Berlin. What goes through your mind when you hear her name? (Seriously, please respond in comments below. What comes to your mind when you hear “Berlin”?) I recently returned from Berlin, where I spent a week getting a Russian visa.
For me context is everything. You can’t understand a place or person now, if you don’t know from whence they came. So, I am a student of history, and history in Berlin is apocalyptic. And fascinating. Scratch the surface of the city, and it bleeds tragedy.
Berlin for me gives rise to witch’s brew of emotions I have trouble sorting. Yes, it is the genocidal Third Reich unleashing Death’s head, it is the lament for six million Jews sown into the ground, and it is my German ancestry. My family left Germany for the Volga river valley in Russia in the 1760’s and yet, I wonder . . . If I had been in Germany, would I have stood against the Reich powers like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, or kept salute hand up, with my head down, mouth shut?
Reminders of war and Holocaust are ever present in Berlin. From the small brass Stolpersteine (literally “stumbling blocks”) embedded in sidewalks throughout the city at addresses where Jews were arrested and sent to concentration or death camps, to rubble unearthed any time the city digs up its foundations. There is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, the Topography of Terror (a museum that recounts the crimes of the Third Reich and maps out the buildings inhabited by Hitler, Goering, Himmler, Eichmann and Goebbels, most of which have been utterly destroyed), Nazi buildings that survived the war including the Olympiastadion and the Air Ministry, and pockmarks from bullets and shrapnel that mar many a structure throughout Berlin.
But what about the peace of Berlin? For peace is to be had there. Seated beneath Linden trees on “Unter den Linden” street on a summers eve observing strollers through Brandenburg gate is peaceful. Walking the long green breadth of “Tiergarten” in the sun’s igneous rays brings peace. Sipping coffee in a cafe as a thundershower power-washes the street is peaceful. Barbequing in the park with friendly Germans and Turks brings a satisfied feeling of peace. As the burnished sun sets over the Berlin metro-scape, casting the city in amber, a sense of peace wells up in the heart.
Many are the reminders of war in Berlin. But there is forgiveness. Forgiveness enough to wash the hearts of the guilty, and replace their burden with . . . eternal peace.