Hallo Deutschland! Part III

March 06, 2013 / by / 0 Comment

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” ― Terry Pratchett

The next city we visited was Berlin, the German capital. Indeed, Berlin is a very special city on account of its unique history. After the Second World War, the city was split into East Berlin and West Berlin respectively. East Berlin was occupied by the Soviet Union (now Russia), and West Berlin by the Western powers – the US, Britain, and France. It was finally reunified in the 1990s upon the collapse of the Soviet Union. But then one wouldn’t have known of the city’s plight simply by setting foot in the city. Berlin was very modern and busy, just like any other large cosmopolitan city in Europe today.

For the purposes of revisiting history, we went to East Side Gallery. Gleaning from its name, you might have guessed that it is an art gallery of some sort, which is partially the truth. In fact, it is an open air gallery that forms a section of the Berlin Wall near the centre of Berlin, and it does feature some amazing artwork there. All of them have the underlying theme of hope and freedom, and a better future for the people around the world.

I found the experience very memorable because I knew I was standing at a place that had separated a city for half a century, a place where thousands have tried to cross the wall to escape to the other side. It is difficult to imagine living in such turbulent times, when we are blessed with the relatively peaceful world we have today.

My sentiments were enhanced even further when we visited The Story of Berlin, a museum that features everyday life in Berlin, as well as the history of Berlin. The highlight of the exhibition was a guided tour through an original nuclear bomb shelter, one of the remnants from the Cold War era.

During the Cold War period, there was an intense fear of the outbreak of nuclear war, since tensions between the capitalist and communist blocs ran so high that war always seemed imminent. To alleviate fears and cater for the public should war break out, the government ordered the construction of numerous nuclear bomb shelters throughout Berlin. The one we visited could house 3600 refugees, and can still function today.

To be honest, I felt extremely uncomfortable seeing the shelter, not only because I was reminded of the grim truth of why this shelter was constructed in the very first place, but also because I could feel just how desperate and horrible the situation would have been if a nuclear war really did break out and people really had to live down there.

The beds were all cramped together, and walking through them gave me a sickening, oppressive feeling. It was very dark down there, most probably because the government wanted to conserve as much energy as possible, so that very little lighting was installed there.

There were oxygen tanks that kept the oxygen running in the shelter, a sick room (to contain the spread of diseases) as well as a storage room full of tin cans. What gave me the goose bumps, however, was when our guide asked us whether we noticed what was missing in the bathrooms.


Apparently, he was referring to mirrors. There weren’t any mirrors in the bathrooms because they could easily be used as weapons, either to kill others or to commit suicide with. Notice also that the cubicles aren’t locked with doors. Instead, there are drapes, and this is because they didn’t want anyone to commit suicide secretly inside the cubicle.

Although the prospect of committing suicide might seem far-fetched to some, it was indeed a very plausible idea for those trapped inside the shelter, with the knowledge that a nuclear war is waging outside. It’s just like what people say about human nature – are people inherently good or bad? It is difficult to say whether a person generally believed to be good will still act like a good person under extreme circumstances.

This is something I’ve been mulling over for some time. Are humans generally good-natured or selfish beings whose primary motive is self-preservation? I revisited this question when we went to the Holocaust Memorial. It is a site that consists of 2711 slabs of concrete arranged in a grid pattern on a rough surface. The stelae gives those who walk in between them an uneasy, confused feeling, and this was particularly heightened by the fact that we visited it at night.

It is difficult to comprehend just how anyone could have attempted mass murder on such a horrific scale in an attempt to wipe out an entire race. The truth is bone chilling.  It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution.