I’m up early, again, on this Friday morning, in the land where all the taxi cabs are made by Mercedes Benz, many locals drive bicycles as fast as cars while smoking and without a helmet, and it’s normal to get a big scoop of mayo on top of your French Fries. Hey, at least it’s not hot anymore in Berlin, instead, rather chilly with light rain.
My fellow journalists and I took the subway to the Berlin Wall Memorial – “Gedenkstatte Berliner Mauer.” The story our tour guide told us was quite gruesome. Miriamne Fields talked about the layered system designed to stop East Germans trying to get to West Berlin. The memorial is actually on a former border strip and runs right into the subway stop we arrived on. This transportation hub was closed down for years after 1961, prohibiting many from getting to work, school and from seeing family.
Today there is green grass on the border grounds. “That’s for the tourists,” said Fields. She says the “death strip” barrier area was once full of sand, making it hard to run or drive away. And if someone made it over a certain stretch of “the wall,” there would be the barrier area and then another wall. The memorial reads, “At least 136 people died at the Berlin Wall.” During the discussion and tour, all I could think about was in the United States, there are “walls” and “invisible fences” everywhere. There are some wealthy residents who choose to live in “gated communities,” to separate themselves from people who are not like them. There are poor Americans, many of color, who are bound by their neighborhood because they can’t afford to move outside of the gates. And when they do, their choices have been proven to be limited, with race being a factor.
Why all this separation and hate? Our tour guide reminded “us” Americans, that when President John F. Kennedy was called and informed about the barbed wire barriers and wall going up, he said, at least it’s not another war. So, “the wall” was a compromise.
Today, I was surprised to discover there is another “wall” memorial, walking distance from my hotel. No, I was shocked when I found out. Right around the corner used to be the main offices of the German Secret State Police – “Gestapo.” From 1939, the site was the headquarters of the Reich Security main office, headed by Heinrich Himmler. That means Nazi Leader Adolph Hitler’s office was also nearby. This Reich organized the persecution and mass murder of the Jews in Europe. And they built “the wall.” The building where all this “hate” was housed was destroyed but the stone rubble is used to decorate the landscape and the outdoor memorial exhibit – “Berlin 1933-1945, Between Propaganda and Terror.”
The German/American Journalists Exchange fellows (RIAS) had a lively discussion over lunch. Our guest, at the famous “Hotel Adlon” was Ali Aslan. He’s anchor of the TV program, “Quadriga,” on Deutsche Welle. The Turkish Journalist has also dabbled in politics and had a lot to say about German’s education system. There are three tiers of public education past age 10, and if you are not recommended or test high enough for the top tier, your level of success could be limited. Aslan spoke emphatically against this system, because many immigrants seem to be sent to the lowest tier schools. Of course, I told him I was “bored” with this topic and wondered why he was so shocked. “This is old news,” I said. I wanted to know what was being done to fix this, to “change” the system. Aslan could only answer, “Germans hate change.” Well, I guess that’s their compromise.
Many say Germany, and the U.S., would be smart to better recognize and educate its newest citizens. Aslan says 20% of Germans are foreigners, or have a “migrant” background. Those numbers are growing, but the birthrate of your “white” German population is not. “Germany needs a workforce,” said Aslan. “We will soon have to beg people to come here.”