Author Archive

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Recognition, Remembrance, and Representation of Life

June 23, 2010

When I first approached the idea of coming to terms with the past, I wanted to use my experiences in Berlin as comparisons and critical analysis to the United States’ attempts at remembrance.   However, what I did instead was simply appreciate the memory of society in Berlin’s specific memorials and the symbolization of life in all aspects.  Recognizing historical tragedies require public discourse to come to remembrance, but representing life in these memorials is just as important.  To clarify, I feel that memorials need to connect to life, individuals, and history.  They cannot simply become erections that serve as political duties, nor should they serve as commercial or trivial attempts to acknowledge while deferring to discount and forget simultaneously.

Not only was I impressed, I feel Germany’s conscious challenges of coming to terms with the past of Nazi Germany and the GDR should be models for other societies in acknowledging their past, present, and facing the future they will build.   Attempting to analyze, digest and learning to live with the past, in particular the Holocaust, the people of Germany have erected memorials and museums dedicated to coming to terms with the past.  Specifically, the emergence of Vergangenheitsbewältigung and dealing with the atrocities committed during the Third Reich, when Adolf Hitler was in power, has permeated the life in Berlin.  The memories of the GDR and Nazi Germany are found in every corner of the city, and the German people’s attempt to analyze and come to terms with the past is commendable.

Recognizing the importance of life is imperative to remembrance.  How life is remember and represented is also essential to creating a memory that helps society come to terms with the past.  What I found to be particularly powerful in the memorials was the personalization of the history of Germany.  By simply showing numbers of people killed, where, when, how, or why, there is a sense of disconnect.  To really be effective in coming to terms, I feel there needs to be a personal connection.  The stories of families and individuals displayed in the museums and memorials were effective, in my eyes, at creating a deeper connection to the history and its recognition and remembrance.

The representation of life throughout Berlin was especially powerful to me.  It not only signified a seemingly successful shot at recognition and remembrance of the past, but signifies solidarity at showing a greater respect for life through the people of Germany.  From the trees growing from concrete structures in the Garden of Exile, to the flowers flourishing next to the killing grounds of Sauchenhausen, life is powerfully recognized and represented.

And life does not exist simply in the memorials erected.  It exists in the art saturating Berlin’s city streets and the lives and education of the people of Germany.  Life is an important concept in remembering the past, but it is important in our society today, as well as the future we are moving towards.  It is true, genocide still exists in our world and fear can result in the cooperation and obedience of terroristic regimes.  Women, children, and families are killed by state operations, and torture eerily similar to the chamber found in the basement halls of Hohenschönhausen is used by our very country.

By recognizing, remembering, and representing life, memorials of past atrocities allow people to develop their own understanding, and just might open their eyes to events chillingly comparable to life as it is today, and the conditions of life that are being created by similar event.  These are the important aspects to take from a memorial of historical atrocities, and not the model-posed pictures of you in front of a chimney where people’s bodies were spread as ashes through the air.

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Silence & Noise

June 16, 2010

While in Berlin, I attempted to listen to one of my awesomely created radio stations via Pandora.  However, an apologetic message flashed across the screen proclaiming that free radio streaming by way of Pandora was not an available option to the people of Germany.

Silence.

Though my privileged experience of Pandora’s joys, and the subsequent denial of such advantage was not even an notable comparison of repression in the GDR or Nazi Germany, it did spark a stream of consciousness that, thankfully, I was able to connect to resistance movements within the GDR.

Silence.

A community of subjects who complacently cooperate and offer obedience to a repressive regime, allow for the continuation of such a power.  Power assumed by governments can be seen as continuously rising from within the population, and that the psychological cooperation of the people is possibly more important to a government than authority assumed through force.

Cooperation is just as deadly and oppressive as force

If a government is based upon consent, authority, and obedience, the GDR was an example of a government containing similar holes to that of a worn, used, and abused bed sheet.  Many of the GDR’s citizens realized, as did the government, that the regime’s power lacked authority and cooperation.   Every government continues through the people’s consent.  Authority may come, however, from the people’s unwillingness to pay the price for the refusal of consent – torture, spying, or death.  The non-violent resistance movements found during the time of the GDR were amazing examples of how civil disobedience and non-compliance can have profound effects on political powers.  The people who endured this movement, realized the command that organization and resistance will have if continued.  They also recognized that, as Gandhi would praise, that the means and path to freedom are equal to the end.  As the means, so the end – in other words – a violent revolution would have created a mirroring conclusion.  Non-violent revolution granted the people of the GDR the opportunity to exist in the society they chose to offer their consent to.

