This morning, we hopped on the bus and sped off to our destinations. I was happy this day came at the beginning, because it contained two places that I wanted to see in Berlin.
First, we made our way to the Berlin Wall memorial. There are several spots of the Berlin Wall which are still intact throughout the city, but this one is unique in that it contains both the inner and outer wall; creating the almost haunted 'no man's land' in the middle. Whenever we discuss the Berlin Wall in class, my students love to come up with reasons they would be able to hop the wall; and escape the deep oppression of the Soviet Union. I wish they could see this imposing landmark. The guard tower alone, with its classic bland drab and depressing Communist architecture, sets an imposing vibe over the structure. I took the cellophane from my cigarette pack and scooped up some of the dirt on the ground and sealed it shut with my lighter. Seemed like a good place to acquire my first dirt from Europe.
Then, we headed over to the Soviet War Memorial commemorating the victory in the Battle of Berlin. Upon entering, you walked through a massive stone arch, still complete with Soviet hammer and sickles and the dates of what they call the 'Great Patriotic War'. Immediately I knew this would be vastly different than many of the American monuments I am used to. The walking garden had a large statue of a kneeling woman, representing Russia, which led into a gigantic rectangular field. The woman is weeping to show Mother Russia's sorrow at the loss of her sons. The park itself was surrounded by huge trees, which had the Walt Disney World effect of shielding the monument from the outside world. The field, (which must have been the size of two or more soccer pitches) was occupied by huge stone tablets on either side (in Russian and German) with mosiac action shots of Russia's victory and resistance in the War. On the side facing out were quotes by Stalin on the victory. These led into a massive statue of a Soviet soldier, clutching a German child and standing over a broken and destroyed swastika.
I was struck by how empty the memorial was. After visiting some of the memorials in Washington DC not only this summer, but multiple times in my life, I am used to dealing with large crowds at these sites. However, that was not the case. Our small group doubled the attendance at the location. Now, let it be said that the place is big enough to house a Rolling Stones concert, but it was still very different to see such a barren memorial. I was also interested to see the deep difference in Soviet architecture with its American counterpart. Overall, I was very satisfied with what I saw; and impressed with the granduer of the monument. The Wall Memorial also did a great job of allowing the viewer to experience the imposing nature of a structure built to divide.