Das Ende

As we flew away from the Parisian skyline, our final destination loomed ahead. Berlin, the heart of the Third Reich and focal point of the Cold War. As with Paris, people gave me a less than favorable impression going into it with the city being referred to as, “ugly,” “Communist-blocesque,” or “just go to Munich instead.” Oh boy howdy did Berlin just shatter those misconceptions. I loved it, favorite city on the trip by far – it beats London simply because London was way too expensive (shout out to Greece for tanking the Euro). The culture, history, even food, were just fantastic. In addition, the monumental task of remembering the past is approached in an effective and brutally honest manner.

Approaching the wrongdoings and crimes of a society’s past is an incredibly difficult duty to preform. It’s oftentimes easy to distance oneself, thinking “I’ll never do anything like that; in that situation I would do the right thing.” While honorable, this mindset quickly dissolves in the social and political climate created by the Nazi’s. The museum the Topography of Terror showcases the their ability to maintain this atmosphere through the brutal use of the Gestapo and SS. Taking you through the rise of those organizations within the Nazi party to their ruthless and horrific tactics and finally the repercussions for those in charge, this museum spares no detail. It includes the murderous persecution of all political opposition plus the “undesirables” (Jews, Roma, homosexuals, etc.) and their large role within the Holocaust. This is presented in an incredibly exhaustive text heavy exhibition with pictures. There is no altering of the historical narrative and no hiding of details. The museum seems to accept the fact that the men behind these organizations were German. They know that these men were in some way responsible for the death of millions. The museum takes this burden and turns it into education, letting those who visit the horrors perpetrated by these organizations. The end of the museum was particularly disturbing to me. It showed the major players in both the Gestapo and the SS and the fates they met. Most of the time, many of the more low profile members who were just as much at fault as Himmler ended up facing short prison sentences or even no ramifications at all. It was troubling and even frustrating to see this. Why did they get away? It could possibly be due to an inability to confront the past, which should highlight the danger of not doing so.

This idea of historical remembrance and presentation of a narrative was one that confronted us throughout the trip. The sites from London to Berlin really showcased how nations come to terms of the past, whether it is the victors (England), the conquered/liberated (France) or the aggressors/defeated (Germany). Paired with my American upbringing and education I realized there is no straightforward answer in history. Everything has an angle; everyone has a bias – big or small. The danger does not lie in those differences, as they are inevitable. But I believe societies should know their wrongdoings and should attempt to come to terms with them. These could range from the killing of civilians in the bombing campaign over Normandy or something on a much larger scale like the Holocaust. Educate people about them, let them know what happened 70 years ago, so killing and suffering on that scale won’t happen again.

This trip really has opened up my eyes to these ideas in addition to some amazing cultures. Traveling to London, Paris, Berlin and even Normandy is something I can cross of my bucket list. It has been a truly unforgettable trip with an amazing group and I will forever be thankful for this experience.