Berlin and its Monuments: With the past lost, only the future remains

Tourists in the midst of sightseeing are often awed by the towers, columns, and memorials that help them remember the heroes or inspiring events of a country’s past. In London, stepping into Trafalgar Square, one immediately has a sense of the power of the British Empire. This great open space is the center of the city and the site of art exhibits and demonstrations. However, it commemorates the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 when an outnumbered Royal Navy, led by Admiral Lord Nelson aboard the HMS Victory, defeated French and Spanish ships off the coast of Spain. The combined French and Spanish fleet lost twenty-two ships while the British did not lose a single one. This victory confirmed British naval supremacy and highlighted Nelson’s innovative approach to engaging the enemy. Lord Nelson was fatally wounded during the battle and is one of Britain’s greatest war heroes.
Trafalgar Square
​In Paris, the Eiffel Tower is a commemoration of French innovation. As it glistens with light at dusk, the entire city joins the show and lives up to its name—the City of Light. The grandeur of French history and Napoleon’s power are on display at every turn. The Arch of Triumph, the Champs Elysees, and the Place de Concorde are all clear reminders of the glory of France.
Eiffel Tower

Les Invalides
​Here in Berlin, German history and its memorials are entangled with the legacy of fascism. There are monuments to its wars and its colonial empire, but they have been relocated and muted. The Victory Column rises above the Tiergarten Park with large bronze images of Prussian military leaders without identification. A huge statue of Otto Von Bismarck marches beside Atlas holding the world and Siegfried making a sword in celebration of Germany’s industrial might. There is also a model of Germania overpowering a panther and a goddess reading the book of history, but it is located in a park, not a city square. Now that the events of the world wars are past, these proud symbols seem out of place.
Otto Von Bismark-Versailles
Monuments in all cities are meant to boost national pride and predict a glorious future. In Berlin, the glory of these nineteenth century memorials must be measured against the realities of the twentieth century events. Ironically, the Victory Column and the monument to Bismarck were moved by Hitler from their places in front of the Reichstag to make space for another monument that was never completed. Hitler meant to recreate German society in a totalitarian environment, so the memorials of the past were defaced and repurposed. Today, there are large empty areas in the city center. Hitler had planned large scale buildings that were never finished as he turned all his resources toward war. He and his designers even tested construction sites to see if the huge buildings that he had in mind could stand on Berlin’s soft earth, but experiments proved that the ground would not bear the weight of the architecture.
​Hitler’s chief architect was Albert Speer, and one of his most elaborate designs for Berlin was the Tempelhof Airport. It was part of his plans for Berlin to be a new capital of Europe named Germania. Like many of Hitler’s plans, most of it was unfinished until after the war. During the war, the building was used for manufacturing arms. The design had a dramatic amphitheater with long, black spaces, gates, and places for flags. Hitler thought that all buildings should remind people of the great times of history, but many of their buildings, like the concentration camps, only remind us of the terror and hate of the Nazis. Many of Hitler’s buildings have been repurposed, but most have been destroyed. Today, the only monument at the airport is a memorial to the Berlin airlift that saved the people of Berlin during the Soviet blockade.

