The Light and the Dark in Berlin

GendarmenmarktThe sun came out today! I had museum plans but I think it’s supposed to rain for the rest of the weekend so I opted to be outside on the River Spree.

River Spree

I have a fondness for boat cruises and with the sun out, it seemed like a good choice. Of course it wasn’t exactly warm – 50F maybe? – and the boat moved a bit quickly for good photos but I saw some pretty things.

Like the Berlin Cathedral, the center of all things Protestant in Berlin

Berlin Cathedral

And the Weidendammer Bridge with an imperial eagle, one of the oldest bridges in Berlin

Weidendammer Bridge

I loved this architectural detail with the holes in the wall of the Marie Elisabeth Lüders Haus.

Marie Elisabeth Lüders Haus

It’s another of their parliamentary buildings with a wall open to the sky.

There were a dozen other lovely things of which I took approximately 200 terrible pictures. I won’t subject you to them. But the river cruise was delightful, albeit chilly, and a perfect way to spend a sunny morning.

I then walked down to the Gendarmenmarkt, the German market square bounded by two cathedrals and the Berlin Symphony Hall where a street performer was blowing bubbles

Berliner Philharmoniker

I could have watched those bubbles for hours

Berliner Philharmoniker

The kids were chasing them, people were trying to take pictures, there was a guy playing saxophone… the sun was shining. Captivating.

Until I got hungry… I stopped for a salad, something fresh for a change

Shan Rahimkhan Berlin

So I could justify some chocolate afterwards. Fassbender & Rausch say they’re the world’s largest chocolatier. Is that actually true? There are a LOT of chocolatiers in the world… But this one did a giant chocolate version of the Reichstag Building, where I was yesterday

Reichstag Building in Chocolate

And they have a chocolate cafe on the second floor with exquisite views over the Gendarmenmarkt

Fassbender & Rausch

I couldn’t resist a little something

Fassbender & Rausch

That’s an Orange Krokant Tortchen with orange cream, sponge cake, ganache, dark chocolate… all of it. And yes, as good as it looks. This little burst of sweetness helped fortify my soul because my next stop was going to take it all out of me.

I’ve been putting off the memorials here in Berlin because I want to give them each some proper time and attention. But it’s difficult. I don’t wake up and think “I’m in the mood to revisit the holocaust today.” However, I’m here. It happened. It’s part of the history of the world and specifically this city. The Germans have the grace and bravery to face their past head on, it seems the least I can do as a visitor is do the same.

So I went to Peter Eisenman’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Memorial to the Murdered Jews Berlin

This memorial design is controversial, not least because it’s without any obvious Jewish symbolism and it’s abstract. It resembles a cemetery but there’s no writing of any kind on the concrete stelae. If I didn’t know it was a Holocaust memorial I probably would never guess, although it seems formal, severe and somber.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews Berlin

The name of this memorial states “murder,” which was another another controversial but incredibly important decision. No one just died in the Holocaust and I’m glad the memorial openly states that.

It’s incredibly difficult to photograph and the experience of it is strange because all those blocks are varying heights and the ground warps, rises and falls underneath them leading to long tunnels.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews Berlin

,But because of this ground variation I could see people walking and then they’d just vanish as the ground dipped and took them below the level of the blocks. I hope that symbolism was part of the intent of the memorial because it’s powerful.

I think this memorial has be experienced to be appreciated. The straight up visuals are only part of the story.

And the rest of the story resides in the information center under the memorial, a brutal emotional slog through pictures of concentration camps, stories of victims, recovered goodbye letters and a timeline of the rise and fall of the Third Reich. It’s a lot. And it’s not even everything by a long stretch.

I found myself more moved by the letters than the pictures and I spent quite a bit of time in this dark room where the name of each murder victim is projected on the wall and a brief bio is read about them in German and English. They say that projector of victim names never turns off and they think it will take 6.5 years to read through all the names of the Jews that died at the hands of the Nazis.

6.5 YEARS.

And they were just one group of persecuted victims! That doesn’t even count the gypsies, the homosexuals, the disabled and the opposing members of the Bundestag who were sent to concentration camps when Hitler rose to power.

I can’t get my mind around it. It’s too much. But I have to try because to quote Primo Levi “If it can happen once, it can happen again.”

And it is happening. Now. In different places and under different governments, in countries that don’t get as much attention because they don’t have the power of Hitler’s Third Reich.


The world is a harsh and beautiful place. I saw both sides today.

Street Art Berlin