We covered the main attractions of Berlin today with an 8-hour supertour. The guide, Boris something, was American but I’d bet he has more in-depth knowledge about Berlin than many 3rd-generation Berliners do. Many pictures were ruined by the Jesus people’s gigantic orange halo floats, but this was still a quality tour with a great guide.
Funniest historical footnote he threw our way: JFK actually said “I am a jelly donut” upon attempting “I am a Berliner.”
In the “history grossly oversimplifies things” / “I haven’t taken enough history classes” department goes the fact that it was Berlin walls, not wall, in that there were 3 different versions of increasing difficulty to surpass and the final version consisted of 2 walls with a “killing zone” in between.
The Checkpoint Charlie museum’s proof that you can’t keep people from being free and where they want to be even if you make the walls higher (one family deployed a zip line across, leaving from a high window of the air force building), outlaw diving equipment (some crossed the river holding their breath and others used equipment improvised from welding supplies), add underwater barbed wire (somebody made it to Denmark via a homemade submarine), search cars (a western musician’s eastern girlfriend made it west hidden inside an amplifier, while one guy had 5 different VW Beetles with hidden people-smuggling compartments), and disallow aviation (multiple gliders / airplanes were built from scraps and flown to freedom).
The weirdest historical sight I’ve ever seen was the entrance to Hitler’s underground bunker. It’s just an unmarked metal door into the ground, inconspicuously surrounded by bushes and near apartment buildings. There’s nothing that distinguishes it from your average entrance to a sewer which, given its former inhabitants, seems in many ways appropriate. According to our guide, Berlin’s built on a swamp so Hitler’s bunker is now filling with water. This definitely seems like a nation overwhelmed into inaction by the magnitude of emotion in its past. Either turn the bunker into a museum and give the income from admissions to holocaust remembrance charities (a nicely utilitarian solution) or go through the trouble of actually destroying the damn thing. There are memorial plaques on some historically important buildings here that say something along the lines of “lest we forget;” wouldn’t the same logic, or maybe something along the lines of “lest we collectively refuse to accept, confront, learn from, and transcend,” apply to the bunker of an undeniably evil and historically important figure? Can’t we learn more from history by preserving as much as possible, no matter how disturbing?
A main argument against properly preserving or even marking Hitler-related sights is that they’ll become gathering places for neonazis. Boris’ explanation for the dearth of overtly racist scumbags shows great symbiosis: the leftist punks harass them right out of the city! He described neonazi parades turned into total chaos, as the punks have an excellent time throwing rocks at prejudiced scum and “polizei” alike. The punks seem like an excellent reason for Berlin to keep welfare benefits high and penalties for civil disobedience low…
Great idea being poorly executed is the “Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.” Still in an early stage of construction, this will basically be a city block of concrete blocks that are various heights with space in between to walk and contemplate. There’s no entrance or anything centralized: you enter and leave from any of the edge blocks. To see why this is a bad idea, look no further than what remains of the Berlin Wall(s). Actually, look shorter: to the exterior of almost any building in the city that’s not brightly lit and / or heavily guarded. As Boris put it, “Berliners love their graffiti.” Maybe it won’t be swastikas from the right, but the left just might jump in: pinken a block as tribute to the oft-forgotten homosexuals who were killed in concentration camps?