I was born in ’59, two years before the Berlin wall was built.
I remember growing up and learning about WW2, how its impact changed the face of the world as we knew it. I learned of the Nazi Party, the Holocaust and the separation of Germany into East and West. It all seemed one continuous ongoing battle of good against evil. One series of events leading to another frightening reality. I read about the Soviet Union, the USSR and of the cold war between the super powers.
I didn’t know until much, much later that probably half the people killed in the Holocaust were NOT Jewish, but from other alienated groups that Hitler did not like.
It seemed so far away from me, from us in the land down under. But, with the righteousness of youth, I thought, I read the Diary of Anne Frank, and studied modern history at school, so of course, I thought I knew a lot in those days, and thought I had an understanding of what was happening.
Turns out, I didn’t know squat.
There’s a saying that says we are bound to repeat the past if we do not learn from it and the only way to learn from the past is to read, and watch and listen intently to people who speak of the past.
I grew up in what was probably a typical situation for many Australians of my generation, I didn’t know anyone of Jewish faith until I was in my mid 20s. I went to a catholic school, ate vegemite sandwiches for lunch, there was no such thing as pocket-money, and dinner typically, was a meat and three veg affair. Doesn’t sound very inspiring does it, but that was typical for me and many others at the time.
But I had a mum who cared, who made our clothes, yes, made her own patterns, sewed and dressed 6 children with her own ingenuity and only my fathers’ salary coming in. My parents installed the values of respect, honesty, curiosity, generosity and forgiveness. Along with an inquiring mind and the importance of communication, traditions and a strong work ethic. There’s probably many more values that I’ve forgotten to list here but essentially all those things that go towards making us the people we become later in life.
But none of this prepared me to understand a world gone mad, drunk on power and greed. A world of intolerance, dishonest actions and lacking respect toward our fellow humans.
So I adjusted, and made some compromises along the way, and learned, at least out loud, not to question certain things. I guess I didn’t fulfill my potential for curiosity and somewhere along the way I failed to continue growing as an individual at the time in my life. My sphere of friends remained mostly white, Anglo-saxon middle class people until one day I woke up and realized I had married an ‘import’, gained a new name and was rapidly being introduced to a culture that dates back to 27 BC.
My traditional family values helped me to adjust and re-adjust and grow throughout the process and I have 2 glorious children (yes, I can say that) from that union who in turn continue to evolve and show tolerance and acceptance of a world now teeming with diversity.
This might seem an ambling way to reach my point on Checkpoint Charlie but it helps to know where I came from.
Visit the Checkpoint Charlie Exhibition Blackbox Cold War, situated on the corner of Friedrichstr. 47 and Zimmerstr. It’s like peering into humanities ugly side with mega-strength glasses on. It’s a multimedia exhibition and I read every article and listened and watched every film or video that they had playing. The staffs were knowledgeable, obviously keen history buffs but with personal stories to tell as well. The exhibition pulls together material from across the world and is produced in both English and German languages.
I can’t say anything any better than what they themselves have said at the exhibition, rather you go along when you visit Berlin and feel the power of the factual presentation of the material. I was immeasurably moved by this experience.
If you have similar stories you would like to share I would love to hear from you. Stories don’t have to be glitzy and happy, but real stories that shaped your life. Write them up here or send to me privately if you prefer…
Open daily from 10am until 6pm.
The admission is 5 Euro with a concession rate for seniors and free for children under 14 years.
A MUST visit experience in Berlin