The last time my mother visited Berlin half the city was still barred to her access beyond the Berlin Wall. Wandering alongside its famed East Side Gallery and visiting the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe I can’t help but sadly note how detached I feel from all that has passed here. I am a child of a generation born free and idealistic, of an age marked by cynicism and it’s rather sorry partner in crime, complacency. I am so blessed but my heart is still forgetful. Though my mind is full of knowledge and remembrance; though I am sobered by the thought of war; though I am moved to tears by the many parallel accounts of what befell those under Nazi power during the war and stunned into silence by the human-rights violations that passed as normal behind the iron curtain, I cannot begin to conceive of this heritage of pain and suffering as one belonging or even related to me.
In my eighteen short years I have witnessed poverty, glimpsed the effects of racism on those around me and seen the injuries white imperialism has dealt to continental Africa. I have read countless news stories which tell of war and hate, watched unnumbered news-casts and documentaries about the trouble that brews in the middle east. I am old enough to remember the day that the Twin Towers fell and young enough to be self-righteously critical of this so called “War on Terrorism.” But I have never tasted war.
White, wealthy and western, I brush with oppression rarely and only because of my gender. My home in Canada is so far removed from this European seat of history. I know many people who lived through the war and many more who witnessed, however distantly, those that followed: Cold, Vietnamese, Korean, Gulf and all the rest. But I know no “survivors”, few soldiers, few victims, and with those I know I have never spoken at any great length. It is rare to hear someone such as myself (young, freedom-loving, political, opinionated, well-read) say: “I don’t quite know what to make of Berlin, and all that transpired there. I know where I would draw the lines of right and wrong, at whom I’d like to point the finger. I’m glad that the Wall came down when it did and I know and respect the importance of remembrance, but by God this history feels so removed from my present.” I’m saying it now.
No textbook can put you in the shoes of your ancestors. Though no one can ever remove the sting of a history of hate from the record books, my peers and I can’t feel it either. Already the word “Nazi” has ceased to stir up fear and righteous anger in the hearts of most of my friends. We apply it to our mothers and those of us who are strict on grammar. When I tell people that my father’s ancestors are from Germany they sometimes jokingly call me one. I can proudly call myself a Marxist without any Canadian my age batting an eyelid- the label holds no sting for forward-thinking members of my generation. No one dreams that I might be associating myself with the DDR or any of the disbanded Soviet Union.
Remembrance may run thick and hot through the veins of people in Europe and those who were here to witness the atrocities of the 20th century, but history is a matter taught and memorized for those of us who do not live surrounded by the past. We are complacent because we can be, cynical because men died for our freedom to be so. We are forgetful because we have been given the luxury of forgetting. It is a sad and sorry thought that I, someone who prides herself on knowledge, intellect and empathy can wander Berlin’s streets and be moved but still detached, can see history for what it is but not for its significant relation to her life today. Brave men that gave your lives, brave souls that lost theirs unnecessarily, to all the men and women who lived and still live under terror, for my privilege an the detachment that it brings I am truly sorry.
All that being said, I did thoroughly enjoy Berlin and it was a most informative and reflective visit. I could easily spend more time in this city, just to see the sights and take more photographs. The Monument to the Murdered Jews of Europe was greatly sobering, as was the Holocaust Museum nearby. The paintings of the East Side Gallery are some of the most incredibly moving works I’ve ever witnessed (despite the new additions of graffiti that are painted over them daily). Below are some pictures I took of the city, some I am proud of and some less so. As is often the case with tourist pictures they cannot begin to capture the city in which they were taken, and they cannot replicate the feeling of actually being there. None of these can possibly show how uncomfortable I began to feel on my second day in the city when I realized I was remembering without truly remembering the effects of the Second World War on Germany and the world at large, and that I could only reflect back on the Cold War and its events with confusion and disgust directed at all parties involved.
I am sorry if I’ve in any way offended you with my honesty, and I apologize for my thoughtlessness. I thank you for tolerating my ignorance and humbly request that if you feel you can make the horrors of our disgraceful human history more distinct and memorable in the collective mind of my generation that you would do so, in writing or any other artistic medium and that if you know of or have completed any such project, you would let me know.
Upcoming: A post with some more optimistic and hopeful thoughts from Berlin, title to be decided. “Dresden and Hamburg: An Opera House and The Rathaus.” and “Living Life in a Language I Hardly Speak.” These will come pretty quickly, I think, because I’m heading to Paris bright and early tomorrow morning and hope to have a post up from there on or shortly after May 8th. Sorry for the weeks of no-posting followed by a week of dashboard/ email spam. Please bear with me, and maybe change your email settings so you only receive posts weekly if I’m bothering you overmuch; this has happened before and will probably happen again.