Berlin looks like a black and white landscape through a colorfoul filter.
Despite invensting a lot on reconstruction, Berlin is the city of contradictions where its dark history makes its presence felt. But, this is where its beauty and appeal lie upon. Berlin is characterized by multiformity, which brings an amalgam of mixed feelings back to life and gives a lot of choices to its visitors.
On the one hand, while walking along the street, you have the feeling that artistic movements and political or economical developement take place in every corner. On the other hand, there are snippets of 20th century historical events sparsely populated. The eastern element and the memories of modern history coexist and walk alongside modern, progressive Berlin. It’s the visitor who chooses from which persective to see Berlin. As a symbol of contradictions with such a critical role, it is definately an interesting idea to discover its bipolar nature.
A modern, European big city
The capital of Germany is the destination of millions of tourits each year. It is a breeding ground for entertainment, education or the promotion of new ideas. Being well-known for its nightlife, Berlin is not a typical german or european city of the North. The night there starts after midnight. Some of the most popular and legendary clubs, which are usually housed in old factories, are a tourist destination for a great amount of people.
Sights and Museums are for everything!
Berlin’s museum list gives a lot of options. Some of them worth the anticipation but some others explain why tourists are so amused by greek museums. As it usually happens with hitorical cities, it’s not just the exhibits in the museum that matter. The city corners, where parts of History came to life, are of great importance, too.
Museum island (Museuminsel) It is so-called for the complex of internationally significant museums, all part of the Berlin State Museums. It is located in the Spree river that traverses the city. There are five museums in there: The Οld Μuseum (Altes Museum), the New Museum (Neues Museum), the Old National Gallery (Alte Nationalgalerie), the Bode Museum (Bode-Museum) and the Pergamon Musuem (Pergamonmuseum). The amount of exhibits and information is huge. If you are organized and well-informed, you can have the greatest experience.
On the other side of the city, the German Museum of Technology is of great interest. Despite negative connotations, German scientific contribution to the technological evolution of the last century plays a significant role. Thanks to the studies that have been conducted by Germans, some of the first carcinogens, such as smoking, have been discovered. Ejector seats and subsonic jet aeroplanes are some of the technological developments associated with Germany. We should not forget, though, that the beginning of all that development has to do with the nazi eugenics and bombing.
East Side Gallery is considered a concerted effort of symbolic works made by various artists. Apart from being a tourist attraction, it is also a Cold War Monument. It will be there to remind the germans and teach the visitors about the days when it was “the Wall of Shame”.
In Berlin, there are elements of conservatism and regisme, such as memorials, sparsely populated.
These elements are considered historical landmarks of the Modern Western Civilization.
A few miles away Berlin is located the concentration camp Sachsenhausen . It is one of the first camps that were used during the years of Nazi Germany. This unknown camp was the destination for people with cognitive and physical disabilities, homosexuals and social groups. They were all victims of the Nazi insanity, “enemies” of the Aryan race.
The chronicle of the city
So, after World War I, World War II, Nazism and Communism, how did this presvervative nature of Berlin’s was created and constructed?
From the World War I to the Inetrwar period and the rise of the Nazi Party.
From 1918 to 1939, there was a dangerous period for Europe, a period which was full of decay and mutant glory that find themselves in Berlin. During the Interwar period, the German capital was not that different from the rest European capitals. Berlin’s identinty was mostly constructed by poor neighborhoods and its people experienced conservatism and poverty. Fear, as tool of fascist control, characterized the city.
The Fall of Nazism and the surrender of the city
After the allies and the Soviets entered Berlin, the bombarded city freezed and broke like the heart of the loser. It was split into four quadrants, belonging to France, Great Britain, the United States of America and the Soviet. The first three belonged to the western part of the city. Despite the fact that it was divided into East and West, Berlin was located in the heart of the East Germany. The government of the East Germany violated the Berlin agreement according to which the city was supposed to be a buffer zone. East Berlin became the capital of the German Democratic Republic. (DDR – Deutsche Demokratische Republik).
Open boarders between East and West
From 1949 to 1961 there was a peculiar coexistence between East and West. The West tried to recover and follow the social evolution. The West started regaining power while the East reinforced its regime and dogmatism. The financial transactions were part of this coexistence. A lot of residents worked in the western part of the city, because they had better incomes, but they lived in the eastern part of the city, because life there was cheaper. The need to escape made the eastern regime raise “the anti-fascist wall”, as they called it.
In one night, a 45 kilometeres distance was split by a cemented wall, made by prebafricated parts that join one another. In fact, the final result was way more complicated.
Once again in their History, Germans proved their creativity. They used traps, alarms and obstacles made specifically for that purpose: to split one city into two parts. Their creativity had many faces. GDR’s citizens used all means in order to escape. It was estimated that smart car modifications and tunnels, that they built with their own hands, helped 5000 people to escape from West Germany. The biggest obstacle they had to overcome was Stasi.
The secret police or State Security (Staatssicherheit) had recruit more than 90.000 agents and 20.000
informants in the whole Germany. The comparison between Gestapo and State Security shows the
escalation of terrorism.
At least 140 people were killed in an attempt to escape. On a daily basis, Stasi violated the human rights and freedom in all Eastern Germany in a way that might be considered admirable by all totalitarian regimes. People of different categories were kept in prison. The prisons were full of people charged with various charges: suspicion of escaping, accusasions of denying to become spies, their political views and their opposition to social conventions that were imposed on them. However, prisons were immedialtely full of people and the governenment was in need for money. As a result, some of the prsioners were sold to the West.
