It was a bitterly cold night in Berlin. I walked from Museum Island to the Brandenburg Gate, which is a distance of about a mile. It was fifteen degrees, so it was a brisk walk in more ways than one, but well worth it. I walked in the path of so much history…not all of it good…
If you’ve never ready the book In the Garden of Beasts by Eric Larsen, check it out. It is the amazing story of Berlin in the early 1930’s. William E. Dodd, US Ambassador to Germany finds himself and his family in Berlin during the Nazi’s rise to power. The story is about how he and his family slowly realize that all is not as it seems with Germany under the Nazi Party. At first they are swept up in the glamour of it all, but little by little, cracks begin to emerge and they realize things are not quite as they seem. Rumors of bad things happening. People disappearing off the street. Suspicion of torture and other insidious acts. What began as a glamorous adventure descends into fear as war approaches. It’s a great way to get a feel for the atmosphere in Berlin at the time…just before it all began to unravel.
After the war, Berlin was a shell of its former self and I think they are still rebuilding after all these years. It is a city of cranes and construction is going on everywhere. Many buildings have been rebuilt to look as before, but some were left as the war left them. The Kaiser-Wilhelm Memorial Church is a good example – it sits, a bombed out shell amidst more modern buildings. It is a constant reminder. A reminder of the seductive power of evil and that it will destroy all that’s good..if you let it.
Despite its past, modern Berlin is a beautiful city. It somehow balances its reminders of a violent past with hope for the future. I vividly remember watching the fall of the Berlin Wall on television when I was in college. For some reason the song “Unbelievable” by EMF will always remind me of the fall of communism, when the wall crumbled under the weight of a young generation yearning for something different. Part of the lyrics are:
You burden me with your questions
You’d have me tell no lies
You’re always asking what it’s all about
Now listen to my replies
In my mind, these lines were a mantra for what was happening – the “reply” was the people lifting each other up and using whatever they could find to chip away at the wall of their forefathers. It would come down. And it did.
As I stood on the spot where the Berlin Wall once ran in front of the Brandenburg Gate, separating east from west, it was quiet as there weren’t many people around. The silence played against my memory of what it must have been like chipping away at that wall – an event that was everything but silent. Standing there in the cold, it was surreal…
…and one of the highlights of my life so far…
Cover photo by author.