Noilly Prattle: Ich bin kein Berliner

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Ich bin kein Berliner

     In the immortal words of John Fitzgerald Kennedy turned on their heads: I am not a Berliner.

     In fulfilling the demand of another American President considered high on the communicative ability scale, the Berlin Wall has been torn down. Only a couple of short remnants remain as tourist attractions. Haven't been there yet, though.

view from our flat
on a snowy morning
Unter den Linden
     Berlin is a city of large spaces, broad boulevards and streets and seemingly endlessly under reconstruction. The Unter den Linden (right) is a mushrooming of construction cranes and pedestrian bypasses. Decidedly not a beautiful city, at least not in the dead of winter. But, then, beauty really is in the eye of the beholder and my camera picked up little pockets of it on a stroll around the Tiergarten in wintry Berlin the other day—our first foray into a new city. 

impressions of our first walk about Berlin: 

west entrance to the Tiergarten
no idea what this is, but it
looks like a piece of abstract art

entrance to the Zoological Garden

houseboats along the canal

this gentlemen said he comes here every day to feed the birds

Good Samaritans

     But the Berliners can be wonderfully helpful with confused-looking visitors like us trying to find our way through a maze of U-Bahn connecting stations or trying to figure out how the train ticketing machine works or even helping carry baggage down the stairs of the station. Several times friendly folks appeared seemingly out of the blue to ask if we needed assistance. One young woman actually went out of her own way to lead us from one platform to another. Germans have a reputation (I picked up this vibe in Austria) for being cold and unfriendly, but I find it to be quite the opposite here in Berlin.

Brandenburg Gate

Brandenburger Tor
German Jewish poet/playwright Nelly Sachs
     The Brandenburger Tor seen on a snowy January afternoon is uninspiring as far as architectural monuments go. Berlin is a city for history buffs, not for tourists in bermuda shorts and sunglasses. Although there were many tourists posing with “actors” dressed in military uniforms using the Tor as background for the “I was there” souvenir photo, there wasn't a pair of bermuda shorts in sight, but heavy coats and scarves and woolen caps...and the snow kept on falling. It gave off a faint impression of the dreariness you associate with wartime Germany.  

Holocaust Memorials:

Roma and Sinti

Gypsy Holocaust Memorial
     Berlin seems to wear its past on its sleeve. Here and there you can see references to a sense of the collective shame for Germany's National Socialist past. There is a monument to the gypsy victims of the extermination camps between the Brandenburger Tor and the Bundestag consisting simply of a wall with historical texts in German and English and a shallow circular pool surrounded by flat stones of different shapes some of which are inscribed with the names of the camps, some, ironically, with melodious names like Treblinka, Bergen-Belsen, Ravensbrueck, Sobibor. The monument was dedicated on October 24, 2012 by Chancellor Angela Merkel. 


Jewish Holocaust Memorial
     Just to the south of the Brandenburger Tor lies the monument to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust inaugurated on May 10, 2005. The Jewish Holocaust Memorial... “is made up of 2,711 gray stone slabs that bear no markings. The slabs undulate in a wave-like pattern. Each is a five-sided monolith, individually unique in shape and size. Some are only ankle high while others tower over visitors. 

     The paths that are shaped between the slabs undulate as well. The architect, Peter Eisenman, hoped to create a feeling of groundlessness and instability; a sense of disorientation. Most will agree that he succeeded.”


     After going around the Jewish memorial we crossed the street and entered the Tiergarten on our way to pick up tickets at the Berlin Philharmonic. The park was beautiful with the fresh snow that had fallen all morning looking pristine and virginal. We passed a monument to Goethe when I noticed a lone stele similar to the more than 2,000 stelae in the Jewish Memorial. I didn't know what it was but I snapped a quick shot of it and then we continued on through the snowy paths to the concert hall. It turned out to be another holocaust memorial, this one for the homosexuals persecuted by the Nazis. Discrimination knows no bounds it seems.

On the brighter side:

Goethe monument in the Tiergarten 

the abominable snowman?


Anonymous said...

As you can imagine, being a Jewish woman, I have no desire to go into Germany or to even hear the language spoken. It is a 'knee jerk' reaction. I am interested, however, in your comments and photos, however. They reflect my inner thoughts, which are, no desire to go there…industrialized and bleak.

Interesting that this architect, Peter Eisenman, created this very moving project. Wonder if he is Jewish?

As far as your comment "melodious names like Treblinka, Bergen-Belsen, Ravensbrueck, Sobibor" these will never be melodious names to those who have studied the Holocaust or lost loved ones.

Noilly Prattle said...

I don't know if Eisenman is Jewish--couldn't find any reference to his beliefs. He is American and from New Jersey--like Philip Roth--and like Roth, his work has been controversial.

Although I agree that we should not forget the past, I think that it is best to put it behind us. The Germans have been guilty of a great crime against humanity, but the Holocaust survivor who spoke at the dedication of the monument put it very well and generously.

"Holocaust survivor Sabina Wolanski was chosen to speak on behalf of the six million dead. In her speech she noted that although the Holocaust had taken everything she valued, it had also taught her that hatred and discrimination are doomed to fail. She also emphasised that the children of the perpetrators of the Holocaust are not responsible for the actions of their parents." [Wikipedia]

Sometimes we need to face the things we fear the most. What we despise in others is what we fear the most about ourselves.

Anonymous said...

Ms Wolanski's words ring true, Joe. No one should be taught hatred or discrimination. Children are not responsible for the actions of their parents. Instead, the actions of today should be watched. I am afraid that anti-semitism is alive and well. One would be foolish not to remember and be vigilant.


Anonymous said...

and you are right…'discrimination knows no bounds'.

Loved the two new photos, as well!

Take care of your piggie.