Berlin as we have seen knows well how to recognise the mistakes of the past and to make some atonement for them. It does so on a large scale at the Holocaust Denkmal and at the Topographie des Terrors, and these sights deserve some of your time. But perhaps more moving in their very human scale are the Stolpersteine or, literally, “stumbling stones”. These are by their nature too easy to overlook, but in my opinion that is the last thing you should do, because each one tells of an individual whose life was extinguished during the Holocaust.
These Stolpersteine are small brass stones set into the cobbles in front of a number of house entrances in various parts of the city – most notably in the Scheuenenviertal with its previously high Jewish population, but we also saw some near the Ostbahnhof and in Prenzlauer Berg. They are really mini-memorials, each marking the memory of a person who lived at this address prior to the Holocaust and who was killed by the Nazis. Each one says to us: “I lived here, I was a real person not just a statistic, my life mattered to me and to those who loved me – do not forget me”.
There is certainly plenty of scope for more Stolpersteine to appear on the city’s streets as more individual stories are uncovered. In 1933 there were approximately 160,000 Jews living here. Very many fled the city and indeed the country, but 55,000 remained to be slaughtered, while only 1,000 – 2,000 are believed to have survived the war years here, most them with the help of their non-Jewish friends and neighbours.
There is a fascinating post-script to my discovery of the Stolpersteine. When I returned from Berlin and shared some photos on Facebook, including this one, I was contacted by one of my VT and Facebook friends, lorrainece. She told me that two of her relatives have Stolpersteine in the Prenzlauer Berg, and we must have passed very close to them. She shared their story with me, and it really added an extra more personal element to my understanding of those times. If you read German you too can read their story: hier-kommen-helden-ins-stolpern. It tells about a lady who volunteers her time to investigate the stories of individuals and to arrange for the plaques to be placed in front of their last known address. She shows us two Stolpersteine on Fehrbelliner Straße which have been placed there recently: "these two are in memory of Lotte and Taube Ibermann, a mother and her daughter, who were murdered in 1941 in Lodz". Taube was Lorraine’s mother’s mother and Lotte her mother's sister. The small photo at the foot of the article shows them with Lorraine’s mum and another sister who also survived; I have taken the liberty of copying this and including it as my second photo here.
The Stolpersteine in my main photo were taken in Gipsstraße near Weinmeisterstraße U-bahn station (U8)
When you think of Berlin, what do you think of? I’m guessing that quite high on many people’s lists will be the Berlin Wall. How odd for a city to be notable for something that is for the most part no longer there! The Wall “fell” officially on 9th November 1989, when a press conference was held at which the government announced that travel restrictions for East Germans had been lifted. In that night people from East Berlin poured into the West, and hundreds of thousands celebrated throughout the city. But of course something as substantial as that Wall does not disappear overnight, and although there was a scramble at the time firstly to knock routes through, and later to acquire pieces as historical souvenirs, some stretches remained, and it is still possible to see many traces of the Wall today.
The longest remaining stretch of the so-called outer wall (the one that we would have seen on our 1985 visit, which faced towards the West and attracted the well-known protest graffiti and so on) is near the Topographie des Terrors in Niederkirchnerstraße. But the longest stretch of all, this time of the inner wall that would have confronted East Berliners daily as an impenetrable barrier, is the one that today forms the East Side Gallery on Mühlenstraße. Another long stretch of inner wall can be found in the Mauerpark in Prenzlauer Berg. You will also come across smaller pieces – some still in situ, other erected as a memorial in a new location. The one in photo 4 stands in front of an apartment block in Wilhelmstraße just south of the Holocaust Denkmal – if this is its original spot then it would have been part of the inner wall, but I think it has probably been moved here from elsewhere. Yet another place to see a smaller piece is in the Potsdamer Platz, and it is here too that you can clearly see the darker line of stones that the city is gradually laying along the line of the Wall so that even where all traces are long gone, we will not forget it.
Of course the tragedy of the Wall was not only in the way it imprisoned East Germans and cut them off from the West, nor only that it divided neighbour from neighbour, friend from friend, family from family. There were also the individual tragedies of those who tried, and failed, to cross it. Near the Reichstag is a small memorial to some of those who died while attempting to reach the West (main photo).
Berlin was divided after World War II. Every part of the allies got one part of Berlin to control.
Zehlendorf, Steglitz, Schöneberg, Kreuzberg, Tempelhof and Neukölln were in the American sector.
Tiergarten, Charlottenburg, Spandau and Wilmersdorf formed the British sector.
In the French sector there were Reinickendorf and Wedding.
Mitte, Prenzlauer Berg, Friedrichshain, Pankow, Weissensee, Hohenschönhausen, Lichtenberg, Marzahn, Hellersdorf, Treptow and Köpenick were in the sector ruled by the USSR.
The Western and the Sovjet allies couldn't agree on anything though. When the West wanted to put the East under pressure the Sovjets blocked all roads to West Berlin in June 1948. This blockage lasted until September 1949! West Berlin was provided with food, coal and everything they needed by allied planes from the air during this long time. This part of German history is called "Luftbrücke".
On 13 August 1961 the East built a wall that divided Berlin. Over night people who lived in the same street couldn't meet anymore. The people in the East were "trapped". People who wanted to escape were put in prison (if they were lucky!) or shot at the border. The wall wasn't only a wall, there was a death zone behind it on the Eastern side with everything that kept people from escaping (Machine guns, dogs, self shooting mechanisms, watch towers etc)
After a lot of people demonstrated for freedom in 1989 and other seeked asylum in West German embassies in Budapest, Prague etc the wall fell on 9 November 1989. A spokesman of the East German parliament accidently announced the opening of the border for the same day in a press conference. Now the people couldn't be stopped anymore, they climbed the wall in that night and started to destroy it bit by bit.
