Remembering

I stood on the steps of the Reichstag, and the world fell away at my feet. Berlin was dark and wet, a light rain had started to fall, and the ice that had once coated the sidewalks was beginning to melt into a grey-brown slush. Few people were wandering the streets at this hour, least of all tourists like me. A wind picked up off the river at night. Cold, I thought to myself, but not as cold as it is in the North. A gargantuan German flag whipped out on the flagpole some 20 meters distant. Illuminated from below, the colors black, yellow, and red, burned against the dreary night sky. It was beautiful. It was terrifying.

Germany is confusing place.

This week I found myself in Berlin, sort of unexpectedly. I finished my Swedish Chemistry exam on Thursday, at last. On sort of a whim bought a 60 euro easyjet ticket to Berlin to stay with my friend for a week, and, nerdy arts writer that I am, catch some of Berlinale, the famous international film festival. Before seeing any films, my friend walked me around the Mitte—the central historical and “touristy” section of the city very late at night, when it had emptied of crowds.

Here in Berlin, the air is pregnant with history. It is at once engulfing and oppressive, terrible and intriguing. It bears down on you from all sides, and even in moments of joy, one can’t help but feel that there are ghosts walking the earth.

As we walked toward Brandenburg Gate, somewhat embarrassingly, I felt tears forming in my eyes. Thousands of Berliners pass through here everyday, but just over twenty years ago it was a dead zone and people where shot here. The line of bricks in the Berlin’s streets that now marks the former location of the Wall gleamed in the rain and the headlights of passing cars.

I am just a girl from California. But for some reason, the place affected me in an unexpected way. By no stretch of the imagination can I claim to have truly felt the effects of this history. But the turmoil, the suffering, in the injustice, the division, the destruction, the construction, the rebirth has become so much apart of the collective world history, if it can even be said that such a thing exists, that I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed.

My friend who was walking me around the city led me to a small parking lot surrounded by luxury apartments, luxury apartments that once had a view of the West from the East. We stopped in front a small, discreet historical marker sign and read it. This icy little parking lot filled with little black Volkswagens, this was one of Hitler’s bunkers during the second world war. Under the parking lot was the bunker where Hitler and his wife committed suicide in 1945. The parking lot, Hitler’s Bunker, is so unmarked because Berliners felt that designating it as a proper historical marker would somehow honor Hitler in a way he doesn’t deserve. Some are even angry that this small sign marks the place. There is an itching sense of a desire to move on. Terror has to be remembered. Or does it really? What is an appropriate way to remember terror? Is remembrance truly an honor?

In Sweden we always look to the future—even the trash trucks have the words “Framtid nu” or “Future now” printed on their sides. In Germany, no matter how hard you are looking into the future, that past is always beside you—or beneath you.

Not far from Hilter’s bunker is The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. It is a complacent and solemn place. Rectangular concrete slabs rise in a regular grid from the ground. At first they are low to the earth, but as one walks deeper and deeper into the monument, the monoliths grow taller and taller as the ground sinks lower. In the center of the monument, the stones, with a coffin-like simplicity, are drawfing and engulfing. It is catacombic but it is not fearful. Permeated by a sense of deep tranquility, the monument is seems pensive. Standing between two stones, the hum of Berlin is muted to the ear.

I ran my hands up the cold surface of one of the concrete slabs and for some reason, my mind drifted to England, to the pastoral Salisbury plane, to another arrangement of stones: Stonehenge. That circle of monoliths is a mystery to us even today—how it was made, who made it, and why—the answers we have to these questions are in truth nothing more than speculation.

Never forget, we say, over and over again. Never forget.

The terrible and beautiful truth seems to be that all will be forgotten, eventually.

*note: this entry was also published on the Daily Californian’s Travel Blog.

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One Response to “Remembering”

  1. Dad Says:

    Arielle,

    When you get a chance e-mail us back or let us know when you are on messenger…
    Love Dad

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