November 2011


This Love-Hate Relationship with Germany: A Tour de Misery

While Koko was visiting, I took a couple days off of work to join her in visiting Berlin tourist sites and was quickly reminded of how Germany is the perfect place to live if you love to hate where you are, and at the same time love to love where you are.

It’s rather simple, actually, and something I’ve said before.

Basically, every German I know is innocent.

Collectively they are, some how, guilty.

Together we hit three places that emphasized this dichotic nature of Germany – an effect no doubt amplified by living in Berlin.

Our stops included the Alliierten Museum, the German-Russian Museum Berlin-Karlshorst, and the House of the Wannsee Conference.

Honestly, visiting these museums can, at times, make you want to scream about the idiocy and horrendous nature of humans – how awful and assholic they can be to their fellow man – and make me want to blame the perfectly innocent Germans that I am privileged to know.

But when I reach my peak moments of anger, I remember that the US isn’t exactly innocent either and while our (speaking as an American) crimes are, on the whole, lesser, one shouldn’t trivialize the pain of Japanese-Americans surviving winter at Heart Mountain in Wyoming during World War II.

Tunnel at the Allied Musuem

US spy tunnel to the east.

The Allierten Museum is, essentially, a history of West Berlin, as told from the American, British, and French perspectives, along with, to some extent, the perspective of Germans lucky enough to be living in what was West Berlin. I’ve been there several times since moving to Germany and I can honestly say that it’s an excellent museum that does an excellent job of covering the Berlin Airlift, what life was like in West Berlin, and the tension between the western allies and Russia/East Germany. The museum is accessible not just to German speakers, but English and French speakers as well.

There’s a segment of the museum that has rotating displays – the current rotating exhibition is a terrific piece about the Soviet threats that preceded the building of the wall some 50 years ago, “Like a Tinderbox! The Berlin Crisis and the Building of the Wall.” I hadn’t realized the extent of the tension emanating from Moscow prior to the building of the wall, so I found this to be exceptionally interesting and educational. The exhibition is open until 8 January 2012.

German Russian Museum Berlin Karlshorst

Welcome to the Fifth Soviet Assault Army HQ

The second museum in my list, the German Russian Museum, is located at was the headquarters of the Fifth Soviet Assault Army in the eastern part of Berlin – and where the Germans signed the preliminary capitulation document. I have no idea what the museum was like during the Cold War (the flier says that it was a museum of the Soviet Armed Forces and commemorated the Battle of Berlin, plus the capitulation), but what it is now is the opposite of the Allierten Museum – that is to say, a story told from the Soviet Russian perspective.

Unlike the Allierten Museum, which pretty much focuses on the Cold War era, the German-Russian Museum starts with the inter-war period of 1917-1933, with the tense relationship between Germans and the Soviet Union, and proceeds from there. The museum is refreshingly direct and makes a point of talking about the Hitler-Stalin Pact (a pact that Stalin knew was destined to be brief, no matter what).

Tank at Museum Berlin Karlshorst

Tank from the Great Patriotic War

It also discusses the fact that the Nazis were especially cruel to the peoples toward the east – it wasn’t just the Jews who were killed (although Jews were more targeted for sure), but that Nazis felt that the Slavic people to the east, whether Polish, Ukrainian, or Russian, were less valued as human beings (versus, I might point out, the western allies who, while not loved, were better treated when conquered or captured, relatively speaking).

This is all presented in a somewhat matter-of-fact and blunt manner, which is the kind of stuff that ends up making me very angry.

Overall, it’s an excellent museum, although it’s not geared toward English speakers. All signage is in both German and Russian, with a smattering of English signs. A binder with all the major signs translated into English is available.

The last stop in our Tour de Misery was the House of the Wannsee Conference.

House of the Wannsee Conference

Where the holocaust was planned.

This is the house where, on 20 January 1942, the holocaust was planned.

Attending the conference were 15 high-ranking members of the Nazis, the SS, and the government.

Talk about disturbing. The house is very nice – the kind of place you’d want to own, with large rooms, an amazing view of a lake, and well laid out grounds.

And the conference room where the killing methods being employed in the Soviet Union were discussed and the planned genocide detailed.

It’s enough to make one want to scream – yet you’re inside another very well done museum that documents the history of the holocaust and everybody is speaking in quiet in-door voices.

And again, none of the people there are guilty.

The House of the Wannsee Conference is German and English friendly, and, although I didn’t ask or look too closely, I do believe material is available in Hebrew.

6 comments to This Love-Hate Relationship with Germany: A Tour de Misery

  • will try to make a comment about this tomorrow

  • MT

    OHHH. Remind me that I want to go to those last two museums the next time I visit you. Hmmm …

  • Diane

    Those sound like some great places to visit!

  • martin – I’m waiting — but I understand this is tough to respond to.

    MT – I shall

    Diane – that’s subjective — thanks for your comment, I had to delete the spam-like link that you included though as it seemed commercial in nature.

  • Dude. It is indeed a strange thing to hear the perspective of the other party. Downright creepy, like it is a part of every day life to target other human beings, vilify them, torture them, and kill them.

    You’re right. US is not an innocent person at all. We love to pretend things aren’t happening here either. Not just the Japanese, but the indigenous people who were happily living here before us white folk trashed it all. How do we make amends? We allow them to run casinos and many of us patronize those establishments not to help them, but to satiate our own desires. Humans are fucked up for sure.

    That and I miss you.

  • PS- and there’s that whole business about the division between the haves and the have nots. I don’t understand why rich people need so much fucking money. Ack. I’m getting mad. I’ll keep reading.