March 2013


Visiting Gleis 17 / Platform 17 / at Bahnhof Berlin-Grunewald

Gleis 17 Memorial

Yesterday I engaged in a bit of random Berlin exploration – it started innocently enough with coffee from *$ — after my coffee, I popped outside and got on the first bus I saw, Bus 186. I recognized the last stop listed (S-Grunewald), but I had no idea how I would get there.

Of course, looking out the windows is half the fun.

Once I arrived, I some how viewed the station a bit differently from my previous trips – and the first thing I noticed was the BücherboXX am Gleis 17 – a free library that occupied an old telephone booth. Open up the door and there are a plethora of books to choose from, free for the taking.

BücherboXX am Gleis 17

Actually, the reason I hadn’t noticed it before is that it was only opened on November 21, 2012 – just over three months ago.

BücherboXX am Gleis 17

This somehow spun me in a slight slightly different way. Normally I would have walked straight through the S-Bahn station, instead this time I wandered up and took a look at the Gleis 17 memorial. The memorial focuses on the deported Jews and is the platform where most of the trains left.

3.3.1943: 1,732 Jews deported to Auschwitz

Seventy years, to the day, before my visit, 1,732 Jews were deported to Auschwitz.

This kind of random encounter with holocaust history happens all the time in Germany and in Berlin. At the nearby Kaiser-Wilhelm-Platz, there’s a large sign listing the major concentration camps. Stolpersteine appear before your feet when you least expect them – each marking the home of where a Nazi-victim lived, and what happened to them. Even my own building has a sign out front with a memorial to one piece of holocaust history.

Interestingly, the New York Times just reported that there might be a lot more sites lying around that we suspected. There are a reported 42,500 Nazi ghettos and camps across Europe – anywhere the Nazis occupied, ghettos and camps followed. This number, recently disclosed, was so much higher than expected, that holocaust scholars had trouble believing their ears.

It’s staggering to try and contemplate.

These unplanned, chance, encounters with German history always leave me feeling a bit glum.

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