at the top, criminals (rapists, murderers), then Communists (red triangles), then homosexuals (pink triangles), Jehovah’s Witnesses (purple triangles), and Jews (yellow triangles).

This was the HQ of all the camps where many of the worst Commandants were trained for the 2000 other camps across 18 countries. Here industries included making bricks for Speer’s version of the new Germania, sorting glasses and teeth from other camps and testing army boots by excrusiatingly running all day until you dropped to test every possible circumstance.

Women were prostituted and if pregnant, their babies killed. Medical experimentation occurred.

Over 200,00 enemies of the Reich were imprisoned here from 1936; in 1941, 10,000 Soviet prisioners were brought here to be killed and the Soviets kept it operating for the first 10 years of their occupation when 12,000 people died here. At the end of the war  in the death marches when prisoners were taken into the countryside by the failing regime, 35,000 were taken from Sachsenhausen and only 6000 survived. In one of those sad ironies, the adjoining training camps used by the Third Reich are now the Berlin police training camps.

The memorial at Schachenhausen

The memorial at Sachsenhausen

My final Nazi era memory is of the carpark and adjoining road near the form administrative offices of the Reich. This very bland and almost unkempt precinct now covers the bunker where Hitler, Goebbels and their loved ones died. There is no sign, no acknowledgement. The “Feuhrer’s” personal memory has been fittingly supressed by the ordinariness of the place.

Hitler's bunker was under  a carpark here - no sign, no acknowledgement. Fitting.

Hitler’s bunker was under a carpark here – no sign, no acknowledgement. Fitting.

Leave a comment

Filed under MUSINGS, TRAVEL

Berlin 2 – unscrambling the city….September 2014

Berlin leaves my head a kaleidoscope of dizzying experiences and thoughts . For some reason I think of filo pastry – fine layer upon layer of history, of human folly and of cultural aspiration. The chronological layers are clear yet their impact on the urban fabric is like a spoon has stirred the strudel’s  cherry filling. Within one square kilometre around Unter den Linden are major historical footprints:

  • the Prussian grand precinct with the Humboldt University buildings and State Library, Museum Island and the old palace now being rebuilt;
  • the old Third Reich Luftwaffe building ironically now the tax office;
  • the early Prussian Brandenburg Gate in the  Pariser Platz,  framed by the now rebuilt Deutsche Bank, the Adlon Hotel and the American Embassy ;
  • the new glass architecture of the parliamentary precinct.
Berliner Dom, the royal court cathedral  built in 1905 stands by the River Spree,

Berliner Dom, the royal court cathedral built in 1905 stands by the River Spree,

Altes Museum, one of the many neo Classical buildings designed by KF Schinkler, used to be draped in Nazi flags when  Hitler spoke to the crowds in the Lustgarten from here.

Altes Museum, one of the many neo Classical buildings designed by KF Schinkler, used to be draped in Nazi flags when Hitler spoke to the crowds in the Lustgarten from here.

How could you go to Berlin and not have your photo taken at twilight by the Brandenburg gate?

How could you go to Berlin and not have your photo taken at twilight by the Brandenburg Gate?

The city surface is like a marbled cake  – here some Prussian grandeur, there some remnant communist building not the least of which is their showpiece TV Tower on Alexanderplatz, over there a monument to the murdered Jews of the holocaust and finally some standout modern architecture. And most of it , including the restoration of the Prussian palaces,  built in the last 70 years since 70% of the city was bombed.

Scattered throughout are the dozens of museum and galleries to every aspect of past and present life.

Part of a large communist era mural adorning the old Luftwaffe building.

Part of a large communist era mural adorning the old Luftwaffe building.

Part of the Sony Centre at Potsdamer Platz. The Wall ran right though here and destruction was rife; it left a blank canvas for some great modern architecture and a wonderful arts precinct.

Part of the Sony Centre at Potsdamer Platz. The Wall ran right through here and destruction was rife; it left a blank canvas for some great modern architecture and a wonderful arts precinct.

This is a city central to World War 2, the epicentre of the Cold War and now capital of a country leading much of the world in free education, renewable energy and support to other nations. The city in its many museums and memorials resonates with thousands of showcased stories (often retold on large cardboard placards) about both the perpetrators and the victims of its history. This is reconciliation on a large public scale.

Here taking up a city block are theField of Stelae or the Holocaust Memorial.

Here taking up a city block are the  labyrinth Field of Stelae or the Holocaust Memorial. Underneath in one room short biographies of the 6 million Jewish people killed in Hitler’s war are read out. To read them all takes 7 years.

One small reason I came to Berlin was my own struggle to understand “man’s inhumanity”. On a much smaller scale in my own country the majority of people are seemingly unmoved by the government’s treatment of asylum seekers, and the awful life suffered by many Aboriginal people passes mostly unremarked. I came to touch the surface of how the German people, who remind me much of Australians, seemed to be compliant during the years from 1933, ignore the persecution of the enemies of the Reich, the unbridled fascism and later the unbridled power of the Stasi.