Berlin’s grandest memorials are in East Berlin where the Russians took control. The Fernsehturm, or Berlin TV Tower, is one example. It was constructed in 1965 as a symbol of Berlin and it is visible from most parts of the city. It is the tallest structure in Germany. The Russians also constructed an enormous war memorial over the bodies of Russian soldiers who died during World War II. They used thousands of German workers to memorialize the sacrifices of Russians. The monument is more about the human cost of war than a celebration of victory.
Brandenburg Gate
One of the most striking memorials in the former West Berlin is the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche, a church that was hit in an air-raid and left as a memory of the suffering of war. After the war, Germany struggled with ways to remember this historical period. They made laws against using Nazi symbols, and even the use of the German flag was troubling. There is no memorial in the city center for the Germans who died in the two world wars. It is as though monuments are only raised when a country is victorious. The memorials that do exist are hidden away in church cemeteries or in private spaces. There are only memorials for the victims of the Nazis such as solemn monuments expressing grief for the Holocaust and the emotion-filled concentration camps.
Checkpoint Charlie
​The Berlin Wall is neither a monument nor a memorial, but it is the most famous structure in the city. Churchill described it as an “iron curtain.” Like many of Berlin’s buildings, it was repurposed, used for graffiti, and finally demolished. Ironically, its symbolism endures. The city is still separated into east and west, though these are not points on the compass. Checkpoint Charlie is a major tourist attraction where actors pose as border guards. The pieces of the Wall that still remain are memorials to those who tried to escape over it. There are other strange memorials as well such as small mountains of debris from the war.
Section of Berlin Wall
Modern artists try to fill the void where Nazi projects failed or where war destroyed the past. The “Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe” near the Brandenburg Gate is one example. It has almost 3000 concrete slabs, one for every page of the Talmud, in a grid. They are set on a slope, but they all stand at right angles. The remarkable visual image is confusing and almost insane, like the ideas that created the Holocaust. Nowhere in the memorial are plaques or explanations. There is only a sense of loss.
Holocaust Memorial
​This sense of loss is a unique quality of Berlin that sets it apart from London or Paris. People are gone with no space to remember them. Buildings are gone leaving only an empty shell. The few heroes that remain are tucked away on side streets. In a city with a buried past, only the future seems to matter.

This sense of loss is a unique quality of Berlin that sets it apart from London or Paris. People are gone with no space to remember them. Buildings are gone leaving only an empty shell. The few heroes that remain are tucked away on side streets. In a city with a buried past, only the future seems to matter.

German Occupation

Spring and early summer in Paris are idyllic times. The Tuileries and Luxembourg Gardens ware filled with blooms.  Today, cafes are packed with tourists, and shoppers browse freely in the markets.  Strolling on the Champs Elysees or gliding down the Seine on a warm spring afternoon is our perfect way to relax. A day trip to Versailles or an outing to the Louvre is our perfect way to learn.
Dodging businessmen on the avenues or crowding into the Metro with noisy students in today’s world, it is difficult to imagine the fear of Parisians as they awoke to a very different environment on June 14, 1940. The sunny avenues echoed with German voices as loudspeakers proclaimed that a curfew would be in place beginning at 8:00 pm that evening.  German troops had entered and occupied Paris.
German soldiers supervising French soldiers which surrendered
In spite of the pleas of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, the French government asked for peace with the Germans.  Churchill predicted that the United States would enter the war and come to aid the French.  However, when French premier Paul Reynaud asked President Franklin Roosevelt for any help possible, Roosevelt promisedonly monetary assistance. The American government was not willing to make a formal public commitment.
Churchill and Roosevelt
The streets must have been very quiet, and the cafes filled only with whispers while the loudspeakers thundered the new order of the day. Two million Parisians hadalready left the city before the German tanks rolled in.  The Gestapo worked quickly as they arrested and interrogated those who gave any sign of resistance.  They hung an enormous swastika beneath the Arc de Triomphe.  Those Parisians who were left behind must have looked on the City of Lights with despair.
France surrenders in Treaty of Versailles train car
Paris had entered a nightmare of forced labor, repression, and Jewish deportation.  The German forced labor policy transferred thousands of French workers to work camps for the war effort.  At night, the patrols forced the citizens to turn off lights and close windows.  No one could go out.  The day was filled with regulations and propaganda.  Rather than the national anthem, French children sang to Marshal Philippe Petain of the new Vichy government.  The Gestapo established more than forty concentration camps in France.  As in many occupied regions, Jews had to follow restrictive rules such as wearing the yellow star and riding in the last car on the Metro.  French authorities, in collaboration with the Nazis, arrested approximately 75,000 Jews who were transported to Auschwitz and other death camps for execution.  To carry out reprisals against other civilians, the Nazis created an execution chamber in the cellar of the Ministry of Aviation building.  Many French citizens did more than necessary to appease the German occupation forces.
Hitler in Paris
However, many Frenchmen simply cooperated and tried to get along under Nazi rules.  Others resisted in small ways:  listening to the BBC or helping the Resistance with money.  Others quietly slipped out of the city to less visible parts of the country to avoid prison or deportation to Germany.  Those actively involved in the Resistance damaged railroad tracks, blew up bridges, and cut German communications.
Petain shaking hands with Adolf HtlerCharles De Gaulle on BBC Radio address to the French People
For the ordinary Parisian, deprivation was a fact of life.  As military pressure on German forces increased, getting food, fuel, or even firewood became more difficult.  The German troops took the lion’s share while the French lived on potatoes and bread. Cooking oil was unavailable, and three of every four animals slaughtered went to German forces. The famous French cuisine could not exist with the meager rations available, yet the restaurants opened for the few wealthy elite and German officers, many of whom lived with French families.

