Walking past cozy cafes, quaint thrift stores, and down the cobbled streets of Berlin you start to understand the rich culture and deep history accentuating Berlin, Germany. My first impressions of Berlin actually reminded me of my small town back home in New Jersey, there was a really friendly vibe from all the small family owned stores and restaurants so much so that many of us are on first name basis with owner of the convenience store by us, Bo. The city streets felt very safe and comfortable and other than avoiding the occasional cyclist crossing the bike lane I never felt any sense of danger. Then my classmates and I started to explore the city and venture deeper discovering beautiful buildings and a plethora of graffiti ranging from genitalia to beautiful works of art on almost every undecorated flat surface.
Inevitably the comfortable and cozy city streets and people are replaced by the emotions bubbling up from sites of the Berlin wall and “stumble stones”. The Berlin wall and the scars left behind are seen all across the city through a designated line of stone symbolizing where the wall used to stand and the parts of the wall that still stand are coated with graffiti with occasional memorials to the people who tried to cross the wall but didn’t make it. The significance of the separation of Berlin and the previous discrimination and extermination of some of the Berlin population didn’t fully register until we met a young couple at a Vegan Burger shop and we started exchanging stories.
The women we met told us about how her family was separated by the Berlin wall and that there is part of her family she has never seen or spoken with because they were disconnected. She also told us about these “stumble stones” which are these gold blocks placed into the street with the names of Jewish people who were taken from their homes with a brief description about whether they returned, most didn’t. As a student in Landscape Architecture I think the addition of these “stumble stones” , meaning that you’re literally supposed to stumble over them while your going about the day, is a stunning and important memorial to the city’s past and is a great way to memorialize those who lost their lives. Berlin is a city progressing forward, racing towards a better future while still acknowledging its dark past, a city with a bright future.