Omnipresent History

Some weeks ago, I wrote about the Stolpersteine commemorative project.

However, this is not the only project that makes history very visible in Berlin daily life – if you’re willing to look for  it.

While I remember that historical and historiographical debates were very present in 1980s Berlin, now the city is dotted with markers of buildings, locations and figures of historical significance. It often seems like much of that is spurred by commemoration of the victims of National Socialism, but the presence of history is not limited to this commemoration.

From street signs that offer information about the person the street was named after, to commemorative plaques identifying occupants of houses (for example, Kurt Tucholsky lived around the corner form our Friedenau apartment, Marlene Dietrich is buried on a cemetery only a ten minute walk away), history is available to be traced just about anywhere in the city.

On the way to E’s internship, for examples, she passes through Grunewald, a train station. As you walk through the tunnel to the S-Bahn platform, there is a sign pointing to Platform 17. As the other platforms are 1, 2, and 3, this seems slightly Harry-Potter-at-Kings-Crossesque. But it turns out that Platform 17 was the platform where Berlin Jews were forced onto trains to take them to concentration camps and thus their murder. The Deutsche Bahn had already created the memorial in the 1990s.

The  memorial itself is the platform, but it is covered with a medal grid. On the platform/grid edge (left in the photo) the dates, numbers of people, and destinations are engraved. The number of victims documented in this way is heartbreaking, but then you look around and notice that the platform is clearly visible from neighbouring houses.

Memorial sites like this are dotted throughout Berlin, almost always with a tableau explaining the significance of the location as it was tied to history.

While it is the famous big sites, like the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe that receive the official visitors and tourists, it is the tapestry of smaller cites and commemorations that are visible throughout Berlin and make history ever-present.


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