The German Collective Memory

Reichstag Building

The final leg of our journey landed us in Berlin, Germany after a seven-hour bus ride. Immediately after arrival, our group rushed to the Reichstag, which houses the German Bundestag. Based on what I understood from our tour guide, this functions as their parliament. During active sessions, the chairman, government, Bundestag,and Bundesrat meet to debate laws. The system functions similarly to our government, but the presence of the Bundesrat allows for the local governments to have more say in the functioning of the state. The site itself is full of history, still bearing the marks of the Soviet capture of Berlin. Our guide dispelled an incorrect assumption I’d made—Hitler didn’t use the Reichstag to conduct government business. Today, the government building is a monument to the balance of government power and tolerance. There is even a room for meditation designed as a nondenominational place of worship or simply a place to contemplate or escape from the hectic environment of a session. This is a clear message about German intentions to never again let something like this happen.

Section of the Berlin Wall, a physical manifestation of the Iron Curtain

The memorials we visited often looked to the heroes of the Resistance in Germany, which came far and few between. However, it is also worth noting that these attempts at honoring those who were cut down by the Nazi regime also have their flaws erased from the collective memory. In the case of Von Stauffenberg, he is recognized as a hero. But even if he had succeeded in his attempt to assassinate Hitler, he and his associates hoped to sue for peace with the Western Allies and continue the war in the east against Russia. The various German museums, including the Wannsee House and the German Historical Museum, look much more critically at the actions of the Nazi party. The Wannsee House does bear an internationalist message, placing much of the blame for the Final Solution on Hitler instead of acknowledging the actions of not only his subordinates but the action or lack thereof among the German people.

The Topography of Terror Museum sits on the site of the former Gestapo headquarters that was destroyed during the bombing of Berlin as the war came to a close. Throughout the Soviet occupation of East Berlin, the ruins remained in what can be called a dead zone between the extension of the wall. When the iron curtain fell, the museum was built. But in 1996, the Berlin Senate voted to stop funding the museum. Based on information from the website, it is now a privately funded operation. This is a relatively new memorial, developed to symbolize a unified city for the first time since World War II. It demonstrated the difficulty of the German citizens who must balance accepting responsibility for the actions of their country and individuals who acted or chose not to act while not glorifying the Nazi party and its soldiers. It also demonstrates an attempt to rebuild a national identity that distances the German people from the actions of the Nazis and move forward as a peaceful nation.


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