March 31, 2012 by imissyu
When I think of Berlin, my first thought is 1989. This was the year I was born, and this was the same year the Berlin Wall fell. I was curious to see the historical landmarks I had learned in class; and based on a local’s recommendation, I joined the free walking tour of Berlin (not only is it free, but it’s a 3.5 hour walking tour with great guides). We saw the usual suspects: Berliner Dom, Reichstag, Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, Museum Island, The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, and more. While trying to take in as much as I could during the short tour, I couldn’t help but keep thinking that “history happened” on these sites within the last two or three decades. It reminded me of something my international relations professor had said while I was on exchange at Tsinghua University in Beijing. He was a part of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and worked alongside Condoleezza Rice in the White House during the Bush Administration. At that time in the semester, a man by the name of Mohamed Bouazizi had set himself on fire; an act which became a catalyst not only for the Tunisian Revolution but the wider Arab Spring. He quoted Lenin, who said “‘There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.”
I also visited the Sachsenhausen Memorial – a bone-chilling experience and it’s something that I prefer to not describe. One thing I could say is that I could start to see the terrifying psychology behind the claim that ”the road to Auschwitz was built by hate, but paved with indifference”. Do we ever learn from history? Is Syria a recent example that we have learned little from history?
There are still signs of hope. From the transparent dome above the Reichstag to the prominent locations of the memorials, Germany is definitely facing its history head-on. I learned from my tour guide that the government members must act as a tour guide for the day in order to tell the stories behind Berlin lest they forget. Something I would really like to explore on my next visit is the German alternative scene as I heard much appraise for its incredible mix of cultures as well as vibrant musical and artistic scenes. Until next time, Berlin!
What I learned from Berlin:
- Don’t forget that we’re still making history. Let’s set an example for our descendants to be proud of.
- It is possible to move on; do not be afraid to boldly face past mistakes. In fact, it will help you move on if you confront them.
- Indifference and apathy is the death of the human spirit.
How were your experiences with cities marked by history? How do you experience the city as-is and try to absorb its past as well?