Brussels/Berlin 2023

Sunday 16th July 2023 – The Berlin Tourist Trail. Kinda.

After a light breakfast on my balcony and some reading of Christopher Isherwood’s “Goodbye to Berlin”, I took myself on foot to what is probably the most visited area of this city, that situated around the Brandenberg Gate. This impressive monument dates from the late 1700s and was modelled on similar structures in Greek architecture, such as the gateway to the acropolis in Athens. It is interesting to note that there is a representation of this in my own city of Edinburgh, where it is known as “Edinburgh’s Disgrace”. Construction of “The Disgrace” was halted due to a lack of funding in 1829 but the structure still stands on the top of Calton Hill and is something Edinburgh residents are stragely proud of.

Again, the Berlin Wall features in the story as the Brandenburg Gate was essentially closed during the period of 1961-1989. Close by is the German Parliament building which also has a dark history. In particular, in 1933 the building was severly damged by fire. The exact circumstances of this remain unknown to this day. Adolf Hitler blamed it on Communist agitators but the fact that this incident became a major propeganda tool for the Nazi regime has led to other suspicions. In the modern age the building is beautiful, well-kept, and functional, in the style of many buildings I have seen in this wonderful city.

As it happens, as I was locating a coffee shop following my viewing of these historic sites, I found myself standing on the site where the aforementoned leader of The Third Reich had committed suicide, along with his dog Blondi, and his wife Eva Braun. They had been married some 40 hours previously. This location is marked simply by an information board which is esentially superseeded by the more interesting presence of an establishment selling “Bubble Tea”.

After coffee and a croissant filled with a berry compote, I visited the “Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe”, also located in this area. debate about whether and what form such a memorial should take dates back to 1980, with the memorial finally being completed in 2004. It is a disconcerting piece with large concrete blocks that get progressively bigger as your travel through the site. The undulating ground adds to the sense of unese and one is left with many questions as to what the designer intended visitors to think and experience.

The are many, many interpretations of the work that can be searched and read about on-line. For me, the “eye of the beholder” factor was very pleasing as far be it from anyone to tell anyone else what they should think, or feel about what is undoubtedly the darkest period in human history. This remains a significant point from which our understanding of the meaning of “evil” derives.

I visited the underground exhibition and followed the events of the holocaust, from the inital presecution of the Jews in 1933 right through to mass genocide before the end of the war in 1945. It is a story that can not be told often enough and it is one that increasingly given recent events, I am concerned is being forgotten. Here I was struck by the honest and sometimes brutality of the language used towards the Nazi regime. While no-one can disagree that the events that occured were abomniable and indefensible, I thought it interesting to consider that an exhibit in my own country would probably be far more measured in the language used. This reminded me of an exhibition I visited in Munich about the rise of the Nazi party and it was as if, in both museums there was a desire to make it absolutely clear that the modern German has no connection with the ideology represented here. I also wondered if this is a reflection of the German culture of being honest, and direct; something I admire and appreciate very much.

After departing the exhibition, I wandered in to “Tiergarten”, the large park in the middle of Berlin. On the edge of the park are two more memorials to victims of the Holocaust. The first was the “Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism”. I admired the simplicity of this monument, it being a smooth concrete cuboid with a window through which can be seen a video of same-sex couple kissing.

The second was the “Memorial to Europe’s Sinti and Roma Murdered Under Nazism” which is a dark, curcular pool with a triangular stone in the middle. This represents the badges that were often worn by the prisoners of the Nazi regime. Around the edge of the pool in bronze lettering is the poem “Auschwitz”, by Roma poet Santino Spinelli.

Gaunt face
dead eyes
cold lips
a broken heart
out of breath
without words
no tears

All three monuments were beautiful and haunting in their own way.

To take me back north in the city, I travelled on on U5 and U8 lines to Bernauer Straße. From here I took myself to Mauerpark, where I had heard that a mass-karaoke event occured every Sunday. I did not find karaoke but this may have been because a gigantic street fair was in operation, with many stalls selling beer, food, and other products including hand-made items, records, and artwork. There was performer on the stage where the karaoke was supposed to be so I enjoyed his rallying of the crowd with a beer before finding myself some food and enjoying the atmosphere. I was again struck by the extent to which a city with such a dark history is so relaxed, cultured, and exciting to be in. I was very happy to be, albeit temporarlily, a Berliner.


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