Genocide, Division, and Healing

After a very nice slow day yesterday we were ready for further discoveries today, all focussing on the darker side of the 20th Century.

The House of Tears

On the way from Friedrichstrasse S-Bahn Station to our first visit, the Palace of Tears, we passed a street statue titled ‘Trains to Life – Trains to Death’.  At one end, children who are travelling to education and fulfilment, and at the other children who are being deported and who are utterly despondent.  What a reminder of where we were located.

The Palace of Tears was called in German ‘Tranenpalast’. During the days of the Wall, the station Friedrichstrasse was the border crossing for west-bound travellers – West Berliners, FRG citizens, and foreign tourists. We got the train to Friedrichstrasse – it is a very large station in modern times. Between 1962 and 1990 it is estimated that 8 million people – visitors, tourists, and only occasionally East Berliners – passed through it each year. The Station Crossing was named the Palace of Tears because of the poignant farewells made as people took leave of relatives, friends and lovers, often not to be seen again. In 2011 a permanent exhibition was opened in a new building in front of the station given the name ‘Tranenpalast’. It is an extremely professional exhibition using original documents, films and interviews. It expertly portrays the way the division of Germany effected the daily lives of Germans, both sides of the border.  We were particularly struck by the impression conveyed from interviews that many people on both sides of the Wall were very committed to reunification and were very moved when the Wall came down in 1989.

This is a free exhibition and we strongly recommend it. We were there for over 2 hours. There are guided tours but the exhibits really speak for themselves.

We then (using our monthly travel pass) used several buses/trains to our next port of call.

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe – the Holocaust Museum

We spent a short amount of time earlier in the week wandering among the stelae here but the exhibition itself was closed. On our return we joined a guided tour in English consisting of just us and a very pleasant English couple. The guide was a young Israeli woman who has studied the holocaust. We sat among the 2711 grey, oblong pillars of varying heights, packed closely in a very large area as our guide related the story of the memorial’s beginnings – in 2005. It was in the planning for 17 years as there was a great deal of controversy in the Berlin population. Some just wanted to forget the atrocities of the Holocaust, others wanted other ways of remembering. Others questioned the need for multiple memorials of the holocaust as can be found around the city – for gypsies, for homosexuals – and there are other groups who feel they should be remembered. The architect was an American called Peter Eisenman, who was inspired by other memorials including one in Prague’s Jewish graveyard. It is always open, 24 hours a day, and at night is illuminated.

The short video here will give you a good idea of the extent of the Field of Stelae.

Underground there is an information centre which tells life stories and the plight of some Jewish victims. It provides a very detailed time line on the wall at the beginning of the exhibition, giving the history in Europe of the extermination of the Jews. Photographs accompany this, many of which are extremely disturbing, such as of pits of bodies. A whole room is given over to what happened in individual instances, told via notes found on the bodies of victims or thrown from wagons on the way to the death camps.

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Sites throughout Europe of SS extermination of Jews, Gypsies, the disabled, and others.

Although this is not a large exhibition it is very absorbing and needed all of the two hours which we spent there.

Checkpoint Charlie

We spent a short amount of time at Checkpoint Charlie which was the military post marking the border between East and the US Sector of West Berlin. It documents some of the incidents which occurred at the crossing, such as people trying to escape, and in some instances being killed. There is little at this crossing to indicate what it was really like – it is simply marking a venue. By now we were tired too, so perhaps not likely to make the most of the site.

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