You may wonder why you should disturb your holiday enjoyment with thoughts of the Holocaust – that dark episode of European history which saw the systematic murder of millions of Jews. After all, you’re in Berlin, the party capital, known for its nightlife and culture.
But I think that to get under the skin of a place, you need to absorb something of its history, the good the bad and the ugly. When I’m travelling with children, as I was on this trip, I prefer to show them something of the world as it is and give them a glimpse of the dark side as well as the beauty in life – I think it makes them more rounded citizens of the world. Also, I’ve found that you can experience these things to different degrees, depending on where your level of interest and the level to which you’re prepared to be disturbed and unsettled.
So here are three places in Berlin where you can experience something of the Holocaust at different levels.
The Jewish Museum
This is the place if you’re looking for a more in depth understanding of Jewish life and the Holocaust. I should say that I didn’t have time on my recent to visit to go to the museum, which covers Jewish history and culture in Germany as well as a section on the Holocaust. Designed by Daniel Libeskind, the museum is a visually striking combination of an old building with a shiny new glass and metallic facade. The museum is arranges around three intersecting axis; The Axis of Exile, the Axis of Continuity and the Axis of Holocaust which culminates in the Holocaust tower, a dark and empty space which gives the feeling of no escape. This is the place for a rounded view of Jewish history and everyday life in which the surroundings are as symbolic as the things on display.
Judisches Museum Lindenstrasse 9-14, Kreuzberg, 10969 Berlin Nearest Station; Hallesches Tor
The Anne Frank Museum
See the holocaust through the eyes of Anne Frank, a 12 year old Jewish girl who hid with her family in Amsterdam, but was eventually captured and died in Bergen-Belsen. Throughout her hiding she wrote a diary about her everyday experiences and her hopes and fears for the future. This is a small museum in a courtyard off Rosenthalerstasse with lots of photographs depicting Anne growing up, her family life and the warehouse where her family hid to try and escape deportation. You can read Anne’s words and look at some of the objects from her daily life to feel what life was like for the Jews under the Nazis.
In a second room are colourful wigwams with video installations in which teenagers of today explore their thoughts about their lives and their hopes for the future, set along side similar thoughts from Anne Frank. We also watched a 30 minute film in English which told the story of Anne’s life and the times in which she lived. This museum is ideal for children from eight up to teens as it is a manageable size and helps them to identify with the holocaust through the eyes of a child just like themselves.
Anne Frank Museum, Rosenthaler Strasse 39, Mitte, D-10178 Berlin Nearest station; Hakescher Markt
The Holocaust Memorial
Close to the Brandenburg gate is the Holocaust memorial, designed by architect Peter Eisenmann. It is a large plaza containing grey rectangular concrete blocks of different sizes and heights. From the edge the memorial looks just like a sea of blocks, all in straight lines, but as you walk into the centre, you find that the ground drops downwards, and the blocks become taller, so that they loom menacingly over your head. The ground undulates in an unsettling way and you can walk through to the other side until you emerge again with relief and can see the world around you again.
The smooth, faceless blocks represent the millions of Jews who died in the war and to one side there is also an underground information centre where you can understand more about the Holocaust.
Although it has dark overtones, I found the design of the memorial encouraged interaction from visitors and I saw many children playing hide and seek among the blocks or playing on top of them. It reminded me of a formal topiary garden where you can slip in between the dark cypress in a game of now you see me, now you don’t.
This is the ideal place for those who want a little understanding of the Holocaust without being disturbed by too many dark thoughts, and especially younger children who could have fun there while gaining some understanding of the message behind it.
The Holocaust Memorial, Stresemannstrasse 90 10963 Kreuzberg, Berlin Nearest Station; Potsdamer Platz, Free to visit.
What do you think about visiting places that remind you of humanity’s darker side – an integral part of your travelling experience or something you’d rather not think about when on holiday?
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