Berlin is a modern city, cut from the same cloth as New York City or London. I traveled there while studying abroad in Budapest, Hungary. Berlin has all the conveniences of the 21st century, yet is showcases some of the greatest suffering in human history. The streets and buildings in Berlin speak. They tell war stories. Around every corner there are pieces to the larger story that created Berlin as I see it now.
The Reichstag, the seat of Germany’s government, rises above the greenery of Tiergarten park in Berlin. It’s renaissance style, veiled in glass and steel captures the feeling of Berlin: anchored to the past, yet sprinting toward the future. The Reichstag was heavily damaged during World War II, but was subsequently rebuilt and renovated. The Reichstag was completed as it stands now in 1999. Norman Foster, the architect responsible for the Reichstag Dome, fashioned the unique glass dome to be symbolic of Germany’s commitment to a transparent government.
Memories of Germany’s turbulent history lay all throughout the city. But, the Germans’ refusal to forget or erase the past speaks to their resilience and commitment to progress. While portions of the Berlin Wall that once divided the city into its eastern and western halves still stand, a brick path runs throughout the city where the barrier once loomed. Buildings that could not have existed when the wall stood now straddle the phantom border dividing east and west Berlin.
The graffiti marking one of the remaining portions of the Berlin Wall is far from what I imagine Berliners would have painted during the time it divided the city. Messages of hope and yearning for freedom painted by people who maybe had family on the other side, have been replaced with modern street art. Standing in the rain before a portion of the wall in 21st century Berlin, it is hard to imagine that, overnight, this city truly was divided into two with no way for people to get to their homes, families and places of work.
The Brandenburg gate was the backdrop for arguably two of the most famous U.S. presidential speeches in history. JFK declaring “I am a Berliner”, maybe better remembered as “I am a jelly donut”, and Ronald Reagan challenging Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall” are lines that live in history. Today, the Brandenburg Gate has served as a backdrop for modern political events and sometimes a memorial to those killed in recent terror attacks throughout Europe. I was in Berlin when the Union Jack was projected onto the gate to show solidarity with the victims and families of those injured or killed in the London attacks on June 3. The Brandenburg Gate’s legacy as a landmark where violence and oppression are denounced continues in the 21st century.
When I passed by this old building near Museum Island, I immediately noticed the scarred stone and thousands of unmistakable craters covering two whole sides of the facade. The building was not anything special. There were no ornate decorations or stone patterns. I imagine it was just as ordinary during World War II, when theses bullets were likely fired. The impact marks were of varying sizes and all but a few were at the height of an average man or woman. I wonder what the people that died here were guilty of, or if they were guilty of anything. No doubt a river of red flowed down the cobblestone streets when it was all over. This wall, like many others throughout the city, wails for those who were lost here.