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August 16, 2018

Berlin Part 1: Destroyed by War and Torn Apart By Politics

by Steve Winogradsky

Berlin was the capital of Nazi Germany, and even today there are many reminders of that horrific time in Germany's history. The Nazis destroyed many of the historic buildings in Berlin and many others were destroyed by the Allies bombing the city. Today, many of those buildings have been rebuilt in a style similar to the original buildings, but in some areas entirely new structures have gone up, some since the Communist regime ended in 1990.

In many places, there are monuments and memorials to those killed by the Nazis during the war. One of these is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. An entire city block contains dark grey concrete slabs to commemorate to loss of so many lives. While none of the blocks include the names of any of the victims, it is a stark reminder of the horrors of this war.


In a park-like setting is the Block of Women memorial to the non-Jewish women of Berlin who successfully protested the deportation of their Jewish husbands to Auschwitz.


Outside the Reichstag, the home of the Weimar Republic government prior to the war, there is a Memorial to the Murdered Members of the Reichstag, those 96 officials who attempted to stand up to the Nazi regime and were killed as a result.



There are also small brass plaques with the names of people who were killed after being transported to concentration camps. These small stones (called Stolpersteine or "stumbling stones") are placed in the sidewalk near the last known address or workplace of the victim.

Note the date of birth, date of deportation and date of death in a concentration camp.
A vacant lot, a parking area, and a sign are all that is left to mark the spot of Hitler's bunker, where he and Eva Braun, his wife of 40 hours, killed themselves. Or as Ricky Gervais once called it, "the world's worst honeymoon".



In recognizing the horrors caused during WWII, the Germans are intent on living up to the slogan "Never again".

The history of the city of Berlin since the end of World War II is a complicated one. After the defeat of Germany by the Allies (US, France, Great Britain and the Soviet Union [yes, the Soviet Union was on our side during WWII]) , the city was divided into four sections, each controlled by a different country. While the Soviets controlled East Berlin, West Berlin was controlled by the US, France and England. Adding to the complexity is that the city itself was surrounded by East Germany, controlled by the Soviets.

As might be expected, the Soviets erected a memorial to their soldiers killed in the Battle of Berlin.



For many years, there were no restrictions on travel between East and West Berlin and many East Berliners moved to the West for better living conditions and a better political climate. To prevent this, in 1961, virtually overnight, the East Germans built a wall around West Berlin, i.e., the Berlin Wall. Not until 1989 was the wall removed and free travel allowed families to be reunited. Soon after that, East and West Germany also reunited into modern-day Germany.

In many places around the city, there are reminders of the Wall. As we exited the subway near our hotel at Potsdamer Platz, one of the first things we saw was sections of the Wall.


All over town,there are bricks in the road or on sidewalks showing where the Wall used to be.


There is a long stretch of the Wall called the East Side Gallery where artists have been invited to paint sections with messages they felt were important. Some are whimsical, some are reminders of the past, and some show hope for the future.





Each rose on this picture represents a person killed trying to escape over the Wall


One of the most famous images on the East Side Gallery is titled "My God, Help Me To Survive This Deadly Love", showing a kiss between Leonid Brezhnev, the General Secretary of the Soviet Union, and Erich Honecker, the General Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party of the German Democratic Republic (i.e., East Germany).


There is also a Berlin Wall Memorial, where there are sections of the wall with signs describing the "kill zones" between the barbed wire fencing and the actual Wall, where people were shot trying to escape, and stones laid in the grassy areas showing where tunnels were dug for attempted escapes.


A small section of a larger display of photos of people killed trying to escape East Germany to the West.

Stones showing the path of a tunnel used to escape.
If Berlin was nothing but the scenes and locations above, no one would want to visit there, but the city is actually quite beautiful, as will be shown in our next post.



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1 comment >>

  1. Excellent and very educational. Thank you both for taking us along on your great journey.

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