I was unsure of what Germany would be like not only in its historical presentation of WWII, but also in its language and culture in comparison to the United States. What I first noticed upon arrival in Berlin was how many people were fluent in English. It seems harder to find someone in the United States who is fluent in two or more languages, especially if they have lived in the United States their whole lives. Germans are also more straightforward, evident in interactions I had with them and also in the way they present their history. When we went to the German Historical Museum, which is the national museum for German history, the designers of the museum laid out very plainly how Hitler took control of Germany. As the museum weaves through the years before, during, and after WWII, it is much more factual than emotional. The German Historical Museum was also very different than other places we have visited because there was a stronger focus on what happened prior to the start of the war and after the war ended rather than actually during it. In the United States and in the other countries we visited as a class, there is more of an emphasis on the events in the war. Due to this focus within the German Historical Museum, I gained more detailed knowledge as a historian about how Germany as a country views and understands their own history before 1939 and after 1945. In most of the places we went in Berlin, the people who design the museums do not shy away or make excuses for the events of WWII and the deaths of millions of people at the hands of the Nazis. Even in the Topography of Terror Museum, which showcases how the Nazis executed their plans during their control, it provokes reactions but shares the information with little emotion, only to tell what actually happened. In one instance, a picture of laughing Nazi men and women had a caption that said they took a break from murdering people at one of the concentration camps to take the photo. The Topography of Terror Museum also had many photos that I had never seen before in classes I have taken about WWII, mostly the photos of lower-ranking Nazi men and women. This museum was very matter-of-fact in the way they acknowledge the roles of Germans in carrying out the murders of millions of people, identifying them clearly through their use of pictures and text to convey the history.
I was also unaware by how much Germany, particularly Berlin, ingrains WWII and its aftermath into their culture. In the United States, there are obviously memorials, museums, and statues commemorating WWII, but not to the same extent as there are in Berlin, and especially not to the same extent in looking at the aftermath. One of the biggest examples in Berlin of how culturally significant the war is in Berlin would be the markers and remnants of the Berlin Wall. Another example of how WWII still affects Germany is in the Reichstag Building. The Reichstag Building is where the German Parliament meets. On our tour of the building, our guide talked often of the efforts made to make everyone happy and equally represented, from the design of the building itself to the setup of the German Parliament. As a class we learned how WWII still affected the culture of the government. The guide explained that the president is now more like a figurehead and has a smaller role in the government. The Germans have organized their government to insure as much as they can that no one person will gain as much power as Hitler did again.