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Published: November 21st 2007
The Old Luftwaffe HQ
big, square, stone, designed to last 1000 years ... well it's made it past 60 as it's still in use
As part of my travels in Germany I couldn't not explore the dark side of Germany's past, those years between 1933 and 1945 when the National Socialists were in control. While it's important to not forget, I think it's just as important to recognise that it is the past.
My exploration of that aspect of history took 4 parts - a 3rd Reich tour, a visit to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp Memorial, a visit to the Holocaust Memorial and to the Jewish Museum.
The 3rd Reich Tour was run by the Original Walking Tour and it was excellent. The tour centred around Wilhelmstrasse, which is the one area which used to be mainly East Berlin. There are a couple of buildings still standing, such as the old Luftwaffe HQ which survived the war relatively unscathed. The tour covered the history of the rise of the National Socialists and how they managed to come to power through manipulation, propoganda and intimidation. Part of the tour took us through the Topography of Terror which is an exhibition in the foundations of the old Gestapo HQ where many were tortured before being sent to the death camps. We finished up at the site
Standard boring National Socialist architecture!
of Hitlers Bunker which is in a relatively nondescript part of the city and now a little garden surrounded by apartment blocks built during the devision of Berlin. Hitler, far from enjoying his 1000 year reich ended up being burnt by his own people (badly), then buried by the russians, dug up again, reburnt (properly) then scattered ... somewhere! Anything but have a site for those losers who would still think he was great!
The next tour was also by the Original Walking Tour and it visited the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp Memorial at the site of the old camp about 30kms north of Berlin and was setup early and eventually became the centre of the Concentration and Death Camp network. One thing that I'd never been aware of was that Concentration Camps such as Sachsenhausen were primarily set up to work the inmates to death, while Death Camps like Auschwitz were set up to exterminate the inmates. In the Concentration Camps the daily brutality killed many. The memorial was set up in the 60s, but directly after the war the Soviets continued to use the camp for another 5 or 6 years. There is not much left now of
the camp, however the main camp area has been retained and a couple of buildings have been recreated and the foundations of the execution buildings remain, along with the Russian built memorial. About 50,000 died in the camp and another couple of 1000 died on the death march, where the Nazis forced the inmates to march to avoid liberation by the advancing Red Army in 1945. The camp is a desolate place and the day I went it was grey and cold so it made it hard to understand how inmates survived even one winter when it got so much colder and they had virtually nothing to wear as opposed to my being rugged up in jackets, gloves and scarf (although after that visit I did go out and buy a beanie!).
My 3rd dalliance with this aspect of history was a visit to the Jewish Museum which has the most amazing architecture. The building is built on a number of levels and in the entrance to the main memorial you actually go down underground and then are faced with 3 axes. One is the Axis of Death, a corridor listing the names of concentration and death camps, which
Work will set you Free
unfortunately through death
leads to an empty void representing those who vanished during the holocaust - a cold and dark place with only a slit of light coming in. Another is the Axis of Exile to represent those who fled to save their lives - it lists those places where they fled to around the world and leads to the Garden of exile. The garden of exile is made up of columns in an undulating courtyard to represent the uncertainty and imbalance caused by exile. The last is the Axis of Continuity which leads up to the main museum building. It is important to take some time out on the way up to the galleries (start at the top and work you're way down) to stop in one of the voids - the Memory Void. The Memory Void runs the height of the building and is littered with 'fallen leaves' which are thousands of metal faces roughly cut out of steel. You walk over them and look up at the void and it's a surreal feeling as they clank, clink and echo all around. The main galleries trace Jewish History through the ages.
The last visit was a trip to the Holocaust
The Green Horror
The SS guards social club ... a place nobody wanted to visit
Memorial or the 'Monument to the Murdered Jews of Europe'. The first impression is a sea of blocks in undulating rows and columns. Apparently they have been treated with anti graffiti agents, however just beore they gave the contract they realised the company was the same as that which created Zyklon-B which was used in the gas chambers - slightly controversial! (I think they ended up donating the anti graffitti agent ... probably a wise move!). Inside the galleries focus on telling the story of the holocaust from a personal perspective and I'd heartily recommend a visit to anyone if you are in Berlin!
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