In many memorial museums simple cardboard placards record history.

In many memorial museums stark cardboard placards record history, mostly in the form of individual stories.

The answer too seems to be a marble cake of reasons – simplistically, the chaos of the Weimar Republic, the desire for improved economic conditions, the impetus to recover face from WW1, the pervasive rhetoric, the fear of  the Gestapo and later the Stasi, and maybe that innate respect for authority manifested daily in the fact that still no German seems prepared to cross the road without a green light. Anyway I leave with books to read to help clarify the mind.

I am captured by a city where so many visible statements of the past are treated with quiet respect, where the arts are central, where alternative Berlin still lingers and at the same time young people say it is party central.

In the blogs that follow, I now know how I shall slice the layers:

  • The Third Reich
  • The Cold War
  • Art and archeology: formal and on the street
  • The new architecture
  • Alternative Berlin and street sights

They used to say New York was where the future came to rehearse. I think Berlin is where the future is being created, where everything old is new again and much that is old is actually new and there is striving to do it well.

Leave a comment

Filed under MUSINGS, TRAVEL

Berlin 1 – superficial observations…… September 2014

Berlin captured me. Its history, its honesty, its energy, its architecture – two weeks later I am still struggling to order the rich and resonant cacophony of images and thoughts, remnants of my few weeks there.

The next blogs will be an attempt at such order but first I want to list some of the superficial impressions – to clear the mental decks.

• This is a city being continuously reconstructed, not just through history but actually. Cranes abound.

A city under re-construction for at least 70 years.

A city under re-construction for at least 70 years.

• Because it is built on swampy soil, Berlin is a relatively low rise city and surprisingly green.

Here' a built in trampoline in one of the many open spaces.

Here is a built in trampoline in one of the many open spaces.

• It is a city of illusions, not just of historic ideas but actually. Inside the seemingly historic buildings everything old is new again. They kept the frames but updated the paintings inside.

From the outside theBundestag looks like its old self but Sir Norman Fosters internal design shows the view of the surprisingly modest Chamber from the glass dome.

From the front the Bundestag (the Parliament building) looks like its old self but Sir Norman Foster’s internal design shows the view of the surprisingly modest Chamber from the glass dome.

• Berliners are superficially abrupt but given a few days, have bright smiles. They remind you of your manners with a strong “Morgan”.

• Everybody seems to be eating large servings of great creamy cake yet few overweight people are around.

• Young berlin boys have the best range of carefully coiffured hair I have ever seen.

• Bike riders are well catered for and you had better look out if you stray into one of the many footpath bike paths.

• There is a stunning public transport system and after 2 weeks even I could change lines with some confidence. Conversely traffic is amazingly light given this is a city of 3.5 million people – but then again I am comparing it to the unacceptably heavy situation in Sydney

Light, airy, well organised the main rail station has much to be envious of.

Light, airy, well organised, the main rail station has much to be envious of.

• Accessibility is helped by the large number of people who speak English.

But sometimes Andie, Maja and Tom had to consult a map.

But sometimes Andie, Maja and Tom had to consult a map.

• While the streetscape is mostly post-war crisp, cigarette butts adorn the pavements.

• People drink beer in the streets and on the trains yet I never saw a drunk. Part of the response to the oppression of history has been to turn from the nanny state – bike helmets are not worn; there aren’t rules about alcohol in the streets, nor are there any CCTVs and it all seems to work.

Enjoying a beer on the train

Enjoying a beer on the train

• Neighbourhoods outside of Mitte (the centre) each have their own character although gentrification is closing in on much of the alternative areas.

Old squat, smart neighbourhood, it may not last long.

Old squat, smart neighbourhood, it may not last long.

• Exhortations in unlikely places – on foundations and footpaths, as well as street art street art, remind you that this is a city of culture.

The stone base for this blue pipe has one of many  quotes from the famous. The blue pipes are a fixture constantly draining the swampy land on which the buildings sit.

The stone base for this blue pipe has one of many quotes from the famous. The blue pipes are a fixture constantly draining the swampy land on which the buildings sit. The quote from the philosopher translates as “the limits of language are the limits of the world”

• Department stores have not taken over given the range and number of small boutiques although the for hall in the big KaDeWe is the best I have seen.

The chocolatier in was KaDeWe. He got a bit sue after I had been given my third free truffle.

The chocolatier in KaDeWe. He got a bit sus after I had collected my third free truffle.

• Under the city I see, I know there are other Berlins invisible to me – club central is one, high culture another and I suspect, history and European politics has left more than the usual number of distressed people.

Leave a comment

Filed under TRAVEL