“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”
– George Santayana
Though the above quote is often repeated itself, it’s not done so without reason; and our staying in Berlin has cermented that thought in our minds ever since we visited the city on our first holiday together in 2010.
The city is shaped by its mixed history of financial fortune in the 19th Century, the Nazi Germany government and East/West split of the 20th Century – and most recently – post-unification and economic strengthing since the 1990’s, leading into the 21st Century.
In a city such as Berlin it’s of course hard to escape the reminders of the past that has so deeply made its scar across not only the landscape, but the people that give it the living and breathing heart that makes it such a special place to be – however, concealing the past is the exact opposite to what you’ll observe as a visitor to the city, hence the hundreds of thousands who travel to the city to experience its regrowth, and to explore and take tours centred around the past 100 years.
Whilst the current generation of Germans are keen to push on towards building their identity of what a modern Germany will be outside the shadow of its past, it never does forget and indeed strives to memorialise the previous chapter of its history, with several memorials built in dedication to so many lives lost during the 20th Century, with the Berlin Holocaust Memorial being the most documented of them.
A Hidden Memorial
One particular memorial that Franca and I were both surprised to find has typically far fewer visitors is the Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism, an outstanding art piece that sits just opposite the understandably popular granite blocks that make up the area of remembrance that sits literally across the road.
Perhaps it’s due to it being slightly off the main road and amongst the bushes and trees of the Tiergarten, but why more people aren’t being directed to it whilst so close, we don’t quite understand. For example, on one particular tour we joined there was no mention by the guide of the memorial whatsoever (though this might have been a singular incident). It was only on the recommendation of a friend and the reading of this article by Travels of Adam that we were more factually aware of the history, meaning and location of the piece.
Commissioned As An Art Piece
Constructed on its current sight by the artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset in 2008, the origins of the Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism art piece began in the parliament building just across Paul-Löbe Allee within the Bundestag in 2003 after several campaigns led to the discussion and approval of its creation. It came after nearly ten years of constant campaigning by a combination of several groups – chiefly the LGBT, Lesbian and Gay Federation of Germany – to bring official recognition to many homosexuals who suffered persecution, imprisonment, and death during Germany’s most turbulent years and misguided law-making.
Visually striking amongst the green foliage that surrounds it, this solid granite cube is unmissable once you venture onto the path that leads into the park, but it’s the small window cut into the structure that draws your attention, not just for a moment, but for the length of the video playing inside depicting two men kissing.
A Controversial Piece
The discussion centred around the construction of the monument has not been without it’s own controversy both prior, and post-creation of the piece.
Over the years there have been many who have complained about its location so close to the Jewish memorial – some opposed, some in favour of incorporating each piece together to remember all those who suffered, suggesting that separating them only goes to continue to compartmentalisation and ideology that led to their persecution. Others see the memorial as not enough, some too much. There are those that preach that the video played inside is too provoking, whilst others in the LGBT community appealed for the inclusion of footage depicting two women kissing as well so that they may also be remembered, with that then leading some to complain and claim that the memorial ‘shouldn’t include lesbians‘.
Thankfully, the change was made and footage of homosexual men and women is now played.
The Words of George Santayana
Remembering the past so that we don’t repeat it should be one of the first reasons we spare a moment at each memorial the world over, but it’s especially important at a time when the persecution of so many victims continues to happen across the world, from religious persecution, to racial stereotyping, to the 81 countries where homosexuality is still illegal; it’s important that we learn from the hard lessons for which so many lost their lives so that it stays where it belongs – in the past.
Please, should you be heading to Berlin any time in the future, take the time to remember not only the murdered jews, the murdered Sinti and Roma people, and the victims of euthanasia; spend a few moments at the Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism and consider for a moment those who still suffer and how we can go let these lessons stay in the history books, and out of the newspapers.
Did you know about the memorial to the LGBT community?