An Ironic Memorial

As you may have read in the “about me”  section of this little blog, I like to travel.  And it is true, I do.  Sometimes there is an opportunity for travel be it due to some sort of offer, the savings of a lifetime for a trip of a lifetime, traveling for a job, or simply being in the right place at the right time.  Sometimes that “travel” is more intrinsic than physical.  Maybe travel comes from a received postcard, catching a Rick Steves show on PBS, the reading of a book or magazine….

Years ago, when I was a much younger woman, I always dreamed of traveling to Italy.  Maybe it was because I was studying art in college with a keen interest in the Renaissance, maybe it was because of a developing interest in cooking, with Italian food being in the forefront. Maybe it was because of the adoption –see, I can blame everything on this 🙂 –When I was in college, my roommates once posted a notice on our door: “Sophia Loren’s love child for adoption”–I was the “said” love child.  I was not offended at their attempt at humor as I had to admit it was rather humorous–I was adopted and I loved all things Italian and certainly thought Sophia Loren quite pretty, so why be mad?!  What a nice fantasy to entertain…however, I digress…

When I was first married many many years ago, I subscribed to Gourmet magazine, later Food and Wine, as well as Bon Appétite.  I expectantly waited each month for my latest copy to arrive in the mail (this was the age before advanced technology and there was no digital world to speak of). I would pour over each issue practically salivating while imagining trying my hand at any of the listed recipes.  It was however the stories on various places around the globe that would catch my attention.  I still have the travel issue which focused on Italy.  The issue with the feature cover of the Isle of Capri, with the lapis lazuli blue waters of the Mediterranean  lapping at the steep cliffs held me captive.  If memory serves, that issue may have come out in the late 1980s.  I still have that issue  in a box up in the attic.  It was to be a benchmark goal of mine.

Fast forward to 2012.  I had recently found myself at a crossroads—I was newly retired.  I suppose that was a good reason to take a trip.  I had saved up for almost two years and worked hard by plotting and planning in order to put to the best use, almost 3 weeks, for my aunt, another retired teacher and myself — spending that time traveling, via train, through the heart of Europe.  It was to be a trip to Switzerland, Austria, The Czech Republic  and Germany.  We were only going to have a day and a half in Berlin–way too short.  I have always been of the mindset that when I am traveling, I must be a sponge and soak up as much as possible about where I may be at the time.  Who is to say that I will ever be able to return—it’s now or never!!  This comes as a bit of frustration for people who travel with me as they often like to slow down to, say, breathe.

There is much I wish to share concerning Berlin.  I will do so in parts—today shall be but a small part.

I am a huge history buff (if you read my post regarding my high school history teacher, you already know this).  I am so taken and captivated by the time and events of WWII.  I have read countless books on the subject.  Berlin has always possessed a mystique and quite frankly many ghosts, as it is often at the center of this particular tumultuous time period of the Great War.  To be honest, I was a bit apprehensive and almost overwhelmed at the thought of traveling to Berlin, wondering what would I find there as I know it has many ghosts and shadows—some courageous and some most infamous.

From being a keen observer of the global picture and the dominance of Germany on, say, the World Financial Market, I knew, as well as know, Germany is a force to be reckoned with—and as that it is for today, I am pleased—as I know from which this ancient nation of people has come.   Out of the ashes has risen a great eagle of power that now is a testament to unification, democracy , as well as the determination to not repeat the heinous mistakes of the past…. From the dark days of bombings and megalomaniacs, to the division of an oh so “Cold” war a new nation has stepped forth onto the world stage.  May it be noted that Germany’s economy has stood the test of the world’s latest financial crisis that has seen the US, as well as other European nations falter.

But there is one monument amongst the many monuments of honor and remembrance in the great city of Berlin that I wish to look at today….The memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe.  Please follow me as I recount the encounter with this most moving of monuments.

…..We had just finished a tour of the Reichstag when we made our way to see the Brandenburg gate. We noticed an area covered in granite or concrete looking slabs across the street. We also noticed the American Embassy right across from the slabs.  We made our way over to ask the guard standing out in front of the embassy what the slabs were all about. The guard, by the way, at the American Embassy ,was actually a British officer–odd to say the least but we are “cousins after all. He was very nice and explained the memorial to us. The varying heights and placements of the slabs symbolize the encroaching nazi control over the lives of the Jewish people—at first not so squeezing or shadowing–but as events unfolded and life grew more and more difficult, eventually turning  dangerous and finally quite fatal, the slabs grow in height and proximity to one another.

People are allowed to wander amongst the slabs as the Memorial creates the effect of a maze.  As the slabs grow, one grows claustrophobic. The effect on one merely walking through the Memorial creates a physical feeling–dizziness for some, suffocating for others–nervousness and even nausea.  As a high school art teacher, I was always told that if something moved you emotionally or even physically—perhaps making one dizzy or unbalanced, then perhaps the artist has made his or her point. This memorial did all of that and then some.

The guard also told us that we could find a small plaque on the street located on the far end of the Memorial (the Memorial covers several acres of space) that pinpoints the infamous bunker of Hitler. The Memorial now covers and overshadows that once infamous place— and that a car park covers the remaining area–how absolutely fitting I thought.

The ghosts of history still haunt Berlin just as many cities still deal with ghosts of the past–however in Berlin I find their ghosts to still be very prominent.  For the history seeker, one has to look very hard to find reference to the landmarks of Hitler.  We would never have known about the bunker being underneath the Holocaust Memorial had the British Guard not told us.  It is not for me to judge how Germany, especially Berlin, or Munich, deals with their links to a brutal past.  It is, however, wonderful to marvel over how they have rebuilt and put the pieces back together in such a short amount of time—the Wall has not been down but a little over 20 years—

There is so much to learn from our past as a global nation of people and yet there is so much to look forward to… for a hopeful future–or not—-the decision of past vs future , which will we choose, will be up to each generation to come as each generation will  have decide how we, as a global people,  should best move forward……and that is the key…always moving forward but with an eye to the past….

Oh, and by the way, I haven’t made it to the Isle of Capri yet but I will one day—as my future is to move forward!

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