Rebuilding and Remembering

We have had a very unique opportunity to compare how different countries present and memorialize their own national history. Traveling from London to France to Poland to finally ending our excursion in Germany, we have grown beyond simply taking in knowledge and began to criticize and compare how a nation grapples with their own – often complicated, morbid, and cruel – history when the eyes of the world are watching.

I found Berlin’s presentation their World War II involvement especially unique. The city is a cultural mecca of music, art, and history, whose most recent decades are characterized by the Berlin wall’s separation of Germany. However, unlike many nations we have seen, Berlin has not swept aside their past, but embraced it as they created and rebuilt the city after the war. The city is distinctly modern in its architecture; however, its WWII and Cold War past are still apparent and noticeably reminiscent. Berlin, above all, has gone further than any other city we have visited to keep national memory at the forefront of its architecture, culture, and politics.

The Bundestag tour we went on showcased this concept prominently. The parliamentary building acts more as a museum than a government building. Our tour guide pointed out how the space is drenched in purposeful symbolism following its reconstruction – the placement of the public viewers above parliament members, the transparency of the dome on top, the juxtaposition of the old Reichstag’s architectural style and the modern art that currently hangs on the walls. Instead of erasing the nation’s more shameful memories, the building memorializes its past and uses these physical features as an opportunity to remember. The names of Soviet soldiers who stormed the Reichstag are preserved along one hallway in the Bundestag and the original architecture commemorating Germany’s three emperors is kept lining the stone arch entryway.

Soviet soldiers’ names inscribed on a wall from the storming of the Reichstag in May 1945.

Seeing the Bundestag from the public’s point of view. The chairs are a specially made blue color that no German party is allowed to use as their own.












This building is, in many ways, emblematic of what it feels like to walk around Berlin; the city itself is a living testament to the nation’s past. The presence of the wall and division between East and West Berlin is unavoidable. While there is a central museum hub, many museums are outside these boundaries and littered throughout the city making surprise and unintentional run-ins with history inevitable while walking through Berlin. The Topography of Terror Museum and the Resistance Museum are deliberately placed where the SS and Wehrmacht Headquarters once stood. The city’s integration of its history into the natural landscape reminds visitors and locals alike that national memory is not an afterthought.

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