Modernity is History

Berlin is a modern city. It has new buildings and neighborhoods that are being expanded every day. But Berlin is also a historic city. Not historic in the sense of most of the cities in Europe with their ancient ruins or centuries old buildings; Berlin’s newness is its history. Since so much of Berlin had to be rebuilt after World War II, the new architecture is a painful reminder of the horrors happened. The new architecture isn’t the only reminder, there are some remnants of what once was – the remaining sections of the Berlin wall, an old church that was destroyed and never restored to its former glory, and tourist attractions like Checkpoint Charlie. When I was in Berlin, I saw all of these old pieces of what once occurred.

View of Berlin on a sunny day

As I toured the city with a German friend of mine, it was obvious to see how difficult some of the reminders of what her country had done were for her and how some she had become so desensitized to some. I remember solemnly walking along the East Side Gallery (sections of the Berlin wall that have been painted by artists from all over the world) and being moved – along with her – almost to tears by some of the murals demonstrating destruction and pain that people suffered in Berlin and all of Europe because of the actions of her people. I also remember playing a silly game of hide and seek in the Holocaust memorial – a park full of large cement blocks of varying heights that represent the graves of those who lost their lives. The grief that my friend, and many other Berliners that I met, is similar to our own grief and shame around our wrongdoings as Americans – the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII is one pertinent example. The feeling of sadness and embarrassment of atrocities inflicted on others is something that can bond all cultures and peoples together even if the reminders are more difficult to find than they are in Berlin.

Story and Photo by Courney Colburn


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