Our student-led tour this week took us to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, a large memorial in the center of Berlin. Our guides Michelle and Cassie explained the history of the site, and encouraged us to experience it for ourselves. The memorial, designed by Peter Eisenman, consists of a field of stelae meant to engender a highly personal experience for each visitor.
Our tour also included a visit to a lesser-known, though still centrally-located, memorial: the Memorial to the Roma and Sinti Murdered by the Nazis. Because of problems with the materials, it’s still unfinished. Ryder introduced us to the history of these groups, as well as some of the controversies surrounding the building of the memorial.
We also stopped to take in the memorial honoring homosexual victims of the Holocaust, and learned a little about gay history in Berlin and Germany. Together, all three of these memorials represent important gestures by the German government toward honoring the victims of the Nazis and ensuring that such a tragedy does not occur here again. We were especially lucky that our students took the time to point out the two lesser-known memorials that augment the powerful Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.
This weekend we traveled to the beautiful city of Weimar, home of Goethe, Schillar, Liszt, and the birthplace of the Bauhaus! Our first stop on Friday afternoon was the Bauhaus museum – a small but unique little space with treasures from the first years of the school’s existence. Unfortunately the Bauhaus school was forced to leave Weimar after the Nazi party gained power in the state of Thüringen in 1924.
This opened a difficult chapter in Weimar’s history, and on Saturday we visited the nearby site of Buchenwald concentration camp.
The most striking thing one finds on entering the camp is the view: the camp is set in the middle of the forest (Buche means “beech” and Wald means “woods”), on a hill that allows a view across the valley. It’s difficult to believe that such horrible things could transpire amidst such natural beauty.
The original barracks are no longer extant – most are now marked with dark loose stones, but one has been rebuilt in its original form. One of the few other buildings still standing on the grounds is the crematorium, which was strangely located adjacent to a little petting zoo built for the children of the SS.
The Goethe Eiche – Goethe’s Oak – was an oak tree left standing in the camp by the SS. The prisoners named it in remembrance of Goethe’s trips to this same forest. It was damaged in an Allied bombing in 1944 and subsequently chopped down.
Buchenwald was also used as a Soviet internment camp after the war. It’s thought that about 7,ooo people died during this time in the camp’s history, and they were buried in unmarked graves in the woods surrounding the site. Because Thüringen became part of East Germany, the deaths were not acknowledged during the Cold War. The fall of the Berlin Wall finally allowed the victims’ families to speak up and publicly remember their relatives.
The Soviets left another highly visible legacy: a huge memorial to the camp’s liberation, on a hill overlooking Weimar. Buchenwald’s many layers of tragic history gave us much to consider …
The class was free to spend the rest of the day exploring the town. Chance and I took a stroll through the park and admired the “Roman House,” the amazing landscape and the first Bauhaus demonstration house, the Haus am Horn.
Today we left Weimar and headed back to Berlin, with a stop in Dessau to visit the most famous site of the Bauhaus, their school building, designed by Walter Gropius and built in 1925-6. We got a fantastic tour from a very knowledgeable and enthusiastic guide, and I think our students might almost be convinced that Modernism isn’t all horrible … (those of us who study architecture are already sold).
We couldn’t have asked for a more lovely day to see this truly seminal piece of architecture. This week we dive into the study of the specter that haunts both the history of the Bauhaus and Buchenwald: the Nazis and their influence on Berlin and Germany.
I'm a doctoral student at CUNY Graduate Center. I'm thrilled to be teaching the CHID Berlin program with Prof. John Toews! You can contact me at naraelle [at] gmail.com, or find out more about me at www.naraelle.net.