Today, the City of Light is brilliant, the streets crowded.  Rowdy students and tourists have only dawn as a curfew.  The vestiges of German occupation have been cleansed away, relegated to the walls of museums, or to the plaques of memorials to those who suffered those dark times.
Me and Rami on Eiffel TowerView from Eiffel Tower

Bayeux:William the Conqueror and D-Day

​One amazing sight in the French city of Bayeux, in Normandy, is the Bayeux Tapestry. Hundreds of knights on horseback, animals both real and mythical, sailing ships and woody forests, along with Latin inscriptions, march along this remarkably detailed embroidery of colored wool to depict scenes from the Norman Invasion of 1066. It shows William the Conqueror’s reasons for going to war, the preparations made for the crossing, and the Battle of Hastings in 1066 from a Norman perspective. The inspiration for the tapestry was likely Bishop Odo of Bayeux, William’s half-brother, who ordered the tapestry to celebrate both the Norman invasion of England and the completion of Odo’s cathedral. In addition to the historical details of war, the tapestry includes borders lined with scenes from Aesop’s Fables such as the fox and the crow. Scholars have debated the meaning of these scenes, and some suggest that the British embroiderers expressed their protest of Norman rule by including these stories of deceit and theft on the tapestry.
During the Middle Ages, the Normans ruled Bayeux because of the raids of their Viking ancestors. According to the Tapestry, Duke William was the official successor to Edward the Confessor, since Edward had no heirs and had spent 30 years in exile in Normandy. Harold Godwinson, Edward’s brother-in-law, broke his oath to Duke William, motivated by a lust for power and a desire to protect his kingdom from Norman domination. Regardless, Duke William invaded England and defeated Harold at Hastings after he was shot in the eye by an arrow. French became the language of the court, and Norman nobility became the new land- owning aristocracy of England. This important event changed the relationship between France and England forever.
Harold Godwinson shot in the eye-Battle of Hastingsimageimage
Normandy’s coast has been the site of many battles. Almost 900 years after 1066, on June 6,1944, the D-Day invasion brought Allied troops to these shores. Though the coastal towns endured heavy bombardment, Bayeux was amazingly spared from extensive damage. British troops and their American allies had come to liberate France. Just as the Bayeux Tapestry is a reminder of the wars of the Medieval era, Arromanches, part of the temporary ports that the English set up at Gold Beach after gaining a beachhead, is a reminder of the terrible sacrifice of the Allies who died in regaining French territory. Part of this mulberry harbor can still be seen in the ocean. Apparently, this logistical operation, like much of D-Day, was incredibly chaotic. Critical supplies were left aboard ships for many hours because of misplaced manifests, and supplies were brought on shore randomly.
Remains of Mulberry Harbor at ArromanchesArromanches HarborOriginal Mulberry Harbor
Caen, a major city and center of regional railroad networks, suffered the worst bombing. The Caen Memorial Museum documents the history of WWII through the end of the Cold War. Here there is further visual evidence of the suffering of the French people through four years of German occupation. While the French did not experience the bombing or mass casualties of the Russians on the Eastern Front, the country was still a broken nation. German authorities forced the French to work in their factories and ordered rationing on mass scale. Although Charles de Gaulle put forth the “myth of the resistance,” the claim that all French people, actively or passively, were involved in resistance against the Germans, the museum shows both collaborationists’ and resistance members’ arguments concerning German occupation.
Petain shaking hands with Adolf HtlerCharles De Gaulle on BBC Radio address to the French People
As an American, I am both humbled and proud to visit the American Cemetery that honors the sacrifice of American soldiers who were killed on D-Day and subsequently in the invasion of the continent. Almost 10,000 servicemen of the Army, Army-Air Corps, and Navy died. I walked solemnly through this cemetery, where our study group placed 13 flowers on Buckeye (Ohio State) graves. These members of our OSU family served their nation and the world at a moment when terror reigned. I found out that President Theodore Roosevelt’s son is buried there as well. He was the only general to lead the invasion of Utah Beach on the beach itself during the invasion.
imageimageAmerican Cemetery
Today, we can watch grainy newsreels of the Allies as they approached the beaches of Normandy under heavy fire from the German artillery that was dug in along the Norman shore and share the fear of those who leap from the boats onto the sand. Perhaps we have similar emotions as those who passed along the Bayeux Tapestry, watching the Battle of Hastings unfold in colored thread. Battles across the centuries keep our attention. Bayeux and the beaches of France hold the reminders of so many lives cut short as nations struggle for power.

