Sunday, July 19, 2009
Topography of Terror
It is interesting to be in a city that has been so affected by war. Wilson and I went to Mitte the other day to “Check Point Charlie”. For those of you who don’t know, Check Point Charlie was one of the border crossings between East and West Berlin during the Cold War. And so we spent an hour reading all the posters and bulletins and historic info about the Cold War and the Berlin wall and how everything had affected the people of Berlin. Coming from a city like Toronto, I couldn’t even imagine what it must have been like to live in a place that was so divided, and what the reunification must have felt like.
After we were finished playing tourist at Check Point Charlie (posing with policemen and standing under the “You are now leaving the American sector” sign) we meandered down the street to the actual Berlin wall (there are parts of it that have been left standing). It was smaller than I thought it would be.
Right next to the wall, just half a block away, was another exhibit. The “Topography of Terror” outlined the history of the Gestapo and SS headquarters that had apparently existed on the very grounds upon which we were standing. A lot of the buildings had been bombed out at the end of WW11 and then the site had been bulldozed during the construction of the Berlin wall. About a quarter of the way through the exhibit, I started getting chills from reading about all the methodical planning that when into the Nazi campaign and the Holocaust. By the time I was halfway through I was crying and couldn’t finish the exhibit. So many pictures of death.
I have studied WW11 and the Holocaust throughout my years as a history major, but I had never been in the same place where some of the events had occurred. There was a weight in the air that was still and somber and almost suffocating. At the beginning of the exhibit, people had been talking and even laughing, but by the halfway point, no one was saying a word. The silence only added even more heaviness to the mood.
The part of the exhibit that affected me the most was reading about the Roma and Sinti gypsies. Like I said, I have studied all this before, but somehow standing in Berlin and seeing so many photos and reading so many personal stories, the whole awful event became much more realistic for me. As a belly dancer, a lot of the technique and dance forms I have studied were adapted from gypsy cultures. As I gazed at the photos of Roma and Sinti woman staring out from their covered wagons with sorrowful eyes, I wondered how they had felt when their culture had been stripped from them, when their language had been cut from their mouths, when they were no longer allowed to dance.