From September 1970 to May 1972 my husband – a U.S. Army Military Intelligence officer – and I were stationed in Munich, Germany. As Jews only 25 years after the end of WWII we felt uncomfortable at a time when an infamous Waffen SS unit could openly hold a 25-year reunion and the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam almost closed due to lack of funds.
In recent years I knew that Germany had begun to face its Nazi past and that Berlin especially had memorials to its Nazi and Communist pasts.
When my husband and I had been stationed in Munich, because we both had security clearances, we were not allowed to go into East Berlin. We flew to West Berlin and stood on the viewing stand at Checkpoint Charlie to look into East Berlin.
Now when I visited Berlin in August of 2016 it was hard to even tell where the Berlin Wall stood. And I spent much of my time in the former East Berlin because that is where numerous world-class museums are located along with other sites from history.
For those of you interested in the history of the Stasi in East Germany, the Stasi Museum is quite informative. And as in several places in Berlin, including Checkpoint Charlie, while there is a museum with an admission fee there is also a free outside exhibit. The Stasi was the East Germany security system that spied extensively on its own citizens, and the number of people who spied on their neighbors is staggering to contemplate.
Another very interesting historical site is the Typography of Terror Documentation Center, which during the Third Reich was the location of the headquarters of the Secret State Police, the SS and the Reich Security Main Office. This center also has indoor and outdoor exhibits.
One of the more compelling memorials in Berlin is the Memorial to the Sinti and Roma Victims of National Socialism designed by Israeli artist Dani Karavan and located near the Brandenburg Gate. As Ina R. Friedman says in her book THE OTHER VICTIMS: FIRST-PERSON STORIES OF NON-JEWS PERSECUTED BY THE NAZIS: “Of all Hitler’s intended victims, only Gypsies and Jews were to be exterminated completely. No member of these groups, from infants to grandparents, was to be permitted to live.”
The outdoor Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe designed by architect Peter Eisenman and engineer Buro Happold is nearby, and there is also an inside museum.
The Jewish Museum designed by architect Daniel Libeskind is a truly innovative museum experience. The museum itself is not focused only on the Holocaust but instead features two millennia of German-Jewish history.
And finally, when you walk around Berlin you may notice that you are stepping on little brass plaques. These are what are called Stolpersteine. As quoted on http://www.stolpersteine.eu/en/home/ : “The artist Gunter Demnig remembers the victims of National Socialism by installing commemorative brass plaques in the pavement in front of their last address of choice. There are now STOLPERSTEINE (lit. stumbling stones or blocks) in over 610 places in Germany as well as in Austria, Hungary, the Netherlands, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Norway and Ukraine.”
Wherever you go in Berlin you may stumble (pun intended) upon reminders of the dark Nazi past. As shown in the recent documentary GERMANS AND JEWS, there is a neighborhood in Berlin that commemorates with picture placards the various restrictions placed on Jews once the Nazis came to power, including such laws as the hours during the day that Jews were allowed to shop for food.
All of these reminders of a dark historical past come at a very relevant point in our own time. As someone pointed out today on Facebook, Hitler was elected to power – he did NOT take over in a military coup. We must always remain vigilant as to political activities in our own democracies.
And as the Cold War is reported to be heating up, you might want to read for free on Wattpad my Cold War memoir TALES OF AN AMERICAN OCCUPYING GERMANY – see http://budurl.com/TAintro – for insight into what the original Cold War entailed for U.S. troops and their families on the front lines.