Thursday, 3 January 2013

Remembrance Day in Germany / Kreuzberg-Friedrichstain

Spending Remembrance Day in Germany was a really strange experience. As British Columbians we’re used to having the day off and going to Remembrance Day ceremonies while sporting our poppies. In the UK it was a little different, because I always had to work on the day, but there was still a minute of silence and of course everyone would be wearing their poppies. Spending the day in the country that lost, with the side that our family members were fighting against, was really strange. No poppies. No minute of silence. No mention of anything at all, that I could see.

It was on November 12th, however, that Remembrance Day in Germany really hit us. David was able to spare some time to go sightseeing with us so we took a trip to Kreuzburg-Friedrichstain and began a day-long tour of Berlin: The 20th Century.

We began by walking the East Side Gallery, a 1.3km section of the Berlin Wall along the banks of a river. In 1990, artists were invited to paint murals relating to peace, and this section of wall was left as a beautiful memorial. Due to weather damage a lot of the murals were fading, so the artists were invited back in 2009 to update their work. It is a really lovely walk and one of the best places to see the Berlin Wall.

My favourite mural
After our long walk we were ready for brunch, so we went to an excellent cafe in Friedrichstain called Milagro. They have a huge selections of breakfasts and we both decided on the New Yorker Frühstück. The one thing I really miss from North America are the breakfasts and I was curious to try out a German take on a North American breakfast. It was delicious! We were served huge plates full of fresh fruit, vegetables, piping hot hashbrown patties, scrambled eggs with green onion & cheese, toast with butter & frisch käse (sort of like cream cheese), and sliced deli meats (ham & chicken). I knew that frühstück normally involved deli meat, albeit wurst, so it was fun seeing how it was incorporated into a North American take.

After lunch we browsed in a couple of used book stores and then pressed on to Checkpoint Charlie. Although it’s all done for tourists now it is crazy to think that as early as when David & I were born there was a huge wall dividing the city and armed border crossings.

Standing by one of the old crossing posts

Checkpoint Charlie (within 100m of the American side is a McDonalds...)

From Checkpoint Charlie we proceeded to “The Topography of Terror”, an exhibit which covers the rule of the Nazis in painstaking detail. It’s located on the site of the former SS Headquarters, and begins with an open air exhibition of the rubble, which provides a caved-in view of the former torture chambers and the broken front gates. Running along the top of this is a fragment of the Berlin wall, carrying poignant graffiti of those separated from their loved ones. It really brought home the horrors enacted throughout the city during the 20th Century. 

"To Astrid / Maybe Someday / We Will Be / Together"

The toppled gates of the SS Headquarters, now laying by the basement foundations (where the torture chambers were)
 After viewing the ruins we went inside the exhibit and spent an hour or two perusing the pictorial display. In painstaking detail it illustrates the systematic intent to commit mass murder and genocide during the Nazi regime. It leaves little room for anyone to plead ignorance as an excuse. Many of the photographs came from Nazi albums and were chilling both in their portrayal of Nazis having fun and of their graphic images of murder. Although I have visited many Holocaust-related sites this past year I found that I still learned things from this one. Until this exhibit I did not know that when the Allies came to Germany they actually forced the German citizens to view the murders that had been committed and to help give the bodies from mass graves a dignified and proper burial. David was particularly struck by a display of notecards which show in painstaking detail various office workers recording the daily numbers of Jews, Gypsies, Work Shy, and Homosexuals that had been sent to various camps. Needless to say it was a chilling exhibit and one that really brought Remembrance Day into a new light. This is why we must never, ever forget. 

One of the propaganda pictures from the exhibit, in support of euthanasia. I thought it was apt given the recent coverage on both euthanasia and "do not resuscitate" orders being left in the medical files of mentally challenged individuals.

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