I have a few post drafts on standby, waiting to be finished along with the half-dozen other projects I’ve started while waiting for school and a reply to my job applications. However, these have to wait and in the meantime I will reflect on something that I came across today.
I don’t live far from Theodor-Heuss Platz. It lies at the end of the Kaiserdamm, an extension of the famous Unter den Linden, Strasse des 17. Junis, and Bismarkstrasse. On a good day, you can stand about where that flame is burning and see the Victory Column and the Brandenburg Gate. Theodor-Heuss Platz used to be called Reichskanzlerplatz, Place of the Reich-Chancellor. From 1933-1945, it was also called Adolf Hitler Platz. Yes, you read that correctly.
Obviously, it stopped being called that after WWII, but it was not until 1955 that it got its new name: Theodor-Heuss Platz. Then, the first president of the Federal Republic of Germany (former west Germany) inducted the monument that honors the 14 million displaced Germans after World War II. These are not referring to the victims of the Holocaust, but rather the German citizens of East Prussia, Pomerania, Silesia, Romania, former Yugoslavia, Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic who were forced out of their homes or interned in work camps as a result of the restructuring of the German nation and part of reparation payments. These people are not to be compared to the victims of the genocide, but they are worthy of remembrance and respect for the hardships they endured after World War II, forced to carry out heavy labor as a part of war reparations, or leave their homes and livelihoods and start new lives in places where the people often did not speak their language or want them. The monument consists of a block on which says
“Diese Flamme mahnt:
Nie wieder Vertreibung!”
“Displacement never again” and a flame that was not meant to be put out until Germany was reunited again.
As we know, Germany did get reunited again. But still, that flame burns. Now, it burns as a symbol of undying values:
“Freiheit, Recht, Friede” (“Freedom, Justice, Peace”)
Designed by the League of Displaced People, this monument becomes a location of remembrance once a year around the Tag (day) of Heimat.
Heimat is one of those emotion-heavy words that means homeland–but homeland never just means homeland. And that’s why those wreaths are all over the space in front of the flame. I looked at the people who dedicated a few of them: the minister of Bavaria, the minister of Brandenburg, the President of Germany…
The beauty of this monument is that it stands for the past as well as for the future. It’s a symbol for the German duty to uphold these values for people who are forced to leave their homeland the world over. President* Gauck addressed this duty in his speech yesterday, since Germany is still struggling with the challenges presented by more than a million asylum seekers in the last year. Most Germans didn’t even know this speech was being held. I only found out because I wanted to know why all these wreaths were there.
Now that I know, I’m forced to reflect on the destruction of war and the horrible things that happen throughout and because of it. I’m reminded that Germany and the US haven’t had war on their soils in my lifetime or my parent’s lifetimes. We are incredibly lucky. And still, war is happening within the radius of our daily news and tweets and facebook posts. We can be kinder to those people who escape these wars, even if they don’t understand our “culture” or speak our language.
Some people deride public displays of remembrance like these, saying they don’t reach anyone and are a waste of resources. I disagree. I always thought the monument was specific for the Jewish and other victims of the Holocaust. I wouldn’t have related Germans as refugee seekers without this public display. I’m sympathetic to the asylum seekers anyway, but I am reminded more firmly that it is my duty to uphold the rights of these people when put in the position to do so, if I believe in these rights.
In line with these solemn reminders and thoughts, it was a dreary Sunday in Berlin, but it was still perfect for a little Sunday outing and a lot of desk work.
Hope you all have a great week!
*remember that the German political system is a bit like the British. There’s the representative head of state and the one who actually has power. Chancellor Angela Merkel still has the honor and responsibility of power. Joachim Gauck gets to hold all the important receptions and be all diplomatic.