When I visited Berlin last year, I really didn’t know what to expect. It was my first visit to the city and my preconceptions had been influenced by years of studying modern German history at school: from the First World War to the fall of the Berlin Wall. I was curious to see how the city remembered its past; whether any reminders were neatly hidden away to avoid embarrassment or if there was a sense of acceptance and openness about Germany’s recent history. It is most definitely the latter and the city is filled with monuments to those who suffered under the Nazi regime and later during the division of Berlin. The majority of monuments are free so they’re worthwhile places to visit for those on a budget.
The Berlin Wall
The Berlin Wall divided the U.S., British and French controlled West Berlin from the rest of Russian controlled East Germany. Construction of the wall began in 1961 and it stood until 1989. During the decades of division, hundreds of people crossed the heavily fortified borders illegally. It is not certain how many people successfully crossed the wall but more than a hundred people were killed in attempts to cross, either from accidents or at the hands of the Wall’s guards.
There are three main monuments and memorials to those who suffered and died at the Berlin Wall: the Berlin Wall Memorial, the East Side Gallery and Checkpoint Charlie.
The Memorial contains only a small part of the remaining Wall but shows the extent of the fortifications on either side. One of the most poignant parts of the memorial is a panel of photographs of those who died attempting to cross the Wall. There is also an educational centre and interactive information points around the site.
The East Side Gallery is a 1.3km stretch of the original Wall which showcases numerous examples of graffiti art created in 1990 as a means of commemorating the reunification of Germany and the fall of the Wall. It is also the largest open air gallery in the world.
Checkpoint Charlie remains one of the most well known monuments in Berlin and is simply a small white hut in the centre of an office area. A replica of the sign denoting the different zones is also on display. The area around the Checkpoint contains displays about the efforts of diplomats and others to smuggle people across the heavily guarded borders.
Tiergarten – Memorials to the Victims of the Nazi Regime
The Tiergarten is not only a beautiful area of parkland but it also holds a number of memorials and monuments. Some of the most interesting to look out for are the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (the Holocaust Memorial), the Memorial for the Sinti and Roma of Europe Murdered in National Socialism and the Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under the Nazis.
The Holocaust Memorial is vast and contains more than a hundred concrete blocks which range in height from the size of tombs to well above head height. Covering an area of more than four acres, at its centre, the Memorial creates a sense of claustrophobic. The site also includes a museum and education centre (free to enter).
Websites: http://www.stiftung-denkmal.de/startseite.html // http://www.visitberlin.de/en/spot/sinti-and-roma-memorial // http://www.visitberlin.de/en/spot/memorial-for-the-nazi-era-persecution-of-homosexuals
Topography of Terror
By far one of the most fascinating but highly disturbing monuments in Berlin is the Topography of Terror. The museum, which is free to enter, is built over the demolished site of the Gestapo’s headquarters. The information points, both inside the building and out, detail the different people who were persecuted under the Nazis and how they were treated. Political opponents, Jews, homosexuals, Roma and Sinti people, Poles, the disabled and those suffering from mental health constitutions are amongst those who were persecuted under the Nazi regime. There is also a focus on the propaganda used by the Nazis and what became of the Nazi criminals once the war was over.