Today we visited a unique exhibit, called The Topology of Terror, which includes a museum explaining the rise, the evil, and the fall, of the Nazis, with emphasis on the worst-of-the-worst, the Gestapo, the SS, and the SD. All of the exhibits are photographs, films, and papers from the era, many from the official records kept at the time. They trace Hitler and Company from their rise in 1933 through the end of the war and beyond.
Not only are these materials bleak and depressing but the design of the building deliberately reinforces that air. Built on the city block that once housed the Gestapo, SS and SD HQ,there is no green landscaping, no plants or trees or grass at all. Instead the building, shown at left, is surrounded by large fields filled with very coarse, fist-sized stones, that are sharp-edged and violent-looking. A long section of the Berlin Wall lines along one side the grounds and, below it, a section of the underground basement of Gestapo HQ has been dug out and made part of the exhibit that you walk through. It isn't hard at all to imagine people being shot against those walls.
The site also held several other buildings where the Nazi bureaucracy hatched and supervised its terrible projects. All of them were destroyed during the war and the block was eventually levelled. The square museum building in the picture, itself encased entirely in a kind of steel cage from top to bottom, occupies the space now by itself. In all, it's a very smart piece of architecture that sets the tone of the material you're about to see inside.
Of the rise of the Nazis, it is important to be reminded that the conditions that allowed it to happen included economic hardship, a government unable to govern, a rising extremist ideology, and an intolerance for diverging views. Huh. Those are conditions that sound all too familiar right now in the land of the government shutdown…
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews is another amazing site, consisting as you can see above, of 2,711 slabs or stellae, in different shapes and sizes, set in rows with an undulating base of tiles. It's a really thoughtful space, full of surprise shifts in perspective, and easy to get lost in, if only temporarily.
It's important to be reminded about the evil men can do, and have done, lest we forget and allow it to happen again. But it's mighty depressing, too. And, also, a bit uplifting that at least we have chosen to make these reminders public and hear their message.