As the capital of a country with a long and complicated history, Berlin wears German history on its sleeve. From the prominently placed and emotionally moving Holocaust Memorial to the East Side Gallery’s graffitied remnants of the Berlin Wall, warnings for humanity to learn lessons from its collective past are everywhere.
One of the city’s most interesting and educational monuments to the past is the Jewish Museum Berlin. Drawing on an extensive collection, each gallery builds upon the next as visitors are invited to trace the history of German and Eastern European Jews from the Middle Ages up to horrors of Nazi Germany under the rule of Adolph Hitler.
The Jewish Museum Berlin complex consists of three buildings–a historic baroque palace, a contemporary glass building designed by renowned American architect Daniel Libeskind and the W. Michael Blumenthal Academy which was once a wholesale flower market. Photo: Henry Lewis
This is not a museum solely dedicated to the Holocaust, but one that does an especially good job of identifying the ever-changing status of local Jewish communities during the millennium leading up to Germany’s modern age in the 19th and 20th centuries. Through text, illustrations, paintings and personal objects, non-Jewish and Jewish visitors alike are able to fill in any missing gaps in their understanding of the events that led to the darkest days of Nazi Germany.
A mural on Berlin’s outdoor East Side Gallery. International artists have created more than 118 murals on a section of the former Berlin Wall that divided East and West Germany during the decade’s long Cold War. Photo: Henry Lewis
This week Berliners have been celebrating the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. This concrete barrier, which split the city into a West Berlin – controlled by the USA and its allies, and an East Berlin- where the Soviet Union dictated all aspects of daily life, was one of the most poignant symbols of the decades-long Cold War.
A series of events across Soviet-controlled Eastern Europe earlier in 1989 led to the eventual breaching of the Wall in central Berlin, allowing throngs of East Berliners to stream freely through the broken barrier and into the streets of West Berlin on the evening of November 9th, 1989. It was a pivotal moment in history that sent shock waves around the world and set the stage for peaceful revolutions all across Eastern Europe, finally leading to the break-up and decline of the Soviet Union.
Berlin’s open-air East Side Gallery has become a huge draw for tourists visiting the reunified German capital. Photo: Henry Lewis
A young Iranian immigrant and artist, Kani Alavi, watched that evening’s jubilant chaos in the streets from his apartment window, just opposite the famous central Berlin border crossing known as Checkpoint Charlie. What the young artist witnessed that night, and on those that followed, moved him to spear-head an effort to preserve a portion of the wall in order to create an open air gallery where artists could celebrate the triumph of freedom over oppression.