When you walk through the massive halls of the Louvre in Paris and admire the floor to ceiling paintings of kings that ruled centuries before us, it’s impressive but sometimes hard to believe that there used to be royal families that decided the world’s fate. When you visit the Colosseum in Rome, it’s difficult to imagine that thousands of people gathered to watch prisoners fight animals to the death for pure entertainment.
But when you go to Berlin and see Hitler’s previous headquarters, you realize that what we consider history – all those dates and numbers and facts everyone learned about in grade school – are actually quite recent. Unlike old cathedrals in Spain, prominent buildings during the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party are still in perfectly good shape because they were built during the time that many of our parents or grandparents were alive.
As a group, we quietly walked from one side of the wall to another, a luxury people from East and West Germany didn’t have only 50 years ago. Now the remnants of the wall are covered by colorful artwork – “freedom of expression covering a structure of repression” as our brilliant tour guide stated.
While this town is tainted with Nazi history, I found the city to be incredible, the people kind and friendly, and the nightlife to be vibrant. Berlin has made a serious effort to be open about it’s history and educate residents and visitors through museums like The Topography of Terror, which depicts every gruesome detail of Hitler’s life and Nazi power. They not only have the city’s history on display, but they just as proudly say we are not those people today and we are proud to be from Berlin.
One of the only things that has remained as a positive contribution from East Germany is their loveable ampleman. East Germany actually hired a traffic psychologist and developed the ampleman who would make pedestrians want to respect the signals to walk or wait. It worked, and this figure has become somewhat of Berlin’s mascot. You can find stores overflowing with ampleman shirts, bags, mugs, even gummy sweets. I guess out of everything bad, you can always find at least one good thing. In this case the bad was really bad and the good is a tiny man that flashes throughout Berlin, but it’s a silver lining all the same.
Last Stop: Amsterdam