|A sculpture close to|
|The Bebelplatz Memorial|
The first was our trip to Bebelplatz, an imposing open square flanked by the grand stately buildings of Humboldt University, whose former professors include Albert Einstein and The Brothers Grimm. Beneath the square, visible through a glass panel, lies an empty library. Row upon row of stark white marble shelving. Enough to hold the 20,000 books, including works by Einstein, that were considered forbidden by the Nazis and burnt there, during the infamous book burning ceremonies that took place on the evening of 10th May 1933 in university cities across the country.
THE BOOK THIEF
It’s an incident highlighted in Markus Zusak’s novel The Book Thief, and also a chilling scene in the movie of the same name.
Beside the Bebelplatz memorial is a plaque with a quotation in German, written by poet and
|The Book Thief|
by Markus Zusak
Nowadays, however, on the 10th May each year, the students of Humboldt University hold an annual book sale, where cushions are provided so the public can enjoy reading in the open air.
FORMER STASI PRISON
Next we travelled by tram, forty-five minutes east from the city centre, for a fascinating visit to the
fortified former Stasi (East GermanState Security Service) Jail. We saw the cramped cells and heard of the appalling
conditions endured by political prisoners made up of journalists, authors, lecturers,
politicians, writers and more, who were interrogated then forced to sign fake
confessions, before being subjected to dummy trials.
|Outside & Inside the Former Stasi Prison|
Former inmates lead tours conducted in German. Whilst our excellent English speaking guide reminded us that although Berlin’s jail is now a museum piece, such institutions are still used in numerous countries around the world. A sobering thought.
AFTER THE WALL
|After the Wall|
by Jana Hensel
So why was stumbling across this little book so special to me? – A fifty-year old Scottish woman?
INTO THE WOODS
Well during the mid-eighties, I took part in a school exchange visit and spent a week living with a
wonderful Bavarian family, at a
time when Germany was still divided into East and West. One of my strongest
memories of that trip, along with knocking back a tankard of beer at the local
beer festival (an experience I opted not to share with my mum!), was an
organised trip into nearby woods, to witness the wire fencing and young grim-faced
East German armed guards who protected the border. Alongside the rifles, I
remember a stillness only broken by bird song as I stared at trees on the other
side, wondering what life was like for a teenager, like me, over there. Now, all
these years later, because the Berlin wall toppled and politics moved on, Hensel’s
writing and others like her, provide an insight and understanding. Surely
that’s what gives books, whether fiction or non-fiction, their real strength?
|A remaining section|
of the Berlin Wall
Visiting Bebelplatz and the Stasi prison were both reminders of the power (and fear) of writing, as well as of authors who are driven by the desire to share their thoughts and stories.
|Berlin Cathedral in the sunshine|
Further reading :
The Iron Curtain Kid by Oliver Fritz
Stasiland by Anna Funder