Thinking about World War II from a modern-day German’s perspective is certainly complicated. How do you go about studying such a painful chapter in your country’s history? Throughout the museums and monuments I visited in Germany, it was clear that Germans take responsibility for the war. The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is one of many examples of remembering the Holocaust and acknowledging the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime. Small “stumbling stones” along sidewalks and streets mark the locations of Jewish victims’ homes prior to the Holocaust and collectively may be more significant than any giant monument or museum. Other museums such as the Topography of Terror and the German Historical Museum explain how the Nazis consolidated power and launched Germany into war. They seem to serve as reminders of what can happen when civil liberties are suppressed, and dissent is punished. Additionally, the museums are not hesitant to admit the widespread support for the German war effort or the quest for dominance over Europe. Still, they honor those who spoke out against Nazism and defied Hitler; people like Claus von Stauffenberg and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
The Reichstag building is the perfect representation of modern Germany. The chamber was not the home of democracy for nearly six decades and architecturally it does look like there is a sixty-year gap between the old and the new. From the outside, it is an old building with a long history. The interior, however, represents the future of Germany; with fresh looking blue chairs and a spiraling dome that rises above Berlin, it is an architectural marvel. The Wannsee House, where the Final Solution was finalized, was one of the more memorable sites I visited. The house is gorgeous, surrounded by gardens and looking out over the lake. It is hard to miss the irony while walking on the grounds. How could such a beautiful place be most known for one of the most wicked conferences ever held? It is also fitting that Hitler’s bunker, where he spent most of his final months in Berlin, is now a parking lot. A large sign describes the significance of the location where he committed suicide, but otherwise, you could drive by without having any idea.
Overall, Berlin taught me a lot about Germany both in the mid-20th century and today. Fortunately, after nearly fifty years of division following the end of the war, Germany has come together over the past three decades and become a world power once again. I believe the rest of the world can learn a lot from the way the Germans remember their past and how they prepare for the future.