What America Can Learn From Berlin's Struggle to Face Its Violent Past

The city of Berlin had a particularly gruesome 20th century: World War I, the Holocaust, World War II, the Berlin Wall. And within the city you’ll see plenty of remembrance, memorials, and reminders that those who refuse to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

Even if you skip major tourist destinations like the Berlin Wall Memorial or the Holocaust monuments near the Brandenburg Gate, it’s nearly impossible to visit Berlin without feeling the city’s pain. You might hop a train at Nollendorf Platz, encountering the lone column erected for German transit workers killed during World War I, or the triangle-shaped plaque dedicated to LGBTQ people executed by the Nazi regime. Perhaps you’re shopping along Kurfürstendamm, passing by the ruined steeple of Kaiser Wilhelm Church, whose bombed-out shell has been preserved as a memorial after it was destroyed in 1943. Maybe you head to an art exhibition at Martin Gropius Bau, a few steps from the Topography of Terror, where the excavated basement of the former Gestapo and SS headquarters serves as the backing for a timeline of Nazi persecution. Or you opt for a walk along the city’s quieter residential streets, and come upon small markers placed into the sidewalk denoting the names and dates of those deported and murdered by the Third Reich.

And those are just a few of the many memorials. But other countries have gruesome histories as well, expanded over time. Even the United States, a relatively young nation, has dark spots, but we don’t have daily reminders as we go about our business. Those who live in Berlin cannot escape the meaning of the markers, the monuments, and the preserved ruins of the past. Learn more about them, and what they mean to Berlin’s residents today, at Collectors Weekly.


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