Berlin is Germany’s vibrant capital. It’s also a city with a very important and dark history. When you visit Berlin for the first time you may be surprised to see so many relatively new buildings, and so very few historical ones; the reason for this is obvious: World War II and its destruction of infrastructure and life.
While I only spent a short time in Berlin and visited only a few sites, the remains of the Berlin Wall from the Cold War and the Holocaust Memorial were the ones that stuck in my mind and made me contemplate about our past, our present, and any similarities in terms of the events that took place then, and the world in which we live in now.
And as I had not expected or planned to do any serious photography I was just casually checking some shots I took with my iPhone; not expecting anything from it. But after I did, and applied some minor changes to the images on the phone itself, I guess some impressions triggered me to write this article, a very different one than what I usually write about. This one I guess is about the opposite of life: the ‘Dark Side’ with life’s opposite: death and destruction. Let me take you through two examples.
When you visit the site of the remains of the Cold War Berlin Wall (‘Berlin Wall Monument’), you will find a path right next to it (below the Wall; part of the same complex) where you can walk along a line of pictures and stories that tell about the history of events that lead to World War II. There was one thing that caught my eye and stuck in terms ‘then & now’: it was about the book burnings. The Nazis wanted to control the information that was available to the public in such a way that only their information was available, and therefore ensure that only their messages were going to be believed, and only their beliefs were going to be supported by the public. And as there was no Internet off course, the main information channel to control was… books.
Fast forward to 2018… Now we do have Internet and now we do have social media. In fact, these information channels are much more prevalent than books. And what we see now is not book burnings, but influencing the public by controlling – or rather contorting – the information the public has access to. It has been tried and done for decades, but only in the past few years it has become an effective, global phenomenon that everyone can see happening and being reported/criticised on.
What I got from my visit to Berlin, and visit to this site, is that history is repeating itself today. It’s something that is not supposed to, but it has anyway. And when you look at the Berlin Wall, the outcome is something destructive; it only leads to something dark. It’s something humanity should have learned from and prevent from happening again. Yet…
Then, there is the Holocaust Memorial, not far from Berlin’s famous Brandenburg Gate and parliament buildings. 2711 concrete slabs (like solid concrete boxes) with varying heights spread out in a grid-like pattern. My first impression: ‘is that it?’ Just a bunch of slabs. Could be some foundation of a building or something. But when you enter this bizarre structure, something weird happens… at least it did to me. You (i.e. me) start to feel a little ‘drawn in’, you want to walk a little further, take a turn, see where you end up, etc. etc. And in the mean time these slabs get higher and higher; it gets a little darker and darker, and after a couple of minutes you’re thinking ‘where the hell am I?’. Some feeling of being lost, desolation comes up and there is a sense of ‘how do I get out of here?’… It’s something hard to describe and the best way to experience it is by going there yourself as I’m sure everyone has his/her own personal experience. And it’s most likely not the experience you expect the very first time you lay eyes on this memorial.
While I was immersed in this bizarre experience, I decided to try and capture this hard to explain impression and emotion… with my little iPhone X as that’s all I had with me. And for one reason or another I felt I had to have someone in this scenario to help me communicate a message of negativity, darkness, ‘being lost’. Whether it was luck or not, I got just that scenario when someone suddenly popped up and walked in front of me trying to navigate through the maze. Strangely, he didn’t seem to hesitate and walked steadily as if he knew where he had to go while going deeper and deeper into the maze…
What I got from the experience of having visited the Holocaust Memorial is that the opposite of ‘Life’ is real. It’s something that exists and has happened on many occasions before; we even have monuments to help us remember what it is and for each of us to experience in a unique and personal way (incl. my feeble attempts to express via an iPhone image…). Regardless what you call it: ‘death’, ‘darkness’ or even some popular old/new Star Wars theme, this thing is the same: it’s daunting and has the ability to draw people in, into desolation and darkness. And hopefully, when it does, you get a better understanding that Life (& Nature!) is a much better alternative.
If you ever have the opportunity to visit Berlin I would encourage you to visit this site and experience for yourself what this monument will tell you.