Most importantly, the people endured and refused to remain Silent.

Noise.

Non-violent protests in East Berlin

The resistance movements succeeded by controlling the GDR’s power.  They organized in churches, creatively spread revolutionary rhetoric through art and the spoken and written word, and more importantly maintained their disobedience while facing the repression of torturous Stasi, and the fear of exposure by loved ones.

Zionskirche - Site of Resistance Organziation

The people resisting the SED succeeded because they continued with an organized resistance, engaging in a strategy of action that was persistent against repression, and by understanding that without the widespread psychological support, the regime could not subsist.

They did not remain Silent.

They created Noise.

WIR SIND EIN VOLK.

The open air exhibit in Alexander Platz marking the 20th Anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, “Peaceful Revolution 1989/90” was powerful in commemorating and displaying the successful result of a long-endured peaceful resistance against the GDR & SED.  The exhibit displayed the importance of art – whether it be brush strokes of color, dramatic interpretations of actors, or the spoken or written word – is its ability to motivate and move the masses related to the resistance.  It also became its own work of art in displaying the impact that non-violent resistance can have when it is organized and refuses to submit to the force and power of fear.

“We have to think about the question of power and how power can be controlled.” Marianne Birthler (Initiative Peace and Human Rights)

The resistance movements of the GDR did not remain silent in terms of obedience and cooperation.  Instead, they used the conduit of understanding their own power, and used it to create their own even more powerful wall against the SED’s repression.

And their Noise prevailed.

Non-Violent Revolution: November 4, 1989
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Power & Fear: Controlling the Opposition

May 31, 2010

As is true to the idea of totalitarian movements, the Nazis came to power not through a structure of doctrine or systematically related ideas, but a lack of ideology. Instead, they focused on the world-view of dominance and varying prejudices and appeals to different sectors of society. However, the systematic use of oppressive power imposed to present an idea of legitimacy in the movement was more structured than the movement and the Nazis’ rise to power. In my study of Nazi Germany, this is something that has become a very interesting aspect to the period – Understanding how the Nazis were able to remain in power for so long, and with such little resistance. From the exhibits we visited this week, the understanding became very apparent.


During the raging anti-Semitic sentiment of the 1930’s, the Jewish defense of family and community (an important defense against persecution) was dismantled through Nazi occupation. This destruction of life, culture, and family cohesiveness was important to understanding how the Nazi’s were able to come to power, and remain in that position without the threat of resistance created through unity and community. The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe was powerful in creating the symbology and individual understanding. By displaying individual stories, pictures, and memoirs of the Holocaust, as experienced by the people who either survived or perished during this period of terror, a deep personal connection was created in my own understanding. The artistic structures on the top of the memorial were overpowering, and I gained a sense of imprisonment to the period, the power, and an overwhelming understanding of losing yourself and all sensibility when you are deep within the period or the structure symbolizing the period itself.

Visiting the Topographie des Terrors exhibit also helped create a sense of how the Nazis were able to remain in power for such a long period. Through militaristic oppression, power influenced through the force of fear, and the public displays of terror and humiliation were critical aspects to the continuance of Nazi power. The fear of internment and torture for political opposition, homosexuality, religious beliefs, and attempts at resistance were the result of the Nazis’ reign of terror throughout Germany. The lengths that the Nazis went to in order to create a system of oppression were staggering when seen through the camera lens at these exhibits. The public humiliation one would endure was enough for a person to remain complacent in some instances. The fear that another would turn you over to the SS or the Gestapo for any outward defiance of the Nazi party and their genocidal and terrorist ways was another deterrent. Not being able to trust the people around you, as displayed in the Museum Blindenwerkstatt Otto Weidt and the Topographie des Terrors, was yet another restraint in the reactionary resistance movements that could have chipped away at the terrorist regime of the Nazis.

Public Reminder of Power

The entire week of visiting memorials, whether they were museums, dedicated memorials, or the concentration camp, I became completely overwhelmed. Even at times, I was hiding from the rest of you to conceal my outward reaction in the form of salty rain trickling from these eyes. It was through these sites I was able to gain a greater sense of just how resistance to the oppression was so incredibly difficult. To resist meant death and further oppression, however, if such a terrorist regime were allowed to continue further without any resistance, who would be the next group to experience the horror and annihilation?

Without Resistance, Who is Next in the Pile of Bodies?