London: Heart of Empire and Victorious City in WWII

Wether I walk in Trafalgar Square, The British Museum, Churchill War Rooms, Tower of London or the various memorials to men and women alike which have become immortal in British History such as the Duke of Wellington. I can’t help but see the reminders of the British Empire. The city of London for over 250 years was the capital of an empire that owned 1\3 of the world’s landmass. This empire was characterized best by the quote of “The Sun never sets on the British Empire”. Before WWII, The British Empire was at it’s largest extent due to acquiring German Colonies after ‘The Great War’. However this was to prove a hollow victory and despite territorial acquisitions, the end of WWI revealed a vulnerable empire. Despite defeating Germany in WWI, the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 and the rise of Adolf Hitler in 1933 as chancellor of Germany made another conflict inevitable.
Queen Victoria-Queen of England and Empress of IndiaKing George V-Royal Fusiliers Uniform
We learned in the Churchill War Rooms that in order to save Britain, Churchill had to accept the lend lease act even though this plunged Britain massively into debt and so this made Britain unable to retain the empire. I find Churchill is seen as a contrasting figure because while being a son of the empire, he realized that in order for Britain to ultimately triumph in WWII it would need the US and the Soviet Union to fight as allies against Nazi Germany. Especially during ‘The Blitz’ in which the city was devastated by German Bombers of the Luftwaffe. However Churchill and the British people endured and came out the other side of those dark times. I saw a photo at the War Rooms of Saint Paul’s Cathedral surrounded by burning buildings however the church was completely untouched, for the photographer this must’ve been a vision sent strait from hell but god in the end is ultimately triumphant.
Churchill-First Sea Lord
We will soon cross the channel which separates England from the continent and so I can’t help but think what the men of HMS Belfast looked out on the channel during D-Day. I have learned through my time on HMS Belfast how instrumental this heavy cruiser was in aiding Britain and the Soviet Union during WWII. This ship was responsible for running dangerous arctic convoys to Murmansk,Russia in temperatures reaching below -30, destroying Scharnhorst which was a german battle ship in the battle of north cape in 1943 and finally culminating during June 6, 1944 when Operation Overlord commenced to liberate France and the rest of Western Europe from Nazi Germany. This heavy cruiser and it’s crew should’ve had a movie done about it’s many accomplishments but like many untold heroes of WWII, this one must be seen to truly get a glimpse of what the British navy went through to guard Britain and defeat the German Navy.
Part 1 of HMS Belfastimage
Despite the loss of the British Empire after WWII. I see reminders not just in it’s monuments but in the people of London. This is truly a cosmopolitan city brought about due to the empire. I have seen Arabs from Iraq and Jordan, Africans from Sudan down to South Africa, Hindus and Sikhs from India, Chinese from Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong. London while evoking an imperial past can still be seen through modern eyes as a great city which story is still being written. While it’s hard today to understand what the British went through in those dark days when they stood alone against the might of Hitler’s Germany, I am proud to know that our nation came to aid Britain in WWII and liberated the continent from tyranny and oppression.
Me and Emily on River Thames