Jacob Wunsh, Contemporary Berlin, Summer 2011
In the picture above (see: Dresden), you can see one of the many beautiful buildings in Dresden, “the Venice on the Elbe.” But a trained eye can see even more; all you have to do is look past its beauty. As you may have noticed, one of the statues is charred black, while the other looks like new, marbly and white. These two simple statues, to me, embody one of the most interesting themes in all of Germany: memory.
Dresden, quite unlike Berlin, is not well-known for its monuments to the world wars or its dedications to the millions of murdered Jews in the Holocaust. On the contrary, one has to look very, very hard to find any monuments of this kind. They do exist, however: a few scattered plaques in remembrance of those abused by the Nazis are lying on the ground near a tree, or, as I observed, inbetween a bush and a stoplight.
Dresden does not pride itself on its memory of Nazi aggression. Instead, it has spent the better part of the last century as well as millions of dollars rebuilding its image from before World War II, when the entire city was bombed and practically destroyed overnight. The Frauenkirche, a beautiful, grandiose church located in the center of Alttown, was also desolated by the Allied bombings. This church was left in pieces for many years; people could see the devastation and be reminded of the horrors that come with war. But recent (and successful) movements to rebuild the Frauenkirche went against this idea. Rather than remember the war, it seems that some wanted to forget it.
A perfect example of this was displayed to us less than ten minutes after we arrived in the city. We went to the Besucherszentrum (Visitor’s Center) for some maps and some directions to the local bike shop. While inside, we stumbled upon an exhibit dedicated to the Frauenkirche. But in the many pamphlets, pictures, and guides, no trace of the ruined Frauenkirche could be found. For years, the residents of Dresden strolled past this pile of junk that was once a glorious and famous church. But now, a mere picture of what this center looked like just some years ago is elusive. Only pictures of the new, the reconstructed Frauenkirche, are visible. Only information on the donators and the church’s formidable visitors are listed on the pamphlet. The past has been erased. Only the present remains.
I spent some time later that night thinking about our trip and about the Frauenkirche. At first I was angry. How could one of the cultural capitals of Germany just forget about Hitler and the Second World War? But after some reflection, I realized that it was wrong of me to judge the city. I cannot possibly understand the guilt or the hardship that comes with German citizenship throughout the Third Reich. I cannot know how it feels to boast some of the most impressive operas and castles in Germany one day, only to awaken to piles of rubble and flames the next. In truth, the people of Dresden are just doing what they think is best. They want to regain their cultural status and their prestige throughout Germany. To them, paying tribute to the past would only hamper this enterprise. When one looks at Berlin and sees monuments and memorials to the world wars and the Holocaust on every corner, and then visits Dresden and sees these things almost completely absent, it may come as a shock—as it did to me. But who is to say which city is right? Berlin seeks to remember its past and incorporate it into its future, and it is right. Dresden seeks to forget its past and return to the years of its glory, and it is right, too. I believe that both cities will continue down their respectful paths unabridged, and I am quite candid when I say that I have not the slightest idea where they will end or where WWII and the Holocaust will fit into their plans. We will just have to wait and see. Perhaps time does heal all wounds.