Tourists and bureaucrats hurry across the line of cobble stones set in the concrete square outside the Berlin parliament buildings. On their way to the next meeting or sightseeing tour, they cross it as if it was the most natural thing in the world, without thinking.
A bronze plaque set periodically among the stones reminds everyone that takes the time to look that until late l989, a high concrete wall stood where the stones lie. It wasn’t there to keep people out but to keep people in – not in a prison, but in a country. The wall was heavily guarded. Anyone daring to cross it was shot dead without asking questions.
Once again I’m reminded of what a privilege it is to live in a free country like Canada. I have the right to come and go as I please. I have the right to speak my mind without being afraid of imprisonment or that my children will be ostracized. I don’t worry that my friends could be spies for the government.
Berlin wants to make sure those living there and visiting it recognize that privilege too. The wall separating East and West Germany – separating families, friends and ideologies – is torn down. But several segments have become permanent monuments. I was deeply moved by the brief stories, the clearly marked border, the sparse landscape around it.
The Holocaust Mahnmal (memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe) reminds us of another tragic part of Berlin’s past. It’s also Germany’s past and all of Europe, touching even Canada. The memorial is an uncomfortable arrangement of what looks like grey gravestones to me. The deeper you go into the rows, the more overpowering they become.
Later we visited the Jewish Museum. The Jews have been persecuted for ages past, not just during World War 2. The crusades were first directed against the Jews. The Pest during the dark ages was blamed on the Jews, resulting in more mass killings.
I was interested to read that Jewish children, both girls and boys, have always been taught to read and write – regardless of their social status. No wonder there are so many Jewish intellectuals – much of our music, literature, art, and science comes from the Jews (i.e. Felix Mendelssohn, Nelly Sachs, Albert Einstein). Many Nobel Prize winners are Jews.
Berlin is a fascinating place to visit – not just for its history, which alone would be worth it. It’s a vibrant young city, full of bikes and graffiti and great places to eat and party. We spent five days there with our two sons and daughter-in-law. Robert says it was long enough to find out what he really wants to see.