Visiting Berlin is rough. Before 13:30 I hit the Berlin Wall Memorial, the memorial for murdered Gypsies, the memorial for the murdered Jews of Europe, Checkpoint Charlie, and Topography of Terror, a museum built on the site of the former Gestapo headquarters.
I took a break after that. I wasn’t feeling very good; mentally, emotionally, physically. My feet hurt so I rode bus 100 in both directions, to the Siegessaule and then back to Alexanderplatz. I skipped the Berlin Dome when I found out it cost money. I walked past a used book stand outside the University but there was no Marx, no Engels, no Bloch, no Kafka, no Schopenhauer.
The sun was shining too brightly, and I simply cannot buy sunglasses again. I think I own a pair of sunglasses for every city I visit, because I forget to bring sunglasses to every city I visit.
The more interesting part of my day was this morning.
I took the S-Bahn to the Brandenburg Tor and was on my way to the Reichstag when I saw the memorial for gypsies murdered in the Holocaust; a mysteriously silent place despite its completely public location. The black reflecting pool, the jagged stepping stones, some labeled with the name of a concentration camp, the poem titled “Auschwitz.”
a broken heart
I didn’t even feel right taking pictures, but I wanted to remember that poem.
I turned around, this time heading deliberately for the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe. I wasn’t expecting what I found. A square full of rectangular grey stones, resembling tombs, each of different heights. Descending significantly toward the middle, so you could walk among the rows and suddenly be completely encased between these large grey slabs. I felt small and trapped. On the other side was a line of people waiting to enter the information center. I waited as well. When I was allowed down I gave up my backpack for inspection. I checked out the bookshop first, and was ashamed at my lack in ability to speak, read, or understand German. There were a lot of postcards with Kafka quotes on them but I didn’t want to buy one without knowing what it said. I did find a hilarious gift for Jake’s mom, though.
I walked through the museum. First, a chronology of the lives of Jewish people starting around the 1930’s and ending with 1945. I skimmed through the paragraphs explaining the ghettos and deportations in favor of the pictures of the families and shops.
The second room took a knife to my heart. Illuminated on the ground were scraps of letters, postcards, and diary entries written by Holocaust victims. They had translations for each and sometimes information about the person, if they died in a camp or survived the war. I was again crushed by sadness, and also crushed because I never felt such sadness. I read each and every note. Each a punch in the face.
I wasn’t alive when this genocide happened but plenty of genocides have happened during my lifetime. And what am I doing about it? Sitting in a cafe and writing about how useless I feel. I have not even mentioned the Berlin Wall Memorial, and how the air is heavier there, despite the school groups and tourists. It’s like walking through a time warp and under the weight of the people who perished.
The next room chronicled individual families in countries affected by the Nazis. The room after was a voiceover first in German and I’ll admit I didn’t wait around for the English version. The last room contained maps with the locations of the atrocities. I didn’t stay long after I finished looking at the maps.
I walked down Hannah Ardent Straße to the U6 and rode it two stops to Checkpoint Charlie. I took a few photos and bought a bowl of vegetable biryani covered in chickpea curry for 4.90€.
I walked past an old man with a red race and a huge gray mustache selling communist buttons and old army officer hats. Soon I made to Topography of Terror.
I noticed the Berlin Wall, still standing to my right, and to my left a desolate patch of Earth covered in gray stones with a walking path skirting in between. First I walked down the steps, to an area just in front of the wall but below ground level. The bricks in front of me were the remainder of the former Gestapo bunker in Berlin. Nothing stands out about the bricks. They are normal bricks, shaped in a way that would produce a normal room. The only information on the sign posts says that the light shafts were eventually covered up, as the SS feared an air raid. I heard the cars in a distant kind of way, even though I was still in the middle of a capital city. Otherwise I felt very alone and listened to the sound my sneakers made on the concrete.
The inside of the building is airy and spacious. The exhibit floats mid air on plaques hung from the ceiling. Again I am more interested in the pictures of faces. Himmler’s face stands out. I want to recognize that evil face.
I do a lot of reading about the inner workings of the Gestapo, the SS, and other German secret police operations. It’s disturbing and fascinating.
I wanted to take a photo of the image that displayed the different types of triangles that Jews, homosexuals, communists, gypsies, and others had to wear but I get nervous that people will think I am weird for taking a photograph of that. Toward the end of the exhibit I am feeling very exhausted, both from being on my feet and from feeling the pressure of horrific history. I sit down for a while on a bench by the door before I walk outside and walk the length of the remaining Berlin Wall. I take a picture of two gratified words: