A lot is awry at the moment: political violence in America, white nationalists in the streets, and a general feeling of unease as 5783 kicks off with a renewed sense of dread and antisemitism. A recap of October.
Berlin Throwback: Memorial to the Slain Jews of Europe and Into the (Former) Lion’s Den
I lived in Europe in Summer 2017, a whirlwind of experiences and attempted-expat life (not meant-to-be at the time) that often seems like a three-month, 10-country dream.
It was that summer I first visited Berlin, some 25 years after first trip to Europe. That summer, 1997, I landed in Frankfurt and stayed with a family for a few weeks near Cologne, so close to the Dutch border that we could ride bikes into Holland.
Berlin is a unique city because of its recent history; unlike much of Europe, the construction is newer and it has a larger immigrant population. It was nearly leveled in the war, and outside of a tiny part of the core much of even the center feels suburban. Which – I did not like.
It was also August: It was hot, overgrown, overcast, and grungy. Grass and weeds took over rail tracks, even on the crowded metro, and most of town felt graffiti-covered and war-worn still.
I did the usual during my stay: saw the famous monuments and site of the Berlin wall, and there near the Reichstag and Brandenburg Gate I stumbled upon the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, a very German name in its matter-of-fact bleakness, a bleakness you feel in your bones as you meander its undulating cobblestones, a maze you can get lost in between what feel like gray tombs.
Here you’ll often see photos taken of young travelers giving peace signs and other stupid selfie looks, like the also do at the camps.
Yeah, don’t do that.
Continued below after photo gallery ↓
Brass cobblestones similar to those on the paths in the memorial are seen throughout the city; outside the building where I stayed with a friend, markers of those who lived there when the Nazis took them away.
And you see them everywhere, reminders of what happened, now, what seems ages ago. I can picture those people living there, and their descendants who may have still been in the same buildings had things been different.
As war chases the continent again and the Jews of Ukraine are yet again terrorized, I think of Germany, I think of Poland, I think of all the places that saw such wild, unimaginable terror.
I recall Unorthodox, and the lead character’s journey from America to Berlin to escape abuse and neglect at the hands of her family adn community, traumatized by the war, only to find herself in the heart of a place she always thought of as evil and violent. The Berlin that awaited her, however, was multicultural, complex, unkempt, queer, and yet again, Jewish.
I look forward to visiting again with wider eyes as she did, to see the surviving synagogues and new community that has sprouted amongst those weeds.