A sinister step back in time to Adolf Hitler’s Berlin

THERE is something very unsettling about being in Berlin and finding yourself face-to-face with Adolf Hitler.

Making matters even more troubling is that just above both our heads is an original Nazi swastika flag.

Sixty years after Hitler’s death and long since the Nazis were crushed at the end of World War II, even the symbols of the demonic empire that shattered the world still have a potent power to disturb and cause fear.

It’s a discovery I make while exploring the halls of Berlin’s German Historical Museum on the grand boulevard of the Unter den Linden.

For a city that has been right in the crossroads of the biggest dramas of the past century, I figured an afternoon brushing up on my Modern History and Germany’s role in the thick of it might be a good idea, to put everything I was seeing all over Berlin into context.

The bronze bust of Hitler and the old Swastika flag are not on any grand display in the museum’s 1930s section of the German History in the Images and Artefacts permanent Exhibition. If anything, they are situated off in a corner, taking their place in chronological order as the tale of Germany between the wars and under Nazi control unfolds.

But just the sight of Hitler under the notorious red and black flag, both so demonised for what they did in a city that continues to rebuild after a century of chaos, sends an eerie chill along the spine.

The fact is, long after Hitler’s death and a number of new generations later, Germany remains confronted by the brutality of its past.

But rather than push history away and not deal with its darker elements, modern Berliners appear to have embraced it as part of the narrative of their complex and often conflicted city.

It’s a dilemma the German movie Labyrinth of Lies, currently in cinemas, explores with the push in the 1950s to cover up the worst of the Holocaust and to let many of the people responsible just get on with life.

As a result, and as dramatised in the movie, many of the post-War generation had never heard of Auschwitz or knew of the involvement of their fellow countrymen in the atrocities.

A series of 1950s war trials, along with the worldwide attention of the trial of Nazi colonel Adolf Eichmann in 1961, forced Germany to confront just how widespread the involvement in the Holocaust really was.

Those trials also helped change the way German history was told to the Germans.

It was only a few years ago that the Historical Museum hosted an exhibition devoted to the former Fuhrer. A telling part of the exhibition was an accompanying lecture series titled, ‘We are far from finished with Hitler’. And that is evident at sites across the city.

Hitler indeed remains part of the business of the modern Berlin, with a multitude of historic sites and tours offering explorations of every aspect that he and his Nazi regime had on the city and the country.

There is no shortage of tours, with just a sample devoted to The Third Reich, Berlin In Wartime, the Battle of Berlin and Berlin in the Final Days of WWII.
There are also groups every day that travel to the outskirts of the city to see where the horrors of the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp took place.

And there is no shortage of takers either, as it is not just small groups of dedicated history buffs turning up on these tours to explore.

Even in the iciest days of winter when I was doing my own exploring, the tours were packed with visitors of all ages, listening to the stories and seeing the places where the worst of the worst crimes against humanity took place.
What is most telling is about how the Germans seem to have grasped the darkness of their past. This wartime history — in all its vile detail — is not spun.

The Germans appear to have been taught to own it, in all its horrible details, and to tell it as such.

On tours, in the exhibitions and at historic sites, the stories of atrocities are not all blamed on Hitler and his generals, or even the Nazi party.

It is clearly spoken about — again and again — that it was German people went along with what was happening, and these crimes were aided and abetted for the 12 years the Nazis were in power.

As one tour guide, a thirty-something who proudly announced he was born in Berlin, clearly explained on the Third Reich tour.

“Plans this momentous and that brutalised millions of people were not carried out by a few military rogues — there was a very large part of our society that made it all happen,” he said.

His chilling observation was made while standing in front of the Reichstag building — the home of the German parliament.

This is a city that devoted an entire block to the spellbinding Holocaust Memorial, with its many tales of human drama. Its location could not be more significant — it is a matter of metres down a small street from where Hitler’s dead body was burned and where his infamous bunker once stood.

While exploring another sinister element of the city’s past at the Berlin Wall Memorial and in front of pictures of people being shot while trying to escape over the Wall, the tour guide in her late 20s frankly said, “Let’s be clear — this was not the Russians shooting at us. It was another case of Berliners killing Berliners. It happened during the war and it happened again during this era.”
An often-heard observation about the German people is they are brutally honest.

A visit to Berlin reveals that when it comes to their history, particularly the ravages of the past 100 years, they are just as honest about themselves.

Modern Berlin knows not to sugar coat, invent excuses or underplay it, because the facts have already revealed so much. And Berlin especially felt the final blast of repercussions of the Hitler regime when the entire city was almost reduced to dust by the Allied bombings.

Today, less than one third of the pre-war city still stands.
Maybe the interest of visitors to take this step back in time is to see for themselves just where it all happened, in an attempt to comprehend the stories that are unlike any other time in history, and that we have been told never to forget.

But if anyone appears determined not to forget the past, it’s the Berliners themselves, and that’s surely the mark of a society that has worked hard to come to terms with itself.

Published: http://www.news.com.au/travel/world-travel/europe/a-sinister-step-back-in-time-to-adolf-hitlers-berlin/news-story/ea197b2f072ff10f57786b774bb35f0c

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