Yesterday ended with us grabbing some beers in the hotel lobby with our friends who just moved to Berlin. We eventually called it a night and still managed to wake up at a decent hour to get out and explore the city. Our hotel was awesome and was so central, so we decided having two days in the city would be great to divide it by doing one day in the West with all the memorials, and the other in the East. As soon as we walked and got to Checkpoint Charlie, we realized there are so many things to see and so many plaques everywhere, we got a bit overwhelmed and decided to check out the walking city tours. By then, unfortunately, we discovered we had just missed the departure of the last one of the day, so we booked the one for the following day and found ourselves at the Topography of Terror museum. In front of the museum, was a row of plaques along the remnants of the wall depicting various parts of the war. W planned on stopping for a few minutes to check it out but after 40 minutes of having not even gotten 1/3 of the way, it was too unbearably hot and we had to meander inside where we spent the rest of the afternoon.
The Topography of Terror museum tells the full story of the Nazi’s rise to power through photos and documents that were found in the archives. It started in 1933 explaining how Hitler got the popular vote and succeeded in gaining the following that he did, exact timelines through the documentations and what laws were passed before the war even started, to the quotes and support of people such as Himmler and Eichmann, including the documents and orders they wrote and signed, from arrests, kangaroo courts, public humiliations, to the birth of “The Final Solution to the Jewish Question”.
We, of course, learned much of this in school or movies and had the general idea; we knew of how it started, from boycotting any Jewish businesses, to them being kicked out of school, to then burning down synagogues, raiding their homes, to sending them to labour camps, and finally just merely executing them. There was something about reading the documents that made this happen though, the meeting notes where they discussed the “problem” and how to potentially “solve it”. These documents brought the story to life and made it real. You can actually see the notes, the made up accusations for false arrests, and new laws, and just the sheer hatred.
The museum focused a lot on the Jewish people, of course, over 6,000,000 died, but it also had sections discussing others that were also arrested and killed such as Gypsies, homosexuals, the disabled both physically and mentally. Basically, any and all “Useless Eaters” were eliminated in brutal ways in order to fulfill the Aryanization to make the Germans the ultimate race.
I don’t think I need to go into what it was like to read all these again, but it definitely ended our touring for the day. We all went into this zone so we just picked up food and hit up the Tiergarten where we hung out. We discussed many of the things we learned today and the things that really stood out for us.
Some of the things that stood out to our group and we discussed the rest of the afternoon included but were not limited to our minds were boggled things like for the majority duration of the war, countries jumped in voluntarily to round up the unwanted, from Italy, Czech, Greece, to even France. People chose to do this. We discussed the timeline of events at length. We all know about the Night of the Broken Glass, we all know of the various laws that were passed, the concentration camps, but to see the quick progression of the Nazi party and how they made things happen, was terrifying. What’s worse, is no one in our group realized concentration camps were a thing before the war. This wasn’t masked by the horrors of the war, concentration camps were already a thing as of 1935, labour camps were a thing. People were being sent away as of 1935.
We were also baffled by the fact that these concentration camps had a hierarchy and homosexuals were the lowest just because they couldn’t represent. Well, the lowest second to Jews, of course.
One of the things that really got me, were some of the pictures towards the end. Men laying in the streets with blood leaking across the road from their heads - it’s images and scenes you’ve seen in Hollywood movies, but this is real. This wasn’t make up or an actor, this was a real image of a man laughing standing over this body with a gun pointed at the head and a pool of blood. Worse, another picture depicted these skeletal human beings grabbed by the wrists and ankles and being thrown into a pit at the very end of the war. These people were dead, but the saddest part of it is seeing what their bodies looked like now, beaten, starved, infected. They laboured beyond their means for years to try and survive, endured unimaginable torture, sorrow, stress no human body should have to, they made it to the end…. only to be executed as the final desperate cleanse when the Nazis just decided fuck it and killed more people in a matter of days than years combined. To get this far, put up with all that, only to not make it anyway, it’s just unfathomable to me.
But I think the thing that stood out the most for me, personally, was a section that specifically focused on Smolensk and Minsk. There was a photo of a giant pit, and a man midair falling in on top of piles and piles of bodies with the Nazis laughing along the edge. After yesterday’s story, my stomach just completely dropped and I was glued to this image for some time. The caption stated this is where Germans would send people from Germany to be executed so that the locals wouldn’t have to endure it. This is where my family is from, and that’s all it was reduced to.
We walked in silence for a bit, contemplating and taking everything we read today. We got to the Tiergarten where we ate our food, drank some beers (you can walk around with beer in your hand through the streets and parks!), and wandered around until we found ourselves at the soviet memorial. I was put to the task of finding out what the memorial was for since there wasn’t a word of english. Turns out this memorial was built in 1946 by the soviets, practically before anything else was erected to commemorate the fallen soldiers in taking Berlin. Each column was dedicated to a different division whether it was infantry, tanks, airforce, etc. Numbers and casualties having to do with the war from any side is catastrophic, but a plaque pointed out that although just over 50 million soldiers died in world war 2, over 25 million of them were soviets - because if there was one thing the Soviets had no problem doing, was throwing bodies at problems. I don’t think one can even begin to wrap their head around these numbers.
We started walking our way back and found ourselves at the Jewish Holocaust memorial. It’s sad how many people are idiots and use these to get their perfect Instagram photos. They’re not there for you to pose for yoga, they’re not there for your amusement and play tag or hop across the concrete blocks, and they sure as hell are not there for you to have a picnic on.
There were tiny plaques with rules in the ground that we didn’t even notice until we were on our way out, but you’re in a memorial, this feels like it should be common sense to be respectful.
We walked the rest of the way home, put the baby to sleep, Adam volunteered to stay back to babysit and catch up on some sleep while the rest of us hit up the Berlin club scene. Aside from the club scene being in the old East Berlin district, and dancing in the world's smallest club (literally a phone booth that you put some coins in, pick a song, and it fills up with haze, some lights, and blasts your song). We laughed at the people before us and couldn't understand when the third person came out and were all "HOW DID YOU FIT?!". We were 5, and we also fit, although breathing and moving was not really much of an option. Some good times, followed by hitting up the grungiest club. You try to put up a club like that back home, and it was just come off as if you're trying too hard in trying to make it all "old and cool", but this just seemed right. Like you made a club of whatever you could find laying around, it was just so right for this place, and there were zero cares. There were also zero cares in how you dances, dressed, acted, and everyone was so respectful. I had a few people bump into me accidentally through the night and every single one was extremely apologetic. There was a guy completely butt naked, literally not even underwear, others getting up to... no good on the dance floor, and no one cared, said anything, or even pointed fingers. That's the Berlin club scene. You do you. Love it. We rented scooters to get home, which seemed like a great idea at 3am. In hindsight, the cobblestones of Berlin was probably not the greatest idea, but it sure as hell was fun and got us home quickly!