Berlin: tourism and human tragedy

26 09 2009

Esther G, 27, Mexico/London

Hello fellow travellers. I recently visited Berlin and being there prompted some thoughts that I would like to share with you. Many of my friends had told me Berlin was uber cool, and once I’ve been there, I would never want to leave. Yet I found visiting Berlin made me feel sad, mainly because you can’t escape constant reminders of the tragedy that was the Second World War and the East/West division of the city.
Germans must feel tired of being associated to these particular events, and want us to visit their country to see that they are much more than the world wars. So, I went to Berlin not knowing what I would find, or how I would feel, and keeping in mind the challenge of not stereotyping Germany.

My plan failed, Berlin did not allow me to forget the dark past of the city. Every few blocks I would come across a memorial plaque, or an information post, a part of the wall, a building that had been used to captivate the handicapped, a holocaust memorial, or an old checkpoint to cross from East to West.
So yes, I found Berlin to be very cool, trendy, young, alternative, cheap and full of party goers. But I also found Berlin to be challenging and it made me think about the tourist industry based around the history of human tragedy.
To give an example: Check Point Charlie, one of the check points between East and West Berlin. A few years ago that was a place of control, fear, hope, and oppression. Today, you can pay a euro and take a photo of yourself with two very handsome actors disguised as soldiers who smiley pose in front of the “theatrical” point. For a few Euros more you can even get your passport stamped with a fake visa.

Or, the Holocaust Memorial. Visiting the memorial felt similar, dozens of people wondering in between the sculptures, playfully shouting, taking photos, smiling, climbing, playing hide an sick, etc. in a place that is there to remind us of one, if not the most horrific, human rights abuse: genocide.
I felt strange at these places. I understood that there had been great grief associated with both events: the holocaust and the east/west division of Berlin, but going there and being a tourist, taking photos and playing produced mixed feelings in me. On one side I resented the fact that I was enjoying those sites as if they were part of a Disneyland amusement park. On the other, I was happy that humanity has moved on and we don’t continue to dwell in the same grief, we can look the past and accept it, moving into what is next.

Anyway, I just wanted to share this feeling with you.  Any thoughts are welcome.

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