BERLIN — Berlin, 2010. A cold war mausoleum. A city that has been burnt, bombed, destroyed and rebuilt. Haunted by images of World War II. Cold War remnants are scattered throughout the city. Berlin is a city whose past is part of its present, whose past is visible in everyday life.
As I walk down the street, I can easily tell whether I am in former East Berlin or the West. A brick path marks the former location of the Berlin Wall, making the border eternally visible. Sections of the wall remain standing, the western part covered entirely in graffiti, filled with art and depicting messages of peace, hope and anger. Soviet-built streetlights are still in use in the East, while the Allies’ version is quite different.
When asked where they are from, Berlin locals will often specify the “East” or the “West,” even though the city has been unified for 20 years. Many from the older generation are stuck in the past. A crazy old man walks down the street, saying, “The East! The East! I am from the East,” apparently unaware that no one is listening. An old woman on the U-Bahn tells stories of her Cold War past to the teenager beside her, who has headphones on and wants to be left alone. Everyone here has a story. The 21-year old girl who I met yesterday told me what life was like for her parents, who never left East Berlin, during the Cold War. The girl, born months before the wall fell, was born and raised in the same apartment where her parents spent their East German lives.
Memories of tragedies and death flood the city. Memorials for the deceased, whether it be Jews or attempted East German escapees, are scattered throughout the city. Berlin is a city that will never forget its past.
Every day Berliners face the history of their country, and the young generations generally have very tolerant, liberal and peaceful attitudes because of their education. Students in local schools spend years reading literature about World War II and the Cold War. The law prohibits bookstores from selling “Mein Kampf.” The only place where graffiti is legal is on the remaining pieces of the Berlin Wall. Hitler’s bunker is not a tourist attraction. In fact, until recently it was unrecognized, nothing more than a parking lot. Now there is a sign marking its location, but nothing more. It is not preserved. It is a part of history that Germans want to forget and not open up for tourism. Instead, major tourist attractions include the Holocaust Memorial and the Soviet Memorial, which honor those who were killed during the war.
Berlin itself is a museum of German history, with 20th century remnants and artifacts dispersed throughout. Even my study abroad program’s building has history to it, being a gift from the Americans to the Germans during the Cold War, with the aim to improve German-American friendship. Berlin, 2010 – a city that will never forget.