This happened only half a year after the last wall victim lost his life at Berlin wall...
I was in Berlin or more exactly in former East Berlin for the first time at age 8/9 yo and I remember well the symbol of East Berlin and GDR (German Democratic Republic - official and... fake name of the East Germany) that was TV Tower.
The history of the Television Tower of Berlin is surely connected with the historical situation of the time when Germany and Berlin was divided into two parts. The former GDR communist authorities had to build a powerful transmitter in the middle of the eastern part of Berlin to show the world how powerful the communist system was.
In 1969 SED (East German communist party) leader Walter Ulbricht decided not to build the Tower on the "M?ggelbergen" that was in Berlin-K?penick where the construction of a Tower had already begun, but on the Alerxanderplatz. Hmm... it was typical for that time and system wasting of public money.
The representative and remarkable monument was erected in connection with the "Palast der Republik" (place of SED conventions). It took only 53 month to build the "sozialistische H?hendominante" and in 1969 the Television Tower of Berlin was put into operation and soon became the political and an architectural symbol of East Berlin.
After the reunion of two German states (1990)
After the reunion in 1990 the Tower did not loose its attraction. The inside of the Television Tower was renovated and the technological standard was completely renewed. Each year about 1,000,000 people visit the Tower and enjoy the great view from the top of it.
Between Branderburg Gate and Reichstag on the place where the Berlin wall stood, there was a special place to commemorate victims of the Berlin Wall.
On Sunday afternoon I met there quite many Berliners including one couple with a few years old boy who put flowers and stood long (pray?) by one of the numerous crosses. This was a place to remember and reflection on not so old past of divided Berlin and Europe.
Berliners remember well not so old past of divided city, the wall, border closings and checkups, lack of freedom and repressions in East Berlin. So after reunification they arranged many places to commerate that time.
Just one example. On the western side of Ebertstra?e between Branderburg Gate and Reichstag on the edge of Tiergarten park and on the place where the Belin wall stood, there was a special place to commemorate victims of the Berlin Wall.
There were numerous white crosses hang on the fence. There were names of the victims shot to death by East German guards while they tried to cross the wall, old photographs, flowers on each of them. Totally 192 persons were killed and approx. 200 injured on the Wall.
When you are in Berlin check the radio or tv-news, newspapers or programme-magazines about historical anniversaries. Often there are public fireworks, parades or airshows.
The photo below shows an historical "Rosinenbomber" of the US-Airlift in a in a 60-years- anniversary-flightshow over the officially closed airport Tempelhof in May 2009.
Some people come to Berlin and unshakably associate it with World War II and Nazism and Hitler. Many locals are sick and tired of walking to work and passing a tour guide relating the horrible things that were done in their backyard sixty years ago to a bunch of disgusted American tourists. Just be courteous and understand that this is a city that endured so much in the past century. It's finally enjoying some relative normalcy, and it deserves all the encouragement that we tourists can give it.
More than 12 years after the wall fell, you still can remark some differences between people from East and West Berlin. There has been some movility, but I think most people have stayed in their old neighborhoods. After the euphoria of the first years after the reunification, some people in Germany have started to question the way it was done. And, of course, many people in East Germany were disappointed by a Western style life that was not so glittering as the city lights on the other side of the wall announced.
In my opinion, since the reunification, the city is losing the liberal and a little bit anarchic attitude there was before in West Berlin. But of course it is easily understandable: the city has become the capital of the nation again, and people are not in a limit situation as they used to be: an island totally surrounded by the 'enemy'.
Anyway, there is so much history in this city, that your stay will be rewarded with incredible experiences.
There is only a small remnand of the ' Iron Curtain - The Wall ' left in Berlin. It is a tourist attraction and a memorial. We went to see it and I took a picture with my husband standing next to it. ( It is only a large picture-poster )
The Germans are very aware of the past. They are doing everything they can to show the world that this has happened & it should not happen again. Although there are cranes & construction everywhere, there is still alot of reminders of the war. They will not forget. There are some neo nazis in the area yet, but they are truly a minority. Please, do not let this happen again. PLEASE!
Everyone must see Berlin. To see Berlin is to start to understand the magnitude of the horrors exhibited on the world by the Nazi regime and ultimately the German people. To see Berlin is also to understand the sorrow and regret of that same German people. Never should the Holocaust be forgiven, never should it be forgotten. In Berlin, they honour the memory of those men and women who lost their lives and ask that all people ensure that such tragedies never again occur. Go to Berlin. Understand.
The people I spoke to were all very raw about the wall and their history. Many said they were even ashamed of what their ancestors did. The world will never forget and so they can never be free of it. It was sad in a way. Hint: Don't bring their history up with people until you know them. Some get defensive and some cry. Not something you want to deal with when you're talking with a stranger.
1948: The Soviet military administration started a blockade of the western part of the city. The Allies started a airlift and with about 275000 flights they brought food, fuel and other goods to the people in West-Berlin.
See how pieces of the city (e.g. Kreuzberg) that used to be impopular due to isolated locations when the Wall was still standing up right, by now have become incredibly lively and popular. Imagine your neighbourhood turing all of a sudden from a remote back area of the city into a very central located part.