Building Back Berlin: A Comrade’s View of German Remembrance – An Interpretive Blog

As we have moved through our journey, I have kept a keen eye on how countries approach all aspects of their war experience, especially regarding resistance and rejection of Nazi ideology. I was most worried about what Germany might look like, unsure what the national approach to recognizing and destroying Nazi ideology was. Yet, at almost every museum, memorial, and even street corners, I was not only impressed but inspired by how Germany faces its history head-on. A chunk of downtown Berlin held a massive architectural memorial for Jewish victims of the violence in Europe – one that a passerby cannot ignore. The memorial is abstract and interactive in simplistic ways and promotes discussion about the terrors of war and the Third Reich. Nearby a university had an underground display commemorating how Nazi’s burned books, and embedded in sidewalks were “Stolpersteine,” brass bricks that denote locations where victims of deportations – mostly Jews – lived, worked, and studied before their lives were turned upside down. I enjoyed learning that many of these memorials are less about tourism but more about reminding German citizens to acknowledge the past of their nation and possibly family. Museums like the Topography of Terror and the Anne Frank Zentrum outlined not only the organization of the perpetrators but also the experiences of the victims, a duality that is necessary when discussing World War Two. It became clear to me that Germany works actively to avoid repeating the past.

Yet, a nation is made up of many individuals, and collective memory is difficult to establish. I was reminded of this in the Berlin Zoo, where I found myself climbing a tower in the playground. Judge me if you want – this was a phenomenal playground. I turned around in the complex and noticed a thick swastika half drawn, half carved into the wall, accompanied by a legible signature. It was clear to me that while German policies and law are very clear in their response to their past, a less promising set of ideas still exists within society. In this way formalities only go so far in conquering bigotry and, in this case, shaping a uniform opinion of the Nazi regime. Grateful that I had my tote bag with me, I grabbed my pen and turned the swastika into a window. Maybe one less swastika is an insignificant change, or maybe it’s a big deal. I’m not sure. What I do know, however, is that there’s one less opportunity for wicked symbolism to ignite hatred within children or otherwise, and I consider that a win.