Reminders of Aggression for Progress

As one walks through the streets of Berlin, the bullet holes marring the facades of buildings are unmistakable. The

Ruins of Anhalter Bahnhof Station

craters in the surfaces speak to the intensity of the battle waged to end Nazi terror nearly eighty years ago. The Germans could easily repair these walls. Yet leaving the bullet holes as a reminder of the past may be helping to repair something even more important: a democratic German society.

Ruins of Kaiser Wilhelm Church

This past semester, I learned that Germany has made great strides in addressing its violent, fascistic past. I didn’t fully understand this claim until spending a week in Berlin. Ruins of bombed out buildings and train stations occupy valuable real estate in the city, but their preservation reminds Berliners of the deadly consequences of Nazi aggression and total war.

Photo of Auschwitz Birkenau in the Reichstag Building

The Reichstag building, the seat of the German federal parliament, showed me Germany’s confrontation with its troubled past most clearly. Four photos from Auschwitz-Birkenau greet visitors to the right of the front doors. As Germany’s statesmen and -women enter their parliament building, they see the great injustices carried out in their country on the basis of legislation created and decisions made within their government. Those with Germany’s future in their hands are not allowed to ignore their country’s history of antisemitism, oppression, and hate.

Soviet Etchings in the Reichstag Building

Around a corner, one finds the original walls of the Reichstag exposed to show the writings of Soviet soldiers made when the building was captured in early May 1945. These etchings remind government representatives of the complex role of the Soviets as both liberators and occupiers in the decades after the war. Germany’s decision to leave the Soviet etchings and the bullet holes in the Reichstag’s facade symbolizes the nation’s decision not to cover up its past. The Germans preserve fragments of World War II and the subsequent Cold War throughout Berlin to remind those who gaze upon them of the atrocities once inflicted by and on the German people, and to encourage a different path for the future.