Fall der Mauer!
The Fall of the Wall happened in 1989. The enfeeblement of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev’s parestroika and the constant demonstrations in East Germany lead to the fall of the Wall of Shame on November 9, 1989. Citizens that belonged to different social groups, run on the wall and destroyed the cemented symbol with sledgehammers, shovels and their bare hands. The reunification was now a reality. The Media covered the unexpected case. It is considered that all happened because of the lack of communication between the members of the government, the lack of a common policy and the unsuccessful attempt of the guards to prevent having any more victims.
In the aftermath of the Events
Germany was a Europe’s simulation of the division between East and West projected in one country.. Berlin symbolizes the Cold War, the luck of freedom and the fanatism.
Many millions and diligent actions have sought to heal Berlin’s wounds. However, there are still some city corners, and I don’t mean the organized monuments, where someone can easily identify what is left from the wounds. Colorless spots that bring to mind the days of terror and terrorism. Memories that are still alive, not only for Berliners and Germans but also for the whole western civilization.
Reliving History through Art
All means that had been supressed during the war and through socialism, they now describe all these eras that walked through a city, a nation and a continent.
Germany’s dark history is an artistic and historical inspiration for the movie industry. More specifically, it is worth to mention some works related to what happened in Berlin:
- Goodbye Lenin – Wolfgang Becker
- The lives of Others Das Leben Der Anderen) – Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
- The Serpent’s Egg – Ingmar Bergman
- Berlin Alexanderplatz – Rainer Werner Fassbinder
- Bridge of Spies – Steven Spielberg
One of the characteristics that works of enduring value have is their adaptivity in space and time. Logically speaking, we could possibly place Berlin in the middle of an orwellian scenery. It is a combination of socialistic and soviet occupation under the eye of terrorism.
Untouched by time, books like “Goodbye Berlin”, written by Cristopher Isherwood, “Alone in Berlin” by Hans Fallada, “Berlin, Alexanderplatz” by Alfred Döblin and the “March Violets” by Phillip Kerr describe different periods in time. The theme is quite obvious in all of them.
In Eastern Germany, the music instruments were hard to find and the musicians were hiding behind an alibi job. In Western Germany, somewhere between 1976-1979, the British singer David Bowie was in an apartment in Berlin with his flatmate, Iggy Pop. It was in there where he recorded 3 discs. “Heroes” became the symbol of the city. It was about a couple, like so many others during that time, that was seperated by the cement and the barbed wires of the regime. The song was released in german by Till Lindemann, the singer and songwriter of the eastern-german goup Rammstein, and Apocaliptica. The title was “Helden“. Sex Pistols also gave us the song “Holidays in the Sun“. In a concert (before they call it their last one) Scorpions played the song “Wind of Change” with Berlin Philarmonic Orchestra. Last but not least, Nina Hagen added in the list the song “Auf’m Bahnhof Zoo“.
Today’s totalitariam regimes, terrorism and Europe
At the end of 20th century, Europe said goodbye to a regime that caused terror and entered dynamically the new millenium. This chapter seemed to be closed for the West. Nowadays, though, Old Continent experieces an unknown reality to the new generations. Europe experiences phenomena that seemed to belong in the past, either because they seemed as part of the history, or because we watched these events on TV, happening at the other side of the ocean. However, they appeared again. We are not talking about fundametalistic and obscure middle-eastern countries. The time there has stopped somewhere in the Middle Ages, but there are some touches of contemporary guns.
The rising of populism and the flourishing of conspiracy theories create a breeding ground for the recruitement and the religious organizations that most of the times ended up in deadly attacks. Even though the kind of peace we experience the last few years in the western world is the result of technological developments, communication and financial interests, the human being finds always a way to awaken uneducated people’s worst instincts through dogmatism. There are risks hidden behind the walls built by states or religions, which are accompanied by populism… risks that we thought we had reduced, if not completely eliminated.
Propaganda and misinformation have always been the main weapon of every dictator. Stasi made sure to convince a certain section of the population of the fact that the West was the enemy of socialism and that the Wall was protecting them from the outside world. However, the Wall actually kept them inside. There were those who believed that a Socialist political system was the real Paradise. Nonetheless, there were those who trusted the West. Terrorism and propaganda lead to the distortion of the truth.
Yasmon Green gives a speech in a Ted event about a new tool against propaganda and hate speech. Her speech is «How Technology can fight extremism and online harassment». She develops her speech around the technological exploitation in favor of peace. At the same time, we all know that terrorism has spread and been organized thanks to the Internet. Jigsaw develops machine learning models on emotional effects that the use of language has on people’s critical thinking. Jigsaw cooperates with famous pages, search engines and internet communities that spread news and ideas around the world. Google and New York Times are some of them and they try to fight against all negative aspects of science, made by criminals, terrorists and dictators, by using the good side of technology.
Humanity is divided by boardes and facial characteristics, forms habits and attitudes. The phenomena that emerge have all a common start point, our human nature. The concepts of state, money, religion, absolutism, terrorism are all human inventions. Freedom, love and prosperity are human rights. Let us defend them against every kind of danger, having as weapon our humanity.
Translation: Anatoli Petsou