August 13th 2011 marked the 50th anniversary of the construction of the Berlin Wall, a symbolic reminder of Germany’s troubled past. According to historians, 125 people died trying to cross the border, but some experts say the death toll is much higher. Germans all around Berlin observed a minute of silence at noon in memory of those who died trying to escape.
It was an unfamiliar change to Berlin, a city usually filled with weekend celebration throughout the summer, such as Karneval der Kulturen, Christopher Street Day Parade and the annual Biermeile. A sombre mood fell upon the city, especially in those areas affected by the wall most, including Bernauer Strasse.
It seems this troubled period of Germany’s past will never be forgotten, and it almost haunts the city. A great amount of guilt appears to remain, and for this reason, it is difficult to ascertain whether or not Germany would rather forget this tumultuous period of their past. Every so often there are events that commemorate lost ones during this epoch, but this is juxtaposed with a great shame. Interestingly enough, the term “Wall of Shame” derives from the name used by western politicians and media to refer to the Berlin Wall. A list of the German soldiers who died during the two World Wars exists inside the German Ministry of Defence, yet this building is not open to the public, as if it was necessary to have something but to not be constantly reminded by it.
However, in general, Germany is very open about its past, and also extremely apologetic. A signboard outside the Memorial to Homosexual persecuted under Nazism near the Brandenburg Gate reads, “Because of its history, Germany has a special responsibility to actively oppose the violation of gay men’s and lesbians’ human rights”. German president Christian Wulff reminded citizens on Saturday, “It is our responsibility to keep its memory alive and pass it on to future generations … so that such injustices never repeat themselves”. Rather than shame, Germans feel an obligation to remember. They feel it their duty to remember their past, something which can be quite painful for some, but something which is also very admirable.