Berlin is one of the most historic sites in regards to World War II as well as one of the most well-known cities in Europe, so I was extremely excited about the opportunity to see it in person. Walking throughout Berlin was very interesting. Compared to places like London and Paris, it didn’t feel as city-like; it almost felt more like walking through suburbs. Sure there were subway stations, but there weren’t too many sky-scrapers and the streets were not nearly as crowded relatively speaking. As far as the food went though, I was more than pleased. There were bratwurst stands everywhere and the German doners were pretty amazing themselves.
But one of the other big parts of Berlin was its history from World War II and the Berlin Wall that was littered all over the city. There seemed to be signs with pictures and information at almost every historic site, regardless of what was left from it. There were numerous signs about the Berlin Wall and its history in certain areas. Some places had remnants of the Wall left, like by the Topography of Terror museum, while other areas had bricks laid down across the sidewalks and streets to show exactly where the wall ran across.
As far as World War II goes, there were some small plaques on the sidewalks to show where Jews were taken from their homes to be killed during the Nazi era. They also had a sign at what was formerly the Fuhrer Bunker, which laid out information about the Bunker and its history during World War II. It was very weird to see signs showing how the Bunker was right underneath what is now currently a parking lot and a hotel. Interestingly, the museums weren’t much different. Many of the other museums we have seen on the trip seemed to have a lot of artifacts from World War II and told a bit of a history about their involvement in the war, but you could always see a bit of the nationalism in their telling of the history as well. The French museums, for example, placed a strong emphasis on Charles de Gaulle trying to mobilize a resistance and seemed to downplay Petain and Vichy’s government as more of “a few bad apples.” Meanwhile we know that the French resistance wasn’t really big enough to make a strong impact on the war as a whole and the Vichy government garnered a lot more support than they made it seem like, and they collaborated with the Nazis much more than they needed to. Germany, meanwhile, seemed to at least try and take a much more objective approach at the war. Granted they definitely wanted you to believe what they were telling you, it was mostly just reading signs with statistics and facts from the war. We saw this in every museum we went to. They were mostly placed at historic sites, but their content was all presented the same way with just a different aspect of the war that they focused on.
Seeing the way that Berlin, and all of these countries presented World War II differently definitely has made me begin to question my own views on it and we are presented history in the United States. In the U.S., we are taught that the U.S. played a very heroic part in the war and that we were definitely the good guys and essentially saviors of Europe. But perhaps we need to question how we present World War II and the Holocaust ourselves as after all, history is always written by the victors.