Berlin today is a city brimming with life, exhibited beautifully and youthfully in its many jazz venues and raucous nightclubs. The verve that this, one of Europe’s most fascinating capitals, presents on a daily basis is impressive, especially considering the sobering history of the past century. Walk through town and travelers will no doubt spot the bakeries, bars and shops that signal life goes on, but they’re also likely to stumble across one of the many monuments erected to acknowledge and cope with the suffering that has left an indelible mark on German lives.
Whole tours of Germany are sculpted around the premise of revisiting Berlin’s past. The corresponding monuments, ranging from the Sinti and Roma Memorial to the book-burning square of Bebelplatz, may elicit a range of emotions from their visitors. Some may reflect on their place in the world, or the atrocities of war. For others, those monuments are an educational opportunity. To others still, they are a place to dwell on personal experiences of loss, as generations of families remain indelibly affected by the events of World War II. Some of these sites may be hard to visit, but the experience can be cathartic, enlightening and ultimately rewarding.
The Holocaust Memorial
Sitting a stone’s throw away from the Brandenburg Gate and the heart of the city is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. This haunting and expansive site is comprised of thousands of rectilinear pillars of various heights, arranged in rows, so that people may walk in between them. These pillars, also known as steles, start out short, but as people weave their way through them, the ground begins to slope downward and visitors descend into an eerie forest of concrete. People are left to interpret their own meaning out of the experience, and the architect Peter Eisenmann, has left plenty to the imagination. The number of steles, their vaguely coffin-like shape and the experience of claustrophobia all contribute to a quiet symbolism of repression, horror and remembrance.
This site, right near the Unter den Linden boulevard, was where the Nazi book burning, which consumed approximately 20,000 texts, took place, according to Visit Berlin. There rests a seemingly prophetic plaque with a quote from Heinrich Heine, which reads: “That was only a prelude, there / where they burn books, / they burn in the end people.”
The Sinti and Roma Memorial
This tranquil area of Tiergarten park is meant to honor the Romany people, generally referred by the oft-derogatory term of gypsy. According to Visit Berlin, some 500,000 Sinti and Roma people were murdered during the Nazi regime. To keep their memory alive, a flower sits in the center of a pond atop a piece of triangular stone. As soon as the flower withers, the stone descends to reveal a new flower.
There are plenty of other sites worth seeing in Berlin, among them the Neue Wache, the parking lot that hides Hitler’s final resting place and, of course, the Berlin Wall, that symbol of division in Germany that continued to scar the city well after World War II concluded and the Cold War began.