Digging to Roam

Berlin – Graffiti, Free Drinks, & The Holocaust Memorial

20 July 2013

Graffiti in Friedrichshain
Olivia and our free drinks

Berlin is a sprawling city, and it is impossible to walk from site to site if you trying to do the tourist bit. My friend Olivia and I were visiting Berlin in December 2010, before heading to Poland for Christmas. We only had a few days in the city, so we picked out a few choice places we had to see and got on the move early the day after we arrived. It was cold, but the snowstorm that had rolled through the night before had passed. After wandering around Friedrichshain and taking photos of the art that covers the buildings, we found a place for brunch. We looked around for a place that might have some menu items in a language one of us knew, so we ended at Mirsham and got an amazing spread of cheese, meats, veggies, bread and crepes. The restaurant owner brought us over some free shots, I don’t know what was in them but they were delicious, and just the right thing to warm us up.

Part of the Berlin Wall

After brunch we made our way to the Berlin Wall, which was as beautiful as it was tragic. To step between the East and West and see the colorful graffiti on one side and nothing on the other was a powerful reminder of Germany’s painful past. Walking the length of the wall during a milder time of year is something I would love to do someday.

Brandenburg Gate

Later in the day we went to the Brandenburg Gate, which in its original form was constructed in the late 1600s and rebuilt in as it stands today in the late 1700s. The history of the gate, and the square beside it, is worth reading about. When we were there was a huge Christmas tree erected in the middle of the square and there were tons of people milling about. There were street performers and a lot of people wearing sign boards. Our original plan was not to go to the Brandenburg Gate but to the Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas (Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe) otherwise known as the Holocaust Memorial. We knew we were close to it, but had already been lost twice that day, and weren’t in the mood to keep wandering and miss out on seeing the memorial.

Our surprise guides.
So I approached two guys who were wearing T-Mobile signs because they had big grins on their faces and seemed friendly enough. I asked, “Sprechen zie English?” We asked them directions and not only did they tell us how to get there (it was just down the street), they walked us there and gave us an impromptu guided tour of the Brandenburg Gate. I wish I could remember their names, but I do remember that they were hilarious. Playing off each other and cracking jokes left and right, they had Olivia and I in stitches before reaching the memorial.

The Memorial (Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas)

From this spot everything looks at an almost equal height.
A view of the memorial

The Holocaust Memorial covers 4.7 acres (or 19,000 square meters) of different sized concrete blocks that rise from the ground at different heights on a grid layout. The first idea for a memorial was thought up back in 1988, and in December 2004 it was completed after over a year of construction. The project, designed by Peter Eisenman and Buro Happold, is meant to make visitors feel uneasy and unstable in its disorienting environment. You can enter from any side of the property and walk through it from any way you want.

Me in the depths of the site.

Olivia and I wandered between the lines of stelae at our own pace, going in different directions while silently observing. In the snow, it felt like being in an old movie, a photograph of a strange dream. The varying sizes and sloping ground produced a feeling of weightlessness in a place that felt, in many way, like a cemetery. When I was at the smaller sized blocks, I could look out at the field of boxed history. My maternal line, until my mother, were Russian Jews. My great-grandmother escaped from Russia during the era of Stalin. I felt the memorial on a much larger scale than the Murdered Jews of Europe, it was representing inequality and discrimination and the insanity that is mass persecution.

Recalling that experience brings one of my favorite quotes to mind, “Prejudices are rarely overcome by argument; not being founded in reason they cannot be destroyed by logic.” (Tryon Edwards). Such zealous hatred is the truest form of deranged delusion. If you are afforded the opportunity to visit Berlin, you must visit the Holocaust Memorial. You must experience physical act of walking through the memorial. The visual confusion of where you are in relation to the site (is that block bigger than that one? or is the ground more sloped there? Am I near the middle or the end?) evokes an emotional and ethereal response from deep within yourself that you can only true experience to understand.
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Kristance Harlow

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3 Comments

  1. Rose L on July 22, 2013 at 6:24 am

    You have been to interesting places and seen interesting things. I can see and visit precariously through you.

  2. mplanck on July 21, 2013 at 4:37 pm

    What an experience…especially the Memorial! I love your line: In the snow, it felt like being in an old movie, a photograph of a strange dream. To try to imagine what it must have been like for Jews to suddenly be turned on by people who were friends, neighbors, and colleagues must made the world seem like what you describe. A strange dream but without waking…and then the nightmare of

    • Kristance Harlow on July 21, 2013 at 11:03 pm

      Thank you for always reading my blog! Yes, it was like that, almost like recalling a memory, a nightmare, that never happened to you.

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