By: S. Davis
The World War II era is a period of history that endlessly fascinates me. Europe, Asia and the United States were all pulled together in conflict. In our current age where hyperbole is the norm, at that time the world was truly engulfed in war and it isn’t an embellishment by any means. One of the biggest contradictions I find as an American is how the United States entered the war to stop the senseless oppression of an entire group of people but is guilty of the same sins, since its inception, and still carries out the practice presently.
Remnants of the war can be seen all over Berlin – a constant reminder I suppose – and today wasn’t any different. This city is connected to its past and it wants everyone to be reminded of it. They do a phenomenal job of striking the right balance.
It’s pouring! I’m standing underneath this building structure as my arms are tired of holding this umbrella to shield me from the deluge. Usually I don’t mind getting wet but I have a whole afternoon to bleed out before I inevitably find myself blazing a trail through this historic city. The last thing I want to do is get sick again…like I did in France. I’m off to the Naturkundemuseum and according to my map the Berlin Wall Memorial runs a few blocks over. Since I left the Dorotheenstadt Cemetery I feel that I need to reset, mentally and emotionally, before I spend time at another reminder of a war that probably couldn’t be avoided, sadly.
After leaving the museum – which was a great way to kill three hours – I ventured out into the rain and it tapered off a great deal due to the personal photo shoot I conducted indoors. I didn’t want it to stop completely! I stroll past a group of grade school kids, all holding hands at the teacher’s behest as they cross the street. A few of them smile and wave at me; I do the same. Rain pellets hit my neck so I reach into my backpack for my scarf. I thought I ate this cheese danish; oh well, I will right now. It’s not drizzling but the clouds are still above so I’m sure the rain will kick up. Weather, please cooperate with me.
As I make my way down Julie-Wolfthorn-Str there’s a quiet that wasn’t present just moments ago. I know I’m close to my destination. I spot a large block of greenery. I’m here. Depending where you happen to be in Berlin, there are times it will be loud and busy like any major city and then you travail a few feet and then it all stops. It was so serene that I could hear the couple across the street having a conversation.
I step foot on Bernauer Strasse where the wall ran, diving the east (Soviet controlled) and west (controlled by the Allied Forces) of Berlin. The apartments along the street were in the east but the streets themselves were the west. Think about that for a moment. Just attempting to venture onto the street that lines your apartment could result in your death…and for some that was their fate. A guard tower still standing is off in the distance and I’m sure troops fired from the high ground. I’m sad now.
I begin to read some of the stories peppered throughout the open air memorial here. Thin, copper-colored, columns stand in for the old concrete slabs that stood here not that long ago. The choice to design this memorial as an open, communal, space is a great touch but this is not a place of recreation. I choose wisely at it pertains to what I want to photograph. There are some moments that don’t need to be captured; some are meant to be felt above all else.
Could you imagine the struggle to escape the east? People swam, used cars, a hot air balloon, walked a tightrope, dug tunnels, diverted trains and some just opted for the direct approach: climbing, hiding and running. The ripple effects of war.
There’s cool graffiti on the walls here. A cemetery is just back there. I’ve had my fill of cemeteries for the time being. Besides, the grounds where I’m currently standing, well…you get the point. There’s a small map detailing the area around the wall while it stood. The memorial is poignant. It’s melancholy. The steel pillars are coarse to the touch. I step back and survey the cement. Although I fixate on the grooves, art and craters I’m reticent to place my hands on it. Once I do I look to the ground and say a prayer with my eyes closed.
My thoughts immediately transition to those crying on each side of the wall. To those killed for having the courage to escape Soviet rule. Man and his wars…
An installation of pictures memorializing several victims at the wall rests on the lawn so I get a closer look. A woman to my left dabs tears away from her eyes with a handkerchief. My feet take over as I peruse the grounds. I’m in tune with my mortality at this exact moment.
It had to be distressing to live at the border. I’m also thinking about what it had to be like to live in Nazi controlled Germany. What’s the recourse if you were opposed to their beliefs? Hmm…
I walk further, exploring all the nooks of the memorial. I wonder about the exact moment when people grabbed their tools to tear it down. What emotions coursed through their body as they converged on the cement with hammers, axes, screwdrivers, jack hammers, etc. The feeling when they were reunited with family members and friends; working to reestablish connections with cherished ones paused by politics, ideologies, pride and a lack of communication. I contemplate those who never were reunited, those who committed suicide and those who were killed. This is another special day for me in a foreign city that feels comfortable.
I’m calm. I’m relaxed. I’m mourning people I’ve never met. My mother, sister and aunt spring to mind.
My days in Germany are spent soaking up culture and my nights are a haze of booze, women, music and random eateries before I go to sleep when most people are starting their day. This vacation is attempting to end my life and I love it. My nomadic sensibilities force me to question my present and future…but I’ll leave that bucket of piranhas for another time.
My time here is burning away but I’m going to make it count. There’s a personality to Berlin that I connect with.