The Ghosts of Berlin: Confronting German History in the Urban Landscape

The Ghosts of Berlin: Confronting German History in the Urban Landscape

The Ghosts of Berlin: Confronting German History in the Urban Landscape

The Ghosts of Berlin: Confronting German History in the Urban Landscape

Excerpt

Berlin is a haunted city. By the middle of this century, people living in Berlin could look back on a host of troubles: the last ruler of an ancient dynasty driven to abdication and exile by a lost war; a new republic that failed; a dictatorship that ruled by terror; and that terror unleashed on the rest of Europe, bringing retribution in the form of devastation, defeat, and division. Now that division, and the regime that ruled East Berlin, are also memories. But memories can be a potent force. There are, of course, Berliners who would like to forget. They think they hear far too much about Hitler and vanished Jews and alleged crimes of their parents and grandparents--not to mention Erich Honecker and the Stasi and their own previous lives. Probably most Germans and most Berliners feel this way, but at every step they find they must defend their wish to forget against fellow citizens who insist on remembering. The calls for remembrance--and the calls for silence and forgetting--make all silence and all forgetting impossible, and they also make remembrance difficult.

Memories often cleave to the physical settings of events. That is why buildings and places have so many stories to tell. They give form to a city's history and identity. There are other ways to tell a city's history; the most common focuses on the famous leaders of high politics or high culture, and on the events that bound them together. In both politics and culture, Berlin richly deserves attention, whether one associates Berlin politics with Frederick the Great, Bismarck, Hitler, Brandt, or Honecker, and whether Berlin culture is seen through the eyes of Kaiser Wilhelm, Hegel, Einstein, Brecht, or Goebbels. Other historians look . . .

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