By Elizabeth Cook, B.A. student.
Insight from Berlin, Germany.
Living in Berlin, a city caught up in a selective forgetting and remembering of the physical past, it is not hard to stumble across something with a hidden or little-known history. On July 20th, a few classmates and I went exploring in the city, and came upon the Memorial to the German Resistance, also known as the Bendlerblock. The Bendlerblock is better known through the context of Operation Valkyrie; the area was used as the headquarters for the Wehrmacht officers who carried out the July 20 plot against Adolf Hitler. General Olbricht, Colonel von Stauffenberg, Werner von Haeften, and Albrecht Ritter Mertz von Quirnheim were executed by firing squad in the courtyard of the building for conspiracy. Currently, the courtyard is home to the Memorial to the German Resistance.
On the afternoon I stumbled across the memorial, a crowd of German police and official cars lined the street around the entrance, while several dozen older Germans surrounded the entrance gate, watching a ceremony within. I approached the gates and watched the processions within; German military forces laid wreaths around the memorial statue, while relatives, German elite and officials sat in rows before the memorial plaque. Being the 20th of July, I had stumbled across the 67th anniversary of the attempt to assassinate Hitler. Ceremonies took place throughout Berlin and across Germany on the 20th, in remembrance of German resistance fighters. German Federal President Christian Wulff, Bundestag President Norbert Lammert, Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière and other officials participated in the wreath-laying ceremony at the Bendlerblock, and a later service was held at Plötzensee Memorial Center, where the Nazis had tried, imprisoned and executed thousands of resistors. At the end of the day, in tradition, new soldiers took ceremonial oaths in a ceremony in front of the Reichstag.
I had arrived at the end of the ceremony, and after a few minutes of wreath-laying, I was able to watch the glamourous procession of German statesmen, as they left the memorial flanked by secret service agents. Those of us watching from outside the gate were let into the memorial after the bulk of important figures had left, walking into the stark courtyard where the final nametags were being peeled from the rows of chairs. Aside from the center statue and a few plaques to the resistance, the courtyard was nondescript, not as momentous as the ceremony would lead one to believe. This has been true of my experiences in Berlin; the city draws very selective attention to its past. Much of my experience here in Berlin has led me to view the city as one caught up in forgetting- not outright silencing the past, but certainly attempting to tuck it away. A motto I have while traveling is certainly true here in Berlin: a city is understood best through what you can’t see.
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Elizabeth Cook is a Jackson School International Studies major.
Elizabeth traveled to Berlin during Summer Quarter 2011 as part of an Exploration Seminar.