these are the posts tagged ‘history’:

walking on history, V: buchenwald

buchenwald was the largest nazi concentration camp in germany: over 50,000 people died here, from all over europe. it’s a place of unspeakable horrors perched on an idyllic hilltop, in the middle of the forest. today, the area is filled with commemorative sites and this in particular is part of the jewish memorial. the sentence, translated in english, german and hebrew rises in carved stone above the gravel and reads:

“so that the generation to come might know, the children, yet to be born, that they too may rise and declare to their children.”

stark and sobering.

more from this series.

berliner unterwelten

in the basement of our building there’s a door – a heavy metal door with a submarine-type locking wheel. curious as to where it would lead, one day we turned the wheel and opened the door… only to find that it was an entrance to the basement of the building next door.
my teacher once explained to the class that these were remnants from years of war and tension: the doors were there to give people an emergency exit, in case something happened and they needed to find another escape route. the buildings in berlin are often built side by side, in closed squares, with an inner courtyard – it makes sense that they’re somehow connected.

berlin is a complicated city, its history deeply fused with the wars and historical events that took place here. you can learn about it in the museums and memorials, but there are a lot of things, some big and some small, that you don’t often get to see. there’s a curious side of it that is especially hard to access: the underground world. we’ve all heard of the bunkers and tunnels that used to run below the city’s surface… but where are they? what were they used for? what did they look like?

interested in revealing the stories of these hidden worlds, a society was formed in 1997: the berliner unterwelten. they focus on discovering and recovering forgotten underground structures, and on recounting history from their perspective. so far, we’ve done a couple of their tours, and cannot recommend them enough.

one of these tours is to an intact underground bunker, which lays just next to a busy metro and railway station. as you sit in one of the airtight, low-ceiling concrete rooms listening to your guide and looking at the fluorescent stripes on the walls (that still glow in the dark), you get an unusual glimpse at the lives of frightened and exhausted berliners, sitting in this same benches 67 years ago, waiting for the air raids to stop.

i know it sounds gloomy – but that’s the history of berlin. these tours do an exceptional job at portraying it, making it less boring, and a lot more hands-on. i can’t wait to do the rest of them!

the schwerbelastungskörper

have you seen the movie “the downfall“? (if you’ve seen one of those movies on youtube with hitler screaming at everyone, you’ve seen a bit of it at least.)

if you’ve seen the whole movie though, you might remember the scene where hitler and albert speer, his architect, look wistfully over a mockup of germania, the “new berlin”, future capital of the world.

their plan was to build two huge avenues, forming two axis that crossed the city, a huge domed people’s hall, and a big arch of triumph – much much larger than the one in paris. but because they didn’t know if the sandy ground of berlin could withstand such heavy things, they decided to test it first, by building a large concrete structure: the Schwerbelastungskörper (heavy load-bearing body). it is one of the few traces of hitler’s megalomanic germania in today’s berlin.

the massive structure was to function as a feasibility study for further constructions: if it were to sink less than 6 cm, the soil would be deemed sound enough for big buildings.

it sank 18 cm in three years.

not that it mattered in the end. as the war raged on in berlin, plans were quickly scraped.

the city wanted blow it to smithereens, but was afraid of the effects on the nearby buildings… and so to this day, the heavy cylinder remains, on the corner of dudenstraße and general-pape-straße. it is now an historical monument. from the observation deck next to it, you can pretty much see the whole city, and imagine the huge axis of avenues, with its triumphal arch that (thankfully) never was.

walking on history, II: stolperstein

stolperstein, or stumbling blocks, are the name of these little brass cubes that you can find on the sidewalks of berlin. they’re small and unremarkable in the hustle and bustle of the city. but if you take the time to stop and really look, you’ll notice they’re more like silent memorials. each one of these blocks marks the last place of living of a victim of nazism, who was later deported and murdered. they’re made by artist gunter demnig, who started this project in 1993 – today there are over 20000 of them, all over europe.

in the words of cambridge historian, ioseph pearson:

“It is not what is written on the stolpersteine which intrigues, because the inscription is insufficient to conjure a person. It is the emptiness, void, lack of information, the maw of the forgotten, which gives the monuments their power and lifts them from the banality of a statistic.”

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walking on history, I: bebelplatz

“That was but a prelude; where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people.”

the quote is by heinrich heine, a german-jewish poet. it was written in 1820, over a century before the nazi book burnings that took place in the square where it is now displayed. heine’s books where among those destroyed, along with titles by karl marx, bertolt brecht, thomas mann, ernest hemingway, etc.

more from this series.