The Holocaust Memorial is situated just south of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. It was opened in 2006, after 17 years of planning and controversy. Above ground it is a vast landscape of concrete blocks, inspired by the Jewish graveyard in Prague. The architect was Peter Eisenman, from New York. It is a sombre and imposing scene, but also one capable of being humanised by the joyful games of children. It’s basically a big maze, and as we strolled through it we saw loads of kids from school parties running around, hiding, laughing, taking photos on their phones. I found this quite inspiring. Yes, it is a monument to the most terrible crimes, but still, the simple pleasures of today’s youth, maybe a little unaware of the enormity of what was being commemorated, could shine through, bringing life and the fun of hide-and-seek to the scene. It felt like a kind of redemption. A reaffirmation of simple pleasures. Of innocent humanity.
Underground there was a superb, but gut-wrenching museum. It told the story of the fate of Jewish people in Europe with the rise of the Nazis and Second world war. A familiar story, but incredibly moving when you take time to absorb both the enormity – six million dead, half of whom were from one country, Poland – and the individual stories. The museum brought out the big and the small, and it was the stories of individuals – the children separated from their families especially – that just made you gulp, wipe the tears from your eyes. And think, how could this ever have happened?
And yet we still see on the news, every day, grim stories of man’s inhumanity to man. Still so much hatred of people that happen to be different to the majority in any particular place. You feel that maybe everyone needs to go to Berlin or somewhere else that shows the suffering of the Jewish people (or any other persecuted people), just to learn what petty hatred can lead to. And then you think, it won’t make any difference. There’s so much ignorance, envy, cynicism.
Is that right? Or is there some hope? There are more good people than bad. So much good being done. So much to inspire. So much creativity. So much love. But the bad seems to prevail in the contest, so often. It tries harder.
Berlin makes you think about these things…