Freaking Out in The Holocaust Memorial in Berlin
We left Hamburg on yet another train, this time speeding us to Berlin.
We arrived on a Sunday and everything was closed. The streets were eerily empty making the architecture even more atmospheric. Walking through the quiet streets at night, it was easy to forget that this was the capital of Germany.
Berlin is a city of two tales. The hipster, chic side with its underground clubs and out-there art, and the past. The deep-rooted historical significance of a city that was the centre of World War II.
This was the first time I’d experienced history in the present. Every city has its own past, of course, but walking through Berlin felt like walking through a textbook from school. It was everywhere, history. In broad daylight for all to ogle and photograph.
Walking under the Brandenburg gate, touching the Berlin wall, it felt so real. It was real. But it felt more real than history had ever felt to me before. World War II suddenly wasn’t this thing I’d read about in a book once. It was real and it was here and I walking through it all.
The part that touched me most was the Holocaust Memorial, also known as the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.
There are 2,711 concrete cubes, all at different heights, stretching out in rows with tiny alleyways in-between. The ground rises and falls and with it so do the cubes.
We wandered through them on our second day in the city. The sun was beating down on us, it was a perfect June day. Children raced up and down, chasing each other in bursts of giggles. Groups of teenagers perched on low cubes, eating food and gossiping.
I remember thinking that it was almost pretty. It felt like wandering through an abstract art exhibition. If I hadn’t have known what they really were, I would have thought it was nothing more than some of that Berlin out-there art.
I ducked and weaved my way through these shapes and found myself in a patch of tall cubes. So tall they blocked out the sun. I spun around and found I’d lost my boyfriend and I was alone.
I stalked one walkway, then another, glancing up through each row. The cubes got taller and taller. I couldn’t see anyone in any direction. When I finally did, it was a fleeting glimpse as they rushed past in the distance.
Now, it wasn’t such a lovely art exhibition.
It got colder and darker and quieter. It was unnerving and I forgot it was a sunny June day in Germany.
Claustrophobia crept up the back of my neck and my breath started coming in gasps.
I’m freaking out.
I researched it later, once back in the safety of our hostel dorm room, and found this feeling, freaking out, is contrived. The cubes are designed to rise and fall to disorientate the visitor. It’s easy to get lost and looking down those long, pulsating rows is meant to stir panic in the pit of your stomach.
It’s meant to feel like a Jewish person during World War II.
Alone, confused and freaking out.