Sunday, June 14, 2009

Berlin, Day 2: Less Irony, More Tragedy

The headline of this post refers to my morning at the Jewish Museum and my afternoon at the East Side Gallery--where the Berlin Wall still stands. Overall, it was a good day--great food (the guidebook was right twice), better beer (I like wheat more than pilsner), sun and sore feet.

The Jewish Museum:

  • I hadn't noticed ipods as the medium for audio tours before. Verrry interesting.

  • Was struck by the display referring to education as the greatest good in Judiasm. Now that is ironic given my profession yet my fallen status. Perhaps I am the product of a secret conspiracy to maximize Jewish values despite all of my transgressions (they would be called my wife and daughter).

  • The museum has very distinct and deliberate architechure--to create voids--spaces of emptiness to remind people of the missing 500,000 German Jews (about half fled before the war and half were killed by the Nazis).

  • One void was quite noticeable--very little mention of the German resistance and of folks like Schindler. The displays did note that the folks (some? many) behind the July 20 1944 attack on Hitler (as portrayed in the Tom Cruise movie Valkyrie) were anti-semitic and did not plan to return German laws to the heyday of acceptance of Jews--the early Weimar period (yet another reason the Weimar government was doomed). Maybe some of the people behind the assassination attempt were genuinely motivated/appalled by the Final Solution, but the movie probably exaggerated their numbers and their passion.

  • Had to google/wiki the Haavara Agreement, as there was a reference to it but not a clear one. Apparently, the Zionists in Palestine made a deal with Nazi Germany that would facilitate the emigration of Jews in the early 1930s in exchange for the Nazis getting the emigrants' property. Controversial since Jews were trying to boycott Germany at the time. This deal might have helped Germany's economy at the time, but, given what happened later, when Jews lost their property and their lives, this ugly tradeoff was probably the best that could be done at the time.

  • It is really strange to be, well, enjoying Berlin when it is the site of such an awful set of decisions and outcomes. On the other hand, the displays indicated that Jews were the targets in the middle ages of much violence for the supposed crime of killing Christ. So, unless we want cycles of violence, we have to move on. And given that the war ended 64 years ago, pretty much anyone who had a role to play has to be over 84. That means that the rest of the Germans today bear collective guilt but not individual responsibility (except for the random 14 year old in 1944 who betrayed a Jewish family in hiding and the like).

East Side Gallery:

On to other evil and how people responded to it.
Some amazing murals and some crappy graffiti on a stretch where the Berlin Wall still exists.

  • I was quite struck by a set of beer gardens between the Wall and the Spree (canal/river) since there very well may have been landmines there twenty years ago. Also, that the East Germans had a lousy sense for real estate, messing up a good spot with an ugly wall.

  • The wall had some blank spots where painters were adding new murals. I was too shy to ask (yes, me, too shy) the artists who were in mid-painting how the process works where they get permission. Since there is a fence protecting the better parts of the wall and the blank spots, there has to be some government in there somewhere, deciding who gets spots and who does not.

More Comparison with Paris:

  • The Paris Metro has barriers and guards access to the system carefully. The Berlin system (U-bahn, S-bahn) is on the honor code with some apparently random enforcement. Interesting. What does it say, reader, about their societies?
  • While I thought it would have been nice to bike a bit around Paris, biking really is best for Berlin--long, flat stretches, smooth roads, sane drivers.
  • Cheaper food--and cheap beer!

Tomorrow, the observations will decline as I will move into listening mode.

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