Berlin rises from the ashes but ghosts of war remain

Visitors walk through the Field of Stelae, the 2711 concrete blocks that makes up most of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin.<br>Michael Abrams/Stars and Stripes
Visitors walk through the Field of Stelae, the 2711 concrete blocks that makes up most of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin.

It’s not your grandfather’s Berlin.

When World War II ended, Berlin lay in ruins. Half-starved survivors eked out a bare existence without food, heat, shelter and hope. Germany’s defeat was so profound that Germans refer to that time as the “null stunde,” or “zero hour,” when everything had to start again from scratch. Nothing remained that made life worthwhile.

Seventy years later, Germany has risen to the economic powerhouse of Europe. Its capital Berlin has regained its position as one of the continent’s premier cities, a vibrant center of commerce, clubs and culture that draws inhabitants from around the world.

Amid the glitz and glamour, Berlin is a city of ghosts, filled with reminders of some of the most terrible events of the 20th century. They serve as a constant reminder of suffering and death, and how without vigilance, politics can go terribly wrong.

Michael Abrams/Stars and Stripes

Home to the German parliament, the Reichstag burned under mysterious circumstances in 1933 just four weeks after Adolf Hitler took power. Soviet troops captured the Reichstag in April 1945 after fierce room-to-room fighting with SS and Hitler Youth fanatics.

After German reunification, the Reichstag was thoroughly renovated as home to Germany's parliament and symbol of German democracy.

Michael Abrams/Stars and Stripes

Hitler predicted his Third Reich would last for 1,000 years.

Instead, his dreams ended after only dozen years when he committed suicide in his underground bunker on April 30, 1945, as Soviet troops closed in.

All that remains is this post-war apartment complex and the parking lot, where SS guards burned the Fuehrer's body and that of his bride, Eva Braun.

Michael Abrams/Stars and Stripes

The Kaiser Wilhelm Church stood since the 1890s along the glamorous Kurfuerstendamm in western Berlin until it was heavily damaged in a U.S. air raid in 1943. While the rest of the city was rebuilt, the old spire of the church was left in ruins as a reminder of the horrors of war. Mike Abrams/Stars and Stripes

Michael Abrams/Stars and Stripes

Soon after the war ended, the Soviets erected a monument to the estimated 80,000 Soviet soldiers killed in the Battle of Berlin.

Even though the memorial stood in the British sector of occupied Berlin, Soviet honor guards stood watch there throughout the Cold War.

Today the memorial, in the heart of modern Berlin, draws thousands of foreign and German tourists who pay homage to the victims of the war. More than 2,000 Soviet soldiers are buried in the gardens around it.

Michael Abrams/Stars and Stripes

More than 7,000 Soviet soldiers lie in the main Soviet military cemetery at Treptow Park in what used to be Communist East Berlin.

Throughout the Cold War, the cemetery was the scene of annual ceremonies marking the end of the war, which the East German regime called the "Day of Liberation" from Nazism.

Today the German government maintains the cemetery under terms of the agreements ratifying German reunification after the Cold War.

Michael Abrams/Stars and Stripes

Throughout Berlin are memorials to the victims of Nazism. None is as stunning as the Holocaust Memorial, officially the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.

The 2,711 concrete blocks, just up the street from where Hitler died, were designed to create a sense of confusion within a seemingly orderly system that had lost touch with reason.

Michael Abrams/Stars and Stripes

Perhaps nothing in Berlin is more symbolic of the transformation of Germany than the Finance Ministry building.

During World War II it served as headquarters of Herman Goering's Air Ministry, which ran the Luftwaffe. After the war it became headquarters of the Soviet administration and later the East German government.

Now it is the Finance Ministry, the nexus of Germany's financial and economic domination of modern Europe.



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